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My Blind Mom, Plus Nothing

img_1422-copyA thankful Thanksgiving in our Detroit home (1966)

 

And Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, so that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may become blind (John 9:39).”

 

My mom was legally blind. When she was 18, while sitting in church, her left eye went black, like a dark curtain descended. Can you imagine the terror?

The doctor said it was from a recent bout with Scarlet Fever. After several painful and unsuccessful operations, and a very long stay at Wills Eye Hospital in Philadelphia, she decided to just live with a detached retina. Over the years, her right eye became strained and badly weakened.

Breveport Lake 1979After graduation with a fine catch (1979)

I grew up helping her to see price tags, clothing sizes, bus stops, addresses, ingredients, and even people. It was normal for me to be her eyes and when I turned 16 she was my excuse to get to drive our family car as her chauffeur. Being blind was our normal.

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Our church, St Martha’s Episcopal Church in Detroit, Michigan

Late in life, after going to church every Sunday, she finally realized religion wasn’t the answer. After teaching Sunday school, serving in the Altar Guild, and regular attendance, she still had no assurance of going to Heaven when she died. Then one day she heard Dr. J. Vernon McGee’s “Thru the Bible” radio program, and after he explained the gospel, she became a genuine believer! Although still physically blind, the eyes of her heart were opened and her life changed (Ephesians 1:18).

In John’s ninth chapter, Jesus heals a blind man who later believes in Him, but the religious experts did not believe He was God-in-the-flesh. They could physically see Him, but they were blind spiritually to His true identity. These Pharisees, who had memorized major portions of the Old Testament in order to obey over 600 written laws, and oral traditions that they made up, thought they were righteous because of what they did.

8-6-88 8My folks at our wedding (1988)

But Jesus told them they were blind. They had missed the point, which was Jesus Himself (Deuteronomy 18:15, Isaiah 53, John 5:39-47). They scoffed at His claim to be God, the Son of Man, because He healed on the Sabbath and violated one of their most holy rules not to work on the Sabbath. So what’s the point?

If you’re reading this then you’re not blind, but are you blind spiritually? If you think doing things (like the Pharisees) or church activities (like my mom) makes you right with God, you’ve missed the point of Jesus too. Consider “doing” versus “dying,” and Galatians 2:21 that says, “If righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly.”

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My mom (1924)

Thanks to McGee, my blind mom “saw” the truth of the gospel, plus nothing. If you’re not seeing Jesus, not 100% certain of Heaven, then maybe you need some J. Vernon too. Luckily, his “Thru the Bible” chats are still available online, but he no longer has any faith. He stopped using it on December 1, 1988 when he saw Jesus face to face, just like my mom who now sees Him perfectly too.

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Sick of Christmas

sam_1082Christmas card outtakes

“Veiled in flesh the Godhead see; hail the incarnate Deity, pleased as man with man to dwell, Jesus our Emmanuel.”

Charles Wesley wrote those words in 1739 for a Christmas day hymn, “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” The astonishing truth of what he wrote is sung every December with gusto around the world. It even made it into the best Christmas film ever, “It’s A Wonderful Life.” Specifically, that God miraculously took on human form, which makes complete sense if God (a spirit) wants to relate to us (flesh). If God wanted to communicate with ants, he’d become an ant, right?

Charles-Wesley_2546624bCharles Wesley (1707-1788)

But many people are sick of Christmas. Consider this actual Scrooge-like take on Christmas: “How long do we have to put up with this? I used to like Christmas when I was a kid, but now it just gets to be a drag. It’s just commercialism and nonsense now. What’s the point?”

Can you relate to that Charlie Brown-like query too? If it’s true for you, then you missed the point, and you’d do well to listen to Linus’ famous answer from the Bible again (Luke 2:8-14). His answer is Jesus’ birth, “veiled in flesh, the Godhead see,” and it’s an epiphany! If you don’t see God-in-the flesh in Christmas, “our Emmanuel,” then Christmas is a drag.

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The Gospel according to Schulz

But if Jesus is Who He said He was, as the Old Testament prophecies foretold (almost 400 of them!), and proved it by rising from the dead, then Christmas is the most historic event ever (before the resurrection)! It’s impossible some say, but they probably have not investigated from the Bible what Wesley’s Carol proclaims. The mystery of Christmas, and in it not being a drag, is in discovering who this baby was in Bethlehem.

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Basil Rathbone & Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Doyle’s master of solving a mystery, Sherlock Holmes, said “when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” There’s not room here to make a complete proof for his Deity, but consider chapter 5 in Micah and John. No one has any control over where they will be born, unless they are God. The prophet Micah wrote this over 700 years before Jesus was born, referring to the birth of an eternal ruler in a tiny town in Israel:

“But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity.”

Jesus said as much to the Jews in John 5:39, “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about Me.” And again in verse 46, “For if you believed in Moses, you would believe Me, for he wrote of Me.”

The Lamb of God .jpgThe Cure

Jesus either lied, was crazy, or He was God. “Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing. O come let us adore Him.” That’ll cure your Christmas sickness.

 

 

 

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The Nudge

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The last eclipse

 

“Be still, and know that I am God (Psalm 46:10).”

 

“You never know what may cause them. The sight of the Atlantic Ocean can do it, or a piece of music, or a face you’ve never seen before. A pair of somebody’s old shoes can do it…. You can never be sure. But of this you can be sure. Whenever you find tears in your eyes, especially unexpected tears, it is well to pay the closest attention. They are not only telling you something about the secret of who you are, but more often than not God is speaking to you through them of the mystery of where you have come from and is summoning you to where, if your soul is to be saved, you should go next.”

Frederick Buechner wrote that in “Beyond Words.” It’s a warning to the foolishness of being too busy and missing God’s quiet nudge. Busyness drowns out the nudge.

Screenshot 2017-11-20 11.32.47.pngPerhaps his best quote

The supreme time that is jam-packed with busyness is right now, a dangerous stretch between Thanksgiving and Christmas, which is a shame because we miss the point of both holidays in our attempt to celebrate them. And the sad thing about that hamster wheel is that Jesus is the point of these holidays, and like Martha we miss Him altogether in our busyness (Luke 10:38-42). Why are they so significant?

Thanksgiving is a reflection on our past year. It’s meant to contract our busy and divided heart into the united position of thankfulness for His kindnesses. Like the Pilgrim Edward Winslow’s observation, despite all of our past difficulties, “By the goodness of God, we are far from want.” Thankfulness gets you through the messes because you’re acknowledging His sovereignty.

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Giving thanks at their arrival

Christmas is different. It’s a reminder that life is not about death, but about being rescued from it. God Himself became flesh to die for our sins and restore us to Himself. The Incarnation; God with us. Like the carol says, “To save us all from Satan’s power when we had gone astray.” One holiday looks back and the other looks forward.

Or as Beuchner wrote about looking forward, “Where…you should go next.” An interesting phrase that is as innocent as a blossom, but as profound as the rings of Saturn. “Where you should go next,” means after you die and your “next” is a titanic choice.

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An actual NASA image of Saturn from Cassini

Accepting a Christmas gift is a choice too, but it’s not yours until you receive it. His Christmas gift is a new start, as John 1:12 says, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name.”

So maybe quiet your holiday busyness and just take a walk with Him. Perhaps a stroll in a snowy wood or some lonely path around a lake, and ponder this question about your next:

If I died tonight, am I one hundred percent certain I’d go to Heaven? If you’re not positive, why not receive His Christmas gift?

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The Nudge personified

 

 

 

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An Appreciation of Nosy Shepherds

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Cyrano de Bergerac

“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you have anointed my head with oil; my cup overflows (Psalm 23:5).”

 

Funny how some things stick with you, isn’t it? They say a sermon is no good if you aren’t still thinking about it on Tuesday. I remember very few sermons as a kid, but I do recall one about sheep.

Our pastor had some experience with sheep. He said they were dumb, so dumb in fact that if the lead ram with the bell was on one side of a bush, the sheep on the opposite side didn’t know enough to go around it to follow him back to the safety of the pen!

Shepherds aren’t much in vogue these days, but they once were very much so as we see in the Bible, and how they are likened to leading the Church, God’s flock. A good shepherd, however, does much more than teach memorable sermons on Sunday.

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“All we like sheep have gone astray….”

To gain an appreciation of our Chief Shepherd, and also your local Shepherd, I’d encourage you to read “A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23” by W. Phillip Keller. Here’s a snippet from his chapter on Psalm 23:5 about how a shepherd’s oily care makes a difference with biting insects, flies that lay eggs in their nostrils, and other aggravating parasites:

“What an incredible transformation this would make among the sheep. Once the oil had been applied to the sheep’s head there was an immediate change in behavior. Gone was the aggravation, gone the frenzy, gone the irritability and the restlessness. Instead, the sheep would start to feed quietly again, then soon lie down in peaceful contentment.”

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“The Good Shepherd lays down His life….”

Did you know that October is set aside as Pastor Appreciation month by some churches? Most of them forget all about it. The Shepherd is foolishly taken for granted. Like the oil-anointed sheep in this passage, most Christians go on about their day without any consideration for their important pastoral care that leads to “peaceful contentment.”

I’d like to encourage you to not be that sheep, and show some appreciation for your pastor this month. As Hebrews 10:24 says, and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds,” think about what would encourage him; perhaps a compliment, offering to serve his family, letting him know you’re praying for him every day this week, or a small gift that shows you care. Whatever it is, make it matter.

So please take some time to obey 1 Thessalonians 5:11 as it relates to the man who cares for your spiritual needs. Don’t be that dumb sheep. Step around the bush, and show some gratitude for a very hard and oily job…so you don’t have to endure wriggling larvae in your nose. And yeah, I hope that image sticks with you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Why Bother…Him?

RM

Rocco Francis Marchegiano…still undefeated.

 

Now He was telling them a parable to show that at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart, saying, “In a certain city there was a judge who did not fear God and did not respect man. There was a widow in that city, and she kept coming to him, saying, ‘Give me legal protection from my opponent.’ For a while he was unwilling; but afterward he said to himself, ‘Even though I do not fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow bothers me, I will give her legal protection, otherwise by continually coming she will wear me out.’” And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge said; now, will not God bring about justice for His elect who cry to Him day and night, and will He delay long over them? I tell you that He will bring about justice for them quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth (Luke 18:1-8)?”

I’ve learned three “very” things about prayer. Prayer can be very confusing, very difficult, and very humbling (after all, we’re admitting we need His help). Jesus cleared it up with a story about our corruption and God’s goodness.

Prayer can be confusing because we know the answer is not always yes, but we also know God loves us and wants to help. Wouldn’t a yes be helpful? No, just because we ask doesn’t make it the right thing or the right timing. Every parent knows this. “Wrong” or delayed answers require trust that Father knows best, which is very difficult.

As a teen, my buddies had mini-bikes, sturdy motorized scooters that went about 40 miles an hour, illegally zipping through our Detroit streets. I begged my folks for one, but like the Red Ryder BB Gun refrain from the movie A Christmas Story, “You’ll break your leg” is all they said (and my pal Jeff Bacynski did just that when a car hit him!).

ec644093ab1872d1c702a6183d6d6371The answer is “No!”

God is not a cosmic vending machine. He’s a loving, sovereign Father. Bugging Him shows our sincerity and genuine need (unlike that infatuated kid in the checkout line who wants candy, then gum, then some other shiny bauble). Wants come and go, but a need is different. Enter Jesus’ pugilistic parable on persistence.

In one corner is a crooked heavyweight judge, taking bribes, perhaps bribes against the widow’s case. The challenger is a grieving widow––maybe a fresh widow, homeless and needing “legal protection” with no husband on the deed with scared, crying children. She’s desperate with no choice but to fight. So she goes the distance, 15 brutal rounds until he tosses in the towel (in Greek “wear me out” means “to give a black eye”). Prayer sounds like painful, hard, Rocky work.

Why bother?

The answer is hidden in the context, the Second Coming. The Church is like this widow, without her Bridegroom, and seeking justice in a world that “does not fear God nor respect man.” Since Eden, our flesh doesn’t want to seek God, so we run. Like any loving Father, He wants us to come back, and your needs bring you home.

Look at another story Jesus told in Luke 15:11-32,

And He said, “A man had two sons.  The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the estate that falls to me.’ So he divided his wealth between them.  And not many days later, the younger son gathered everything together and went on a journey into a distant country, and there he squandered his estate with loose living.   Now when he had spent everything, a severe famine occurred in that country, and he began to be impoverished.  So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine.  And he would have gladly filled his stomach with the pods that the swine were eating, and no one was giving anything to him.  But when he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have more than enough bread, but I am dying here with hunger!  I will get up and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight;  I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me as one of your hired men.”’  So he got up and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.  And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’  But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet; and bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’ And they began to celebrate.

“Now his older son was in the field, and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing.  And he summoned one of the servants and began inquiring what these things could be.  And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has received him back safe and sound.’  But he became angry and was not willing to go in; and his father came out and began pleading with him.  But he answered and said to his father, ‘Look! For so many years I have been serving you and I have never neglected a command of yours; and yet you have never given me a young goat, so that I might celebrate with my friends;  but when this son of yours came, who has devoured your wealth with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him.’  And he said to him, ‘Son, you have always been with me, and all that is mine is yours.  But we had to celebrate and rejoice, for this brother of yours was dead and has begun to live, and was lost and has been found.’”

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Ralph with a “Yes!”

That’s A (real) Christmas Story. Coming home to a loving Father, and it all starts with a single prayer. So by all means, bother Him so He finds your “faith on the earth.”

 

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My Brother Died Today

101562_DKM_02[3].jpgFred, second from our right, at a birthday party (1962).

“For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.  For indeed in this house we groan, longing to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven, inasmuch as we, having put it on, will not be found naked.  For indeed while we are in this tent, we groan, being burdened, because we do not want to be unclothed but to be clothed, so that what is mortal will be swallowed up by life.  Now He who prepared us for this very purpose is God, who gave to us the Spirit as a pledge (2 Corinthians 5:1-5).”

 

Fred was 63 years old.  Pancreatic cancer took a visible toll and took him fast.  As sad as the last two weeks have been, today is also pretty exciting because Fred surrendered to Jesus Christ many years ago.  Today, right now, Fred is with the “firstborn from the dead,” eyeball to eyeball with Jesus of Nazareth.  Wow!

IMG_4455.JPGFred and me (in the saddle) at our Detroit home in 1966

I’m very sad and miss him, but if the resurrection is true (and I’ve bet my life on it as a fact) then this is also a celebration!  A weird rollercoaster of emotions, I know, but either Jesus did rise from the dead and we have a whole new world to enjoy with Him forever with our redeemed loved ones, or as Paul said, “we are of all men most to be pitied.”

When death comes, religious mumbo jumbo is the most worthless and empty thing imaginable, trying to be good with man-made traditions.  That’s religion, but I’m talking about an empty tomb in Jerusalem.  It’s about the man Who came back to life, God-in-the-flesh, rescuing us!

Watching the visible cancer slowly destroy Fred’s mortal tent reminded me of the invisible cancer we all share (sin).  We are all dead spiritually because of sin, and in the process of dying physically too (Ephesians 2:1).  A hereditary cancer passed down from Adam.  Paul said in Romans, For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.”

IMG_4472.JPGThe Three Amigos (me, our older brother Joe, and Fred) in 2015

Thankfully, Jesus proved that His death satisfied God’s requirement to solve the sin and death problem when He rose from the dead and killed death.  If you are “in Christ” then your grave can be just as empty. How can you be sure and excited about your death, absolutely, 100 percent sure death has no sting for you?  The answer is above, in 2 Corinthians 5:5.

God offers a “down payment” to guarantee He will follow through on His commitment to save you from your spiritual cancer.  His pledge––a thing that is given as security for the fulfillment of a contract or the payment of a debt––or “earnest money” as we say in a business transaction, is the Holy Spirit Himself.

His deal to you is this…give up. Stop trying to be good enough.  A corpse can’t do anything, and spiritually you are a corpse.  Let Him take charge of you, body and soul, and invite His Spirit into your body to be in command.  It’s simple.  Repent and believe.

Paul summed it up in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?  For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.”

You can be absolutely certain your death is dead too, if the Holy Spirit is inside of your body because you asked Him to come in on His terms…total surrender (“not your own”).  You are not a Christian if He is not inside of you right now.

IMG_4473.JPGA week to live with Lilly, the latest addition to our family

Fred didn’t live a perfect life, but he had the Pledge inside of his earthly tent.  God guarantees this transaction with a down payment of Himself.  An empty grave in Jerusalem is darn good collateral that God will complete His deal with you.  Without Him, you are spiritually naked and in grave danger.

Jesus, the Living Water, is our only hope to defeat death.  As Jeremiah prophesied about Him, thousands of years before His death and resurrection,  “O Lord, the hope of Israel, all who forsake You will be put to shame.  Those who turn away on earth will be written down, because they have forsaken the fountain of living water, even the Lord (Jeremiah 17:13).”      

 

 

 

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August 6, 1988

8-6-88 6The Wedding in Reading!

And again Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son, and sent his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding feast, but they would not come (Matthew 22:1-3).”

Almost 30 years ago, I sent Bob Dylan an invitation to our wedding, and just like the guests in this parable, my hero didn’t come. Despite that snub, inspired by a Dylan song called, “The Groom’s Still Waiting At The Altar,” I wrote this for the back of our wedding program for those who did come:

IMG_4327.JPGZimmy, after he got engaged (gave his life to his Messiah)!

Well, it’s hard to believe that our wedding day is finally here! We’ve been looking forward to this day (and sharing it with all of you) for a long time. Excitement, anticipation, and joy are just a few of the emotions that we’ve been experiencing in thinking about our wedding day. The day that I am finally united with my bride, and she with me! But even more important than our wedding day is another wedding day that we’d like to invite all of you to now.

This wedding is a very special one because it is a wedding that is being arranged by God and everyone is invited. It says in the Bible that Jesus Christ is the groom and that the bride will be everyone who accepts His proposal. This very unique couple will one day be united forever in Heaven, but only those people who choose to respond can be His bride. When I asked Amy to marry me, it was then up to her to decide whether or not she wanted to choose to enter into that commitment with me. It wasn’t until she did accept my proposal that we could get to the point we are at here today.

In the exact same way, each of you must consider Jesus’ proposal. “Proposal?” you may be wondering. “When did Jesus ever propose to me?” Well, He said it a long time ago, but more important than what He said is what He did. Jesus demonstrated His own love toward us, in that while we were sinners, Christ died for us. That was His proposal, one of action. In the same way, through our action, we must respond to that sacrifice by accepting Him as our groom.

Several years ago, Amy and I both decided to accept His proposal of love. Since then, we have both been anxiously awaiting the day that we are united with Him as our groom. As you watch our ceremony today, we’d like you to think of the wedding that is yet to be in Heaven. We’d like to see all of you there too, but that is your own personal decision. After all, that’s precisely what love is, a personal choice.

Thanks for sharing this wedding with us. Hope to see you at the other one too.

8-6-88 13aWho needs rice?

So the next time you go to a wedding, think about His proposal to you, but realize He won’t wait forever. Eventually, there will be a wedding with or without you, just as ours was… without Bob Dylan (Revelation 19:7).

8-6-88 9.jpgOff to the Bahamas!

 

 

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