Category: John’s Thoughts

Movies and Mayhem: Our Sick Society

Surely this enables us to see the madness of it all.

Hollywood has announced that in the wake of two recent mass shootings, a certain new movie will not be released as planned. Why? Because “now is not the right time to release this film,” according to a statement from the studio that created the film.

But the fact is, there was never a right time to release this film. Nor will there ever be.

The movie is referred to as a “satirical social thriller.” What it actually is is the story of a group of people on one side of the political divide who capture and hunt to kill a group of people on the other side of said divide. But the plot is irrelevant. It’s a movie filled with graphic violence and brutal killing (luxuriously shot and featuring an Academy Award-winning cast).

The politics of it, while disturbing, are not the greatest concern. What is of tremendous concern is that we live in a society where portrayals of brutality and violence are considered, in the words of Universal Studios, “bold and visionary.” Of course this is nothing new. But the hypocrisy of pulling a movie because its putrid content comes a little close to home in the wake of a mass killing demonstrates just how far we’ve wandered as a race. If the movie isn’t good now, it was never any good.

Can’t we just acknowledge that depicting this type of violence, selling tickets to see it, and then making heroes of its creators doesn’t speak well of an enlightened society?¹ We surely are way beyond the time for studies and research papers and debate about whether or not brutality in a movie impacts the way people live their lives. One of the two recent mass murderers was into some truly horrific stuff. One of his friends claimed to see their deranged pursuit as “a joke” and was shocked that the killer acted out the very stuff their group fantasized about. Why would anyone be surprised that a man acted out his fantasies? Of course, not everyone in his clique descended to such depths. But the fact that most people who consume mental poison don’t become mass shooters doesn’t make the poison any less poisonous.

Do laws need to be looked at to address the runaway crime plaguing society? Laws should always be looked at. Is the sickness troubling the country the fault of politicians? To say “yes” would be to choose the lazy answer, but politicians have to do their job. There’s no simple solution. But if a little common sense was employed, things would be radically different. The Bible says that we become changed into what we focus on (see 2 Corinthians 3:18.) I learned to love durian² because I persisted with it. Feed a people group a constant diet of violence and hate and you get, well, 2019.

How can we be surprised when society starts to mirror the utter madness being depicted in pop culture? It might be said that pop culture merely mirrors society. But the movie recently shelved by Universal Pictures mirrors nothing other than the twisted imagination of its creators.

It isn’t free speech or creativity or bold vision that results in movies like this being produced. It’s madness. And while we can’t “stop” violent crime from happening, there are some things we can stop. We can stop leaving common sense out of the equation and start saying, “This just isn’t good. This isn’t appropriate. This isn’t necessary. This shouldn’t be produced.” This would be a good place to start. Society wants to have its cake and eat it too. Violence is bad! Killing people is bad! But violence and killing for entertainment? That’s considered good. Even very good.

The challenge is, of course, hearts don’t change themselves. Only God can change a heart, and He doesn’t change the hearts of those who don’t want to experience change. We’re late in the history of the earth now, evidenced by an advanced society thinking it acceptable to produce truly horrible content and make it available for mass consumption.

The real problem isn’t guns or shooters or laws or politicians. The problem now is society. Sin. We’re sick. Very sick. Our systemic problem runs deeper than we might even realize. In Isaiah 1:5 God spoke of a people and said, “The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faints.” Sin has led us to the place where we decry violence, wring our hands and shed tears and demand that the violence must stop, while at precisely the same time we celebrate those who produce the sickest stuff and spoon-feed it to a sin-hungry world. On one hand we demand society changes, while on the other we race to movie theaters to buy tickets to the latest splatter movie. And that makes sense… how?

If a movie shouldn’t be released because of mass shootings, it should never be released. Or even produced. As long as we’re so blind to our own illness, society can never be well. And as long as people choose violence and brutality as acceptable forms of entertainment, we’ll continue to get what we pay for.


¹ Actually, we know the answer to that question: “No.”

² So good… 

An Enemy Has Done This

It’s a question I’ve often been asked. And it’s a tough one every time.

A woman I’ll call April wrote to me recently.

“When my daughter passed away at three months old, I was so angry with God. How does God give you something so precious just to take it away? I still love God, but I feel lost, almost like a pinwheel blowing in the wind.”

What would you say in response? It’s a question so many people have. I wanted to share the answer with you that I shared with April.

Dear April,

Thank you for writing. First, I want to say how sorry I am for your loss. I’m sure I can’t even imagine your pain, which has to be immense. I’m so sorry.

You’ve asked a question that ALL of us struggle with. The answer is simple, but it isn’t always satisfactory. At least, not in the heat of pain and loss.

God doesn’t take our loved ones away. In the parable of the wheat and tares, a man discovers his field has been pretty much destroyed, and he says, “An enemy has done this” (Matthew 13:28). It’s the enemy who has done this. There’s a horrible, angry devil who has spread sin and with it, sickness and loss and death.

Because we’ve been in a sinful world for 6,000 years, people suffer disease and loss. Elderly people deal with Alzheimers. People battle Parkinson’s. It’s awful. But it’s because of sin. Your precious baby girl somehow was afflicted with an illness or suffered an accident because the human family has been degenerating for millennia thanks to the devil’s rebellion. God weeps with you, and He hurts with you.

Could God have prevented this? Truthfully, yes, He could have. God has prevented much, much evil. So why did He not? Why did God not preserve the life of your baby girl?

For the same reason as He didn’t prevent the drunk driver running a red light and killing a pedestrian. For the same reason a passenger was killed in a bus crash. For the same reason my friend’s two-year-old died of cancer. And what is that reason? We don’t know. But God does know.

What is important for us is to trust. To have faith. To believe that God is love (1 John 4:8), and to believe that our circumstances–as tragic as they often are–do not represent a lack of faithfulness on God’s part. April, God will see you through this. I know that might sound easy or trite or hollow, but He will. His strength will be there for you. He told the apostle Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

And one day there will be a resurrection. You will see your baby girl again. You will hold her in your arms again. And you’ll have the privilege of raising her in heaven, where there will be no more sin or sickness or suffering or pain.

April, hold on tight to God. He is the “God of all comfort” (2 Corinthians 1:3), and He will comfort you. When Paul wrote about the resurrection in 1 Thessalonians 4, he said, “Comfort one another with these words” (1 Thessalonians 4:18). He didn’t suggest the words will take away our pain, but He did say the promise of the resurrection offers hope and comfort.

One more thought: there’s one person who knows more about this than anyone, and that’s God. God lost a child. His Son–who He had been with since eternity past–was cruelly killed by the people He came to save. His own people, in fact. God suffered the greatest loss we could imagine. A resurrection reunited the Father and the Son. One soon day, a resurrection will reunite a mother and her precious daughter. I know you’re looking forward to that day.

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

May God bless and keep you.

Pastor John Bradshaw
It Is Written

The Cure: Healing More Than Cancer

It was an unsettling article to read. Recently, Atlanta magazine published a story¹ about an unusual cluster of cancer cases in a small town in the state of Georgia. Many people–including young people–have lost their lives over the years to rare cancers such as rhabdomyosarcoma and Ewing sarcoma.

Waycross, Georgia–the closest of any city to the Okefenokee Swamp–has a population of less than 15,000. Over the years, Waycross has been the site of what appears to be the very careless disposal of highly toxic chemicals. Many people contend today that chemical dumps and the enormous quantities of dangerous materials they contained have caused many otherwise unexplainable illnesses.

Cancer is a tricky business. We understand the link between smoking and lung cancer, between obesity and alcohol consumption and cancer, but direct links between a substance and cancer are not always easy to prove. But in Waycross, Georgia there is no shortage of people who are convinced.

As life was being lived a day at a time, it seems that without realizing it, people were being affected in the worst way by something they weren’t aware was harmful to them.

The parallels with salvation and sin appear too obvious to miss.

It’s easy for people to fail to recognize the danger of sin. After all, sin has been glamorized. Over the years, what we once would have referred to as sin has, in many cases, been mainstreamed. But what happens is that over time a little selfishness is indulged, a little lust is indulged, a little dishonesty is indulged, and the cancer of sin starts eating away at a person’s soul. The result is eternal death, because as Paul wrote, “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).

It’s easy to look at symptoms without considering the cause. That’s not only true in the physical sense, but also in the spiritual sense. Someone with heart disease needs to know more than that he or she is unwell. It’s imperative that the cause of the disease can be found so that an effective treatment can implemented and good health can be restored. A person who is living a sinful life needs to know that sin is deadly. Living with, living in, living affected by sin leads to eternal spiritual ruin. A person’s problem is not really anger, or alcohol, or profanity. The problem in each case is actually a lack of the presence of God in their life, a disconnect between the person and the Savior.

While the cure for many cancers is sadly unknown, the cure for the cancer of sin has long been made known to the human family. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). Paul wrote that “Christ died for our sins” (1 Corinthians 15:3). The cure is available, and unlike many medical treatments, it has no negative side effects.

But Jesus said a curious thing in John 5:40. Speaking to a group of people who were succumbing to the effects of sin, He said, “But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life.”

All around us, even in our very midst, are people who are ailing, spiritually sick and dying. The wonderful truth of the gospel is that Jesus invites every sin-sick soul to receive the fail-safe cure of forgiveness: salvation through Christ, pardon owing to what Jesus did for us all on Calvary.

While we can be thankful that great progress has been made in the fight against disease, there’s still no cure for many of the diseases that continue to claim so many lives. But the cure of cures has been found, and it’s freely available to anyone who wants it.

“Come to me,” Jesus said in Matthew 11:28. And when a person comes to faith in Jesus, he or she is cured of every spiritual ill and is made completely well.


¹https://www.atlantamagazine.com/great-reads/why-are-rare-cancers-killing-so-many-people-in-a-small-georgia-town/

Unhappiness: A Generational Issue

You might think that a young man with money, fame, and the adulation of thousands (or millions) of people would be the happiest person on earth. Living the dream, wealthy beyond imagination, hot and cold running everything… What’s not to love?

Evidently there’s a lot not to love. Earlier this year, Adam Silver, the commissioner of the National Basketball Association commented on the mental health of professional basketball players. He said, “What surprises me is that they’re truly unhappy.” He explained that there are “pervasive feelings of loneliness and melancholy across the league” and stated that many players are lonely. “If you’re around a team in this day and age, there are always headphones on,’’ Silver said. “[The players] are isolated, and they have their heads down.’’ He reported that one player said, “From the time I get on the plane to when I show up in the arena for the game, I won’t see a single person.” Mr. Silver’s comments were reported on boston.com.

There are several factors at play here. One is that social media and electronics allow people to very easily become isolated. A generation ago it wasn’t possible to put earbuds in and separate yourself from what was going on around you, whereas today it’s not only possible but extremely common. Smart phones allow people to immerse themselves in another world, away from the reality of what’s happening in their presence. For these and other reasons, young men at the height of their professional powers are miserable, not happy.

But this phenomenon isn’t unique to über-successful sports people, at least not according to Mr. Silver. “I don’t think it’s unique to these players,’’ he said. “I don’t think it’s something that’s just going around superstar athletes. I think it’s a generational issue.’’

If he’s right, then loneliness and isolation and melancholy are a “generational issue.” Put another way, mental health challenges are a “generational issue.” But if young adults earning millions of dollars a year can’t find happiness, who can?

Anyone can. It depends on where you’re looking for happiness, and what you prioritize as truly important in your life. Psalm 16:11 says, “In Your presence is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” While that might sound foreign to someone crowding God out of their life, God’s promise is that when you make room for Him—when you spend time at His “right hand”—you’ll experience “fullness of joy.”

What is important to you? Where are you looking for affirmation? From where do you derive your happiness? If your focus is on acquiring money, possessions, and Instagram likes, life will ultimately prove to be a hollow existence. But when you let what is important to God become important to you, life has a way of becoming decidedly more meaningful. Psalm 37:4 says, “Delight yourself also in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart.” That’s a very similar thought to the one expressed in Matthew 6:33: “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.”

Of course there’s nothing inherently wrong with earning large sums of money and enjoying professional success. But the Bible and society tell us that these things aren’t the key to happiness. They may even be major contributors to unhappiness. Real happiness comes from oneness with God. Paul wrote in Romans 5:1, “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” The person whose sins are forgiven has peace in his or her heart. The one who understands the love of God experiences a deep-seated joy. The one who knows he or she is living out God’s purpose is a person who has a settled existence.

Be sure you’re taking time for God. The knowledge that God has your heart gives you the certainty you need to live with meaning and hope.

 


If you are experiencing mental health challenges, please seek professional help.

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.