Rock or Reek?

IMG_0207At Pickett’s Charge on the 150th Anniversary of Gettysburg 

 

“For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life (2 Corinthians 2:14-16).”

Church stinks, so you probably skipped Easter, right?  Trust me, I get it.  Christians do stink.  I remember ducking into my dorm room when I saw one coming down the hall at MSU.  Something about Rob literally repelled me, like the Gettysburg battle stench in 1863.

“The field is covered with dead and wounded.  Out here there is a stink unimaginable, it’s definitely more than I thought when I signed up.  All I wanted was an adventure and a little money at the age of 18, but now I’m figuring out that I’ve got to man up and get the job done if I want to survive. As I’m writing this there is very heavy firing to the right of me about 5 o’clock.  By the sound of it it’s coming right in our direction.  I better get ready.”

IMG_0193Some famous Gettysburg rocks at the 150th Anniversary

 

Just the thought of church probably gives you the Gettysburg Gag, a stink unimaginable. You’ve got good reasons too, like your spouse won’t go, your job requires rest, golf or fishing, kid’s activities, yard-work, your upbringing, the hypocrites, nice clothes, money-grubbers…there’s just no time.  But did you ever wonder the real reason that you steer clear of church?

Your indifference to Him is exposed by their “stench,” and that same repulsion I felt is really a warning that you’re spiritually dead.  Whiffing that smelly church in person on Sunday is like bursting in on your family breakfast and shouting, “Who wants to go over to the funeral home with me?  They just got some new bodies!”  In short, a Christian’s aroma (from life to life) reminds you of sin and death––your death and your sin (Romans 3:23, 6:23).

This “death to death” is not just your physical death or your spiritual deadness (Hebrews 9:27, Ephesians 2:1), but it’s also your second eternal death…a separation from God if you ignore your sin.  A Christian is like smelling salts, a rancid alarm to wake you up from your coma, and to challenge your “good enough” indifference to Jesus.  No one is truly good enough, and just one sin starts the death-stink.  “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all (James 2:10).” 

IMG_0235After Pickett re-enactor’s charged at 150th of Gettysburg

 

Friend, if you’ve sinned once, you’re in danger.  I know, I was too, but man up if you want to survive.  Death is near, to the right at about 5 o’clock, and coming in your direction. You better get ready because it’s bad news…you’re guilty of all, a criminal, and perishing. Thankfully, Easter’s empty tomb proves the death problem is solved.  Church isn’t your issue; it’s Jesus, the Rock of salvation.  He died on your cross, and if you ignore that love then guess what really stinks.  It’s your choice.  Rock or Reek?

IMG_2837.JPGThe rock where the cross stood and held the Rock of Ages

 

 

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The Jesus Nut

“Those who trust in the Lord are as Mount Zion, which cannot be moved but abides forever (Psalm 125:1).

IMG_3232.JPGJerusalem!

 

Mountain peaks are never crowded.  That’s probably true because genuine trust is a rare commodity, and in alpine climbing you are putting your life in the hands of your partner, some rope, and a few metal spikes to secure against certain death.

I’ve been reading about the fabled Eiger in the Swiss Alps (13,015 feet) and the first attempts to climb its deadly North Face in the 1930’s.  In doing so, I learned a new word (always splendid fun for a writer)…belay.

Screen Shot 2019-03-18 at 9.23.40 AM.pngThe Deadly North Face of the Eiger

 

I’ve heard “belay” before, as in nautical terms when a superior officer countermands an order with, “Belay that order, Ensign!” But “belay” in mountain climbing jargon means that someone is providing support to a climber who is trying to move up the mountain.  They are an anchor-of-safety in case the other climber falls, a life-saving stopgap measure (they are tied to each other’s waist).

Screen Shot 2019-03-18 at 9.30.25 AM.pngTrue Trust

 

It’s interesting that the Psalmist listed Mount Zion as a simile for trusting in the Lord.  Mount Zion is the biblical mountain where Abraham sacrificed his son Isaac, and the spot that David purchased to build Jerusalem.  In the Bible, it is equated with complete and absolutely guaranteed unshakable trust.  Jerusalem has been conquered and destroyed many times, but Mount Zion abides forever.  I have stood in the tunnels under Jerusalem on the very bedrock of Mount Zion and touched the bus-sized foundation stones that the famous Wailing Wall rests upon above.  It will never fall.

 

 

The bedrock of Mount Zion (under the Wall)

 

The Bible, however, says that we have already fallen, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).”  Spiritually, our rope has snapped and we are plunging to our death, “…you were dead in your trespasses and sin(Ephesians 2:1).  But if we trust in Him, we are as secure as Mount Zion. If you’re not sure that your trust is a genuine, eternal, and saving Mount Zion faith, then consider the Jesus Nut.

Screen Shot 2019-03-18 at 9.14.53 AM.pngThe Jesus Nut

 

The “Jesus Nut” was a giant stainless-steel nut that attached the main rotor blades to the body on the first helicopter.  According to the 1939 inventor, Igor Sikorsky, if that nut failed then “the next person you see will be Jesus.” But it is also known in climbing circles as a crucial extra piece of gear above the belay anchor that will save both climbers in case the lead climber falls.

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Salvation gear

 

Frankly, you’d be nuts not to have a Jesus Nut on your rope because biblically speaking you’ve already fallen and without Jesus as your belay, you will perish.  As Paul said in Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  Your sin is as fatal as a frayed rope on the icy Eiger.

Let Him be your belay while you climb up.  If you’re at the end of your rope, call out to Him today and He will stop your fall, as it says in 2 Corinthians 6:2, “‘AT THE ACCEPTABLE TIME I LISTENED TO YOU, AND ON THE DAY OF SALVATION I HELPED YOU.’  Behold, now is ‘THE ACCEPTABLE TIME,’ behold, now is ‘THE DAY OF SALVATION.’”

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The Rock is Jesus

If you want to see what the Eiger was like in 1936 to the first pioneers, watch this amazing film:

The North Face trailer

Or read the book it’s based on:

The Wall of Death by Roth

 

 

 

 

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Inalienable

“And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear (Luke 2:8-9).

Screen Shot 2019-02-18 at 2.50.28 PM.pngA modern-day shepherd looks unchanged from centuries ago

 

Shepherds stink.  Passing a truckload of hogs in August, gives you some idea what shepherds absorb from months alone with their sheep.  And in Jesus’ day, their character stunk even worse.  According to theologian Joachim Jeremias, “Most of the time they were dishonest and thieving; they led their herds onto other people’s land and pilfered the produce of the land.”

 

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 Title page of Midrash Tehillim (commentary on the Psalms)

 

A Hebrew Midrash on Psalm 23 reads, “There is no more disreputable occupation than that of a shepherd.”  Shepherds weren’t accepted in court as witnesses because they were less than non-citizens, stuck on the bottom rung of Israel’s social ladder.  The Mishnah refers to shepherds as “incompetent,and another says no one should ever feel obligated to rescue a shepherd who has fallen into a pit. In short, they were considered sub-human. And yet, the Bethlehem angel came to them first.

 

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Mister Dred Scott

 

In 1857, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the Dred Scott case, We think…that (black people) are not included, and were not intended to be included, under the word ‘citizens’ in the Constitution, and can therefore claim none of the rights and privileges which that instrument provides for and secures to citizens of the United States.” In short, they were considered sub-human and an estimated 10 million Africans died in transit.  And yet, the Lord freed them from bondage after our bloody Civil War.

 

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The Nuremberg Laws as reported in The Baltimore Sun 

 

The Nuremberg Laws of 1935 targeted Jews and declared that only those of German or related blood were eligible to be Reich citizens; the remainder were classed as state subjects, without citizenship rights.  In short, they were considered sub-human and over 6 million were murdered.  And yet, the Lord rescued them and they became a nation after a devastating World War.

 

sc001744ebTwo little lambs

 

On March 29th, a new film is coming out calledUnplanned.  Some friends of mine produced it.  It’s the true story of Abby Johnson, and the plight of another people group that today is considered sub-human like the shepherds, with no voice like the slaves, defenseless like the Jews, and without any rights as citizens.  And yet, God cares about these outcasts too, even identifying as a shepherd Himself as Jeremias confirms, “The rabbis ask with amazement how, in view of the despicable nature of shepherds, one can explain why God was called ‘my shepherd’(Psalm 23)?”  Why liken Himself to a stinky outcast?

 

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Keith Green’s musical tribute to Psalm 23

 

Because He chose to love the unloved, and enjoins us, “You should defend those who cannot help themselves. Yes, speak up for the poor and helpless, and see that they get justice(Proverbs 31:8-9).”  Ironically,inalienable means, “not subject to being taken away from,”and yet our present injustice has taken away 61 million babies.  If you saw what Abby saw, you’d defend their inalienable right to life, speak up for them, and see that they get justice, as would any Good Shepherd.

 

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Unplanned trailer 2019

 

 

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It’s About Time…Isn’t It?

Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men, but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil (Ephesians 5:15-16).

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Big Al

 

On April 18, 1955, a man who understood Time better than anyone, with perhaps the most dazzling intellect ever, could not stop Time’s steady advance and got swallowed up by it.  That man was Albert Einstein, the father of Quantum Physics.

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Einstein’s office on the day he died

 

Einstein figured out the space-time continuum that led to the Atomic Age, won the Nobel Prize, and laid the cornerstone for modern science.  Despite his renown, Albert literally (and theoretically) proved that Time waits for no man, something we’re forced to admit every New Year’s Eve.

screen shot 2019-01-15 at 12.39.28 pm

Big Ben

 

I guess it’s necessary to recognize Time each January, but I’ve never understood making resolutions.  Lose weight.  Stop smoking. Start exercising.  Why?  If we’re honest, and take the 100-year viewpoint, resolutions to help us live longer, look better, or improve ourselves are all futile attempts to beat Time and its ravages.  We need to conquer Death, not delay it, but that’s impossible, right?

IMG_2794.jpgThe Garden Tomb in Jerusalem

 

Well, there’s another man with an even more dazzling intellect than Einstein, who was the first to actually swallow up Time and Death.  In his letter to the Colossians, the Apostle Paul called Jesus “the invisible God”and “the firstborn from the dead,”

“He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation. For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created by Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the first-born from the dead; so that He Himself might come to have first place in everything.  For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fulness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross….”

The mirror proves we’re all losing the race with Time.  Resolutions are only a stop-gap measure.  You can lose weight, but Time will still swallow you up too.  Isn’t it wiser to make the most of your time by investigating the claims of the only man who conquered Death?  Maybe resolve to read just one of the four Gospels this year.

IMG_2308.JPGBeth Shean Amphitheater

 

In 2016, I went to Israel on a 2-week writing assignment that required a hundred decisions–flights, expenses, tour guides, hotels, passports, and restaurants. It took weeks of planning. That was a trip I “hoped” to take, but you have a definite April 18thtrip that Time silently screams in your ear every New Year’s Eve.  How ironic to ignore that warning and just hope your permanent departure ends with a reservation.  If Jesus is alive, perhaps your resolution should be to make peace with Him and give Jesus “first place in everything.”  

After all, it’s about Time…isn’t it?

Here’s more about April 18, 1955:  The Day Einstein Died

Ironically, the power that holds the structure of an atom together has puzzled Physicists for decades.  Consider Stanford Physicist Lambert Dolphin’s explanation:

“One of the key words in the Colossians passage above (“…and in Christ all things hold together”) is the Greek word sunistemi which means “to stand-together,” “to be compacted together,” “to cohere,” “to be constituted with.”

“This passage can be applied to the structure of the atom, for example. The nucleus of every atom is held together by what physicists call “weak” and “strong” forces.

“[Physicists today are familiar with four basic forces in the natural world: gravity and electrical forces, plus a “strong” and a “weak” nuclear force. The first two forces decrease in strength inversely with the square of the distance between two objects; the latter two forces act only at very short ranges.]

“The nucleus of the atom contains positively charged and neutral particles-to use a simplistic model. Mutual electrostatic repulsion between the like-positive protons would drive the nucleus apart if it were not for the “strong force” which binds the nucleus together.

“There is thus an active force imposed on the universe, which actively holds the very atoms of the material world together moment by moment, day by day, century by century.

“Similarly, accelerated electrons circling the nucleus should quickly radiate all their energy away and fall into the nucleus unless there exists an invisible energy source to counteract this.”

Lambert’s full article:  I bet Einstein would have liked to have known Colossians 1:17, right?

And here’s more to chew on if you have…Time:  Psalm 39

 

 

 

 

 

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Be Like Scrooge!

“Darkness is cheap, and Scrooge liked it.”

IMG_4885“Darkness is cheap, and Scrooge liked it.”Alistair Sims as Ebenezer (1951)

 

Like Charlie Brown, the true meaning of Christmas evades some folks every twenty-fifth of December.  Fortunately, another Charlie peeled back some of the mystery with his classic 1843 tale, A Christmas Carol.  Although most rely on the film versions, instead of reading Charles Dickens’ masterpiece–a measly 29,000 words that can be read in just two-hours–A Christmas Carolcan be reduced even more to only one word…repent.

Repent is a religious word that means to change your mind, or your direction (I repented of going home and went back to work).  For Scrooge, he decides to change his stingy and selfish life, and to embrace Christmas, something his nephew Fred sums up nicely:

“I have always thought of Christmas as a good time: a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time: the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.”

 

Screen Shot 2018-12-18 at 6.48.47 PM.pngCharles John Huffam Dickens

 

Note these literary nuggets, “shut-up hearts”and “fellow-passengers to the grave.”  Dickens turned a phrase as easily as a doorknob, or a Marley encrusted doorknocker, and understood human nature like no other author.  His scalpel-like words can even reveal our own Scrooged-up hearts (“Mankind was my business”).

If your heart is “shut-up” at this festive time, and don’t “get” Christmas, consider Phillips Brooks’ famous carol’s line,“Where meek souls will receive Him still, the dear Christ enters in.” Meek is another religious word that has the idea of a wild horse that is now broken, gentle, and easily led.

 

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O Little Town of Bethlehem author

 

Brooks was influenced by the Apostle John who said, “He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. 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, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God (John 1:10-13).”

The real meaning of Christmas is revealed when the One Who created everything literally enters your heart because you receive Him, just like a Christmas present.  You have to be born of God through His Spirit.  Jesus made that clear when He said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God(John 3:3).”

 

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Linus van Pelt

 

Christmas only makes sense if the Author of Christmas, “now in flesh appearing,”comes inside of you because like Scrooge, you repented and with meekness let Him lead you in a new direction.  That was Jesus’ very first sermon, repent and believe (Mark 1:15).  And as Linus said, “That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”  So, be like Scrooge…repent.

The best version of A Christmas Carol was in 1984: A Christmas Carol

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Wreck-ognize Truth

“I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through Me (John 14:6).”

Screen Shot 2018-11-20 at 10.54.55 AMElementary, my dear Watson

 

I love bumper stickers.  My favorite is, “God, make me the man my dog thinks I am.”  As funny as that one is, there’s another one that we’ve all seen that is a joke too, but in a farcical sense.  It’s the religious symbols that spell out COEXIST.

It’s a joke because these religions contradict each other with their own exclusive claims, but only one is corroborated by a resurrected Man; all the others are founded by dead men, who base their way to God on doing good works to appease Him for their sins (Galatians 2:21).  Truth cannot coexist with lies.  Jesus absolutely refutes them all.

 

Screen Shot 2018-11-20 at 11.07.34 AM“Some times all the truth can add up to one big lie.”  –Dylan

 

And they completely deny that Jesus is God and the only way to Heaven, as He said, so the bumper sticker is not being intellectually honest.  Only Jesus rose from the dead to prove His statement to be “the truth.”  Christianity is based on Jesus being God and the only way to Heaven, which is either arrogant or true.  Two plus two equals four, every…single…time. Truth is always absolute, and it usually has evidence and witnesses (1 Corinthians 15:1-8).

The Apostles saw Jesus live, die, and come back from the dead, and Peter said the same exclusive thing when arrested for this very truth, And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12).

 

Screen Shot 2018-11-20 at 11.04.56 AM.png“And a few old fishermen….”

 

These eyewitnesses, who died for this truth and could have evaded execution had they said they made it up, claimed Jesus was the only way to Heaven.  Some may die for what they think is true, but no one would die for a lie.  “No other name”eliminates every other religion, no matter how sincere.

Just because Buddha, Confucius, or Mohammed are sincere doesn’t make their religion true.  Sincerity can be dead wrong if it’s not true.  Sincerely driving to Florida by heading west is the wrong way.  Jesus is absolutely exclusive by making this claim to be “the way,”but He is also inclusive by offering salvation to everyone.

Why does His brash claim bother us?  Because we want everyone to be saved from death and hope all religions lead to God.  If so, then mathematics is arrogant because two plus two equals four, and so is geography because Florida is due south, and Jesus is a bald-faced liar if He’s not “the life.”  Jesus made every religion false when He said, “I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through Me.”

 

Screen Shot 2018-11-20 at 10.58.51 AM.pngSometimes one lie can be fatal

 

So you can head west to Florida, and sincerely hit your brakes twice (and say it was four) to not rear-end the car in front of you (with the COEXIST bumper sticker), but if your brake line is cut…sincerity won’t save you.  The truth is you’ll wreck your car.  And the most loving thing you can do is to tell the truth, as Jesus said and did because He is the truth.

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“Thus it is Written … Kill Jesus”

“From that time Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised up on the third day (Matthew 16:21).”

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According to the Old Testament, the Jewish Messiah must die.

It’s crazy to think that this is in the Bible, but the ancient prophets were clear that Messiah must be killed…centuries before Jesus was even born!

There are at least four specific references in the Old Testament that the Messiah would be killed.  Psalm 22 was written around 967 BC, Isaiah 53 about 740 BC, Zechariah 12:10 around 520 BC, and Daniel 9:26 in 164 BC.

For the Jews, this is a serious conundrum.  Their hope, the Messiah, must be cut off and die. So how then can He be a triumphant King like David and save Israel?

I was discussing this problem and Jesus as the answer with a Jewish man.  His difficulty with a Jewish carpenter’s claim to be God was that all men are sinners, and therefore a man from Nazareth could not possibly be God.  Pretty simple logic…at first glance.

“So the Almighty made everything, but can’t reveal Himself to us in any form He chooses…even as a man?” I asked.  He nodded, “All men are sinners.  Therefore, men cannot be God.”

 

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Bethlehem and the site of Jesus’ birth 

“But according to your Scriptures Messiah must die.  God’s power isn’t limited by what we think He should do,” I offered.  “He could appear as a talking kumquat if He wanted to, but if relating to us as humans is paramount, it seems logical He’d become a man and thus make this prophesied death possible.  After all, if He wanted to save ants, He’d have become an ant.”

His objection was sound–all sinners die because of sin (Ezekiel 18:20). This spiritual disease infects us all (Romans 6:23), and since God is holy and eternal then He cannot die, as humans must, right?  So how then can Messiah (God) die as it is written centuries beforehand?

 

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Jerusalem and the rock area where the crucifixion took place

It’s possible because He can choose to die…not because “of” sin like our curse requires, but “for” sin to rescue us.  The Old Testament is clear that the Messiah must die, and that can happen only if he’s human, and therefore He must remain sinless until He dies, just as it is written (Luke 24:46).  So why does this matter?  Because these four predictions came centuries before Jesus was born!

 

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One of two possible spots for the resurrection in Jerusalem

He even told His disciples before He gave up His life…and that He’d rise again. This predicted “before event” gives us confidence in the truth of the “after event.”  Jesus proved He is the God-Man, God-in-the-flesh, by being raised from the dead.  Therefore, He has power over sin and death…your death, and your sin.

Death is coming for us all. Jesus reversed the curse and made death a welcomed event.  If you’ll genuinely surrender and trust Him, your grave will be as empty as His.

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