Easier Than You Think—Sharing your faith doesn’t have to be difficult!

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There are times when you hear people talk about witnessing as though it’s an advanced science. Quantum mechanics. Theoretical physics.

But then you hear every day, real world, true life examples of how it actually works, and you realize again that—yes—sharing your faith is something everyone can do. Successfully.

Pastor Chris Buttery, Senior Pastor of the Sacramento Central Church in Sacramento, California, recently told me a truly magnificent story. Central Church is a congregation that emphasizes sharing the gospel with others, being involved in letting people know the good news about Jesus and His word. Pastor Chris told me about one church member who has taken that emphasis seriously.

Margaret* volunteers at a local food bank, and encouraged by Central’s “Each One, Reach One” emphasis decided she would invite Ray* to attend church with her. Ray accepted the invitation, came to church at Central, enjoyed the experience, returned, got involved in Bible studies… and was recently baptized.

Margaret doesn’t have a degree in religion and has never been formally taught how to share her faith. But Margaret has several things going for her. One, she loves God. Two, she recognizes people need to know the good news of the gospel. Three, Margaret prayed that Ray would accept her invitation and trusted God’s Spirit would work in his heart. And four, Margaret believes in the mission of the church. As she told Pastor Chris the day of Ray’s baptism, “Pastor, this is my ‘Each One, Reach One!’”

There are some simple principles to follow when it comes to sharing your faith, and Margaret understands them. It’s important to mingle with people and let them know you genuinely care about them. As a volunteer in a community service organization, Margaret is spending time regularly with people not of her faith and is getting to know them. She is what Jesus described in Matthew 5:13 as “the salt of the earth.”

It’s also important to minister to the needs of others and in so doing win their confidence. Far too many people only manage to convince their neighbors or associates that religion makes you strange or unapproachable. It’s necessary to let your love for God build bridges and not walls. Margaret invested her time into the people she volunteered with, showing them she had a faith worth having. Then Ray felt it was worth investing in also

Also it’s important that at some time an invitation is given. Too many people have the idea that the very best thing to do is just live your Christian life before others without saying much of anything about what it represents, and then wait for people to ask you what it is that makes you so wonderful. But without investing in people, without ministering to their needs, without winning their confidence and acquainting them with the reality of your faith, it is far less likely that an individual is ever going to seek you out and enquire about your personal belief system. Without some type of personal investment it is more likely others will think you’re little more than quirky or odd. There really needs to be an element of intentionality about sharing one’s faith in God. And part of that is to intentionally (and graciously) ask people to take some sort of step. To attend a meeting or a church service, to read a book or a tract, or to watch a DVD or television program. Ask around: a lot of people will tell you they’d have never attended church if someone hadn’t asked them to do so.

And when those simple steps are taken, the results are always magnificent. No, not everyone you reach out to will become a disciple of Jesus Christ, but they’ll be given an opportunity to know who He is, what He is like, and to make a decision based on good information shared with them by a trusted friend.

That’s what happened with Ray, now an active member of a local church congregation, and very grateful for his friend Margaret.

Who happens to be—by the way—almost ninety years old.


*Names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.

“We’re Getting to That Age…”

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A friend of mine messaged me. “We’re getting to that age.” And apparently we are.

I haven’t had many close friends die. I’m still too young, thankfully. But that seems to be changing.

While my next oldest brother lost a gaggle of friends in car accidents while he was still a teenager, I didn’t. One elementary school friend died in a car crash after our paths had long diverged, and a high school classmate I didn’t really have anything to do with died in a wreck just after he left school. And while that’s obviously tragic on many levels, I hadn’t really ever lost a close friend.

While I was overseas on a speaking appointment, someone suggested I visit Gavin*, in hospital for what I was told was something chronic but not terribly serious. I traveled miles out of my way to try to see my old friend, a groomsman in my wedding, who for years had been involved in various facets of ministry. After scouring one hospital, I was told he’d been transferred to another, where I was directed to the twelfth floor—the neurological ward. Huh?

I hadn’t seen my friend in nearly 20 years, but recognizing his brother—whom I’d never met—I knew I was in the right place. When I saw Gavin, he was in a coma. I spoke his name and he opened his eyes and looked into mine.

He never came out of the coma, and died a week later. 

Those 20 years have passed by in a flash. How was it we never kept in touch? Thankfully, we’ll have eternity for that.

I wish I could have been at the funeral.

I was standing in a parking lot outside a hotel in Orlando when I received a call from an old friend and former colleague. She got to the point right away. “Breast cancer.” While her dark humor was in part a mask for her anxiety, it was mostly a reflection of her confidence. She expected cancer to be tough but had no doubt she’d come through.

Except she didn’t.

Ten days later, an email from a friend of hers said the cancer had spread just about everywhere and that this would be a difficult journey. Nature took its course. Treatment only delayed the inevitable.

She had success in her career, then a career change, a daughter, various ups and downs. We both had been raised in the same denomination. She had what appeared to be an uneasy peace with God. And now she’s gone.

I wish I could have been at the funeral.

JB and friend

Simon* and myself around 10 years old at a rugby league park.

A couple of days ago I received a brief message from a close friend. “I don’t know if you heard Simon* has passed away.” 

What?!

I hadn’t seen Simon in at least 30 years, but in our first couple of years of high school we were as close as two friends could be. We spent enormous amounts of time together—too much, according to my school attendance reports. We went through a lot of the typical and many of the regrettable teenage rites of passage together. For several years he was as close a friend as I had.

I was told it was either a massive heart attack or a stroke. At his age? Photos taken at a high school reunion showed that 30 years later he still looked fit and well, and had the same baby face.

I remember him telling me that as a kid he prayed that God—if He was real—would cause a Yamaha trail bike (a TT 250) to appear in his bedroom when he opened his eyes. He drove too fast, smoked too much, and laughed a lot. I always imagined I’d bump into him one day, somewhere, sooner or later. Surely.

My friend was right. My group is getting to that age. If you’ve walked this far along the road then you know how it feels when your friends start dying.  Life really isn’t a game. It’s one thing when someone’s grandma dies. It’s another when you start losing friends thirty-five-plus years short of the average life expectancy.

And what of eternity? As Shakespeare wrote, ah, there’s the rub. Consider that—and one must—and one’s meditations take on a solemn tone.

Life and death. Big questions. Now being asked of my generation with uncomfortable regularity.

Another friend gone. The photo I saw a few days ago showed him looking implausibly young, but graying at his temples. On the table in front of him was a packet of cigarettes—the warning message clearly visible—and a bottle of beer. I don’t know the circumstances, but it looked as though this was yet another unnecessary, avoidable death. A life cut way too short. There was still plenty of daylight between him and 50.

I wish I could be there for the funeral.


 *Names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.

Opportunity Lost

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An interesting story emerged as a sideline to the recent Super Bowl 50 football game played between the Carolina Panthers and the Denver Broncos. 

John Elway, now Denver’s General Manager and the winner of two Super Bowls as a player with Denver, was once made an extremely generous offer by the majority owner of the franchise.

In 1998, Pat Bowlen offered Elway the chance to buy 10 percent of the Broncos for $15 million. Additionally, Elway was offered a further 10 percent of the organization for foregoing $21 million of deferred salary.

It was a no-lose deal. Even if Elway decided to sell his share of the Broncos at a later time the Broncos would buy it back for $5 million more than he paid, plus 8 percent interest per year. And to sweeten the deal, John Elway would have the first right of refusal to buy more of the team should the Bowlen family choose to sell.

$36 million—$15 million of it cash—for 20 percent of a successful professional football franchise. Elway, as a successful player and investor, had the money to do the deal.

Today, Elway’s stake in the team would be worth $388 million. Except that it is not his.

Elway didn’t do the deal.

The opportunity of a lifetime—from a football/business point of view—went begging. And as sure as night follows day, it won’t come around again. Today, John Elway is a paid employee of the Broncos organization, and not an owner.

I’m certain Elway isn’t asking anyone to pity him. Financially he’s in a very sound position and one would assume happy with the way his career has played out. But the story reminds us that there are opportunities you really don’t want to waste. And never is that more true than when dealing with your spiritual life.

There are a couple of accounts in the Bible that make the point crystal clear.

In Matthew 19, a young man asks Jesus a deep question: “Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?” (Matthew 19:16).

The question itself betrays an unfortunate misunderstanding of both the plan of salvation and the character of God. Salvation isn’t granted according to anything we ‘do’, like a pay check is earned after a hard day’s work. Yet Jesus opted to meet the man on his own ground, and answered by listing a number of the ten commandments, saying, “If you want to enter into life, keep the commandments” (verse 17).

The commandments Jesus mentioned were from the second division of the ten commandments, which deals with a person’s relationship to other people. Yet Jesus chose not to mention the tenth commandment, the one which deals with coveting. Jesus was hoping to awaken the man’s thinking, to help him realize he had an issue with covetousness. 

He pressed on. “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” This was a bridge too far for the rich young ruler. Considering his goods to be his gods, he turned away from Jesus and spurned the opportunity of a lifetime.

It was a simple proposition. “Get your priorities right and you’ll be standing on spiritually solid ground. But considering anything to be more important than God is spiritually disastrous.” 

Easy enough? In theory. But covetousness is so strong an allurement, self-interest so intoxicating, that the young man compared everlasting life with his possessions and figured his possessions were a better deal. Madness? Of the worst kind. Jesus offered him everything. He chose instead what amounted to be nothing.

In Acts 26, the apostle Paul stands before a young king named Agrippa and recounted his Damascus Road experience. Appealing to Agrippa’s heart for the sake of the cross, Paul asks, “King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets?” Knowing of Agrippa’s familiarity with the Scriptures and the conviction he was under, Paul didn’t even wait for an answer from the Jewish king. “I know that you do believe,” he asserted (Acts 26:27).

Agrippa was moved, but in his moment of opportunity hardened his heart instead of choosing to yield to God’s drawing. He answered, “You almost persuade me to become a Christian” (verse 28).

Almost persuaded. The 18th Century hymn writer Philip Paul Bliss (who also wrote the tune to ‘It Is Well With My Soul’) wrote a hymn by that name. The final verse is as sober a verse as you’re ever likely to hear:

Almost persuaded, harvest is past!

Almost persuaded, doom comes at last!

Almost cannot avail;

Almost is but to fail!

Sad, sad, that bitter wail

Almost, but lost!

In the grand scheme of things, it matters nothing that John Elway didn’t buy a share of a football team. But to miss out on the greatest deal of all time—your heart handed over to God, Jesus’ own righteousness and the gift of eternal life given to you—will matter for all time.

God makes it so simple. Make room for Him in your life now and He’ll make room for you in His plans for eternity.

It’s a no-lose deal.

Nunuku’s Law

John Bradshaw with Moriori tree carvings hundreds of years old.

John Bradshaw with Moriori tree carvings hundreds of years old.

 

This year on Martin Luther King Junior Day I found myself on a small island few people ever visit, a place I never imagined I’d ever go. But given the day, there’s no place I would rather have been.

500 miles east of the South Island of New Zealand, Chatham Island—a third of the size of the state of Rhode Island—is the home of 80,000 sheep and cattle, and 600 people. It is also the site of one of history’s most remarkable demonstrations in favor of peace.

Hundreds of years ago the Moriori people arrived by canoe from Eastern Polynesia to become the indigenous people of an island they named Rekohu meaning “Misty Sun”—an allusion to the weather commonly experienced there. Guided by principles of non-violence, they established a peaceful society committed to harmonious living. When an influential islander named Nunuku witnessed fighting among a group of young men, he urged the establishment of a peace covenant which became the bedrock of Moriori culture. For centuries the Moriori lived under this covenant of peace. They couldn’t possibly have imagined that their commitment to peace would one day be tested in the severest way imaginable.

In 1835, groups from two Maori tribes (the indigenous people of mainland New Zealand) arrived by ship on Chatham Island. The Moriori welcomed the visitors and helped them back to health after their wearying journey. They went so far as to offer the visitors a home and a share some of the island’s resources. But the visitors weren’t interested in sharing the island. They were there to take it.

Recognizing their danger, the Moriori convened a council and discussed their options. Some urged they fight and resist the Maori and defend their society and culture, while others favored adhering to Nunuku’s Law, which for centuries had defined who the Moriori were as a people.

Ultimately the decision was made. Nunuku’s Law would be honored. The 2,000 Moriori would not defend themselves against the 900 Maori invaders—whatever the cost.

The Moriori were massacred. Hundreds were murdered, many were eaten (cannibalism was still practiced by some Maori in the 1830s), and many more were enslaved. By the 1860s, there were only 101 Moriori left alive.

In spite of the slaughter, the Moriori might well have reestablished their society had not the English justice system completed what the Maori invaders began. Appealing to then Governor George Grey, the surviving Moriori were confident justice would turn back the tide of violence and brutality and allow them to remake their devastated society. Their confidence in the English justice system proved to be misplaced.

There is a carved center pole in the meeting house at Kopinga Marae on Rekohu/Chatham Island that is inscribed with the names of the hundreds who perished during and as a result of the invasion. It is a powerful reminder of a bold stand taken by a people who placed a commitment to peace above a commitment to their own wellbeing.

Familiar story?

The story of the cross is the story of a Savior who could have fought for Himself, but chose instead to die for a cause He considered greater than that of His own existence.

“Hereby perceive we the love of God, because He laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1 John 3:16).

Martin Luther King Jr. gave his life so that those who came after him could experience the freedom promised them in the Constitution.

Mohandas Gandhi chose a path that led to death so that others might experience a more meaningful life.

The Moriori of New Zealand’s Rekohu/Chatham Island laid down their lives because they believed in peace and non-violence.

As foolhardy as it is to fail to learn from these remarkable, heroic, historic figures, to fail to learn the myriad lessons of the cross is infinitely more so. To shun the cross and its privileges today would be akin to choosing slavery or opting for oppressive colonialism. To close our hearts to the gift given us at Calvary would be to consign ourselves to an eternity devoid of hope.

The Moriori died because they valued peace, and through their example offer an opportunity for humankind to choose peace in this world.

Jesus—the Prince of Peace—died to offer humankind the opportunity to know peace for eternity.

Martin Luther King Jr. Day means a lot to me. This year it meant even more.

P.S. Watch for the upcoming It Is Written program, “Nunuku’s Law,” filmed on location in New Zealand’s Chatham Islands.

A specially carved pole in the Moroni meeting house on Chatham Island is inscribed with the names of the victims of the 19th Century massacre.

A specially carved pole in the Moroni meeting house on Chatham Island is inscribed with the names of the victims of the 19th Century massacre.

Making Our Mark

A fresh new look—same inspired mission

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In 2016 It Is Written will celebrate 60 years of soul-winning media evangelism. As the adage goes, 60 is the new 40, and the new 40 wouldn’t be right without a fresh look. But that’s not the only reason for It Is Written’s new logo—a modern adaptation of the iconic quill.

“We needed a logo that was original and distinctive. Something simple and not tied to a particular technology, since technology is constantly changing,” It Is Written General Manager Dr. Jesse Johnson explained.

The logo design process took several months and was overseen by It Is Written Creative Director Michael Prewitt. The team felt it was important to connect the new logo with the name, It Is Written. The quill represents the pen of inspiration that inscribed the sacred Scriptures and represents the work of medieval scribes who reproduced the biblical text. It signifies a timeless message, anchored in history but relevant today.

The colors of the logo are also designed with intent. The solid, classic blue represents the dignity and strength of It Is Written’s message. The vibrant gold adds energy and forward movement. There were also practical and design elements to consider.

“The new colors are easier and less expensive to match with standard material colors—inks, threads, and plastics, for example—than the previous dark teal palette,” Michael Prewitt said.

The designers also wanted to select a design that would work well for the Spanish ministry, Escrito Está, and would incorporate the current font of the ministry name.

“As we embark on our 60th Anniversary, we are dedicated to proclaiming truth and changing lives through the living Word of God,” It Is Written Speaker/Director John Bradshaw said. “Our logo may have received a facelift, but It Is Written’s commitment to fulfilling the gospel commission is as timeless as the quill itself.”

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Christmas: What Matters Most?

Christmas: What Matters Most?

One of my older brothers—all of four or five years old at the time—had little money to buy Dad a Christmas gift. So he scratched together the few cents he could find and bought something he was sure Dad would like, wrapped it and put it under the Christmas tree. 

My father unwrapped the little gift to find his young son had bought him a small bar of shaving soap. It wasn’t imported from France and it didn’t come in beautifully designed foil. It was just a humble little bar of shaving soap, the simple gift of a little boy for his daddy.

Thirty-five years later my father told me it was the most special gift he had ever received.

There are plenty of reasons to be cynical about Christmas. Christmas and commercialism are now joined at the hip. If you’ve ever wondered why parking lots are so big you get your answer on December 24, when the malls are crowded and people are trying desperately to find last-minute gifts. It’s a time of conspicuous consumption, and petty arguing about “Happy Holidays” versus “Merry Christmas” or the rights and wrongs of manger scenes.

But apart from having grown weary of shopping mall Christmas music years ago, I’m finding more reasons to enjoy Christmas and fewer reasons to be grinch-like.

I hear people at the mall saying, “Grandma would love this!” Or, “I’m going to try to find something for Lakeisha,” with the aim of bringing joy into a friend’s life and letting her know she’s appreciated. I drive past homes on Christmas Day and see families gathered together, seven cars in a driveway where usually there is only one. People and businesses make a conscious effort to speak of peace and goodwill. Stories make the news of big-hearted people putting huge sums of money into Salvation Army collection kettles. 

At Christmas we see family, often extended family we haven’t seen in forever. This year we visited an uncle and aunt we hadn’t seen since our wedding day. I hadn’t known Harold had served in the Air Force in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam, of that he had authored two books. And nobody had told me his son had been a state cycling champion. We saw other, closer family members who had lost a son just a couple of months ago. We went to church with people we’ve been worshiping with on and off for over twenty years. They’ve aged. I guess that means I have, too.

My earliest memories of Christmas are of attending midnight mass on Christmas Eve, and opening gifts the next morning with family. Christmas was always in the summer when I was a child, which even now seems to me to be the right time of the year for Christmas.

One December morning as we waited to go out on the platform at the beginning of church, I asked the people with me to tell me about the most special gift they had ever received. I was expecting someone to say “a new car!” or “a holiday overseas!” But in every case the gift was small and inexpensive, and usually hand-made by a child. And in every case it was a simple gift that had been given with love.

At It Is Written, we receive prayer requests from all over the world and we pray for those requests regularly. I’ve never seen a prayer request from anyone asking for a Bentley or a new yacht or even a PlayStation. The vast majority of them are along the lines of, “Please pray for my children to give their heart to Christ.” “Please pray for my husband’s health.” “Please pray for my upcoming surgery.” And we do. What matters most to people… is people.

It’s telling that the greatest gift ever given was the gift of a person. A baby who became a man who died so that we could have what really matters most. “For God so loved the world that He gave…” so we could live forever.

How is it that a two-inch-long bar of shaving soap could be the most special gift a man ever received? Because ultimately what matters most is what matters most. I’m thankful Christmas shines a light on what is truly significant. I’m able to see past wrapping paper and decorations and Santa suits and even “Jingle Bell Rock” (grrrr…) and turn to God with thanks for an annual, concentrated reminder that there are some things of real value.

Donald Trump, Fury, and Opinion

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 Photo by Michael Vadon

 

One expects that during an election campaign promises will be made and statements uttered that challenge one’s patience and stretch the bounds of credulity. During the current election primaries one candidate in particular has made a number of statements that have upset a lot of people. One statement in particular has a lot of people angry.

Donald Trump’s recent suggestion that Muslims be prevented from entering the United States was the straw which for many broke the back of the proverbial camel. He has been called “unhinged”, a “fascist demagogue,” “reprehensible” and a “madman.”

But Donald Trump is no madman. Early in this campaign Mr. Trump shrewdly realized that his aggressive campaign style was to his political advantage. Mr. Trump—making his first tilt at elected public office—has achieved what his political opponents can only wish they had achieved. We’re talking about him. A lot.

But it should be kept in mind that in calling for a ban on Muslims traveling to the United States, Donald Trump has merely expressed an opinion, one shared by a significant slice of the electorate. He has done nothing illegal, even though tens of thousands of people have signed a petition to have him banned from the United Kingdom. He has simply expressed an opinion while campaigning for votes.

Which is not to say Mr. Trump has acted appropriately. Ultimately the electorate will decide precisely how acceptable his remarks have been. But the wave of disgust the Donald has engendered was not for a law passed, a crime committed or a threat made. It was for the expression of an opinion, spoken on a campaign trail, moments after 14 innocent people were murdered by terrorists, during a time when Americans are feeling especially vulnerable.

British boxer Tyson Fury experienced a similar reaction to comments he made following his recent shock victory over the seemingly invincible Russian heavyweight, Wladimir Klitchko. Fury—the descendant of Irish travelers—has made no secret of his views on the role of women and has expressed views on homosexuals that many have found offensive. Fury claims the backlash against his view on gays stems from “some quote that I quoted out of the Bible,” meaning that—from his point of view—he is being condemned simply for verbalizing his Christian faith. 1

A self-professed born-again Christian, Mr. Fury is often referred to by many in Britain as a “chav”, or what Americans might call a “redneck.” He has expressed opinions one might call intolerant, ignorant or offensive (or a combination thereof) depending on one’s viewpoint. However, a generation (or less) ago, Tyson Fury’s opinions would have raised the ire of few. The possibility exists that Fury is less a hate monger, and more a slow learner.

Freedom of expression is a delicate thing, as is freedom itself. The freedom you enjoy allowing you to learn to fly a plane carries with the expectation that you will not use that freedom to fly an aircraft into the side of a skyscraper. It is expected that one’s freedom to own a gun will be accompanied by a respect for life. And in the vast majority of cases the aforementioned freedoms are appropriately respected. However, in the cases in which they are not, disaster is the frequent result, the excruciating pain of which is felt by society as a whole in a multiplicity of ways.

The reaction to the opinions uttered by Donald Trump and Tyson Fury raise the question not only of appropriate expression of opinion, but also of appropriate expression of reaction. Take the case of the 30-year-old PR executive who in December of 2014 tweeted an off-hand (and unintentionally off-color) joke as she boarded a flight from Heathrow to Johannesburg. By the time she landed in South Africa the Twittersphere had hemorrhaged and she had been digitally hung, drawn and quartered. Her life was ruined. 2

People often react harshly to the opinions of others. While still a mere Twitter neophyte 3, I tweeted in the wake of a tragedy that had occurred something along the lines of, “It’s easy to preach when something like this has happened!” For reasons I have never been made aware of, several young men tweeted their outrage, one of them suggesting I was “giddy” (with excitement) in the wake of the tragedy. I was aghast. Giddy?

It’s probable I should have simply deleted my comments and moved on, but I decided instead to engage the self-appointed guardians of online expression. I can’t remember what I wrote, but what I thought was, “If you’d said that to my face when I wasn’t a Christian I’d have broken your jaw.” But of course the comments weren’t made to my face. They never are. Even many Christians don’t confront others the way we used to back in the pre-internet day. Twitter is HGH for 90-pound cyber-weaklings who hide behind their keyboards. In my naiveté it stung that someone who was essentially a ministerial colleague would publicly attack me and throw me under the bus without making the slightest effort to understand what I was actually saying. Giddy? #Givemeabreak

Where we find ourselves today is at the intersection of intolerance and intolerance. Mr. Fury freely admits, “I’m not very educated.” He makes sexist comments—“A women’s place is…”— and like many others, disagrees with the legalizing of homosexuality, and suddenly he is the antichrist. Meanwhile, movie director Quentin Tarantino is quoted as saying: “What if a kid goes to school after seeing Kill Bill and starts slicing up other kids? You know, I’ll take that chance!” and is considered a genius. Donald Trump suggests Muslims be banned from traveling to the United States—a proposal which in practical terms would be all but impossible to implement—and the internet hyperventilates, while misogynistic hip-hop molds the minds of the youthful masses, pornography is being force-fed to our children, revenge porn is legal in more than half of the not-entirely-United States, and truly draconian minimum sentencing laws have condemned thousands of people to spend the rest of their lives in prison for offenses which—when taken in context—frequently struggle to rise above trivial.

Society has REAL problems, but Donald Trump and Tyson Fury aren’t among them. They’re simply two men who are profoundly good at what they do and who likely care less than you do about what people think of them and their opinions. There’s an ancient Chinese proverb that says, “Don’t feed the trolls.” Not one person has yet voted for Donald Trump to be leader of the free world, and there’s a good chance Fury won’t even win his rematch with Wladimir Klitschko, PhD. As Michael White wrote in The Guardian, “There comes a point when being vocally intolerant of intolerance oversteps the mark; it risks sounding like virtuous grandstanding or even intolerance in its own right. There’s a balance to be struck and wavering voters to be won over.”

“There’s a balance to be struck.” Responsibility should be exercised on both sides of the equation. Donald Trump revels in winding up the easily offended, while in Tyson Fury’s world his views might even be viewed as moderate. Both men are keenly aware of the deep offense caused by their remarks, but are erudite enough to realize it isn’t in their best interests to take a backward step. 4

We all have in our midst people who disagree with us. Do we want them silenced? And if so, would the society we create as a result be an improvement on the one we currently have?

I’ve met people whose family members disappeared because their views didn’t square with the views of “society.” A woman told me of the death of her pastor husband, thrown by police from the roof of a building. The report into his death stated he had alcohol in his system when he died, in spite of the fact the man didn’t drink. I have held in my hands Christian books that were produced by stealth typists who worked in short shifts hidden beneath sound-dampening blankets. They labored in the knowledge that should the clickety-clak of their typewriter be detected by informers, their reward would have been to join the long procession to the labor camps where millions perished.

A careful reading of the Bible reveals that before the return of Jesus certain believers will be persecuted not for their crimes but their opinions. The mark of the beast will be forced on all who fail to fall in line behind the majority view. I was incredulous when Christians in one ‘free’ Asian country told me churches had to receive authorization in order to have a church gathering in a public place. I was less surprised when believers in a former communist country recalled the days of living under similar conditions before the iron curtain came down. Yes, those who disagree with statements publicly made have a right to be heard. But no greater right than those who are currently caught in their crosshairs.

I spoke with a man this past weekend who told me his grandmother chose to separate from the church of her childhood in the 1930s when her local priest could not answer her questions about the Bible Sabbath. In 1943 a neighbor—suspicious about the woman’s Sabbath observance—reported her to the authorities, who summarily transported her to the Ravensbrück Concentration Camp, which at the time was home to thousands of Sabbath-keepers. Like most of them, she died there. The final words she spoke to her daughters were words of faith and hope. “Be strong, and continue to stand for Jesus.”

As a society we’re either going to learn to live with each other’s viewpoint and move forward accordingly, or we’re going to end up embroiled in a constant barrage of intolerance. Tweetmageddon. My fear is that we’re going to become so adept at shame-shaming that when the troubles forecast in Scripture begin to come to pass, we’ll be pre-programmed to pile on without restraint, your right to believe as you please be damned.

And we’ll long for the good old days, when in a free world Donald Trump made inflammatory comments and Tyson Fury was bemused by the visceral reaction his chav upbringing couldn’t help but elicit.

As distasteful as some opinions might be, these are the good old days. We’ll miss them when they’re gone.

And gone they’ll be. Before we know it.


 

  1.  Mr. Fury has since offered an apology for some of his remarks.
  2.  For a time and a season.
  3.  I’m still far from a seasoned Twitter vet, and maintain a personal Twitter page only because certain young adults in our office told me I had to. What can you do?
  4.  I take it you have seen Donald Trump’s poll numbers.

Mission: Mongolia Update

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Even though many books have been written and sermons preached on the last verses in the Gospel of Matthew known as the Great Commission, those words can be summed in one simple sentence: Make friends for Jesus.

That’s exactly what our team of volunteers determined to do from October 1 to 10 during the first medical mission trip of the Mission: Mongolia project. From across the United States, 18 It Is Written partners and friends converged upon Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia. Most of us arrived as mere acquaintances, however, by the time the journey was over, we had become family because of the powerful experience we had making friends for our Lord.

The Mongolian government rarely gives permission for buildings to be designated as churches. Instead, community centers are build to serve the local communities and provide a place for worship. Our mission involved working with two community centers located in neighborhoods where the poorest of the poor Mongolians live. These are neighborhoods where there is no running water and in some cases even no electricity. Imagine these places in the dead of winter when temperatures drop to -30°F and people, for example, have to fetch water at the local water station up to a mile away. Living in Mongolia is definitely not for the faint of heart. Thankfully with money provided by It Is Written friends, wells were drilled so that community centers would have running water—something that made them very popular places for visitors.

On the first day of our clinics’ operation, the It Is Written team and the faithful local church members transformed the community centers into makeshift clinics. We set up waiting rooms, consultation rooms, and even little pharmacies. Once done, we wondered if anyone would show up. We didn’t have to wonder long because at both locations long lines of people quickly formed with people eager to meet with the foreign doctors.

With the help of dedicated translators, the team began to see patient after patient—700 altogether. As life-changing as a visit with a doctor could potentially be, we knew that the greatest blessing an individual could receive was the loving touch of Jesus through one of His children. So by God’s grace we determined to reflect the loving presence of Jesus through words and actions to a people who have no clue who Jesus is (over 97% of Mongolians are Buddhist or nonreligious). All consultations ended with a prayer and an invitation to a health presentation in the evening.

Every evening a miracle took place: the two community centers’ meeting halls were full. These are community centers that usually have just a handful of people in attendance. Every evening it was standing room only—to the point that one of our physicians donated money for more chairs. The nightly health presentations were followed by what we referred to as “Jesus Talks”, short personal and heartfelt talks to introduce people to Jesus. These nightly presentations were so successful that on Sabbath morning the regular attendance doubled. What a blessing it was on Sabbath morning to see all these special guests attend the worship services and receive their very own Bible in Mongolian. You should have seen their smiles.

One of the guests was a young pregnant woman who was suffering terrible back pain. She was so moved by the kindness of the Christian caregivers that she came every night to hear about Jesus and attended worship services on Sabbath. This revealed the power of combining healthcare with the gospel and making friends for Jesus.

If you’re interested in also making friends for Jesus in Mongolia, we have an upcoming mission trip in April (13–25). We need health professionals! Physicians, dentists, nurse practitioners, nurses, etc.

Please e-mail yves@iiw.org for more information.

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Happy Thanksgiving

A friend’s daughter died a couple of days ago. She was eight years old.

We’ve been praying at the office lately for a little girl with brain cancer, and recently for another little girl—an infant—who has a particularly rare, aggressive cancer that one might expect would take her life.

Terrorists have orchestrated mass killings recently in Paris and Bamako and nobody believes we’ve seen nearly the worst of what is expected.

Happy Thanksgiving!

The truth is, life is gritty. Not even the Bible provides neat, pithy answers for the realities of life lived in a sinful world. 

No, we don’t choose to wallow in our problems and one has to believe that optimism is nearly always appropriate. The world has come through crisis after crisis and has managed to keep its head above water. Here we are again this year, settling in with our mashed potatoes (yum!) and cranberry sauce (not yum!) and green beans (green beans…) and turkey (or turkey-like substance), enjoying family, visiting in-laws and grandchildren and parents, grateful for a day to exhale. 

And yet the world is not well. And we know it.

The truth is we’ve never been promised a world without problems or personal pain. In God’s first conversation with the fallen human family, He promised enmity would undergird the experience of humanity from that time on. His words have proven to have been painfully accurate.

So how are we to be thankful this Thanksgiving? How are you to be thankful when your infant daughter is fighting for her life? Or how does a family unexpectedly bereaved of a nearly nine-year-old princess find it’s way to the point of thanks? Let’s not pretend there are easy answers.

Consider Acts 14:27. And keep its context in mind. In the same chapter a group of unbelievers had split a city down the middle so that half the people were not only opposing Paul’s work but were actively seeking to have him killed; the people of the city tried to offer sacrifices to Paul and Barnabas, and Paul was actually stoned, his body dumped outside the city where he was left for dead.

Acts 14:27 says, “Now when they had come and gathered the church together, they reported all that God had done with them.” 

In spite of hostility, brutality, rejection, and persecution, “they reported all that God had done with them.”

It is not alarmist to suggest our planet is sliding from bad to worse. Neither is it unreasonable to live in hope because Jesus is soon returning to this Earth to put an end to sin and pain and welcome us into eternity.

We really do have much to thank God for, most of all that God is in our midst. Paul had it right when he said in Romans 8:38, 39, “For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

It’s possible your world has been shaken recently. If it hasn’t been, it will be. But as long as God is on His throne and Jesus is returning to this Earth, we have everything to be thankful for.

Happy Thanksgiving.

IIW Social Media Post 11-26-15

WWII Veteran Traces Conversion to It Is Written

Today we received a special testimony of this 94 year old World War II veteran. He traces his conversion to Christ back to hearing George Vandeman, It Is Written’s founder, on the armed forces radio. We are thankful today for men like this one who sacrificed much so we could remain free. Thankful that the Lord touched this solider’s heart through a simple radio broadcast all those years ago. Happy Veteran’s Day!

Click here to watch his testimony!

 

IIW Social Media Post - 11-11-15