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“Earn it!”

Screenshot 2018-07-16 11.49.55.pngSgt. Fritz Niland, 101st Airborne 

 

“…if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly(Galatians 2:21).”

 

Chances are you’ve never heard of Frederick “Fritz” Niland, but you’ve seen the movie that his life inspired, “Saving Private Ryan.”  Sgt. Niland was sent home after the reported deaths of his three brothers (Edward shot down over Burma, Robert killed on D-Day, and Preston killed June 7thnear Utah Beach).

In the film, Captain Miller searches for Private Ryan to send him home and like Mrs. Niland, spare Ryan’s mother from losing all four sons.  After finding Ryan, and losing all of his men, a wounded Miller, seconds from eternity says, “Earn this.”  Then he draws Ryan closer and whispers,“Earn it!”

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Rest In Peace

This scene then morphs Ryan into an old man at Normandy Cemetery.  A tearful Ryan, aware of their sacrifice for him asks his wife, “Tell me I have led a good life. Tell me I’m a good man.” She reassures him, and then he stands back, and salutes Miller’s grave as the camera focuses on his white cross.

That cross and Miller’s last words always struck me as ironic because we cannot “earn” the salvation the cross represents by “being a good man.”  The whole point of the cross demonstrates how helpless we are as violators of God’s Law (Isaiah 59:2).  We can’t earn a right standing by our leper-like efforts to bridge the holy gap (Isaiah 64:6).

Yet, most of us think we are good, or at least good enough.  The Bible teaches just the opposite; we fall short. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God(Romans 3:23).”  It’s not being good, it’s being perfect.  “You are to be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:48).”  Any honest person knows they’re not good enough compared to His absolute perfection.  Sound like an unfair standard?

Consider two questions.  If you can get to Heaven by being good,“If righteousness comes through (keeping)the Law,” then why did Jesus die?  If your “good life” is enough, then Jesus died for nothing.

Secondly, even if you’re a “good man” like Ryan, have you ever broken one of the Ten Commandments?  The Bible is clear that one sin makes you guilty of every sin.  “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all (James 2:10).”  God doesn’t weigh good and bad deeds.  His standard is perfection, and nobody’s perfect. Having to be perfect is not good news, but it makes sense if you want to be with a sinless God in a sinless Heaven.

The good news is you can become as righteous as God Himself and meet His standard of perfection through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross.  “He made Him (Jesus)who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Corinthians 5:21).”  God sees you “in Him”through the Jesus filter.

His sacrifice (Miller) saved you (Ryan), and like Ryan, you did nothing to earn it. That’s grace, unearned favor.  “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast (Ephesians 2:8-9).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 Over 700 Years Before Gettysburg

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The Greatest President 

 

“I am God, and there is no other;I am God, and there is none like me.  I make known the end from the beginning,from ancient times, what is still to come (Isaiah 46:9-10).

 

On November 19, 1863, Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address explained the entire Civil War’s significance with just 272 words.  A miraculous feat, but Lincoln’s perfect speech pales beside Isaiah’s 405 words in chapter 53 (below). Why?  Because Isaiah wrote them 700 years before Jesus’ crucifixion!

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The receiving end of Pickett’s Charge at the 150th Anniversary

 

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Generals A.P. Hill and Marse Robert at the 150th Anniversary

 

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Moments after Pickett’s Charge reenactment at the 150th Anniversary

Here’s Isaiah’s 53rd chapter:

Who has believed what he has heard from us?  And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?  For he grew up before him like a young plant,and like a root out of dry ground;he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,and no beauty that we should desire him.

He was despised and rejectedby men,a man of sorrowsand acquainted withgrief;and as one from whom men hide their faceshe was despised, and we esteemed him not.  Surely he has borne our griefsand carried our sorrows;yet we esteemed him stricken,smitten by God, and afflicted.

But he was pierced for our transgressions;he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,and with his wounds we are healed.  All we like sheep have gone astray;we have turned—every one—to his own way;and the Lord has laid on himthe iniquity of us all.

 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,yet he opened not his mouth;like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,so he opened not his mouth.  By oppression and judgment he was taken away;and as for his generation, who consideredthat he was cut off out of the land of the living,stricken for the transgression of my people?

 And they made his grave with the wickedand with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence,and there was no deceit in his mouth.  Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him;he has put him to grief;when his soul makesan offering for guilt,he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.

 Out of the anguish of his soul he shall seeand be satisfied;by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,make many to be accounted righteous,and he shall bear their iniquities.  Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,because he poured out his soul to deathand was numbered with the transgressors;yet he bore the sin of many,and makes intercession for the transgressors.

Imagine if Gettysburg was predicted with this detail in 1163.  Impossible, unless “I am God and there is no other,” saw Gettysburg (and the crucifixion) 700 years beforehand!  Which if He did, it also means He knew you’d read this today, and your response to Isaiah 53:1 with his first nine words.

Here’s those magical words of Lincoln and why they matter:  The Gettysburg Address

And some controversy too:  269 or 272?

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The Law (and Promise) of Return

IMG_1881.JPGThe amphitheater at Caesarea on the coast of Israel

“When all these blessings and curses I have set before you come on you and you take them to heart wherever the Lord your God disperses you among the nations, and when you and your children return to the Lord your God and obey him with all your heart and with all your soul according to everything I command you today, then the Lord your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you and gather you again from all the nations where he scattered you (Deuteronomy 30:1-3).

 

On May 14, 2018, Israel celebrated its 70th anniversary.  In 1948, after 2,000 years of wandering, and many more under the rule of other nations, the Jews were back in their biblical homeland as the independent state of Israel.  This was a major turning point in history that cannot be underestimated, and it was also prophetic (Jeremiah 16:14-15).

Screenshot 2018-05-15 17.35.59.pngA little past 5PM on May 14, 1948, Israel is born!

Despite this statehood miracle, there were less than 725,000 Jews in Israel in 1948.  Today, however, there are over 8 million Jews in Israel, and in 2014, another landmark occurred––the number of Jews in Israel passed the number of Jews living in the rest of the world!  What fostered this dramatic population explosion that continues unabated today (Isaiah 11:11-12)?

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Ships packed with Jews coming home 

On July 5, 1950, the governing body of Israel, the Knesset, passed the Law of Return, which began with the remarkable words that would define the country’s core value:
“Every Jew has the right to immigrate to this country….”

Screenshot 2018-05-15 17.38.20.pngHome at last!

This law not only populated Israel, but it provided a safe haven from the anti-Semitism that peaked in Hitler’s Europe.  Despite overt opposition and wars, it’s been a remarkable catalyst to grow Israel and make her desert bloom around thriving, modern cities.  But can the Law of Return be solely responsible for this miracle?  Not hardly.  It was God, and His repeated promise in the Old Testament.

Watching these immigrants arrive at Ben Gurion Airport is like seeing a biblical prophecy unfold when you consider the prophecies of Jeremiah (16:15, 23:3,7-8, 30:1-11, 31:9, 33:7), Isaiah (43:5-6, 49:8-22, 54:7), and especially Ezekiel (11:17, 20:34, 28:25, 34:13, 37:21).

Screenshot 2018-05-15 17.43.42.pngA joyful arrival!

In chapter 37, Ezekiel had a vision of a valley filled with the dry bones of thousands of skeletons in open graves. These bones came together, grew flesh, and came to life.  God revealed that the dry bones symbolized Israel and her agonies of dispersion for rejecting Him.  The graves were gentile nations where they were banished, but they were only temporary, open graves.  The coming together of the resurrected bones is the prophetic restoration of the dispersed nation to its biblical homeland.

IMG_2923.JPGThe gates to the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem

At the 65thanniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, Benjamin Netanyahu ended his speech by quoting Ezekiel 37:11-13 as being fulfilled!  This physical restoration of Israel is amazing, but the next verse promises more…a spiritual restoration.

Screenshot 2018-05-15 17.56.45.pngEzekiel’s vision

The Law of Return is part of a major turning point in history, but verse 14 will be the consummation of God’s promise for Israel when they finally recognize their Messiah (Ezekiel 36:26-28).  I will put My Spirit within you and you will come to life, and I will place you on your own land. Then you will know that I, the Lord, have spoken and done it,” declares the Lord.’”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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155,000

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“…to die is gain (Philippians 1:21).

That’s the number of people who died today.  A sobering statistic, and worth repeating to let the enormity of it soak in…155,000 people died this very day (just imagine if Grand Rapids emptied overnight).

It made me wonder how many people die each day after my neighbor had a massive heart attack and suddenly died!  We were shocked and saddened, especially since as far as we knew he never let Jesus be his master.  I invited him to church once and he declined saying, “The walls would fall down.”

Another friend just got diagnosed with ovarian cancer and will be part of that 155,000 soon.  Luckily, she accepted Jesus in 1981 and can’t wait to see Him.  As I prayed for her healing, I wondered what Jesus’ wanted for her. Was it really better to stay here in a broken world, or as Paul said, “to die is gain.”  Wouldn’t Jesus rather have her in unimaginable bliss, as soon as possible, to shower her with the blessings He’s planned for centuries?

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When I thought on that, I had a massive paradigm shift.  For her and Jesus, death will be a precious introduction of inexpressible joy as they exchange first smiles.  Considering her death from His viewpoint, wanting her home, changed my prayers for her.  So if we are 100% sure that Jesus will welcome us as His precious possession, as she is convinced of–and not in fear as one who’s rejected His salvation–then death is an incredible gain!  This changes everything!  But can you be that confident, and really know for sure?

The Apostle John said that that was precisely why the Bible was written.  “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life (1 John 5:13).” So if Heaven can be a certainty, and is so much better, why not take her home yesterday?

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Peter answers, “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9).  His followers remain here as a compass pointing to True North, Jesus.  Unfortunately, most of the 56 million people who will die this year, like my neighbor, will politely ignore Jesus, just as He said:

 Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it.  For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it (Matthew 7:13-14).

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So…are you in today’s 155,000?  I’m sure my neighbor didn’t think so.  Today may be your last chance, so why risk that when you can know for sure (Luke 12:20)?  The Lord waits patiently, but He won’t wait forever.  Why not make today what He wants for you…a real gain changer (2 Corinthians 6:2)?

 

 

 

 

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I Double Dog Dare Ya’!

Screenshot 2018-03-20 22.44.56.pngFlick and Ralphie

He began to teach again by the sea. And such a very large crowd gathered to Him that He got into a boat in the sea and sat down; and the whole crowd was by the sea on the land.  And He was teaching them many things in parables, and was saying to them in His teaching,  “Listen to this! Behold, the sower went out to sow; as he was sowing, some seed fell beside the road, and the birds came and ate it up.  Other seed fell on the rocky ground where it did not have much soil; and immediately it sprang up because it had no depth of soil.  And after the sun had risen, it was scorched; and because it had no root, it withered away.  Other seed fell among the thorns, and the thorns came up and choked it, and it yielded no crop.  Other seeds fell into the good soil, and as they grew up and increased, they yielded a crop and produced thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold.” 

And He was saying, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

As soon as He was alone, His followers, along with the twelve, began asking Him about the parables.  And He was saying to them, “To you has been given the mystery of the kingdom of God, but those who are outside get everything in parables, so that while seeing, they may see and not perceive, and while hearing, they may hear and not understand, otherwise they might return and be forgiven (Mark 4:1-12).

 

If I told you that 90% of American homes have indoor plumbing, but only 11% use it, would you think that odd?

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The Good Ol’ Days

According to LifeWay Research, 90% of Americans own a Bible, but only 11% have read the entire book. When I’ve asked people how much of it they’ve seriously read (and I’ve asked thousands) most admit less than 10%. Why is that?

Consider Jesus’ explanation, The sower sows the word. These are the ones who are beside the road where the word is sown; and when they hear, immediately Satan comes and takes away the word which has been sown in them.” According to Jesus, Satan is real and actively prevents you from hearing and understanding the Bible because he doesn’t want you to know God’s big mystery.

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Old Scratch (never closes his eyes)

Rather than give away Jesus’ big secret, let’s test His spiritual battle claim with a dare (Ephesians 6:12). Try to read the Gospel of John straight through (it’ll take two hours). No matter how hard you try, it will be nearly impossible. Give it a shot and wait to see the excuses and obstacles that just pop up. That’s Satan doing his job.

Here’s an easy link if you’re one of the 10% who don’t own a Bible in America:

The Gospel of John

Or maybe try reading just two small chapters with similar parables (Matthew 13, Luke 8), but I bet he’ll prevent you from reading these too. Hopefully I’m wrong and you finish John’s Gospel because then you’ll know Jesus’ big secret…if you have ears to hear.

A nice overview of John’s Gospel

Too busy?  Don’t care?  Afraid you won’t like His secret?  Then…I TRIPLE DOG DARE YA’!

 

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His Business is Picking Up

 

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 “When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross (Colossians 2:13-14).”

 

Riddle me this: “Every Wednesday morning I appear, make it all disappear, including myself. What am I?” Another riddle, one every kid knows, may help you solve the first one. “What has six wheels and flies?”

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Frank, the best Riddler of all time

Once a week we put out the trash, all the ugly and disgusting things we create in a week that no longer have any value. Then this stranger rolls up in a massive truck and makes it all go away. Presto-chango, we’re clean again.

Spiritually, Jesus is the Garbage-Man. If we let Him, He rolls up and takes away our ugly, smelly trash, our “certificate of debt.” If He doesn’t pick it up, then we have to deal with it ourselves. With no waste agreement our trash remains. Some think it’s not a big pile; their trash isn’t that smelly; never raped or killed; they’re basically good.

But if you sin just once a day, after 70 years, your trashcan has 25,550 sins! Even a corrupt judge cannot ignore that record, but it’s not the degree of the sin, or the volume, it’s the fact that God is holy and His righteous character demands absolute perfection––holiness (Matthew 5:48, Habukkuk 1:13, James 2:10, Isaiah 59:2). God doesn’t grade on a curve.

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The face of Justice

Our overflowing trashcan proves nobody’s perfect, so holiness seems a cruel standard, but it is just to punish a lawbreaker. Sin must be punished, especially over 25,000 of them; otherwise God is a crooked judge (imagine if the MSU trial judge let Nassar go free).

Complicating this required justice and His standard of holiness is the fact that the Judge loves you, but He can’t just wince at your trash if He’s a good judge. Unless a full payment is made, He’s stuck…loving a lawbreaker that He must condemn. And we’re stuck too…how can anyone unholy pay the penalty for their own sin (Isaiah 64:6)?

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Fred, Fred old Cabbage-head

Enter the Garbage-Man. Jesus lived a sinless life to prove He was the perfect God-Man, and therefore qualified to pay our debt. An empty grave confirmed His death “cancelled out the certificate of debt. God’s love and righteous judgment merged in Jesus, our substitute. His last words on the cross were “It is finished, which also translates in Greek as “paid in full.”

Ignoring His payment offer is like telling your garbage-man not to come back. Don’t fool yourself that you’re clean enough to face a holy God without your trash picked up. Your best effort still doesn’t remove it. It’s piling up at the bottom of your driveway now. Only the God-Man can “take it out of the way,” but His waste agreement is total surrender (Isaiah 1:18, Luke 6:46). Remember, God does not grade on a curve…He grades on a curb.

 

 

 

 

 

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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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