Greetings from Bolivia!

Dear friends,

All is going well in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, where teams of It Is Written partners are conducting five evangelistic meetings. In spite of the the expected minor technical/translator issues, everything is actually going exceptionally well. Thank you for your prayers. By the way, the mission informed us that they are expecting over 800 baptisms during this week. John and Robert are both conducting extremely successful evangelism caravans in diverse parts of the country.
Next week (yes, next week) John is starting (April 11) a month-long evangelistic series in Edmonton, Alberta. The pastors and church members have been hard at work preparing everything for opening night. More than 380,000 handbills are being mailed this weekend and coming week. In addition to that, our media director has arranged for the airwaves to be inundated with advertisement for the meetings. The church members are also presently inviting their friends and acquaintances to attend. Please pray that many people will decide to attend and hear the everlasting gospel.
The Edmonton project coordinator, shared with me an exceptional story today. One of our Bible workers received a phone call this morning as he was getting ready for the day. The person calling was a lady who indicated she was returning a missed call from his phone number. He told her that he had made no phone calls that morning and that she must be mistaken. However, just before hanging up he had an amazing inspiration. He asked the lady whether she’d been thinking about God that morning. She said YES. Immediately, he told her he was a Christian and wanted to share something very special from God. Thus, an arrangement was made for him to provide her with a Bible study lesson. And just like that, a wrong number might turn out to be a soul for Jesus.
Good things are happening in Edmonton and a lot more in the works.
Have a blessed week,
Yves Monnier
Director of Evangelism
It Is Written
Another colorful friend in Bolivia. This man sang - beautifully - for the gospel meetings.

Another colorful friend in Bolivia. This man sang – beautifully – for the gospel meetings.

We were warmly welcomed a few minutes ago in Tarija, Bolivia.

We were warmly welcomed a few minutes ago in Tarija, Bolivia.

In Riberalta, Bolivia we were blessed with a great night. The adults with me are all deaf and speak sign language. The man beside me was baptized. Inspirational!

In Riberalta, Bolivia we were blessed with a great night. The adults with me are all deaf and speak sign language. The man beside me was baptized. Inspirational!

Another warm Bolivian welcome!

Another warm Bolivian welcome!

The scene at our meeting in Monterro, outside Santa Cruz, Bolivia. What a great evening.

The scene at our meeting in Monterro, outside Santa Cruz, Bolivia. What a great evening.

The Snowflake and You

Did you know that snow is mentioned in the Bible?  There are verses that tell us that when Jesus washes away our sins, we become whiter than snow. (Isaiah 1:18; Psalm 51:7) Then there are verses about Naaman and Miriam having leprosy (a symbol of sin) as white as snow. (2 Kings 5:27; Numbers 12:10) Other verses tell us that God’s hair and garments are white as snow. (Revelation 1:14; Daniel 7:9) Snow is mentioned 24 times in the Bible!

There are so many fun things you can do in the snow.  Build a snowman, construct an igloo, make a snow angel, and go sledding or skiing. But what makes up all that snow that we enjoy playing in so much?  Well, it is an accumulation of individual snowflakes.

Recently, I was helping my daughter with a science assignment that was about snowflakes.  Have you ever heard the phrase “no two snowflakes are alike”?  Well, a gentleman named Wilson A. Bentley, from the small town of Jericho, Vermont, made this discovery.

In 1885, after combining a microscope and a camera, he became the first person to photograph a single snowflake. His many years of diligent work saw him eventually capture more than 5,000 snowflake pictures in his lifetime.  Never did he see two snowflakes that were the same.

This is what Mr. Bentley said about the snowflakes: “Under the microscope, I found that snowflakes were miracles of beauty; and it seemed a shame that this beauty should not be seen and appreciated by others. Every crystal was a masterpiece of design and no one design was ever repeated.  When a snowflake melted, that design was forever lost. Just that much beauty was gone, without leaving any record behind.”

I love the part that says, “Every crystal was a masterpiece of design and no one design was ever repeated.”  It reminds me of the care that Jesus took in creating us.  Just like a snowflake, each one of us is a masterpiece of God’s creation and not one of us is ever repeated.  Even twins are not exactly alike.

You are very special to Jesus.  Only you can be the person Jesus created you to be.  In Psalm 139:14, David said that he was “fearfully and wonderfully made” by God.  And just as the beauty of every little snowflake gives glory to our great Creator, each person has been “created in Christ Jesus for good works.” (Ephesians 2:10)

By simply falling to the earth, a snowflake adds beauty to its surroundings and speaks of its Maker.  And as you allow Jesus to live in you, others will “see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)

Today, remember you have been made unique.  You are special in God’s sight, and like the beautiful snowflakes, let your life add beauty to the world around you!

– Melissa Bradshaw

A Woman of Love and Service

Inspiration is one of those things you can’t expect. It just happens when it happens. It’s like a double rainbow or the northern lights – they just appear, unexpectedly, and it’s marvelous when they do.

Inspiration often presents itself in the least anticipated places, which makes it all the more profound. I collided with inspiration shortly before Christmas in 2014 on a frigid Michigan day, at the funeral of a truly remarkable individual.

Dolores Slikkers was in her mid-80s when tragedy intervened in the form of a motor vehicle accident and cut short her earthly sojourn. “Cut short” isn’t what you’d normally hear said about someone of Dolores’ age, and one of the speakers at the funeral made that very point.

“Normally, at the funeral of someone in their 20s, someone will say, ‘she had her whole life ahead of her,’” he said. “But that was true of Dolores. Even at her age, she did so much living that it was as though she had her whole life ahead of her.”

Dolores did as much living in one lifetime as most people could do in two or three. Together with Leon, her husband and best friend of 67 years, she raised a family of exceptional children, who in turn have raised outstanding children of their own.  She was the rock of her family as Leon founded a successful business, and her life was characterized by service. In addition to having been a respected member of It Is Written’s Executive Committee for over 20 years, Dolores volunteered in a wide variety of administrative roles in her church, including at the world church level, as well as on the board of a Christian university. She poured hours of her time into the life of her church in a multitude of ways.

She was instrumental in founding a Christian service organization that has blessed and improved the lives of multiplied thousands of people around the world, and yet what inspired me most of all was that she continued to be involved as an integral part of the life of her local church. Her church pastor spoke of still being able to ‘see’ her standing in her customary spot in the church foyer, waiting to greet people as they arrived at church each week. While Dolores was able to breathe the rarified air at the highest levels of church administration, she was equally at home at the lower altitudes inhabited by the every day church member.  She was a woman of faith who not only had a genuine connection with Jesus, but who lived that faith as she invested in the lives of countless others.

At one part of her funeral service, it was mentioned that it was Dolores’ practice to write encouraging notes to others. The pastor asked everyone who had received one of her personal, hand-written notes to stand. I looked around the crowded church and couldn’t see a single person seated. Everyone was on their feet. More than one person had to have wondered where Dolores found time to write all those notes.

Another of her ministries was to hand-make blankets for people in need.  And in the last conversation I had with Dolores, she told me how excited she was about her local church’s evangelistic outreach to her community. And yes, Dolores was on the front lines of that outreach. Involved. Doing. Giving. Ministering.

Among those who spoke at her funeral were academics, administrators, pastors, ministry leaders, friends, and family members. Each person testifying of a woman of real inspiration. This was someone who not only cared about people, but made a difference in their lives. One university professor shared that Dolores had ‘adopted’ him when he was a young man, enabling him to complete his doctoral studies in the United States, far from his home in Europe.

At funerals the word of God is especially poignant. Paul’s encouragement to the Thessalonians comes alive where grief and faith collide. “For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God. And the dead in Christ shall rise first.” 1 Thessalonians 4:16. Yes they will, and Dolores will be among them. “Blessed are the dead that die in the Lord,” John wrote in Revelation 14:13. David declared, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.” Psalm 116:15.

As I sat in that crowded church, I couldn’t help but be inspired. It seemed to me that the most impressive degree she had earned was the doctorate she received from the school life. Her most outstanding achievements called her “Mom”.  Perhaps the most glowing tribute anyone had ever paid her was expressed in two words: “I do”, expressed well over half a century later as “I still do.” She influenced a denomination, provided guidance to a university and to generations of scholars, and – one blanket at a time, one card at a time – showed real, everyday people that they were special, valued and loved. 

I remembered the many times she had sat opposite me at It Is Written Executive Committee meetings, and I imagined her standing at her spot in the foyer waiting to warmly welcome saints and sinners into the house of God. God had blessed so many people through Dolores Slikkers, myself included. It just didn’t seem possible that at 85 years of age, the life of this mother in Israel had been cut tragically short.

She still had her whole life ahead of her.

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.

A Time for Tolerance

The recent passing of Fred Phelps, the pastor of the notorious Westboro Baptist Church based in Topeka, Kansas, might have been a time of delight and rejoicing on the part of those who were the targets of his considerable venom. Remarkably—and, perhaps, instructively—it appears that it was not.

While undoubtedly there are those in certain communities who will have been at least relieved by the news of Phelps’ death, media reports revealed a considerable amount of restraint and a remarkable amount of kindness being demonstrated by those against whom Phelps railed.

Phelps’ church “demonstrated” against the homosexual community in unusually spiteful ways. Westboro Baptist representatives protesting at various events would hold signs reading, “God Hates You”, “God is Your Enemy” and “You’re Going to Hell”, among others. Phelps’ church protested at the funerals of slain American soldiers, and even picketed the funerals of Former Vice-President Al Gore’s father, and the mother of Former President Bill Clinton. The New York Times described Phelps as “a much-loathed figure at the fringe of the American religious scene.”

Yet following Fred Phelps’ death, one prominent homosexual leader was quoted by CNN.com as saying, “As a Christian, I also believe in showing love to my enemies and treating people with grace even when they don’t deserve it. I pray for [him] and his family just as I pray for those he harmed. It’s easy for me to love someone who treats me kindly. It’s hard for me to love Fred Phelps. To me, that’s the whole point of grace.”

Another mentioned that instead of celebrating the death of Phelps, he recognized that Fred Phelps had a family who loved him and would be sadly missed by many people. And that even though there were strong disagreements with Phelps on many levels, there would be no gloating or rejoicing over his death.

Some Christians can learn from this.

For various reasons, some Christians—who by definition must subscribe to Jesus’ teachings regarding manifesting love towards others—find it impossible to love homosexuals, or to demonstrate toward them even a modicum of tolerance or kindness. I suspect some of this has to do with the Internet age: it is easy to be hateful when you might be geographically removed from the object of your scorn, and the expression of your vitriol is conducted via a computer keyboard. But many Christians—and I recognize that ‘many’ certainly does not equal ‘all’—treat homosexuality with a special type of hatred, and homosexuals as the worst of sinners.

There is little wonder that many people are turned off by Christianity when they witness “Christians” treating others with hatred and scorn. One prominent British personality has stated publicly that he could never be a Christian because Christians are so brutally unkind to those with whom they disagree.

I’m certainly not advocating or excusing homosexuality. As I read the Bible I see homosexuality as being contrary to the will of God. But so is dishonesty. So is pride. So is lying. And so is being hateful. In expressing hate towards gays, many “Christians” are guilty of a sin towards which God cannot—and will not—turn a blind eye.

As hard as it may be, God calls Christians—commands Christians—to love everyone.  And until we do, we are no better than those we criticize and condemn.

The Littlest Fan

Just three years old. And she knows all their names!

I saw a cute story recently about a little girl with a remarkable talent. Just three years old, she can name every player—and his position—on her family’s favorite professional football team, the 2014 Superbowl-winning Seattle Seahawks.

The little girl is adorable, and it’s really quite stunning to see her reel off the names of not only the stars of the team, but also those of lesser-known players in less glamorous positions.

So how can a three year old possibly know the names of the players on a professional football team? That’s where we can learn something.

Her Deputy-Sheriff Dad—a devoted football fan—began a nightly ritual with her when she was (even) younger. At bedtime—just before Daddy would go off to work—he began teaching the little princess the names of the Seahawks’ players. And as nights passed he began to quiz her on the names of the players, and their positions. It was so much fun for them both that today there’s a three year old girl with a remarkably grown-up knowledge of the names of Seattle’s pro football players.

Clearly, the mind is a marvelous thing. And even the mind of a little girl barely able to clearly articulate is capable of storing large amounts of information. Knowing the names of football players on a family’s favorite team is probably little more than cute, but imagine taking that time to teach a child the names of Bible characters. Or, better yet, Bible verses or passages.

The Bible urges us to hide God’s word in our heart (Ps 119:11). God urges parents to teach His word “to your children, speaking of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.” (Dt 11:19). And David said God’s law was his “meditation all the day.” (Ps 119:97).

The mind can absorb remarkable amounts of information—useless, and useful. If a three year old girl can learn the names of the players in a football team—and there are fifty three players in an NFL squad—imagine how much Bible knowledge can be absorbed by a child. Or by an adult!

What are you putting into your mind? It has been said that a mind is a terrible thing to waste. The best thing you can do for your mind is to fill it with God’s word. When you do, you’ll be blessed more than you can imagine.