“Flip It”  

“Truly I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise (Luke 23:43).”

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The Great Erik Weisz (Harry Houdini)

 

I saw a show at the Wharton Center at Michigan State on Saturday, “The Illusionists.”  These five Broadway magicians were absolutely incredible!  They took numerous impossible scenarios and magically flipped them into stunning miracles.  With absolute precision, they flipped it.  And even in the third row I could not tell how.

On the night of October 29th, 1978, my brother Jack got into his white Ford station wagon, dosed himself with a gallon of gasoline, and lit a match. He was 28.  On the night that he blew himself up in his car with gasoline, in the parking lot of the Irish Castle Bar in Los Angeles, I was 2,265 miles away in Livonia, Michigan asleep.

Jack by the poolJack in L.A. poolside 1976

 

More on my faith story and Jack 

That night changed lives in my family.  Eternity changed too.  At just 17 years old, it was the worst experience of my life.  Where do you go after something like that? Who do you talk to for solace and some perspective?  I went nowhere for about two years.

On the day of April 3rd, 33, God in the flesh was murdered in Jerusalem, probably naked, definitely whipped, beaten, and bloody, in a public execution on a cross.  Two thieves died with Him.  As you can imagine, like Jack’s death, it was nasty.

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The magic of film, Jim and Mel on the set of his epic

 

That night changed lives in Israel.  For those who knew Jesus, as the promised Old Testament Messiah, it was the absolute worst day of all time, ever.  And yet God took the very worst, and flipped it to be the very best, ever…because He didn’t stay dead.  He walked out of His own grave.  God took the worst and made it the best.  That’s no illusion.  It’s real magic.  His is the only empty grave on Earth.  Death died.

Jack always called me by a nickname.  As a baby I wouldn’t lie still.  Always squirming.  That name was Flipper, which he shortened to Flip.  That moniker would be a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts because Jesus flipped me.  Two years after Jack entered eternity, I heard the gospel.  Spiritually, I was asleep, until then.

Screen Shot 2020-02-17 at 4.36.13 PMMore Hollywood magic with Flipper the TV show I grew up with

 

“In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation––having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory (Ephesians 1:13-14).”

God flipped my despair and made it a stunning miracle.  I heard, believed, and the Holy Spirit entered my body. His seal is a down payment, a legal pledge that guarantees God will complete the “purchase” when I die. Like the thief, when Jesus took his worst day and made it his best, He flipped Flip.

Here’s an excellent overview of Paul’s letter to Rome:

The Book of Romans part 1

Romans part 2

Are you despairing?  Paul wrote Romans, the sixth book in the New Testament, to explain the gospel.  Give it a read, ask Him to wake you up to understand it, and He’ll flip your life too.  It’s no illusion.

Read Romans

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Jesus of Nazareth, my favorite movie magic version of Jesus

 

Ernie…The Roman Centurion

 

 

 

 

 

 

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E-logical E-zekiel 18

“…to set free those who were doomed to death (Psalm 102:20).”

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Dr. Francis and his nurse 

 

I love the new AT&T commercials “when just ok is not ok,” especially the one with Dr. Francis and his new surgery patient.  The patient’s wife asks the nurse in his room if she’s ever worked with him and she says, “Oh yeah…he’s okay.”  (Just okay?)

Dr. Francis appears in the doorway and unprofessionally yells down the hall, “Guess who just got re-instated!”  Once he’s inside the room, he quietly admits, “Well, not officially.” Then he asks the now visibly worried patient if he’s nervous about his surgery.  (Yes!)

“Yeah, me too.  Don’t worry about it. We’ll figure it out.”  As he abruptly leaves, the cavalier doctor tosses this over his shoulder, “I’ll see ya’ in there.”  (Say what?)

This patient is doomed and we laugh, but if it were real it’d be scary bad. Now suppose God had a commercial jingle, it might be, “when just good is not good enough.”  Why?  If you’re trusting in your good works to make you acceptable to a holy God, then you’re doomed (and actually insulting Jesus).

Consider Ezekiel chapter 18 and verse 20, which says, “The person who sins will die.”  We all justify our guilty conscience from wrong behavior with, “Well, I’m not that bad.  I’m really pretty good.”  But as Paul says, “All are under sin.  There is none who does good, there is not even one (Romans 3:9-12).”  Compared to a holy God, we’re doomed.

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Ezekiel’s Tomb, 80 miles south of Baghdad

 

If a perfect red balloon represents God’s holiness, as the standard for being with Him in Heaven, then how many pins are needed to break it?  James 2:10 says, “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all.”  It’s not being good.  It’s being totally perfect…holy.  That’s why just being good doesn’t cut it.  Just one sin breaks God’s Law, and our “nobody’s perfect” excuse is really a guilty plea.

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The Red Balloon film (1956)

 

If you care about your dead soul, read the Book of Romans, and note 11:6, which is the key.  “If it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works.”  Grace means if you throw a brick through my living room window, I come to your house and wash all of your windows.  You get what you don’t deserve.  That’s grace, and it’s not logical.

Romans

Romans Part 2

 

That’s what Jesus did.  We all killed our souls with sin, and even one is fatal, and so we deserve punishment for breaking God’s Law…death, but instead He died for us. Why?

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“Behold, the Lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world.”

 

In Ezekiel 18:23, God reveals His heart, “Do I have any pleasure in the death of the wicked, rather than that he should turn from his ways and live?”  Again in verse 32, “For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies (in their sins).  Therefore, repent and live.”  God loves you, but He can’t ignore your guilt.  So Jesus lovingly took your place.

Jesus Christ, when just good is not good enough.  That’s grace (Ephesians 2:1-9).

Ezekiel Explained

Dr. Francis is not okay

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“God in Skin!”

“Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel (Isaiah 7:14).”

The Lamb of God An amazing work of art!

 

Sometimes familiarity makes it hard to see the astounding.  Hard to believe, but living next to the Grand Canyon can eventually become ho-hum.  We sometimes have that “canyon problem” with Christmas too.  Read that verse from Isaiah again, but this time very, very, slowly.

Go ahead.  I’ll wait.

Screen Shot 2019-12-16 at 2.09.49 PM.pngOtherworldly

 

About 2,700 years before Linus explained Christmas to Charlie Brown, Isaiah predicted a sign would be given to solve our sin problem.  It baffled the Jews…a sinful human (who never had sex) would birth a God-baby?  In Hebrew Immanuel means, “God with us.”  God in skin!  That’s some sign!

As amazing as that is, even kinda’ crazy, we realize now there was no other logical way to save us, but some still miss God’s Grand Canyon in Bethlehem. Christmas has become too commonplace.  Perhaps a glimpse into the Sign-giver’s conundrum will jolt your Christmas spirit with the supernatural crackle it so richly deserves.  Consider the problem:

 

  1. Nobody’s perfect. God knows we’ve made mistakes and done wrong (Romans 3:23).

 

  1. God is just. His righteousness demands an accounting for every wrong (Nahum 1:3).

 

  1. God is holy. He must execute justice to be a good and fair judge (Habakkuk 1:13).

 

  1. God loves us. We’re guilty, a death penalty, but a God-Man steps in (Romans 5:6-10).

 

Incarnation was the only logical solution for balancing His love, justice, holiness, and our sin.  God in skin, a drastic measure, bridged the spiritual chasm our sin created between us (Isaiah 59:2).

Screen Shot 2019-12-16 at 2.21.10 PM.pngCharles “veiled in flesh the Godhead see” Wesley wrote “Hark the Herald Angels Sing”

 

Matthew then names Isaiah’s God-baby, “‘She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.’  Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet (Isaiah):  Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel, which translated means, ‘God with us.’” Jesus means “Jehovah saves” in Hebrew.

And Micah identifies His birth location, “…as for you Bethlehem…one will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel, his goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity.”  An eternal king, “God with us,” will come from Bethlehem named “Jehovah saves.”  God and skin merged at Bethlehem; love and justice merged at Jerusalem’s cross (Isaiah 53).   What’s more, God told Micah all of this 700 years beforehand.  That’s some serious crackle!

IMG_2719.JPGThe Bethlehem grotto where God was born as a baby!

 

Bethlehem is God gifting Himself to you for free (Romans 6:23).  Who works for a Christmas gift?  You simply take it, but His present has even more crackle––it makes you as righteous as God Himself (2 Corinthians 5:17)!

This is Christmas…God in skin…removing sin…to make you as holy as Him…to reunite us.  Canyon problem solved, the just for the unjust.  It’s crazy-love-logic, but if that’s too hard to believe, then maybe just skin that gift and see for yourself (John 1:12).

Go ahead.  I’ll wait.

My visit to the spot in Bethlehem in 2016

 

Merry God-in-Skin Day, and a Happy New Life!

Micah explained

Isaiah explained

Isaiah Part Two

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“Gomer or Goner?”

“But Jesus stooped down, and with His finger wrote on the ground (John 8:1-11).”

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Jim Nabors as Gomer

 

Did you know that General Washington made Thanksgiving an official holiday in 1777, long before Lincoln made it our national holiday in 1863?  Both men wanted to thank God for His blessings on America since 1620, but what about you?  What are you the most thankful for on this Thanksgiving?

lincolncolor

Number 16

 

For me, it’s doing nothing.  Let me explain.

With a Catholic father and an Episcopal mother I had a good religious foundation, but I thought forgiveness depended on my efforts.  If I did more good things than bad things, then God would let me into Heaven, kind of like a cosmic scale weighing out my life choices.

I was wrong.  Doing something for God to balance out my sins was delusional.  Imagine a contagious leper offering you a gift. Two examples show that we can do nothing to earn God’s favor.

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The General’s uniform in the Smithsonian

 

Remember what Jesus said to the thief crucified with Him in Luke 23? “Today you will be with Me in Paradise.”  What good works could he do in those final minutes to outweigh a lifetime of sins?

And the adulterous woman about to be stoned in John 8 (above) when Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you.” What good works could she do in those few minutes to outweigh a lifetime of sins?

When you compare your works against His holiness, then we’re all goners, as Isaiah 64:6 says, “…all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment (which in Hebrew is likened to a menstrual cloth).”  Our best is worthless.

So what did Jesus write in the dirt?  Perhaps it was the name of the prophet Hosea’s wife.  She was a harlot too, but God told Hosea to marry her, symbolically depicting Israel’s unfaithfulness to God.  Later on, she was redeemed and brought back to her husband. Her name was Gomer, which means, “complete” in Hebrew, and coincidentally Jesus’ last words on the cross, “It is finished (or complete).”

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What did He write?

 

Admitting that my sin separates me from God is the first step, guilty as charged (Isaiah 59:2), and that my salvation depends on what He completed on the cross––only His bloody sacrifice cancelled my debt (Colossians 2:13-14).  Nothing else.  My cosmic scale is demolished.

Like the adulterous woman and the dying thief, we’re all criminals, but as Ephesians 2:8-9 says, doing nothing is the key, “…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.”  You don’t work for a gift; you just receive it (John 1:12).

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The Thief on the Cross

 

This takes humility to do nothing, to admit guilt, and simply surrender, but that’s what a Gomer is…a desperate harlot or a convicted thief, helpless, only complete by His work on the cross (Galatians 2:16-21).

So on this Thanksgiving I’m most thankful for being a Gomer, one brought back to her husband who could do nothing to be redeemed from my harlotry, but no longer a Goner.

Screen Shot 2019-11-18 at 6.16.36 PM.pngThe adulterous woman and Jesus

 

“…yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.  But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we too were found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not!  For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor.  For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God.  I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.  I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.”

–Galatians 2:16-21

Screen Shot 2019-11-18 at 6.24.33 PM.pngHosea’s redemption of Gomer

 

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

The Book of Hosea explained

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“The Koimeterion Hotel”

“Behold, I tell you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed (1 Corinthians 15:51).”

Screen Shot 2019-10-14 at 12.30.27 PM.png“Remember the Maine!” 

 

I love a good mystery.  My wife and I are enjoying a British detective show called “Vera,” which is in its ninth season and has become wildly popular.  Contrast that popularity with another mystery folks work very hard to ignore…cemeteries.  Have you ever noticed that they are almost always deserted?

Screen Shot 2019-10-14 at 12.28.31 PM.pngD.C. I. Vera Stanhope

 

And yet there’s something about a whole life crammed into a headstone that fascinates me.  I can’t help it; I like cemeteries.  My favorite is in Key West, Florida.  A tombstone there simply reads, “I told you I was sick.”

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Be sure to see your doctor annually

 

The Apostle Paul wrote that we are all sick too (Romans 3:23), infected with a spiritual cancer that has not only deadened our soul (Ephesians 2:1), but also kills our body.  Sin is deadly (Romans 6:23).  Paul also said that even if you are born again–the Holy Spirit is literally inside of your body­–your physical death is inevitable, but that thankfully it’s no longer fatal for a genuine believer.  He likened it to sleep, just like an afternoon nap.

Paul chose a good metaphor.  Death looks like sleep, but sleep is only a temporary condition.  You will eventually wake up, whereas death is a permanent separation of soul and body.  Paul’s warning is that sin makes death inescapable, but that it doesn’t need to be permanent.  The “change” he references above is to the resurrection where real believers are changed into immortals with a new body, but without sin.

Screen Shot 2019-10-14 at 12.32.22 PMMiracle Max and “mostly dead.”

 

So why do we avoid cemeteries?  Perhaps ignoring death lessens our fear of it and the unknown, but the Bible says it’s good to go to funerals because they wake us up to this certain rendezvous (Ecclesiastes 7:1-2).  Like cemeteries, funerals remind us of our own transience, that we have an irrevocable appointment with God, and the supreme importance of not gambling with death (2 Corinthians 5:10).

Are you gambling?  Or are you one hundred percent positive, without a doubt, and absolutely certain that if you died tonight you’d go to Heaven?  The Bible was written for this very purpose (1 John 5:13).  Heaven isn’t guesswork, you can know for sure. Death can be just a nap!

Your fear of death can end today, and then you can join me for a cemetery stroll because they’re not only fascinating historical places, but literally restful. In fact, the Greek word Paul uses for cemetery, koimeterion, is also translated as hotel, a “rest house for strangers.”

XPosure_cover_FINAL copy.jpgA shameless plug (for Adrian Ashworth’s shot of an old graveyard)

 

So if He is inside of you, then death is more exciting than life, and no mystery at all.  As Paul said, “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve, as those who have no hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13).” Although someone giving away the ending for a mystery is annoying, Paul’s spoiler-alert means comfort for our ending…an assured funeral hope…and Jesus’ empty tomb proves that hope. Death itself is quite literally dead.

A peek at Vera Stanhope: Vera Season 9 Trailer

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“Can You Tusrt the Blbie?”

This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil(John 3:19).”

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The phaonmneal pweor of the huamn mnid, aoccdrnig to Cmabrigde Uinervtisy rsceeacrh, syas it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are arnarged, the olny iprmoatnt tihng is taht the fsirt and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae.

The rset can be a taotl mses and you wlil sltil raed it wouthit a porbelm.  Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter, but the wrod as a whole.  Amzanig, huh?

Screen Shot 2019-09-21 at 11.34.55 AMCabmridge Unviersity

 

Lsat month’s bolg daelt wtih the autthoiry of the Blbie and wehtehr or not God wluod alolw sotehming as criitcal as His supneraturlaly reealved insrtucnstios to us for our etnreal savlaiton bieng oepn to consfuion, tapmernig, or miinsterprteatoin.  Eevn in tihs prupesfluly miexd up cloumn, we stlil get the mian piont of tihs mesasge.

How mcuh mroe so if the Amligthy God watned to comumniacte His soltuion for our suols to dael with sin and detah?  Wulod God alolw any ctnoamiantion to His mesasge? Wloud He mkae it hrad to unedrtasnd?  Is He pwoerufl enuogh to ptroect His wrods?

Thsee are obivosuly rhetociral qusteions.  Of coruse God is storng enoguh to procett His svlaation meassge.  The rael quetison is actulaly a matetr of the haert…are you wlliing to reveice His measgse by rediang the Bilbe for yosruelf?

Screen Shot 2019-09-21 at 11.37.20 AM.pngInsipred or jsut a book?

 

Look waht Jeuss siad in Luke 16:31, “But He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.’” 

If tehy wolud not acecpt the messgae of the Old Tetsamnet rergading tiehr sin and His lvoe for tehm, eevn afetr sieeng so mnay demontsratoins of His mirauclous lvoe, eevn rasiing the daed wluod not sotfen tehir hrad heatrs.  It’s not crebidility…it’s stubbnroess.

Your hrad herat, lvoe of slef, and sin, preevnts you form eevn reanidg His Wrod. So lte’s hvae no mroe excsues abuot the Bbile bieng flul of conrtadicitons or mistinerprteatoins. The rael isuse is yuor haert and you simlpy dno’t lvoe God.

Or myabe yuo’re afarid, like a naghuty chlid who feras dispciline, but tihs is precilsey why Jeuss cmae…to tkae yuor puhnisment, so you colud cmoe bcak. Lkie the Prdoigal Son stroy taht Jseus tlod in Luke 15, yuor Fatehr lnogs for you to cmoe hmoe.

Wlil you gvie up and adimt yuor need (Isaiah 64:6), or mkae lmae exucses aoubt the Bilbe’s inipsration.  Hvae you eevn seriolsuy raed the Bblie?  Why not try rdaeing the Gospel of John and see for yruoslef if Jeuss is the olny way as He clamied (John 14:6)?

Screen Shot 2019-09-21 at 11.38.53 AM.pngThe Apsotle Jhon’s letetr

 

You mgiht fnid taht He loevs you, and olny watns to hlep you. Eevn miexd up, like this bolg, if yuo’ll just raed His Wrod you may fnid taht He loevs you.  If not, tehn mabye yuo’re the rael contdraiction for critciizing somtehing yuo’ve nveer seriosuly raed and it’s not the Blibe…or pehraps you jsut lvoe the dkraness?

 

 

 

 

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“Mythed Me By That Much”

“Now these (Bereans) were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the Word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily, to see whether these things were so (Acts 17:11).”

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Agent 86, Max Smart

 

Three weeks before the 75thanniversary of the Normandy invasion, I found myself on Omaha Beach in France.  The flat expanse overwhelms; there’s no cover from the Nazi gunfire that slaughtered our troops.  Even a poor marksman with eyes closed couldn’t miss killing gobs of men in that open terrain.  It was beyond humbling.

IMG_1035Normandy, a chilling place even without bullets and explosions

 

When we got back in the car, our French tour guide recounted the story of Raymond Hoback’s Bible (he and his brother Bedford of A Company, 116thInfantry were both killed on June 6thwhere we had literally just stood). Another American soldier found his Bible on the beach and thoughtfully mailed it to the family.

“They were the first to go in and they really didn’t have a chance, the Germans were mowing them down as they hit the beach,” said Lucille Hoback Boggess, their younger sister.  “My mother always treasured that Bible.”

The brothers Hoback

 

I asked our guide where he went to church.  Sadly, he said he never did, and had been raised with no real comprehension of Jesus.  Then he added that no one goes to church in France!  I was stunned and asked if he ever read the Bible.  He’d never opened one, but there were so many interpretations, why bother?

IMG_1037Florent, our amazing guide, explaining the D-Day landings

 

This was a dangerous myth, perhaps even more deadly than the German guns that had killed over 20,000 Americans by August 21, 1944.  Why?  Because his eternal destiny hung in the balance, and so I asked him the question I now pose to you.

If God wanted to communicate soul-saving truth about sin, death, and how to get to Heaven…would He make His truth complicated or easy to understand? And furthermore, would He supernaturally preserve that communication from all error and misunderstanding to ensure that you grasped His redemption message?

IMG_1142Bloody Omaha (the Germans cleared away all buildings in 1944)

 

If I were God, and gave up my life to DIE in your place to save you, I’d use all of my power to keep my message simple, secure, and so easy to understand that even if you weren’t very smart you’d still get it.  Speaking of getting smart…Don Adams made this comical phrase in our title famous as Maxwell Smart’s explanation for escaping death in the TV show “Get Smart.”  Missing out on death is precisely the point here.

Thessalonica as it appears today (Acts 17)

 

Unfortunately, most people have never read the Bible and will “myth out” on Heaven by “that much”… just two feet, the distance from their head to their heart. Just like the soldier who found Hoback’s Bible said, “I was walking along the beach D-Day plus one.  I came upon the Bible and as most any person would do I picked it up.”  So, why not get smart, just pick it up, and be a Berean to see if these things are so?  The Hoback family treasured it for a very good reason, and now it’s yours to discover why.

IMG_1133.JPGNot even a matchstick to hide behind

 

If you are you too young for getting “Get Smart,” here’s Agent 86 in spy-tacular form with his famous refrain:

Max…”Missed it by that much!”

 

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