Tag: 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… 

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/

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.

Every 11.5 Minutes – Suicide: Dealing with the Darkness

Every 11.5 Minutes Suicide: Dealing with the Darkness

Several recent, high-profile tragedies have thrust an extremely painful subject into the forefront of the national consciousness.

In the United States, someone commits suicide every 11.5 minutes. And for every successful suicide attempt, there are 25 unsuccessful attempts. About 6,000 people commit suicide every year in the United Kingdom, but as bad as that is, there are more than 50 countries that have a higher suicide rate than Great Britain.

There are a lot of people hurting, a lot of people living without hope — and more than likely some of them are living within your sphere of influence. Most everyone has been affected by suicide, and it happens to people both in and out of the church.

Suicide is no respecter of age, race, gender, or social standing.

If you struggle with suicidal thoughts, or if you feel like your life is hopeless or that you don’t mean anything to anyone, you can know there are people who do care, and there are people who will help. And if you feel you need help, please ask for help. Speak to a physician. A teacher. A parent. A counselor. A pastor or other person with spiritual wisdom and experience.

I’d love to tell you faith in God takes away the kind of anguish that leads to suicide, but even people of faith can struggle. Mental illness and emotional struggles are real. So how do we approach this from a Biblical perspective?  

Remember this: “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:10. That’s God saying He’s there for you.  

In life, it isn’t that we want the struggles taken away entirely. We want strength to get through our challenges, our dark times. God promises you that. Don’t cave in to that impulse to think you’re not worth anything or that you don’t matter. There’s a very real spiritual battle going on that everyone is caught in the midst of, a battle in which the devil wants people to lose hope in God.  

A friend of mine, a man I’ll call Phil, felt like he simply couldn’t go on. He had made plans to end his life and was driving to the place where he intended to do so. For some reason, Phil stopped to fill his vehicle with gas. While he was pumping gas into his truck, a man he barely knew saw him and called his name. When Phil responded, the man asked him what he was doing the coming Tuesday night. “Well, I don’t have anything planned,” Phil replied.  

“I’d like to invite you to a Bible study at my house,” the man continued. “I’d just love it if you could make it.”

Phil thought a moment. “Sure,” he said. “I’ll be there. Why not?”

Phil attended the study and went back again and again. He surrendered His life to Jesus and went on to dedicate many years of his life to being a youth leader in his church. Phil often preaches in his local church.

Depression, loneliness, despair, deep pain, and feelings of worthlessness can push a person into some dark places. But regardless of the circumstances in your life, there is hope, because God offers hope and a future. An eternal future.

Don’t lose hope. If dark thoughts crowd your mind, or if you know someone battling with depression, seek help. And lean on God.

National Suicide Prevention Hotline (United States): 1-800-273-8255

Halloween: Be Unafraid. Be Very Unafraid.

Across the street from where I’m staying in Boston, a skeleton is trying to climb through an open second-story window.

Two other skeletons are climbing onto the porch. A fetching auburn-colored wig seems to suggest one of the skeletons is a female. She and her friend appear to be trying to gain access to the house by taking a more direct route through the front door.

The porch of the house is festooned with enormous spider webs. Ghosts decorate the scene. At night, giant glowing eyes stare out of two windows. 

You get the idea. It’s Halloween.

Further up the street, a giant skull adorns the gate to another residence. A small imitation graveyard contains gravestones saying “Rest in Pieces,” “I’ll be Back,” and “Come, Join Me.” A few blocks away, a family has what the sign calls a “Zombie Party” going on in their front yard. Several skeletons appear to be climbing out of the ground.

A couple of blocks over is the most incredible front-yard Halloween display I’ve ever witnessed. The front yard is a veritable forest of Halloween paraphernalia, and the house is decorated like I’ve never seen. Voices call from somewhere in the midst of mayhem, invitations to join the deceased and to “be very afraid.”

But it’s all fun, isn’t it? Kids of all ages enjoy dressing up in costumes, and some Halloween costumes are fun and creative. Trick or treating is a long-established and much-loved American tradition.

Happy Halloween, right? Wrong. The “harmless fun” Halloween represents for many people is predicated upon a lie, and exists to perpetuate a lie. Fun isn’t really the point of Halloween. Halloween is a celebration of spiritualism, the belief that the spirits of the dead survive bodily death and communicate with or even taunt the living. Scary!

But the fact is that Halloween is all bark and no bite. Halloween revels in the idea that the dead come back to life, that the dead haunt houses, and that immediately beyond death is life in another realm. The truth is, that’s not the truth. There’s not a single reason to be afraid at Halloween.

Why? Because the last person who can trouble you, frighten you, or haunt your house is a dead person. The Bible is plain about this.

Writing in the book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon stated, “For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing.” Far from being interested in climbing through your upstairs window, the dead are oblivious to anything at all.

No, the dead aren’t in heaven praising God. The Bible is unequivocal on that point. “The dead do not praise the Lord, nor any who go down into silence.” Paul taught that the dead sleep—see 1 Corinthians 15:51-55, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18—and he did so plainly. Those who teach that humans possess an immortal soul or a soul that survives bodily death, owe their belief system more to Plato than to the Bible.

The creation story teaches—again, plainly—that human beings were not given a soul but that Adam was created as “a living soul” (Genesis 2:7, KJV). Without a soul that survives bodily death, we are left to conclude that the dead—who don’t praise the Lord and who know “nothing”—are not prowling around neighborhoods, or graveyards, or attempting to climb through second-floor windows on Halloween. They’re asleep. Should a person be afraid of the dead, of ghosts, and ghouls? No. Not in the slightest.

Vampires? No, of course not. Zombies? No. Things that go bump in the night? That depends on what those “things” are. But you can be certain they’re not the spirits of the dead.

Jesus Himself let all the air out of the Halloween balloon when He spoke to His disciples about their friend Lazarus. Jesus said: “Our friend Lazarus sleeps, but I go that I may wake him up.” The disciples were confused by this, “Then Jesus said to them plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead’” (John 11:11–14).

The Bible is consistent. The dead sleep until the resurrection day. Remember Jesus’ words: “I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:44). Jesus made clear the righteous will be “repaid at the resurrection of the just” (Luke 14:14). If someone were to survive bodily death and go immediately to heaven, they would be “repaid” long before “the resurrection of the just.”

Halloween is a toothless tiger, and exists to perpetuate one of Satan’s biggest lies—the lie that the dead aren’t really dead. It’s an untruth that is setting people up for massive deception before the return of Jesus.

As Halloween comes and goes for another year, keep in mind what the Bible teaches about death. The key to life beyond this life is Jesus, “the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25). Without Jesus, nobody comes forth from the grave. With Jesus, “the dead in Christ shall rise” (1 Thessalonians 4:16). Our hope for life after this life is faith in Him.

And that’s nothing to be afraid of!

For more information on this subject, click here to check out the FREE It Is Written resource, “The Mystery of Death.”