P.T. Barnum, Believers, and Blood Moons

Photo by Mike Mezeul http://www.mikemezphotography.com/

P.T. Barnum never actually said it, although one doubts that he would have argued with the premise.

Around 1870, a group of businessmen with somewhat compromised principles attempted to convince the paying public that a statue they had created was, in fact, a petrified, pre-historic human being. Experts dismissed the hoax for exactly what it was, but among those who defended the authenticity of the ‘giant’ were theologians and preachers. The existence of a 10-foot tall giant from pre-historic times suggested giants once lived on the earth, ‘validating’ Genesis 6:4 which, they said, suggested that very thing.

In reference to Barnum’s role in the Cardiff Giant hoax, David Hannum stated, “There’s a sucker born every minute.” The recent talk about the supposed Biblical significance of blood moons has again demonstrated exactly the same thing.

Perhaps Christians are especially prone to frauds and hoaxes. To begin with, we believe in the supernatural. We believe in things we don’t see, even remarkable things which, for unbelievers, stretch the boundaries of credulity. Grandma was really that sick and then miraculously revived in answer to a simple prayer of faith? The Christian would rightly answer, “Yes, indeed!” As a group, we Christians are very open to the unusual and unexplainable.

A friend of mine told me about the time he became lost while hiking in the woods. While following a stream out of his predicament, he became disoriented and was overcome by extreme cold. After praying God would provide some way to keep him warm, he looked over to the bank of the stream and found a pair of abandoned fishing waders. Unbelievable. Unless, of course, you believe. And Christians believe.

Many Christians have a worldview that is heavily influenced by prophecy and prophecy, at times, can be difficult to understand. The Bible suggests the end of the world is coming, that Jesus will return, that in Earth’s final days a strange beast will affect society and a mark will be enforced upon almost every living being. In an effort to understand these strange passages of Scripture, it’s virtually impossible for a believer not to be exposed to fanciful interpretations.

We want to believe. And we want to believe the great, the magnificent, the sensational. That is likely why Christians continue to send money to preachers who promise that the prayer mat they offer is going to enhance their relationship with God. Or that a container of holy water is in some way going to draw a person closer to the Almighty. It would seem that no one could possibly deduce from Scripture alone that the donation they send to any given ministry is, in actual fact seed, which will result in a harvest one hundred times greater than the amount sent.

It would seem that way but Christianity is still riddled with snake oil salesmen and a gullible public willing to support them. A preacher who sets a date for “Judgment Day” should only be ignored (and prayed for). But certain believers believe and the world watches on while the eye of Christianity is blackened.

Which isn’t to say people shouldn’t be entitled to believe what they choose to believe. They most definitely should. And they most definitely do. Some Christians pray to dead people. Others believe a God of love is going to burn people in hell forever (which is an especially long time). Some believe in confessing sins to a human priest who claims heavenly authority to forgive sin. Others insist that when Jesus returns many believers will disappear, leaving behind unsaved masses who will live through a time of terrible crisis. There are still churches where otherwise perfectly reasonable people handle rattlesnakes due to what they believe to be a mandate from God. And so it goes. But why do people believe what they believe? What makes it possible for some people to believe not only the unbelievable, but also the irrational?

Which brings us to blood moons.

After conducting a funeral service several weeks ago, I was approached by a lady who told me with great conviction that it was all going to happen on September 23. I wasn’t sure exactly what “it” was, but she made it clear this was something to do with judgment and the economy and the end of the world. She exuded confidence. “Well, one thing is for sure,” I told her. “We’ll soon know if your prediction is accurate. And if it doesn’t happen?” I asked. She recited a carefully prepared answer that left her feeling far less confused than she actually sounded. One didn’t need to be a scholar to know there was no light in her ludicrous claim. This was snake oil. A prayer mat. Seed money. This was a Cardiff Giant.

I was told growing up that deaths came in threes. At times it definitely seemed to be that way in our little town. But whether true or not regarding death, it certainly seems to be true of bad predictions. At least, it has been lately.

Bad prediction number two dealt with the papal visit. Pope Francis is an incredibly influential man, and the church he leads is not only the most influential church in the world, but also (it could be argued) the most influential nation. I shouldn’t have been surprised at the amount of times I was told that during his Apostolic Journey to the United States the pontiff would make an announcement of prophetic, game-changing proportions. While it is certainly true that the iron-fisted rule of the popes of yesteryear was characterized by dramatic and even draconian pronouncements, the People’s Pope was on an altogether different mission to the United States. While his predecessor appeared to have been carved out of ice, Francis emanates likability and kindness. His smile could light up a room and his demeanor is equal parts kind uncle, family friend, and Mr. Nice Guy. His six-day American charm offensive was never going to be about saber rattling. The day after he left the U.S. a CNN.com headline read, “How the Pope Brought us Together.” Those who hyperventilated prior to Francis’ week in the U.S. are now left saying, “Yes, but…” Yes, but your judgment was terrible. You banged the drum and sounded the alarm and tried to convince us that the sky was falling. It wasn’t. It’s still very much there. For now.

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People waiting to see the blood moon, at Mt St Helens.

And then there was the blood moon. Or judging by the sheer volume of speculation and hype, The Blood Moon. The moon turning red due to lunar eclipse—a very rare event—coincided with the Biblical Jubilee year. The whole sorry exercise was little more than a demonstration that while Christians know the end of the world is coming, many know precious little about the Biblical signs pointing to the event, and less again about the prophecies that actually inform it.

Why are believers in Jesus such easy prey? In asking that question, I don’t want to be like the scholar who, in the aftermath of the Waco siege, defined a cult as being essentially any Christian group who didn’t agree with his understanding of the Bible. It’s okay to be wrong. Even the disciples didn’t understand some of Jesus’ plainest statements. But it’s curious, isn’t it, when Bible-believing Christians are led to believe entirely unbiblical speculations? How did people arrive at the conclusion that the economy was going to crash on September 23? Or that the pope was going to push the world towards doomsday? Or that a red moon was ushering in the end of the world? It certainly wasn’t through careful Bible study.

Which makes you wonder, how is it that Christians who claim to believe the Bible end up in such theologically divergent positions? Why is it that people pray to the dead? Why is it people believe in a seven year period of global tribulation? Why is it that earnest saints of God honestly believe sending a $100 check to that sincere man on television is going to result in a financial windfall and material prosperity? These positions aren’t the result of careful Bible study, because the Bible makes no such claims. These are Cardiff Giants. I remember talking to a dear lady who told me “that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.” Together we read 2 Corinthians 5:8, the passage from which that thought is derived. “See?” I asked her. “It doesn’t say that at all. It’s just not there.” She stared at the Bible. She stared a little longer. She blinked. And then she said, still staring straight ahead, “Well, it must be somewhere else in the Bible. Our preacher read it just last Sunday.” He said it, maybe, but he never read it. Another blood moon.

We want to believe, but we evidently don’t want to read our Bibles to see if what we’re basing our beliefs upon is fact or fiction. It’s easier, especially when dealing with subjects such as the Jubilee year, to simply take someone else’s word for it. We want to be able to trust our pastors and teachers, and so we do. Yet Christianity is the simplest thing in the world. If you accept the premise that the Bible is the word of God, all you need to do is base your beliefs on what you find written therein. If the instructions on the box say, “Don’t use this heater around water.” Then you don’t. If the instructions on the package say, “Microwave on high for two and a half minutes.” Then you do. If the Bible says blood moons and the Jubilee year are going to herald the coming of Christ, then so be it. But if the Bible doesn’t say such things—and it doesn’t—then you shouldn’t give such claims the time of day.

But as someone once said, “There’s a sucker born every minute.” Christians heard someone say—without any biblical basis—that the economy was about to melt down, and with eyes wide open they bought into the silliness and shared it with evangelistic enthusiasm. Believers heard someone claim Pope Francis was going to bare his theological fangs and press his foot down on the prophetic accelerator, and because so many trust without verification, the idea was widely accepted in certain circles. And all across the Christian landscape the cry went up that the blood moons were in some way a herald of the end of time, that these signs in the heavens were harbingers of the end of it all.

While it’s true the end will come; while there’s nothing more certain than the fulfillment of prophecy; while Jesus will return and the Earth will go through “a time of trouble such as never was since there was a nation” (Daniel 12:1), Bible-believing Christians stared into the phony face of the Cardiff Giant and declared with gusto, “He’s real!”

P.T. Barnum would have loved it.


Top moon photo by Mike Mezeul

Mirror, Mirror: When Seeing Isn’t Believing

businesswoman looking in the mirror and reflecting

A British journalist wore the same outfit in the changing rooms of ten different clothing stores, and was photographed in each one by the same photographer using exactly the same camera. But When the photos were compared, the results were surprising. In some of the photos she looked great (according to her) while in others, not so great. In fact, she said one photo made her look like “a pregnant hobbit.” Remember: same person, same outfit, same photographer, same camera. The difference was that the lighting and the mirrors and the color of the walls differed from store to store, so while she really looked just fine in every situation, it often appeared that she didn’t look good. She was okay. Her circumstances had changed. And they often told her she was not okay.

It pays to remember that circumstances can lie to you. You could be having a good day or a bad day, you might be hungry or tired or have low blood sugar, and these things can affect the way you feel about yourself. You can be a child of God but be having the sort of day when for any number of reasons you just don’t feel like one. So who should you believe? Should you believe what you see in the mirror on the wall?

2 Corinthians 5:7 says, “For we walk by faith, not by sight.” And that’s an important principle to incorporate into our faith walk with Jesus. When you’ve chosen to be a follower of Christ, Satan will accuse you and tell you you’re not worthy and he will try to crush your faith. What then? What should you think when you look in the mirror and you know that a moment ago you saw a Christian, but now you’re not so sure?

The answer is to live by faith. Faith tells you you are a child of God. Faith tells you you have received Christ’s righteousness. Faith says your sins have been forgiven. Faith will hold on to God and won’t let go, in spite of circumstances.

The lighting changes, and so do the mirrors. But when God tells you that you are His child, then that’s what you are.

Evil Doesn’t Win

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I have visited Auschwitz twice.

The first time it was late spring and the pleasant weather at the time made it difficult to truly comprehend the horror of the place. A month later it was freezing cold, there was snow on the ground and it wasn’t hard at all to begin to understand something of the kind of hell Auschwitz actually was. My wife was taking photos of a display of shoes when it dawned on her she was focusing the camera on the shoes of a small child She couldn’t keep from weeping. (Click here to watch “Never Again?,” filmed on location at Auschwitz.)

The numbers of people who perished—the vast majority of whom were Jews, ‘guilty’ of possessing the wrong ancestry—combined with the truly tragic accounts of loss and brutal hardship and inhumane living conditions, cannot help but affect you deeply.A Polish historian who assisted us with our filming that day admitted that the work of being a tour guide at the former Nazi concentration camp leaves many people depressed and bitter.
Our tour guide during our second visit had been terribly scarred by his work at Auschwitz, confessing to us that he lived with little hope and without belief in the decency of humanity.

But as we were preparing to leave Auschwitz—now the quaint Polish town of Oświeçim with a population roughly that of Minot, North Dakota—something occurred to me that gave me great hope.

The Auschwitz-Birkenau complex was a key part of Hitler’s “Final Solution,” his attempt to eradicate Jews from Europe. It was his best shot at an utterly incomprehensible act. Backed by the might of his own war machine, he attempted to annihilate a defenseless group of innocent people. And failed.

Hitler failed. Evil didn’t win.

Since Hitler’s death in 1945, evil has surfaced in many forms on a massive scale. Despots such as Josef Stalin, Pol Pot, Nicolae Ceausescu, Slobodan Milosevic, Osama bin Laden, and others are remembered with derision and contempt. All of them were responsible for the evils of tyranny and death. And all of them are dead. 

They failed. Evil didn’t win.

Fourteen years ago, on September 11, 2001, four passenger planes, containing a total of 246 passengers and crew, were hijacked by 19 terrorists. Two of the aircrafts were crashed into the World Trade Center in New York City; one was flown into the Pentagon outside Washington, D.C.; the fourth plunged to the ground near Shanksville, Pennsylvania after passengers attempted to overpower the hijackers. Almost 3,000 innocent people were killed in history’s worst terrorist attack.

But evil didn’t win.

It certainly inflicted heavy losses. It caused an enormous amount of pain and grief. That awful day has altered the way of life for virtually everyone living in the western world.

My then-much-younger son once asked me if I thought society would ever return to pre-9/11 airport security. I was grateful for the question. He was still too young to understand the effects of evil.

But evil didn’t win. Society marches onwards. Security measures have increased. Insecurity has increased. But the world is determined to press ahead against an enemy that will never be permitted to win. Yes, our service personnel continue to risk their lives in places far from home, terrorist attacks are still being carried out, we dutifully allow ourselves to be x-rayed while going through security, but no one believes the terrorists are ultimately going to win. They simply won’t. They simply can’t. Evil doesn’t win.

The Bible presents a scenario that has, in recent years, become significantly more believable. 

A powerful entity emerges. 

Revelation 13:1. “And I stood upon the sand of the sea, and saw a beast rise up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and upon his horns ten crowns, and upon his heads the name of blasphemy.”

Incredibly, the world not only follows this power, but yields to it. Worships it.

Revelation 13:8. “And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.”

And then things go completely awry.

Revelation 13:15. “And he had power to give life unto the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak, and cause that as many as would not worship the image of the beast should be killed.”

Maybe once we might have found it hard to believe such a scenario is even possible. Now? Now we no longer question the limits of humanity’s evil. And in a world racing to the bottom morally and socially, it even appeals to reason that a power might emerge that could win the hearts of the people of the world, only to go rogue and lead the planet into chaos and ruin.

Daniel wrote about “a time of trouble such as never was since there was a nation” (Daniel 12:1). Daniel and Revelation both speak of a time when the world unites with evil before turning to eradicate the followers of God.

One can imagine hope was in short supply for those living through the hell of the holocaust, or for victims of Stalin’s pogroms in Russia, or of the killing fields in Cambodia. But the darkness of that experience eventually gave way to the light of a new day. Before Jesus returns, things are going to be dark indeed for followers of God and His word. It is often said that it is darkest just before dawn, but dawn does come. And in the close of time, it will be a dawn such as the universe has never seen.

“And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True… And he hath on his vesture and on his thigh a name written, KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS” (Revelation 19:11,16).

Jesus returns! Paul wrote to Titus calling this event “the blessed hope” (Titus 2:13). He wrote to the Thessalonians of a day when “the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:16,17).

We live in a world that, for six thousand years, has been marinating in sin. But in the words of the old spiritual, “There’s a better day a’comin’!” Jesus really will return to this earth. We can’t know precisely when, but there’s more than enough reason to believe He’s returning soon. Very soon. 

In the meantime, we remember 9/11, we honor those who lost their lives on that day, we remember our service men and women making enormous sacrifices to serve their country, we mourn the very existence of terrorism and war and death and destruction.

We remember. And today we remember that evil doesn’t win.

“Even so, come Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20).

(Click here to watch “Never Again?,” filmed on location at Auschwitz.)

We All Have Secrets

 

I was sitting on a bus traveling between terminals at a major airport when through the window of the bus I saw a giant sized billboard suggesting unsubtly, “Life is short. Have an affair.”

That was a decade or more ago, and the irony is that a company that profited from deception has itself been brought to its knees by an act of deception, as hackers released the (often very personal) details of the company’s customers.

Compassion for those who have been outed by the hack has been in short supply. There has been a lot of “they got what they deserved,” even though the innocent spouses, children and family members deserved nothing of the sort.

The realities of the virtual world are only now beginning to sink in for a lot of people. Online footprints are difficult to erase, and real privacy essentially doesn’t exist on the internet. What you do in the depths of the world wide web can very easily float to the surface, with embarrassing results.

But the truth is, we all have secrets. How would you feel if your most personal details were exposed? What if your deeply-held secrets were published on a searchable database? Yet as uncomfortable as that sounds, the Bible is clear that one day the private secrets of most people on planet Earth are going to be revealed for all to see.

In Revelation 14:7 the Bible says, “Fear God and give glory to Him, for the hour of His judgment is come.” Daniel described the judgment taking place, writing, “I beheld till the thrones were cast down, and the Ancient of days did sit, whose garment was white as snow, and the hair of his head like the pure wool: his throne was like the fiery flame, and his wheels as burning fire” (Daniel 7:9). He goes on to say, “A fiery stream issued and came forth from before him: thousand thousands ministered unto him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him: the judgment was set, and the books were opened” (Daniel 7:10).

The books of record that contain the deeds and misdeeds of everyone who ever lived will one day be opened. As Solomon wrote, “God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:14).

“With every secret thing.” Take a moment to think of how you’d feel if you had to confront a record of every secret thing you’ve ever done. Suddenly few of us look much better than outed Ashley Madison customers.

While many people are right now desperately trying to figure out how to handle the damage caused to their reputations, God offers all a simple remedy for dealing with a shady past. 

Acts 3:19 says, “Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.”

In the judgment that precedes there return of Jesus, even the record of the sins of those who have faith in God are blotted out. When the books are opened, the pages are clear rather than stained by iniquity. In place of sin is purity and righteousness. The grace that forgives is grace that cleanses, and in the judgment the redeemed are found to be “white as snow” (Isaiah 1:18). Repentance opens the door to the cleansing power of God. Grace doesn’t justify sinful behavior, but it does justify the sinner.

As nice as it would be to go back in time and undo damaging actions, that’s simply not possible. Peter denied Jesus, and had to live with that knowledge for the rest of his life. David’s callous and immoral treatment of Uriah the Hittite and his wife Bathsheba lived with David as long as he did, and the woman taken in adultery was outed as an adulteress. 

But Peter was restored by Jesus Himself. David’s prayer of repentance (see Psalm 51) was heard and accepted by God, and the woman in question heard Jesus say, “Neither do I condemn you” (John 8:11).

A contemporary society which long ago made peace with its immoral underbelly still finds reason to occasionally wring its hands and tsk tsk the actions of those caught in a moral fall. We call that hypocrisy.

But God sees the hearts of us all, and He does so without condemnation. David wrote that God “knows our frame, He remembers that we are dust” (Psalm 103:14), and He loves us anyway. The Bible promises that “if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). 

We all have secrets. What shouldn’t be a secret to anyone is that God is able to heal and cleanse, remake and restore. The reality of the judgment isn’t only that sinners will be judged, but that sinners may be cleansed and restored. God offers that hope to sinners everywhere. 

God offers that hope to you.

The Problem Pay Raise

They called him the world’s nicest boss—Dan Price, the CEO of a company in Seattle, Washington. He was earning a million dollars a year when he made the decision to slash his own pay, and raise the pay of everyone in the company to at least $70,000 a year. While you’d think everyone would be happy about his decision, you’d be wrong. Some of the people at the top of the company food chain were unhappy that their pay got bumped up only slightly while less qualified workers got a major pay increase. Some staff quit. Some customers took their business elsewhere because of what they didn’t like about the decision, and other customers because they were convinced their costs were going to increase.

A guy tries to do the right thing, and it doesn’t work out. I don’t intend to say that what he did was right or wrong. Economics and business can be complicated, and there are a lot of ways you could look at this. But what we know is this: he tried to do the right thing, and it didn’t work out perfectly. In fact, his own brother, the company’s co-founder, has filed a lawsuit against him.

Have you ever had that experience—where you’ve tried to do the right thing from a Christian perspective, but it hasn’t been appreciated? Jesus certainly was confronted by that.You read in Matthew that He healed a man who was demon-possessed, blind, and mute.Wouldn’t you expect everyone to be thrilled about that? A man who couldn’t see was given his sight, who couldn’t speak was given his voice, and who was possessed by demons was freed from evil spirits. Surely everyone would celebrate that? Not so. In Mathew 12:24 they said of Jesus, “This fellow does not cast out demons except by Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons.” 

Sometimes you just can’t win.However, Jesus kept on ministering, and those who were open to the blessing were blessed. You can’t expect to be universally appreciated. That’s Heaven, not Earth. When you’re living for God, you’ll be misunderstood and misrepresented at times, even when you’re striving to do the right thing. And that’s okay. The only One you really need to please is Jesus.

Jimmy Carter: “…joy comes in the morning” (Ps. 30:5).

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When I first heard that former President Jimmy Carter had a mass removed from his liver, I thought what I’m assuming most people thought: “That doesn’t sound good.” The recent news that his cancer has metastasized and spread to other parts of his body is clearly not hopeful.

Cancer has been described as being like something that enters your home without being invited. It’s a remarkably complex disease that scientists are still trying to better understand, although in recent years there has been great progress in what was once termed the ‘war on cancer.’ Some cancers are now very treatable. Whereas chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML) was once a virtual death sentence, CML patients today can generally expect to enjoy as long a life as those who have never had the disease. That’s an incredible advance.

But former President Carter is facing something different. Now 90 years old, his family has a history of cancer. Only an optimist would say that Jimmy Carter’s outlook is good.

So what do you do when you receive news like that? You worry, you pray, you realize how much you truly love your family and appreciate your friends, you receive expressions of sympathy with gratefulness, you receive the avalanche of miracle ‘cures’ from well-meaning people with a polite smile, you talk with the best doctors you can find. You look back over your life and ask yourself if you really did what you wanted to do, you regret your bad moments, are grateful for happy memories, you go for treatment, you hope for the best, you pray some more, you read the literature and you see what the statistics say, you determine to beat the odds, you keep your family near you, you realize how much you truly love them…

What does a person really have when what matters most in this world is slipping away? Well, you have what’s in the bank. But few people have ever come to the end of their life and said, “I’m satisfied, because I had money.” Your possessions mean little or nothing when your life might be slipping away.

You have your friends. True friends are actually somewhat rare. The best definition of a friend I have seen recently was in—of all places—a liquor advertisement. It said, “My friends will walk in when the rest of the world walks out.” You feel grateful for people like that.

You have your work, the contribution you’ve made to the world through your professional life. You might refer to your “achievements,” though for many of us they would be modest indeed. Someone who has made a positive difference in the lives of others or who has made a real contribution to society has that with which to comfort themselves. Former President Carter can definitely say, “I made a difference in this world.”

You have your family. Jimmy Carter is right now able to lean on his wife and children and grandchildren and look upon his family with pride. He and his wife Rosalyn have been married for 69 years. You can know that former President Carter is grateful for his family.

But let’s think about that list. Your stuff means nothing when life is slipping away. Your friends? Yes, that’s something. If you’re blessed, so too is your work. Far more important is family. When the sun is setting on your life, family matters. Big time.

A friend recently told me she was the only one in her family still living. Her parents and siblings are deceased, and she never had children. “There’s no one I can talk to about my life when I was a child,” she said, wrestling with the changes that have come into her life. “I feel very alone.”

So what does a person really have when the finish line is fast approaching? Because while all we’ve just discussed is good, there’s still something missing.

It will come as no surprise to you at all that I don’t know Jimmy Carter. I have met him and shaken his hand, but I can’t claim to know him and he certainly doesn’t remember our encounter. But what I can tell you for certain is that what matters most to him right now is his faith in God. While I don’t know much about the reality of former President Carter’s faith, he is known to be a committed, professed Christian. As President of the United States he was open about his faith in God, and he has always maintained that Jesus Christ is his Savior. It is highly unlikely that his faith in God has ever meant more to him than it does right now.

In these difficult moments, Jimmy Carter has Jesus Christ. He knows that whatever happens to him and whatever happens with his health, his future is assured. He’s not congratulating himself about his legacy, and while he loves his family, he is most grateful for the fact that faith in Jesus will enable him to see them again.

Elderly, frail, and in failing health, Jimmy Carter has everything to look forward to. One day soon, “the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed” (1 Corinthians 15:52). He knows that although “weeping may endure for a night…

joy comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5).

If Jesus doesn’t return first, every last one of us on this planet will die. Some will die hopeless. Others—like Jimmy Carter—will die in the hope of the return of Jesus and in the confidence of everlasting life. It seems a strange thing to me that more people don’t want to have their lives end in the same hope.
Just days ago I spoke at a dear friend’s memorial service. She was 92 and her 92-year-old husband is now enduring an unimaginably difficult time. But it was impossible to find the service a truly sad occasion. Yes, there were tears and yes, there was grieving. But in addition to the tears and the grieving was the hope—the knowledge!—that we’ll see Virginia again. And it won’t be long.

We don’t know how much time former President Carter has left. For his sake and the sake of his loved ones, I hope he has many years ahead. But if not, he will leave this world with his heart filled with hope. Hope in His Savior. His will not be an uncertain end. Jesus Himself said, “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25).

Even in the most challenging times, that is still good news!

Remarkable

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The town of Slough in the county of Berkshire is 36 minutes by train from Paddington Station in London, England. Slough isn’t a city, in spite of having a population of around 150,000. There are only 69 cities in all of Great Britain. A town can’t become a city in Britain except by royal decree, a process which is—unsurprisingly—complicated.

Slough is an unremarkable sort of place. Which is saying something. In a nation as remarkable and as remarkably historic as Great Britain, it’s rather something to find a place that isn’t remarkable in some fascinating way. But for a town in a remarkable country, Slough is unremarkable enough.

In 1937 the poet John Betjeman wrote this about Slough: “Come, friendly bombs and fall on Slough, It isn’t fit for humans now, There isn’t grass to graze a cow. Swarm over, death!” There was some considerable concern about Slough losing its rural character as factories sprung up and dotted its landscape, and certain individuals—poets among them—were unimpressed.

But just over a month ago, a 106-year-old man died in Slough, and if his longevity wasn’t remarkable enough, his life certainly was. Chances are you’ve never heard of him, and never would have heard of him if you hadn’t read this post, in spite of the fact that his actions almost eight decades ago saved the lives of hundreds of people. He was a hero, and for decades, an unknown hero.

In late 1938, Nicholas Winton was planning a skiing vacation in Switzerland. In answer to a friend’s request for help he changed his plans and went instead to Prague, the capital city of what was then Czechoslovakia. His friend had asked him to help him to work in behalf of Jews who were feeling Hitler’s noose tighten around their collective neck. The help he gave turned into an organization dedicated to saving at-risk Jewish children. Assisted by Britain’s House of Commons, Winton—facing a barrage of obstacles—arranged for 669 Jewish children to escape Czechoslovakia and find refuge in Britain.

One who paid tribute to Sir Nicholas Winton after his death was one of those very children who grew up in England as a result of Sir Nicholas’ remarkable work, and as an adult became a Member of the British Parliament. Sir Nicholas was often compared to Oskar Schindler, but he never liked the comparison. He said, “I wasn’t heroic. I was never in danger.” 669 children and their families—many of whom perished—might have disagreed with that statement.

But what’s interesting about Sir Nicholas Winton’s actions is that the world would never have known about what he did had his wife not stumbled across a scrapbook in their attic in 1988—half a century after the fact.

He died 76 years to the day after a train carrying the largest cargo of escaping children—241 of them—left Prague bound for freedom. For 50 years no one knew that this man had done what he had done. He was subsequently honored many times, by the British government, the Czech government and by the British royal family (in receiving a Knighthood). But for half a century nobody knew what he had done, except for himself, and he felt that that was enough.

The Bible is filled with remarkable accounts of the deeds of remarkable individuals. Samson. Moses. Jael (look that one up). Paul. Children sing songs about David, Abraham, Joshua, and Zacchaeus. But there are four individuals in the book of Mark who did something utterly remarkable, yet we don’t so much as know their names.

We read in Mark 2 that Jesus was in a house in Capernaum, a house so filled with people who had gathered to hear him speak that it wasn’t possible for a concerned group of men to get their ailing friend into Jesus’ presence. You’re familiar with the story—they open up the roof of the house and lower the man into the room where Jesus sat. He was subsequently healed by the Son of God. Remarkable! But there’s a key point in Mark 2 that’s worth considering. It’s in Mark 2:3.

“And they come unto him, bringing one sick of the palsy, which was borne of four.”

There was Jesus, the healer. There was the sick man, who was healed. But how was this miracle of healing made possible? Certainly by the power of God and nothing less. But it was facilitated by four nameless men who performed the heroic act of bringing their friend to Jesus.

We don’t know their identities, but we know their hearts. They cared for someone, enough to do something, which while not remarkable in itself—carrying the corner of a stretcher…anyone could do that—produced remarkable results.

They brought someone to Jesus. Now, they didn’t open up the Red Sea and they didn’t turn water to wine, neither did they heal a leper, nor did they cause an iron axehead to float on water. But they did something that which, while small in itself, resulted in the most remarkable thing of all—a converted human heart, a soul won to Christ and to His kingdom.

You might never save 669 children from death, and the likelihood is that you won’t ever kill a thousand men with the jawbone of a donkey (at least I hope not). But can you imagine yourself helping to carry a sick man or woman into the presence of Jesus? That’s something anyone could do.

It might not be that your deeds are ever feted. Even in the church it’s usually the more “spectacular” feats that are celebrated. But doing something for Jesus—no matter how small—to bring someone to faith in Him?

Even if your name is never mentioned, your work for Jesus will be seen by God, and appreciated through eternity.

And that’s remarkable.

Tragedy in our Backyard

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Perhaps one of the most surprising things about today’s tragedy in Chattanooga is that nobody I spoke to or heard really seemed surprised that it happened.
That’s not to say we expected this sort of thing to happen in our home town. Nobody “expects” this sort of thing to occur. But it’s a sad indictment of the times in which we live that when 4 people are murdered and a law enforcement official is injured and the perpetrator of the horrible crimes is “neutralized” (as the media reported) in a town generally considered a great place to live, that nobody said “this couldn’t happen here!”
Because in our heart of hearts we all know that something like this can happen here. Wherever “here” might be.
Chattanooga isn’t Detroit, or New Orleans, or Newark (depending on which list you read, the cities with the highest murder rates in the United States). This is Chattanooga, a city people are flocking to, the city with the blazing fast internet, the place where rock-climbers and cyclists and outdoorsy-types come to enjoy the blessings of nature, a city with a church on every street corner (or so it seems)… And yet here we are looking at each other and saying, “Yes, it happened here.”
You see, evil doesn’t discriminate. Satan isn’t looking for willing hearts in New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago only. Humanity’s fall into sin affected all of humanity, and wherever there is a sinner disconnected from God and empty of the Holy Spirit, anything is possible. In my town, your town, or whatever town was once considered paradise.
Whenever a person—any person—chooses to go it alone without the indwelling presence of Christ, anything becomes possible as far as evil is concerned. It isn’t a matter of geography, of city or rural, black or white, or rich or poor. Evil is a matter of the heart, and anyone with a pulse and without a surrender to Jesus is ultimately powerless to resist the allure of evil.
Paul stated it clearly when he said in Romans 7:15, “For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do.” Realizing he was stuck in sin and incapable of subduing his own corrupt heart, Paul cried out to God saying in verse 24, “Who will deliver me from this body of death?”
Now there’s a question. Who? Who can deliver a person from his or her own evil impulses? Who can subdue desires that virtually compel an individual to commit atrocities? Who could have given Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez the presence of mind and the inner strength to let his anger go and channel his energies into something other than a tragedy of immense proportions?
In Romans 7:25, Paul provides the answer when he writes: “I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
And there it is. Through Jesus, the human heart can be tamed. Through Jesus, a sinner can find deliverance from temptation. Through Jesus, the power of sin can be broken. Through Jesus—only through Jesus.
This afternoon our staff gathered to pray for those affected by what happened in Chattanooga. We’ve been affected at It Is Written, because this has happened in our own backyard. Our Associate Producer and our Sign Language Interpreter were filming Every Word devotionals just a few hundred yards from where the first shots were fired in this horrible drama. They were entirely safe the entire time, but the fact was they were within shouting distance of the unfolding of the worst criminal act to affect our city in years. We thank God that they were protected.
Yet several people were not. A police officer was injured, four Marines were murdered, and a criminal lost his life in a shoot-out with police. Tonight, there will be people crying themselves to sleep as a result of this crime. As a result of the outworking of evil. As a result of hearts not being submitted to the keeping of the Holy Spirit.
None of us are safe from the effects of sin, and none are above falling into sin if we are not yielded to God. Only in Christ are we secure from the effects, the presence of the power of sin.
“The name of the Lord is a strong tower. The righteous run to it and are safe” (Proverbs 18:10).

Tarnished Legacies

I read with interest a New York Times article titled, “The Bad Behavior of Visionary Leaders.” It discussed three giants of business and innovation: Elon Musk (who co-founded Pay Pal and is the brains behind Tesla automobiles and the Space X aerospace company), Jeff Bezos of Amazon and the late Steve Jobs, who turned Apple into, well, Apple.

All three men have breathed the rarified air of success at the highest levels. In their chosen fields they have achieved what many others would not have even attempted, and they were revolutionaries in their respective fields of endeavor.

However, beyond their brilliance—according to the New York Times article—the three men have one other thing in common. They are (or were) capable of being—in the opinion of people close to them—first-class jerks.

Steve Jobs’ biographer, Walter Isaacson says of Jobs, “Nasty was not necessary. It hindered him more than it helped him.” Jobs had a penchant for verbally abusing employees, for being ruthlessly hard as a boss, and frequently resorting to insults and put-downs.

The Times quoted one of Musk’s former associates as saying: “He can be so gentle and loyal, and then hard on people when it isn’t necessary.” Brad Stone, who wrote “The Everything Store,” a book about Jeff Bezos and Amazon wrote that Bezos “was capable of hyperbole and cruelty in these moments, and over the years delivered some devastating rebukes to employees.” In his review of Stone’s book, Duff McDonald wrote, “It’s hard to tell if anybody likes [Bezos].”

The following is from the aforementioned New York Times article, written by Tony Schwartz:

Mr. Jobs drove around without a license on his car, and he regularly parked in spaces reserved for the handicapped. As Mr. Ive said of his attitude, “I think he feels he has a liberty and a license to do that. The normal rules of social engagement, he feels, don’t apply to him.” Amazon employees collected examples of Mr. Bezos’s most eviscerating put-downs, including, “Are you lazy or just incompetent?” “Why are you wasting my life?” and “I’m sorry, did I take my stupid pills today?”

Jobs died in 2011 at the age of 56, and if Jesus doesn’t return first, Musk and Bezos will likewise “go the way of all the earth” (1 Kings 2:2). Musk is currently worth more than 13 billion dollars, while Bezos’ personal fortune is estimated to be almost 42 billion, making him the 15th richest person on the planet, positioned on the rich list between Mark Zuckerberg, and former New York City Mayor, Michael Bloomberg. But for all that, both Musk and Bezos are reportedly reviled by many of those who know them best.

Very clearly, the three men profiled in the article have more than their fair share of redeeming qualities. They are/were all outstanding businessmen who in many ways improved society and the lives of millions of people. All three have given millions of dollars to charity and have created thousands upon thousands of jobs.

But…

Steve Jobs is now remembered for being brilliant, and a not-very-nice person. Bezos and Musk are apparently cut from the same cloth. Who wants to be remembered that way?

There’s no question that Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, and Jeff Bezos will all be remembered for being visionary leaders. But in terms of character, it could be that history will not smile upon them. Theirs may well be tarnished legacies.

It’s likely—from a human perspective—that there are reasons these man act the way they do. Most of us will never know the pressure of having thousands of employees depending on your ability to keep your company ahead of the pack. Most of us will never go to bed at night knowing that the decisions we made during the day could potentially cost a lot of people billions of dollars. Your company makes a bad decision and you have to rebuild a deck or repaint a kitchen. Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos make a bad decision and millions of people don’t get their orders on time or a space craft doesn’t survive takeoff. Big stuff.

However, that can’t really serve as an excuse. If it did, we’d all find reasons for the bad behavior we sometimes exhibit and we’d become more tolerant of it even as others grow less tolerant of us. How do you live in this world and operate under pressure, and still be nice?

Three Biblical principles address that question.

Kindness: 1 Peter 2:23 (NKJV) says of Jesus, “Who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously.” Jesus did not retaliate or seek to get even, because he was constantly surrendered to His heavenly Father.

Submission: Psalm 141:3. “Set a watch, o Lord, before my mouth; keep the door of my lips.” It’s important to pray that God will guard your tongue and guide you in what to say.

Humility: James 4:10. “Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up.” There’s no eternal future in pride, in putting yourself above another and failing to consider the feelings and concerns as others.

We might not all rise to the heights of a Steve Jobs, but we interact with others and affect those in our circle of influence. How will you be remembered? What sort of legacy will you leave? Remember—failure now does not guarantee failure tomorrow.  2 Corinthians 4:16 states, “Though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day.” Romans 12:2 invites us to be “transformed by the renewing of your mind.”

Mission: Mongolia

Mongolia Boy by Yves MonnierMongolia, the land of Genghis Khan, is the 19th largest country in the world. In spite of its vast amount of land, the total population of Mongolia is barely 3 million people. Would you believe that over half those people live in one city?! That city is Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia. Many of these inhabitants live in gers, the traditional housing of nomadic people in Mongolia, without running water and electricity.

When communism fell and the Soviet military left the country, one of the sad legacies of the former regime was that there were no Christians left in the land. 23 years later, only 3% of the population is Christian. Most people consider themselves as either non-religious or Buddhist.

This fact makes Mongolia one of the most interesting places to proclaim the good news of Jesus. It Is Written is excited to be part of a three year project to introduce the people of Mongolia to Jesus.

Ulaanbaatar is the coldest capital in the world. The people endure eight months of cold weather every year with an average winter temperature of -13°F.

Mongolians have traditionally been nomads  who moved from place to place seeking new pastures for their herds. However, things are rapidly changing. Over the last few years people have been moving to the large city in droves with the hope of finding a better and easier life.  Consequently, the majority of the country’s population lives in Ulaanbaatar.

While living in rural areas Mongolians were able to enjoy the space that was provided by the vast plains of the country. Now, though, people live in a city that has an infrastructure for a fraction of the present population. The new inhabitants live in overcrowded conditions in an area called the “Ger District.”

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The term ger refers to the white circular tent that Mongolians have used as an abode for hundreds of years. It is a one-room tent with a central post and a stove in the middle, where people live, eat, and sleep. Multiple families often live in one ger. Most of the gers have no running water and so in the dead of the winter, -40°F, people have to fetch water from water stations.

The Amazing Grace, Yarmag, and Tolgoit Churches, where our teams of volunteers will be working, are located in different areas of the Ger District—ideal places for evangelism. Through medical evangelism we are hoping to make many friends for Jesus.

Over the next couple years It Is Written is organizing several medical mission trips to care for the needy and to promote a healthy lifestyle in Mongolia. The first of these trips will be this fall, from September 30 to October 11.

Mongolia needs you. Are you ready to be a blessing to a people who desperately need to know about Jesus? For more information please contact:

Yves Monnier yves@iiw.org or Raul Vila, MD rajavica2003@yahoo.com