Coming to Jesus Just As I Am

Crosses from Bethlehem

Olive wood crosses, Bethlehem

Just as I Am was a common invitational hymn used in the church where I grew up. It was sung frequently. I used to know the words by heart. It’s a rich song, not like some of the modern choruses (there are exceptions) we hear and sing today. This song centers upon the cross and God’s invitation to come to the cross just as I am.

Each time I walk the land of the Bible, I contemplate upon the life and ministry of Jesus. In the north (Galilee), we cover a lot of area where Jesus must have been. For instance, we dedicate one full day around the Sea of Galilee. We hike up Mt. Arbel, a mountain on the NW corner of the lake below. We visit the 1st century synagogue at Magdala where Jesus must have taught. We walk on the shoreline of Capernaum where Jesus called His first disciples. We take a boat ride on the lake, recalling the storm narratives of Mark 4 and Matthew 14. We usually end the day sitting on the Mt. of Beatitudes listening to the words of Matthew 5. Jesus preached His Sermon on the Mount here. It was probably His “go-to” message because the message displays the purpose of His coming … to bring forth the kingdom of God (malchut Shamyim in Hebrew).

Nazareth crossesThe beauty of Jesus’ ministry is that He called everyone to follow Him. He invited people to come just as they were and take hold of the grace and forgiveness offered freely by Jesus. To come to Him just as we are a central theme of the Gospel. We don’t need to “clean up our lives” first before coming to God. We simply take the step to reach out to Him and receive Him as our Savior. As we grow in our new walk with God, our faith and desire to follow Him is what refines our lives unto Christ-likeness. It is a life-time pursuit.

Jesus would visit and take His ministry to those in Jerusalem on occasion as well. It would be hear where Jesus would heal the lame man (John 5) and the blind man (John 9). It would be here within the Temple Courts where Jesus would say, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink… (John 7).” It would be on the east side of the Mt. of Olives (in Bethany) where Jesus would raise to life Lazarus (John 11).

Of course at the end of His ministry it would also be here where Jesus would be heralded “King” (Luke 19). A few days later on the same slopes of the western side of the Mt. of Olives Jesus would be betrayed (Luke 22), turned over to the High Priest, and ultimately sentenced to die on a cross. He would be crucified. He would die. Three day later, He would rise again and appear to the women, His disciples, the men walking to Emmaus, as well as others.

To be in Jerusalem and retracing the last 24 hours of Jesus life is powerful. It is powerful not only because of knowing who Jesus was, but it is life-changing to think that the very Son of God is the very One who still accepts us just as we are!

This Easter weekend, enjoy this song by one of my favorite artist, Fernando Ortega. It is a slight re-make of the old hymn. As you listen, celebrate God’s grace. Come to the cross just as you are and accept Christ’s forgiveness and love for you this Easter Season!  Jesus has come to be your Shepherd.

 

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Israel and the Recent UN Resolution

The ISraeli flagIsrael is a very tiny country surrounded by 22 Arab nations. With the exception of maybe a couple, these surrounding Arab countries wish there wasn’t a country called Israel. Most of these countries hate the Jewish State. As we like to say while on tour, Israel lives in a “very nice house in a very lousy neighborhood.” All Israel wants for herself is peace with her neighbors. Regrettably, because of the bias media against Israel, most of the world simply don’t believe this. But this in itself is quite a daily challenge when your “neighbors” (e.g. Palestinian Authority, Hamas) want nothing less than to see the complete end of a Jewish nation. They want nothing less than Israel to be pushed out into the Mediterranean Sea for good. What makes it even more challenging for Israel is an world organization called the United Nations (UN).

It has now been about a week since what I would personally call the horrendous Anti-Israel UN Resolution 2334 deeming Israeli settlements are illegal and all the land beyond the so-called Green Line as illegal as well. This would even include the Western Wall within the Old City of Jerusalem.

gathering of UN

The United Nations

Given their long-standing animosity towards the Jewish State, the UN’s actions were predictable (more on this below). Regrettably however, so was the action (or should we say non-action) of the U.S. Administration. Abstaining from vetoing this UN Resolution, Obama’s true bias against Israel was revealed loud and clear. Interestingly, according to the US State Department’s definition of “anti-Semitism” (“demonizing Israel, double standard against Israel, and a delegitimizing of Israel” – see HERE), this would make this Administration anti-Semitic!  Yet I am thankful to God for the bi-partisan strong and non-anti-Semitic voice against the actions of our President and against this resolution!

Make no argument about it – this UN Resolution was not about so-called settlement activity of the Israelis. Rather, it was all about delegitimizing Israel’s right to the land and her right and need to protect herself amidst the neighborhood of nations who deny Israel’s right to even exist. This especially includes the Palestinian Authority leadership led by Fatah terrorist Mahmoud Abbas (historically, the two branches of Palestinian terrorism in the region are Hamas and Fatah). According to ex-Palestinian terrorist and now Christian believer Walid Shoebat, Abbas says words of peace in English for all the world to hear. However, but in Arabic he honors and praises terrorists who kill Jews.  Abbas also condones Palestinian education that teaches some Arab children to hate Jews. Additionally, he calls for the total destruction of Israel by driving them into the sea.

Many do not know that Israel’s border with the so-called West Bank or Territories at the heart of the middle of the country (called the Sharon District) is only 9 miles wide. That’s right, that is the distance between the Mediterranean Sea and the Palestinian city of Kalkilya. In between lie the Jewish cities of Kfar Saba, Ra’anana and Herzliya. Looking at a map of the region and the 1967 West Bank line, it becomes quite clear how limited Israel is for growth, especially in the Hill Country of Judah.

Israel map

Israel is surrounded by Muslim Countries.

So how does the UN go about demanding Israel to not build or expand so-called settlements in any area of the West Bank? They simply pass a resolution co-signed by other countries who oppose Israel. A dozen countries consented with the resolution, while the U.S. abstained from the vote.

In the words of Ron Dermer, the Israeli ambassador to the United States, explained that there has been a history of the United Nations ganging up on Israel but normally the United States would defend Israel. But this time Obama’s administration was behind the attack. Dermer stated, “What is new is that the United States did not stand up and oppose that gang-up. And what is outrageous is that the United States was actually behind that gang-up.” He further went on to say that Israel has “clear evidence of it and we will present that evidence to the new administration through the appropriate channels.” (stay tuned about this!)

Dermer went on to share what this UN Resolution 2334 will do:

  • It gives the Palestinians ammunition to wage a diplomatic war against Israel with the world’s support instead of negotiating peace with Israel. The Palestinians clearly would rather do diplomatic end-runs, thus avoiding the bargaining table and seeking instead to internationalize the conflict.
  • This allows the Palestinians to blame Israel on the lack of peace (even though their Charter calls for the annihilation of Israel).
  • The pre-1967 border lines must now be observed. This means places like the Western Wall, the most holy Jewish site in the world, is on illegal land now. This means biblical places like Hebron, Bethlehem, Shechem (Nablus today) are also outside the so-called border and thus are on illegal land.
  • It will lead to the lack of peace instead of furthering the potential for peace. Why? Because it removes any incentive for the Palestinian Authority towards peace with Israel. This is tragic for both peace-loving Israelis and Palestinians.

And now to see that this current Administration abstained from the vote (and even may have helped propose the resolution, but we’ll have to wait to see if this is true or not) is sickening.

In the aftermath of the resolution, Secretary of State John Kerry took the liberty to share remarks. Once again, he proved himself to be one of the worst person to hold the office. It is important to give careful analysis of what he shared. Mark Levin describes the Kerry speech perfectly,

John Kerry just delivered the most outrageous speech of any top American official in modern times. As if a special pleader for the Palestinians, his speech was an exposition in propaganda. He distorted history, cherry-picked facts, selectively used quotes by other political figures, gave a completely dishonest portrayal of Israeli society and policies, omitted endless examples of Israeli restraint in the face of endless examples of Palestinian terrorism and threats of war by surrounding regimes, and on and on. Not once did he bother to provide the full pre-1967 history of the region, including the Palestinian involvement with the Nazis; moreover, not a word about the PLO, the 1967 war, the 1973 war, etc.

Indeed, Kerry repeatedly positioned the Israeli government as controlled by extremists and their defensive efforts to protect their citizenry as acts of aggression in an attempt to marginalize Benjamin Netanyahu. Of course, Kerry ignored the 5,000-year-old connection the Jews have to the land, which even the League of Nations recognized in its 1922 Mandate for Palestine. 

Kerry and Obama have emboldened Israel’s enemies in unimaginable ways. They lit the match lighting up the Middle East, they facilitated Iran’s nuclear program with billions of dollars, and now they seek Israel’s effective demise — a long-time Obama infatuation well before his ascendency to the presidency. ” (Conservative Review, December 28, 2016)

map of israel

Map of Israel. The green represents the so-called “West Bank” or Judea & Samaria

Andrew McCarthy added these his thoughts about the Kerry speech as well,

“Kerry did not mention that Jordan was never subjected to international pressure to grant the Palestinians their own state during the 19 years that Jordan occupied Judea, Samaria, and East Jerusalem; nor did he acknowledge that the Palestinians would long ago have had their own state if they had recognized Israel’s right to exist and abandoned jihadist terror. Leaving all that aside, Kerry accused the Israeli government of undermining any hope of a two-state solution.)  (National Review, December, 28, 2016)

As I wrote above, this UN resolution is not about Jewish settlements being built on disputed land, but rather is about the delegitimizing Israel’s right to the land and her right and need to protect herself. Yet if… if this was only about settlements, from an International Law point of view, Daniel Horowitz contends that Israel actually has the right to build. He writes,

“The only binding resolution of international law, a resolution which has never been countermanded to this very day, is the July 1922 Mandate for Palestine. Adopted by the League of Nations, that resolution recognized the “historical connection of the Jewish people with Palestine and to the grounds for reconstituting their national home in that country.” It called for the creation of a Jewish national homeland anywhere west of the Jordan River.” (Conservative Review, December 27, 2016)

Horowitz continues with a history lesson,

“The legality of the 1922 Mandate was adopted that same year by the U.S. Congress in H.J. Res. 360 and signed by President Warren Harding. The newly created Arab country of Jordan attacked Israel in 1948 seeking to annihilate its inhabitants and illegally occupied Judea and Samaria until 1967. That year, Israel won back the territory originally allocated for a Jewish State as part of the 1922 League of Nations agreement. There is no such thing as “’pre-67 borders.” They were merely 1949 armistice lines between Israel and neighboring countries after they launched an illegal war of extermination. It has nothing to do with the notion of a unique Arab “Palestinian” entity west of the Jordan River. There was never any internationally recognized legal sovereign occupying Judea and Samaria from the time the British Empire fell until 1967. Jordan’s occupation of the area west of the Jordan River was never recognized. To the extent there is an Arab Palestinian state it is the modern state of Jordan, which already sucked up 77% of the original Mandate of Palestine allocated for a Jewish State under the first plan of the Balfour Declaration.”

About the whole concept of the “West Bank” in today’s political discussion within the United Nations and around the world, Horowitz concludes, “In many respects, this is the biggest global fake news story of our time.”  I fully concur!  May I also add that from a Biblical point of view, the land has eternally been given to Israel. And the borders given to Abraham far exceed the present borders given to Israel by the United Nations.

Personally, I have always opposed a “two state” solution. I personally feel the Palestinians already have a State – and it’s called Jordan! About 70% of Palestinians today who live in the West Bank have Jordanian passports. Yet these west-bankers have been left as political pawns by the Arab world for one reason – to use them for political leverage against the legitimacy and rights of Israeli Jews. This really is a shame for true peace-seeking Arabs I know and love, those who want to simply live side-by-side with Israelis in peace and synergistic harmony.

2014 UN bias against israel

A 2014 illustration of the UN’s bias against Israel

Yes, the UN hate for Israel will continue. To the UN, Israel is the only occupying force in the world. The hate and bias against Israel is blatant. As stated by Eugene Kontorovich in a recent Wall Street Journal,

“According to our research, the U.N. uses an entirely different rhetoric and set of legal concepts when dealing with Israel compared with situations of occupation or settlements world-wide. For example, Israel is referred to as the “Occupying Power” 530 times in General Assembly resolutions. Yet in seven major instances of past or present prolonged military occupation—Indonesia in East Timor, Turkey in northern Cyprus, Russia in areas of Georgia, Morocco in Western Sahara, Vietnam in Cambodia, Armenia in areas of Azerbaijan, and Russia in Ukraine’s Crimea—the number is zero. The U.N. has not called any of these countries an “Occupying Power.” Not even once.” (Wall Street Journal, September 13, 2016)

The article continues,

“It gets worse. Since 1967, General Assembly resolutions have referred to Israeli-held territories as “occupied” 2,342 times, while the territories mentioned above are referred to as “occupied” a mere 16 times combined. The term appears in 90% of resolutions dealing with Israel, and only in 14% of the much smaller number of resolutions dealing with the all the other situations, a difference that vastly surpasses the threshold of statistical significance. Similarly, Security Council resolutions refer to the disputed territories in the Israeli-Arab conflict as “occupied” 31 times, but only a total of five times in reference to all seven other conflicts combined.

General Assembly resolutions employ the term “grave” to describe Israel’s actions 513 times, as opposed to 14 total for all the other conflicts, which involve the full gamut of human-rights abuses, including allegations of ethnic cleansing and torture. Verbs such as “condemn” and “deplore” are sprinkled into Israel-related resolutions tens more times than they are in resolutions about other conflicts, setting a unique tone of disdain.

Israel has been reminded by resolutions against it of the country’s obligations under the Geneva Conventions about 500 times since 1967—as opposed to two times for the other situations.”

Prime Minister of Israel - Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu.

Prime Minister of Israel – Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu.

Kontorovich concludes,

“Our findings don’t merely quantify the U.N.’s double standard. The evidence shows that the organization’s claim to represent the interest of international justice is hollow, because the U.N. has no interest in battling injustice unless Israel is the country accused.

Not surprisingly, Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shared his own views on the UN Resolution. He was exact in his language as well,

“Citizens of Israel, I would like to reassure you. The resolution that was adopted yesterday at the United Nations is distorted and shameful but we will overcome it. The resolution determines that the Jewish Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem is ‘occupied territory’. This is delusional. The resolution determines that the Western Wall is ‘occupied territory’. This too is delusional. I would like to tell you that the resolution that was adopted, not only doesn’t bring peace closer, it drives it further away. It hurts justice; it hurts the truth. Think about this absurdity, half a million human beings are being slaughtered in Syria. Tens of thousands are being butchered in Sudan. The entire Middle East is going up in flames and the Obama administration and the Security Council choose to gang up on the only democracy in the Middle East – the State of Israel. What a disgrace.But as it relates to Israel, don’t expect anything different. This is all good reason for the next US Congress & Administration to defund the UN, or simply leave it (I prefer the latter). But in all of this, remember that God and His greatness rises above the UN and all the world nations. It is God who ultimately is sovereign over all the nations.” 

Despite all of these saddening and sickening developments, I invite you to pray for Israel and her citizens … all of them, Jews and Arabs alike (there are 1.5 million Arab Israeli citizens if you didn’t know). Pray for the peace of Jerusalem. Also, pray for the Palestinians who want peace, those caught in the middle of the conflict, especially our brothers and sisters in Christ who are unjustly being treated by their own people. Pray for the UN. Pray also that this hate, injustice and anti-Semitism against Israel would end.

But also remember that God is greater than the United Nations!  Remember and rejoice in these words from the Bible:

  • For the kingdom is the LORD’S And He rules over the nations.” (Psalm 22:28)
  • “He rules by His might forever; His eyes keep watch on the nations; Let not the rebellious exalt themselves.” (Psalm 66:7)
  • Who has aroused one from the east Whom He calls in righteousness to His feet? He delivers up nations before him And subdues kings He makes them like dust with his sword, As the wind-driven chaff with his bow.” (Isaiah 41:2)
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In the First Light

In the first light

“In the First Light” (credit: www.answersingenesis.org)

The Christmas Season offers so many great songs. Which song is your favorite? I am sure that none of us can narrow it down to just a few.

For starters, I personally love the classic Christian carols. Once in Royal David’s City is one of my favorite because of the lyrics and harmony. Also the words of Of the Father’s Love Begotten. That words of this carol goes back to the 4-5th century I believe.

On every trip to Israel, we always enjoy singing the first verse of a few carols as well. We do this while sitting in a cave within the complex called Shepherds’ Fields (located in Beit Sahour, a small village right outside Bethlehem to the east). The blending of harmonies makes it a beautiful time of worship! We also conclude with Silent Night in the small chapel designed by Italian architect, Antonio Barluzzi in the late 1930s. The reliefs in the chapel was very nice!

Chapel in Shepherds' Fields in Beit Sahour

Chapel in Shepherds’ Fields in Beit Sahour

I know this “dates” me, but back in the 1980s, the group called Glad was quite popular in Christian circles. They were known for their accapella harmony. It was one of my favorite groups! I actually went to see them a few times in Minnesota.

I consider one of their songs as one of my favorite Christmas melodies. It’s a song called In the First Light. The songs speaks of not only Christ’s first coming as a baby, but also His second coming yet future. The grand ending of this song causes me to celebrate the completeness of God’s redemptive planFor when Christ returns He will come in glory to rule the earth!

Whether singing carols in your home churchh or in Israel, the message of most every carol has a common denominator: Christ has come to be the light of the world!  He came to be the Savior of the Word. He came to be our personal Savior as we accept Him by faith.

Enjoy this “older” video of the group Glad as they sing “In the First Light.”

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Jerusalem – the “Eye of the Universe”

western wall

The Western Wall of Jerusalem

Jerusalem is a special place. Many consider Jerusalem the center of the earth and even the eye of the universe. Visiting this ancient city is actually indescribable. It is a place of not only history dating back 1,000s of years, but it is also a place of spiritual specialness. Mentioned over 800 times in the Hebrew Scriptures, Jerusalem is a place where the likes of David, Solomon, Hezekiah, Nehemiah, and Jesus all walked.

For the millions of pilgrims visit Jerusalem each year, the city actually does feel as if it is the eye of the universe. A few years ago I was introduce to a song that I think captures what words can’t express about Jerusalem. In this short blog, I want to share with you a song artist named David Green. He goes by simply“Dovid.” He sings a passionate song about how special Jerusalem really is to him, especially touching the most sacred Western Wall

I really enjoy the song, and I hope you do too!

Jerusalem blessings!

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Purim and “The Speech”

Purim is a fun holiday.  In Israel, it’s like our Halloween.  Kids dress up in customs, cookies are made in the shape of Haman ears, and the story of deliverance from the Persians is read from the Book of Esther.  Year after year it’s a time to remember how Esther and Mordecai saved their people from the devastating plans of Haman. This is the story from the Bible when I listened to the Prime Minister of Israel the other day.  What I am about to share is not being said as a political statement, but rather as a statement of moral implications. The speech (watch it below) by Israel’s PM Benjamin Netanyahu was historic! Pure brilliance, speaking the truth against … Continue reading

The Pilate Inscription

It is my viewpoint that the Bible does not need proof in order to be validated as a legitimate source  of truth.  The role of archaeology is to confirm what the Bible already reveals as history.  As I tell each of the groups who travel with me to Israel, archaeology is used not needing to prove the Bible’s historicity, but to reveal  the context in which the history of both the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures take place.  Simply, archaeology is used to enlighten its accuracy.  In a remarkable way, it sheds light on the stories of the Scriptures, without contradiction. In the words of an archaeologist, “In every instance where the findings of archaeology pertain to the Biblical record, the archaeological evidence confirms, sometimes in detailed fashion, the historical accuracy … Continue reading

The Arcasolium Tomb

In my most recent blog entry, I commented on the location for the tomb of Christ.  To summarize, two general locations have been identified for the tomb of Christ, the Holy Sepulcher Church (the traditional location since the 4th century AD), and the Garden Tomb (a relatively new location since the 1,880s).  Archaeologically, the Holy Sepulcher location boasts of having in its vicinity nearly 2 dozen “2nd Temple tombs,” that is, tombs dating to the time of Christ.  The Garden Tomb, while a wonderful and quieter place to reflect, certainly has a impressive tomb on display.  However, it most likely dates to the time of the Old Testament.  Its dimensions and size is classically Iron Age, and thus counters the newly-hewn tomb reference that the Gospel account demands. … Continue reading

Passion Week

The year was 1982.  I was a student in Jerusalem for the year.  My academic focus was biblical archaeology and historical geography, two disciplines that aid the student of the Bible like me to understand the context of the Bible.  The year was about learning things like Middle/Late Bronze walls and fortifications, Iron Age II 4-room houses, pottery inscriptions, regions, ridges and natural routes.  If one was not careful, it very well could have been a year where the mind and information rather than the heart and formation is the focus.  Of course regularly, my heart was touched when we would be “on site” with an open Bible.  We would read on top of Azekah, for instance, the battle narrative from 1 Samuel 17 (e.g. David … Continue reading

The “Place,” the “Person,” and the Church of Nativity

Ever wonder why Bethlehem was the stage where Jesus was born?  Why was it here, in this small Judean village, where God’s redemptive plan would unfold?  The prophets foretold of it, yet it is hard to imagine that the birth of the Savior would take place here.  What’s so special about this town of about 30,000 today? Driving into Bethlehem today takes on a rather non-dramatic feel to it. The ambiance of being in a quaint small town takes a back seat to entering this tourist town filled with vendors trying to sell you their postcards and trinkets.  In fact, there is nothing particularly spiritually impacting with what is called today Manger Square.  While this section of town gets all the TV coverage o Christmas Eve, there’s really nothing … Continue reading

Singing Carols in a Bethlehem Cave

I’ve traveled to Israel many times.  In addition of living in Jerusalem for one year (now 30 years ago, which I can’t believe), I’ve led 24 trips.  If a person comes up to me and asks if I ever get tired of traveling to Israel with groups, I simply respectfully smile and say, “No, not yet.”  I suspect I will never get tired of it.  One of the reasons why “no, not yet” will be my answer until the day I die is experiences such as singing in the caves of Bethlehem. With the exception of maybe one or two times back in the early 2000s (during the height of the Intafada when Bethlehem was off limits), every tour I lead takes us to Bethlehem.  While the Church … Continue reading