Author: John Bradshaw

Twenty-One

His smile showed he had something special to tell me.

“Pastor,” he began, “I have been in the church since 2013. In that time, the Lord has allowed me to bring 21 souls to Christ! Twenty-one people have been baptized, pastor! I praise the Lord.”

And then he added, “Twelve people in the last year alone.”

I asked him what he did to reach people with the gospel.

“I feed them physically and spiritually,” he said. “I help them, I am a friend to them, and then I introduce them to Jesus.”

Twenty-one souls in five years! There are many churches who haven’t won that many people to Christ in that period of time. And here is one faithful church member who is bringing people to faith in Christ.

I wonder what the church and the world would be like if more people had that kind of dedication to Christ. If Jesus really exists, and if He’s really coming back to this earth soon, then sharing Him with others has to be absolutely the most important thing that we could do.

I expect that if my new friend has brought 21 people into the church—to faith in Jesus—then there are many others he has reached out to but who haven’t made decisions for Jesus yet, who said no. Clearly his focus is not on what he has not been able to do, but on what he has been able to do. And he is encouraged to continue on.

I heard a powerful sermon recently, preached by Jeff Blumenberg, our Associate Director of Planned Giving and Trust Services at It
Is Written. In the message, Jeff shared 10 simple ways that any person can share Jesus with others. I think the sermon could revolutionize the church, and I’m certain it will be a blessing to you. Click the play button below to hear a sermon that could change your life.

Jesus is coming back soon. It’s our privilege to share that good news with others.

Influencers

If you’re under 30 years of age, you’re far more likely to recognize them than if you’re over 30. If you’re under 25, the chances of you being familiar with these people increase even further.

Nikkie De Jager. Sound familiar?

Huda Kattan. Heard of her?

What about Cameron Dallas or Zach King?¹

They’re all “influencers,” social media sensations who have amassed millions–in some cases, tens of millions–of followers. They’ve built enormous followings who want to hear from them about makeup or fashion or pop culture. Having access to such a vast number of people means they have a lot of “influence,” which marketers are able to use to promote products or ideas.

It’s a new spin on an old idea. Celebrities have been used to sell products for years. OJ Simpson advertising rental cars, Peyton Manning advertising just about everything, and Michael Jordan endorsing basketball shoes are just a few examples of what we’ve become used to seeing. But now there’s a new breed of people–often not (initially) celebrities and often still in their teens–who have a loyal following and who use their influence over that following to affect not only behavior but also their bottom line.

But it’s not only social media sensations that have influence. Every person alive has a certain amount of influence over others. It’s not hard to think of individuals who have influenced you during your life. It might be a teacher, an employer, or a quiet, older person you knew at church while you were growing up, someone who affected you with their smile or their gracious words.

Influence is power, and it can be a power for good or evil. And while some people–such as politicians, business leaders, and celebrities–influence millions, the rest of us influence people in smaller ways. By how we carry ourselves, how we speak, how we act, and how we respond to others.

You don’t even need to talk to influence others. Everyone has had that moment when an angry person storms into–let’s say–a gas station, slams his or her money on the counter, speaks rudely, snatches their change, and stamps out. In that moment, the person in question influenced the room in a very real way. But a gracious person can exert an even more powerful influence whether words are spoken or not.

The greatest influencer who ever lived was Jesus. Wherever Jesus went people were influenced by His life and ministry. Sinners were influenced by His patience, kindness, and His love. Religious leaders were influenced by His wisdom, His holiness, and His uncompromising life. When His path crossed that of those who were demon possessed, the influence He had on them was powerful.

Acts 10:38 says, “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power, who went about doing good…for God was with him.” While Jesus healed and preached and taught, His ministry would have been of little ultimate effect had he not had such a powerful influence on those around Him. Jesus carried with Him the atmosphere of heaven, which is something anyone can do.

In the same way that it was obvious to the children of Israel that Moses had been in the presence of God, it will show when you’re living in connection with heaven. Jesus said in Matthew 5:14, “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden.”

I was speaking at a camp meeting in West Virginia when I had lunch with my friend, Jeff Blumenberg. Jeff is the Associate Trust Services Director at It Is Written. He told me that when he last ate at a certain restaurant, he asked the waitress a question as she brought his food. “I’m about to ask the blessing on my food,” he said. “Is there anything you’d like me to pray for you about?” “Yes!” she replied. “I have a big exam coming up in college. I’m nervous. I really need to get a good grade!” Jeff assured her he would pray.

It was several days later that Jeff and I went to lunch. We were seated at our table when the same waitress bounded towards us. “Hey!” she said, beaming with joy. She high-fived Jeff enthusiastically. “How’d the exam go?” Jeff asked. “I prayed for you.”

“I got a 90!” she replied. “The best I’ve ever done on a test! Thank you for praying!”

She will never forget the kind man who prayed for her. What might have been just another routine meal was transformed into an opportunity to influence someone in the direction of Jesus. And if Jeff had lived in that town, the relationship would undoubtedly have continued and provided him more opportunities to witness and share his faith.

How are you using your influence? When someone interacts with you, are they left feeling drawn towards God or… the opposite? God has given you influence. It might not be over millions of Instagram followers. Instead, it might be influence in your home, where you work, at church, with the delivery driver, or at school. With children or grandchildren that influence is great. With the Über driver or the FedEx guy, your influence might be smaller, but it’s still there.

You’ve seen what happens when you throw a rock into a pond. The ripples widen and increase, spreading out further and further.

Influence is like that. Character is power. The quiet witness of your life carries an influence, a power that reveals to others that Christ lives in you.

Use the influence you have to point people towards the God of heaven.


¹ Please note: Mention of these individuals is by no means an endorsement of them or their content.

Will God Forgive Me?

I received a question recently that didn’t surprise me at all. It was a sincerely-asked and very important question. The answer to the question was very simple. But I’m finding that more and more people need the reassurance that comes from basic Biblical answers to what can be simple yet very challenging questions.

His question was this:

“If you have sinned for a very long time, is God going to forgive your sins after you have confessed your sins?”

Reading that question, it isn’t hard to imagine it was written by someone who is struggling owing to feelings of guilt for sins committed and is under great conviction. It’s easy to imagine this question came from someone who feels bad about poor choices.

Thankfully, the Bible answers the question very succinctly.

1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

That’s all there is to it, really.

Although, sin is a tricky thing. It’s not only wrong, and bad, and harmful, but it’s also deceptive. Like someone else’s glasses, sin affects your vision, causing you to see indistinctly. Guilt will cause you to see yourself in a way that God does not.

As bad as sin is–and it’s bad–sin in your life does not cause God to stop loving you, or to refuse to forgive you. Psalm 86:5 says, “But you, Lord, are good, and ready to forgive.” Jesus went to great lengths to communicate the importance of forgiveness when He spoke about this to His disciples. He told Peter, “‘I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven’” (Matthew 18:22). While speaking about the way people should extend forgiveness to each other, Jesus is allowing us to see how God extends forgiveness. He does so again, and again, and again, and…

Forgiveness shouldn’t be equated with a free ride. God’s willingness to forgive does not mean that He treats sin lightly. But the reason Jesus came into the world at all is to “save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). As Paul wrote to the Corinthian church, “Christ died for our sins” (1 Corinthians 15:3).

The good news of the gospel is that God will forgive you, no matter what you have done and no matter how long you have been doing it. “All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men,” Jesus said in Matthew 12:31.

As basic as the subject is, an enormous amount of people have trouble believing God will forgive them. I know because I meet them. A woman I met once told me that she had been confessing a certain sin “many times a day” for more than fifty years. Do the math. Even if “many” was just “three” times a day, that’s more than a thousand times a year for fifty years. She had confessed a particular sin more than fifty thousand times! I saw her a few days after we spoke, and she told me that the night we talked she had her best night’s sleep in fifty years.

If you’re struggling with your own sinfulness, don’t add to that struggle destructive thoughts about God not being willing to forgive you. He is willing. He will forgive. It’s what He does. Knowing that God is a God of forgiveness does not mean He is not a God of justice. But in God, “Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other” (Psalm 85:10).

As Hebrews 4:16 says, “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.”

The question isn’t, “Is God willing to forgive me?” The answer to that question was settled thousands of years ago. The more pertinent question is, “Are you willing to be forgiven?” If the answer is yes, face the future with confidence and trust yourself to the forgiveness of a gracious, loving God.

Miraculous Meeting

This past weekend at our It Is Written Partnership event in Orlando, Florida, I was told an incredible story I want to share with you. You’ll be amazed and blessed as you read.

My friend Adriana Pasos told me that some months ago she attended a seminar in Georgia. She met a woman–whom I’ll call Maria–who had come from California to attend. “Couldn’t you have attended a seminar like this in California?” Adriana asked. Maria replied that although she could have, she felt the change of scenery would be good for her, and that Atlanta would provide her with an opportunity to get away from home and learn the material without distraction.

She shared with Adriana that she came to the United States from Mexico when she was a teenager. Adriana replied by telling her that she too had come to the United States from another country when she was younger.  

“I came from Romania,” Adriana told Maria.

Maria then shared more of her experience.

“For some time, I was battling depression, and I began to feel like I had no reason to live. I thought about ending my life. But then I found a television program called It Is Written. I started watching regularly and found new reasons to live. God truly changed my life through the It Is Written program. I found a hope I had never had before.”

As you can imagine, I was encouraged when Adriana told me this. We’re always encouraged when we hear about God touching lives–and saving lives–through the ministry of It Is Written.

But then the story became even more amazing. Maria continued.

“I visited It Is Written’s website, and saw a book that interested me. It was called Hope in Present Danger. I bought the book, and through that book God gave me strength to face each new day. The book was a lifeline to me. It was the story of someone who, like me, came to this country…”

Maria paused.

“Wait,” she said. “The woman in that book came to the United States from… Romania.”

Maria stared at Adriana in disbelief.

“Was that you I’ve been reading about?” she asked. “Did you write that book?! Is it your story that helped me so much?!”

After watching It Is Written and deciding not to give up on life, Maria read a book she found on It Is Written’s website that gave her strength and encouragement. And at a seminar three time zones away from her home, she sat down next to the very person who had written that book, her lifeline.

There were tears, smiles, hugs, and a realization that the God of heaven really is an amazing God.

Almost There?

Drive from North Carolina to California and you will most likely travel on Interstate 40. As helpful as the mile markers are that you pass along the way, the most important signs are the “reassurance markers”: blue shields that every so often tell you that you are heading in the right direction on the right road.

God frequently allows us to see prophetic “reassurance markers” that help His people to see that we are on the right prophetic road, heading steadily towards the Second Coming of Jesus.

Pope Francis’ six-day “Apostolic Journey” to the United States is one such “reassurance marker.”

The pope’s already stratospheric popularity has surged on the back of the constant news coverage afforded him by a breathless media. In-depth, long-form profiles of Pope Francis have been published by virtually every significant news outlet, with one cable company establishing an entire channel dedicated solely to coverage of the papal visit.

Before he had completed his first year as pope, Time Magazine christened him “The People’s Pope”. A journalist in secular Great Britain opined that “even atheists should pray for this pope,” and a prominent U.S. sportswriter stated that “this pope might even convince me to go back to church.” The New York Times reported that Francis has “achieved a unique global stature in a short time.”

While the number of professed Christians in the United States is declining rapidly, America has embraced this conservative religious leader. Broadcasters—who as a group have little positive to say about faith or the Bible—breathlessly congratulated their colleagues on encounters with Francis. The pope was celebrated during his American visit. Francis is huge.

The pope’s brief pontificate has been characterized less by doctrinal teaching and more by compassion. Francis has emphasized social and humanitarian issues while demonstrating humility and kindness. The world applauded when a 53-year-old man suffering a disfiguring condition known as neurofibromatosis traveled to the Vatican and was hugged by Pope Francis. Even his own father wouldn’t touch the man, who later said, “I felt like I was in paradise.” A photograph of Pope Francis kissing the tattooed feet of a young criminal offender in Rome quickly circulated around the world. Such events are the rule of Francis’ reign as pope, not the exception.

Pope Francis has shaken up the Vatican City, defining the Catholic Church’s message as one of mercy and making the Vatican a more open institution.His decision to shun the papal palace in favor of living in a humble apartment combined with his now-famous “Who am I to judge?” quote went a long way toward putting a new face on a church that for years has been mired in scandal. A Jesuit and senior analyst at the National Catholic Reporter told National Geographic, “I jokingly say that Harvard Business School could use him to teach rebranding.”

The greatest significance of Francis’ visit to the United States will not be in what he says or does while here. As the Jerusalem Post reported, “The Vatican’s relations with various states turn slowly; church authorities are cognizant of history and do not hurry things.” The greatest significance of this papal visit lies in the fact that it happened at all.

It is important to remember that the man now being celebrated as “the world’s greatest moral leader” is also the planet’s most influential political leader. Rome is both church and state, with political ambitions that cannot be disentangled from its spiritual ideals. The Bible long ago saw the papacy’s rise to global prominence, going so far as to predict a time when “all the world wondered” after the church of Rome (Revelation 13:3).

Pope Francis’ benign disposition does not tell the entire story of his pontificate. The man who asked, “Who am I to judge?” is the leader of a church which for centuries has stood in the place of God on Earth. The church of “The People’s Pope” reserves the right to forgive sin, with Francis even declaring that the church would extend forgiveness to women who had had abortions—for a limited time and at the discretion of its priests.

Even a cursory reading of the Bible reveals forgiveness comes via God through Jesus, and not via the church through priests.

Add sacramentalism, celibacy, idolatry, Sunday sacredness, the role of tradition, baptism by sprinkling, the role of Mary, and a whole host of other teachings, and we begin to understand why an entire era of history—the Reformation Era—is named after a movement that stood against the teachings of Rome. Francis is the incredibly popular leader of a church positioning itself as the dominant spiritual and political force in the world.

Ellen White wrote many years ago that the Protestants of the United States “will reach over the abyss to clasp hands with the Roman power,” and that America will “follow in the steps of Rome in trampling on the rights of conscience” (The Great Controversy, p. 588). She also wrote: “Let the restraints now imposed by secular governments be removed, and Rome be re-instated in her former power, and there would speedily be a revival of her tyranny and persecution” (p. 564).

While some might rather ignore these plain statements, current events suggest they have never been more reliable.

While the world sees a kind man urging humanity to do its best, it is easy to fail to see the forest for the proverbial trees. In spite of his gracious acts and inspirational words, Francis leads a church that has merchandized grace, offered a corrupted version of the plan of salvation and placed tradition above the Bible. His popularity is soaring and shows no sign of slowing down.

We are rapidly heading west toward California from North Carolina. The blue shields say “40 West.” And even though we might not be able to see the mile markers as clearly as we wish, there is no doubting we’re almost there.

Heavenly Hoax

Some years ago I stopped to use a pay phone and found the phone booth had been virtually wallpapered with pink tracts, which turned out to be excerpts from a book written by someone claiming to have visited hell. The author’s description of hell was partly graphic, somewhat entertaining, quite incredible and entirely un-Biblical.

In 2010, a book was published which claimed to be the story of a young boy who had visited not hell, but heaven. The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven was the spectacular story of a child’s visit to heaven after he “died” in a car wreck that left him a quadriplegic. Alex Malarkey’s story sold over a million copies and was developed into a TV movie, gripping hearts around the world. But several days ago Alex admitted that his story was nothing more than a heavenly hoax.

Following the accident which almost claimed his life, Alex – six years old at the time of the accident – spent two months in a coma. The wonder of Alex regaining consciousness was overshadowed by the incredible account he gave of what he experienced while he was unconscious. He claimed angels had escorted him through the gates of heaven, that he heard heavenly music, saw the devil and talked with Jesus Himself.

But Alex recently wrote an open letter that was published on the Pulpit and Pen website in which he flatly said, “It was all a lie.” Alex now says he didn’t “die” in he accident, and he never at any time went to heaven.

“I said I went to heaven because I thought it would get me attention,” Alex said in a brief statement. “When I made the claims I did, I had never read the Bible. People have profited from lies, and continue to.”

The book has been taken out of print by its publisher, and bookstores have stopped carrying the book.

Of course the bigger question is, “Should the book have been published in the first place?”

From a Biblical point of view, the clear answer is No.

The Bible speaks nothing of people dying, going to heaven and returning to the Earth to tell people what they have seen. Paul spoke about his own experience of seeing heaven in vision (2 Corinthians 12:2-4), and the prophets Daniel and John wrote of visions of heaven they had experienced (Daniel 7:9,10; Revelation 4:1-11). Jesus returned from heaven to Earth, but like Moses – the only other person the Bible discusses who died, went to heaven and returned to Earth – He was silent about what heaven is like.

What’s alarming about The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven and stories like it is that they directly contradict the plain testimony of the Bible. The Bible clearly states that death is a sleep, not a condition in which people can travel to heaven or any other place. Jesus spoke of Lazarus as being asleep (John 11:11), which he clearly interpreted as meaning “Lazarus is dead” (John 11:14). The Bible is remarkably consistent on the subject. Paul wrote that the dead sleep until Jesus wakes them at the second coming (1 Corinthians 15:51,52), and that the saved who are alive when Jesus returns will go to heaven at that time, along with those who had previously died in faith and slept the sleep of death. While such a view may come as a surprise to someone who has not carefully investigated this subject, it is certainly biblical.

Numerous times the Bible refers to death as a dreamless sleep which lasts from the moment of death until the first resurrection takes place (Revelation 14:13; John 5:28,29).

Over the years there has been a very deliberate and carefully-orchestrated campaign conducted by the enemy of souls to confuse people regarding death and life after death. Like the majority of Christian believers, I was taught as a child to believe that those who die are ushered immediately into either heaven or hell (or in certain other cases, purgatory or limbo). And rather than this being a minor theological point of debate or discussion, the twisting of truth on this subject leads to at least two extremely serious theological problems: the marginalizing of Jesus, and the opening of the door to spiritualism.

Spiritualism is serious business – literally and figuratively. Millions are spent on psychics and mediums and related materials. And a person who entertains thoughts of contacting a spiritist medium is entertaining thoughts of getting into very close contact with the devil himself. Such was the experience of King Saul (see 1 Samuel 28).

The Bible makes clear that spiritualism will be a major influence in Earth’s final days in preparing people to accept Satan’s final deceptions (Revelation 16:13). A friend recently told me that following the tragic death of his 23-year-old daughter, if he had not understood what the Bible says about death, he would undoubtedly have sought to contact his daughter through a spiritist medium. Such involvement with the enemy has disastrous consequences.

And while a misunderstanding of death opens the door to spiritualism, it also reduces Jesus to being less than He actually is. In John 11:25, Jesus explained to the sister of Lazarus that He is “the resurrection and the life”. Without Jesus the dead have no hope of life beyond the grave. Only through Jesus’ direct intervention at the time of the second coming can anyone be raised from the dead. Without Jesus waking the sleeping dead, the grave will never release its prisoners. Even the giants of faith listed in Hebrews 11 – with the exception of Moses and Enoch – “did not receive the promise (Hebrews 11:39.)” They also wait for the return of Jesus to take place before they can be raised from their various places of rest (see verse 40).

If people go to heaven immediately upon dying then a resurrection is unnecessary, and Jesus is no longer “the resurrection and the life.” Paul’s question in 1 Corinthians 15:55 KJV – “O grave, where is thy victory?” – is a question not worth asking. We can travel to heaven without a resurrection having taken place.

Stories like that of Alex Malarkey are extremely popular. 90 Minutes in Heaven, published in 2004, spent over 5 years on the New York Times bestsellers’ list and sold over six million copies. Heaven is for Real – the story of a four year old who visited heaven – has sold over ten million copies. A 2014 movie based on Heaven is for Real has grossed over one hundred million dollars. This publishing phenomenon is now a genre of its own, having been dubbed “Heavenly Tourism.”

A story published by National Public Radio quoted a blog post written by Alex’s mother, Beth, in which she said, “There are many who are scamming and using the Word of God to do it. They are good, especially if you are not digging into your Bible and truly studying it. They study their audience and even read ‘success’ books to try to build bigger and better… ‘ministries/businesses.’ “ And Phil Johnson, the Executive Director of the media ministry led by author and broadcaster John MacArthur said, quoted in the Washington Post, “The idea that Alex suddenly recanted is just not true. There was proof everywhere that he did not stand behind the content of this book. But it was a bestselling book. Nobody in the industry wanted to kill it.”

The publisher of the now-recalled book said at the time of publishing that the story was “a supernatural encounter that will give you new insights on Heaven, angels, and hearing the voice of God.” Alex Malarkey is now saying something very different.

So how could this heavenly hoax have happened? Some say Alex’s father – the co-author of the book – saw an opportunity to make money from his son’s vivid imagination. There seems to be little doubt that Alex was a genuine soul who had no idea of the harm his creativity was going to cause. But informed by a flawed belief system, Alex was able to believe that an out-of-body escape to heaven is entirely possible. Multiplied millions believe the same thing around the world.

Similar stories have been prominent in pop culture and within religious circles. Moves dealing with out-of-body and other paranormal experiences have played to audiences in all corners of the planet. And claims of mystical occurrences such as apparitions of the Virgin Mary continue to encourage the faithful, even though they have gain no support whatsoever from Scripture.

A number of years ago while I was praying in a small group at a convention for Catholic youth, my eyes opened wide when a young man from my church started ‘prophesying.’

“My people,” he began. “I have a message for you, my people…” It was well known that Peter was a plumber. What was not known was that he was a prophet. Few of us were convinced. Several of us tasked a young nun with talking to Peter about his ‘prophesying’, but before she had a chance to approach Peter, Peter came and spoke with our small group and admitted his ‘prophesying’ was nothing more than a case of misjudged wishful thinking.

“I just wanted it to be real, and… I’m sorry. That won’t happen again.” As far as I know, it never did. Peter had been exposed to Pentecostal worship services where ‘prophesying’ is common or even expected. His desire to possess this type of spiritual gift got the better of him.

Alex Malarkey admits his desire for attention prompted him to tell a story that simply wasn’t true. Now 16 years old, Alex offers some sound advice. “[People] should read the Bible, which is enough. The Bible is the only source of truth. Anything written by man cannot be infallible.”

The hope is that many will take his take his counsel as seriously as they took his story.

(Originally published in the Adventist Review online)

New Year’s Resolutions

2015. Who’d have thought? And it seems to have arrived so quickly. I don’t mean to sound cliché, but time really does seem to be flying by. Someone suggested to me a while ago that when you’re ten years old, a year is one-tenth of your life. But when you’re much older, a year is proportionately much less of your life, and for that reason, seems to fly past much more quickly.

And maybe there’s something to that. I think it has something to do with being busy. When life is busy, there isn’t time to mull over the passing of time. You wake up one day and it has been and gone.

With each new year, there’s the temptation to make new year’s resolutions. I’m not given to making too many of them, but this year I’ll probably make a couple—one of them being to exercise more. There’s no reason for not doing it. It has something to do with prioritizing. And if you can’t make exercise a priority, it’s probably time to look at the big picture and make some changes.

New year’s resolutions can be productive. Lose weight. Exercise. (I picked a common one). Drink less alcohol, or none at all. Eat better. Keep in touch with so-and-so. Pray more.

But new year’s resolutions have a happy knack of lasting until about January 5, and then becoming a candidate for next year’s new year’s resolutions.

What about spiritual new year’s resolutions? I’ll pray more. Memorize more Scripture. Get more involved at church. Be a better person. Lose my temper less. Well, that’s all well and good. But in all likelihood, it doesn’t stand a great chance at success.

People often make God promises, but few people have a very good track record of keeping promises made to God. In the wilderness, the Israelites proclaimed, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do.” (Exodus 19:8)

A few short weeks later they were worshipping a golden calf. So much for their promise! Peter told Jesus with as much sincerity as he could muster, “Though I should die with you, yet will I not deny you.” (Matthew 26:35)

And he meant it! The problem is, mere hours later, he forgot his promise to God and denied Jesus with as much vigor as he had earlier promised to serve Him.

Have you ever done that? Made promises to God that you later couldn’t keep? The answer is undoubtedly “yes.” I want to encourage you to make fewer promises to God. Or better yet, to make no promises to God. God doesn’t even want us to make promises to Him. Instead, simply believe the promises that He has made to you.

We’re told that through His promises, we can be partakers of the divine nature. (2 Peter 1:4) We all want that, but the how of it is the tricky part. We can be made like Jesus, but not through promising Him good behavior. Instead, the key is to believe His promises to us. Philippians 2:13 says, “It is God who works in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure.”

Not even Jesus pleased God through His own efforts. Although He cooperated with the working of His Father, he said, “The Father who dwells in me, He does the works.” (John 14:10)

God promises to work in our lives. When we accept that promise, claim that promise and believe that He will do what He says He will do, we can expect to see God do great things.

You won’t need to make another promise to God, ever. He doesn’t even want you to. His promises are enough. Believe them, and you’ll have a new year like you’ve never had before.

The Dilemma

A true story.

A certain pilot—we’ll call him Dave—had been flying commercial airliners for almost 20 years. In that time, he had seen just about everything. On this particular flight, the plane he was piloting was delayed, the weather was bad, and although the crew members were experienced, they’d never worked together before, which slowed things down a bit.

While at 35,000 or so feet, Dave was given word that a passenger on his plane was gravely ill. He’d had a severe heart attack, and although a doctor on board was helping, it was obvious the man needed urgent medical care. The pilot radioed the tower at a nearby airport seeking permission to land, but due to the bad weather, permission was denied.

So what should Dave do? If they stayed flying, the passenger would almost certainly die. While it was true the weather was a problem, Dave believed he could land the plane safely in spite of it. He’d been flying for years, not just for the airlines but in the military as well.

On the other hand, he didn’t feel like he should risk the lives of his crew and passengers by trying to land. While he deliberated, news came again—the passenger was failing. And although not everyone on board the plane knew what was happening, those who did were unanimous: Dave should land the plane and try to save the man’s life. Now, Dave had a dilemma—defy the control tower, risk everyone’s safety and likely save a man’s life, or follow instructions and let the man die.

A dilemma. What would you do? Every person in the world faces a very real dilemma—and it’s far more serious than that faced by our pilot.

But first, what is a dilemma? Having to choose between vanilla and strawberry isn’t a dilemma. That’s a choice. Running out of gas isn’t a dilemma; it’s a problem (although it could introduce a dilemma).

A dilemma is this: “A problem offering two solutions or possibilities, of which neither is acceptable.” The two options are often described as the horns of a dilemma, neither of which is comfortable.

In Romans 7, Paul describes the dilemma faced by every sinner. And it is a dilemma. He describes his experience in wanting to do what he knows he shouldn’t, and not wanting to do that which he should.

His options—the horns of the dilemma—are these: One, he yields to his fallen nature and simply allows it to govern his life, and he’ll be lost (which we would surely agree would not be good), or option two. Option two is to accept Jesus and let Him be the Lord of Paul’s life. And therein lies the dilemma.

To surrender fully to Jesus is to die. It is to die the death to self, and let Jesus govern our lives just as if we had died and were reborn. So why is that an uncomfortable choice?

Jesus compares this experience to crucifixion. And that’s not pretty. You can tell it isn’t pretty because so few people experience it and so many resist it. There’s nothing acceptable about death, but that’s what Jesus is calling us to. So often we find ourselves in that Romans 7 situation—we know what is right, we want to do right, but before we know it, we’re back into that sin.

And we don’t want to die the death to self because we’ve grown to love the sin more than we like the thought of Jesus removing it from our life. So there’s the dilemma.

Two choices—carry on in the old life and bear the inevitable consequences, or let Jesus make the old life new. The old life leads to death, because the wages of sin is death. To get to the new life means death also. And that option is so unattractive that most people choose against it.

Only one thing can free a person to live a true Christian experience: choosing Jesus as the Lord of one’s whole life. If self lives, we must die. If self dies, then we can live—forever.

The choice is obvious and clear. There’s only one way worth going. All it requires is a choice to subordinate one’s desires to the will of God. Continually.

Are you willing to make that decision?

Donald Sterling’s Problem

The remarks allegedly made by Los Angeles Clippers Owner Donald Sterling were…actually, I’m not even sure what word (or words) to use. “Sickening” according to Michael Jordan. “Incredibly offensive” said President Barack Obama. Basketball heavyweights have said there’s no place for Sterling in their sport. And the NBA responded by banning Sterling for life, and fining him $2.5 million.

This matter forced the National Basketball Association to confront serious issues, and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver decided the offensive remarks were indeed made by Sterling. Silver acted swiftly and firmly, sending a strong message to Sterling, the NBA and those associated with it, and the world.

I found the recording extremely difficult to listen to. I would not have chosen to listen to it, but happened to be in a place where it was sort of “sprung” on me and I had little choice but to hear the revolting rant. I listened with my forehead in my hand wishing it would end—quickly—only to discover that there was much more to be heard in addition to the initial release.

The sad fact is that as long as there is sin in the world, there will always be racism, but this was…this was different somehow. These weren’t remarks made in anger, or spewed in the heat of the moment, or fueled by drugs or alcohol. Even if they were, the remarks wouldn’t have been any more acceptable, but there would have been a context that enabled people to at least say, “Here we go again,” or “Well, what can you expect?” This was well thought out, calculated and carefully elucidated. This couldn’t be explained away somehow, using inflamed human emotion as some kind of excuse. This was…hideous.

Yet as grotesque as Sterling’s comments were, there’s an additional twist in this affair that isn’t generating a lot of discussion. And that is, the remarks attributed to Donald Sterling were made to his girlfriend—not his wife of nearly 60 years, but his mistress. While it seems certain that Sterling is racist—based on the ruling by the National Basketball Association—he is also certainly immoral. And nobody seems to mind.

Sterling’s paramour is more than 55 years his junior. There’s controversy surrounding this relationship: lawsuits and accusations and money—and plenty of it. Evidently, in this age where racism is appropriately not tolerated, immorality is accepted as a part of everyday life.

In certain circles, immorality is celebrated. It’s a conquest—an achievement—and whereas tawdry behavior was once the domain of men, our equal-opportunity world has seen to it that women are welcome to be every bit as morally bankrupt as men.

One 27-year-old actress recently acknowledged that she has had 36 “partners” over the years. While she admits to being embarrassed that the list of her conquests has been made public, there’s nothing attached to the story of her immorality that suggests she actually did anything wrong.

The point of this post isn’t to criticize the immoral, but instead, the fascinating relativism that exists with sin. I noticed (unfortunately) that one It Is Written Twitter follower professes faith in Jesus while adorning her Twitter page with soft-core pornography. Certain sins fade in and out of style, while many can become somewhat fashionable.

Oddly, 150 years ago, Sterling would have likely been criticized for his immorality, while racism would have been given a free pass. Times change, as does the human proclivity for defending the indefensible.

When God heard the phone conversation between Donald Sterling and his mistress, He was appalled by more than racism. But thankfully, racists, the immoral—in fact sinners of all shapes and persuasions—can find forgiveness and renewal in Jesus.

See, there’s one more thing nobody is talking about with Donald Sterling, and that’s redemption. Yet, isn’t that the ultimate hope in the case of any sinner? Condemning a man for his misdeeds is the easy, almost satisfying part. Praying him on to a change of heart is another.

Jesus could easily say, “The man’s guilty. Throw your rocks!” But He is far more interested in saying, “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.”

Were Sterling to be the biggest bigot on the fruited plain, he would still be a bigot for whom Christ died. And while one hopes earnestly that a racist would see the error of his or her ways and repent, one also hopes that a racist would find Jesus, and redemption from all sin.

As ghastly as the recorded racism was, the Bible reminds us that “where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.” (Romans 5:20) There’s plenty of sin in this world to go around, and there’s a little of Donald Sterling in all of us. None of us is blameless; all of us are flawed and fault-ridden. God sees it all, and wants to save us just the same.

Christians and Politics

A well-known tenet of Christianity is summed up in what is often referred to as the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” It’s an adaptation of Matthew 7:12, where Jesus said, “Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”

And it’s probably fair to say that, generally speaking, most Christians get this right. The majority of believers—the majority of people for that matter—would not only agree that it’s correct to treat others right, but put into practice pretty well the idea of showing deference or respect or kindness.

But there’s one area of life where it seems that Christians—the people who believe in “love thy neighbor as thyself” (Matthew 22:39)—seem to altogether forget the Golden Rule. And that’s politics.

I’m continually surprised at how many Christians take off the gloves and bare their fangs when it comes to discussing politics. In everything else it’s “be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love” (Romans 12:10), but once they start talking (or tweeting or Facebooking) about politics or politicians, it’s a different story.

Many devoted followers of Christ become mean, critical, hard and bitter when politics is the topic of conversation. Insults, name-calling, bitterness, invective…nothing seems to be out of bounds. It’s as though Jesus’ injunction to “love your enemies” (Matthew 5:44) was never spoken. If you haven’t noticed what I’m talking about, keep and eye or an ear open, and you will.

Perhaps social media is part of this. People are emboldened to write things they might never say. Or maybe, when it comes to politics, the stakes are really pretty high—politicians make decisions that affect our financial well-being, our national security and our personal safety, so perhaps it’s natural that passions run high as well.

I’m not suggesting for a moment that Christians shouldn’t have opinions on politics or that they shouldn’t express them. I’m extremely grateful to God that I live in a country where free speech is a basic human right. I’ve witnessed what the absence of free speech does to the psyche of people. I don’t want to live in the midst of that.

I’m happy that there are Christians who care about their country, the economy, health care, and that some involve themselves in the political process in the hope of helping their fellow man or woman. God bless them.

But does it have to become hateful? An opinion is one thing. “I think X is a poor President/Senator/Congresswoman/Councillor…” It’s a person’s right to feel that way. But watch how so many people cross the line from opinion to attack and insult. Some of it is brutal, hateful and malicious. Wait—did I say “some”? I should have said “a lot.” Because it happens a lot.

Watch the Twitter posts of some Christians. Listen to them start discussing Republicans or Democrats. And ask yourself if it’s possible they’ve ever read Colossians 4:6: “Let your speech always be with grace.”

The real reason people become hateful when they discuss politics has to be a spiritual reason. Converted people may well make mistakes along the way, but they won’t be habitually nasty when talking about others—even politicians.

People whose lives are being led by the Holy Spirit know that in Matthew 12:34, Jesus said, “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks,” and they can’t escape the reality that one’s words betray or reveal one’s true character. (A sobering reality.)

“For by your words,” Jesus said, “you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Matthew 12:37) I don’t recall Jesus ever saying, “But when it comes to politics and politicians, feel free to let rip.”

There’s undoubtedly a way for Christians to engage in the political process and political discussions while manifesting the Spirit of Jesus. And for Christians to consistently do so—rather than consistently being mean or harsh—would be a powerful witness for Jesus and His Word.