Christmas: What Matters Most?

Christmas: What Matters Most?

One of my older brothers—all of four or five years old at the time—had little money to buy Dad a Christmas gift. So he scratched together the few cents he could find and bought something he was sure Dad would like, wrapped it and put it under the Christmas tree. 

My father unwrapped the little gift to find his young son had bought him a small bar of shaving soap. It wasn’t imported from France and it didn’t come in beautifully designed foil. It was just a humble little bar of shaving soap, the simple gift of a little boy for his daddy.

Thirty-five years later my father told me it was the most special gift he had ever received.

There are plenty of reasons to be cynical about Christmas. Christmas and commercialism are now joined at the hip. If you’ve ever wondered why parking lots are so big you get your answer on December 24, when the malls are crowded and people are trying desperately to find last-minute gifts. It’s a time of conspicuous consumption, and petty arguing about “Happy Holidays” versus “Merry Christmas” or the rights and wrongs of manger scenes.

But apart from having grown weary of shopping mall Christmas music years ago, I’m finding more reasons to enjoy Christmas and fewer reasons to be grinch-like.

I hear people at the mall saying, “Grandma would love this!” Or, “I’m going to try to find something for Lakeisha,” with the aim of bringing joy into a friend’s life and letting her know she’s appreciated. I drive past homes on Christmas Day and see families gathered together, seven cars in a driveway where usually there is only one. People and businesses make a conscious effort to speak of peace and goodwill. Stories make the news of big-hearted people putting huge sums of money into Salvation Army collection kettles. 

At Christmas we see family, often extended family we haven’t seen in forever. This year we visited an uncle and aunt we hadn’t seen since our wedding day. I hadn’t known Harold had served in the Air Force in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam, of that he had authored two books. And nobody had told me his son had been a state cycling champion. We saw other, closer family members who had lost a son just a couple of months ago. We went to church with people we’ve been worshiping with on and off for over twenty years. They’ve aged. I guess that means I have, too.

My earliest memories of Christmas are of attending midnight mass on Christmas Eve, and opening gifts the next morning with family. Christmas was always in the summer when I was a child, which even now seems to me to be the right time of the year for Christmas.

One December morning as we waited to go out on the platform at the beginning of church, I asked the people with me to tell me about the most special gift they had ever received. I was expecting someone to say “a new car!” or “a holiday overseas!” But in every case the gift was small and inexpensive, and usually hand-made by a child. And in every case it was a simple gift that had been given with love.

At It Is Written, we receive prayer requests from all over the world and we pray for those requests regularly. I’ve never seen a prayer request from anyone asking for a Bentley or a new yacht or even a PlayStation. The vast majority of them are along the lines of, “Please pray for my children to give their heart to Christ.” “Please pray for my husband’s health.” “Please pray for my upcoming surgery.” And we do. What matters most to people… is people.

It’s telling that the greatest gift ever given was the gift of a person. A baby who became a man who died so that we could have what really matters most. “For God so loved the world that He gave…” so we could live forever.

How is it that a two-inch-long bar of shaving soap could be the most special gift a man ever received? Because ultimately what matters most is what matters most. I’m thankful Christmas shines a light on what is truly significant. I’m able to see past wrapping paper and decorations and Santa suits and even “Jingle Bell Rock” (grrrr…) and turn to God with thanks for an annual, concentrated reminder that there are some things of real value.

Donald Trump, Fury, and Opinion

 Photo by Michael Vadon


One expects that during an election campaign promises will be made and statements uttered that challenge one’s patience and stretch the bounds of credulity. During the current election primaries one candidate in particular has made a number of statements that have upset a lot of people. One statement in particular has a lot of people angry.

Donald Trump’s recent suggestion that Muslims be prevented from entering the United States was the straw which for many broke the back of the proverbial camel. He has been called “unhinged”, a “fascist demagogue,” “reprehensible” and a “madman.”

But Donald Trump is no madman. Early in this campaign Mr. Trump shrewdly realized that his aggressive campaign style was to his political advantage. Mr. Trump—making his first tilt at elected public office—has achieved what his political opponents can only wish they had achieved. We’re talking about him. A lot.

But it should be kept in mind that in calling for a ban on Muslims traveling to the United States, Donald Trump has merely expressed an opinion, one shared by a significant slice of the electorate. He has done nothing illegal, even though tens of thousands of people have signed a petition to have him banned from the United Kingdom. He has simply expressed an opinion while campaigning for votes.

Which is not to say Mr. Trump has acted appropriately. Ultimately the electorate will decide precisely how acceptable his remarks have been. But the wave of disgust the Donald has engendered was not for a law passed, a crime committed or a threat made. It was for the expression of an opinion, spoken on a campaign trail, moments after 14 innocent people were murdered by terrorists, during a time when Americans are feeling especially vulnerable.

British boxer Tyson Fury experienced a similar reaction to comments he made following his recent shock victory over the seemingly invincible Russian heavyweight, Wladimir Klitchko. Fury—the descendant of Irish travelers—has made no secret of his views on the role of women and has expressed views on homosexuals that many have found offensive. Fury claims the backlash against his view on gays stems from “some quote that I quoted out of the Bible,” meaning that—from his point of view—he is being condemned simply for verbalizing his Christian faith. [1. Mr. Fury has since offered an apology for some of his remarks.]

A self-professed born-again Christian, Mr. Fury is often referred to by many in Britain as a “chav”, or what Americans might call a “redneck.” He has expressed opinions one might call intolerant, ignorant or offensive (or a combination thereof) depending on one’s viewpoint. However, a generation (or less) ago, Tyson Fury’s opinions would have raised the ire of few. The possibility exists that Fury is less a hate monger, and more a slow learner.

Freedom of expression is a delicate thing, as is freedom itself. The freedom you enjoy allowing you to learn to fly a plane carries with the expectation that you will not use that freedom to fly an aircraft into the side of a skyscraper. It is expected that one’s freedom to own a gun will be accompanied by a respect for life. And in the vast majority of cases the aforementioned freedoms are appropriately respected. However, in the cases in which they are not, disaster is the frequent result, the excruciating pain of which is felt by society as a whole in a multiplicity of ways.

The reaction to the opinions uttered by Donald Trump and Tyson Fury raise the question not only of appropriate expression of opinion, but also of appropriate expression of reaction. Take the case of the 30-year-old PR executive who in December of 2014 tweeted an off-hand (and unintentionally off-color) joke as she boarded a flight from Heathrow to Johannesburg. By the time she landed in South Africa the Twittersphere had hemorrhaged and she had been digitally hung, drawn and quartered. Her life was ruined. [2. For a time and a season.]

People often react harshly to the opinions of others. While still a mere Twitter neophyte [3. I’m still far from a seasoned Twitter vet, and maintain a personal Twitter page only because certain young adults in our office told me I had to. What can you do?], I tweeted in the wake of a tragedy that had occurred something along the lines of, “It’s easy to preach when something like this has happened!” For reasons I have never been made aware of, several young men tweeted their outrage, one of them suggesting I was “giddy” (with excitement) in the wake of the tragedy. I was aghast. Giddy?

It’s probable I should have simply deleted my comments and moved on, but I decided instead to engage the self-appointed guardians of online expression. I can’t remember what I wrote, but what I thought was, “If you’d said that to my face when I wasn’t a Christian I’d have broken your jaw.” But of course the comments weren’t made to my face. They never are. Even many Christians don’t confront others the way we used to back in the pre-internet day. Twitter is HGH for 90-pound cyber-weaklings who hide behind their keyboards. In my naiveté it stung that someone who was essentially a ministerial colleague would publicly attack me and throw me under the bus without making the slightest effort to understand what I was actually saying. Giddy? #Givemeabreak

Where we find ourselves today is at the intersection of intolerance and intolerance. Mr. Fury freely admits, “I’m not very educated.” He makes sexist comments—“A women’s place is…”— and like many others, disagrees with the legalizing of homosexuality, and suddenly he is the antichrist. Meanwhile, movie director Quentin Tarantino is quoted as saying: “What if a kid goes to school after seeing Kill Bill and starts slicing up other kids? You know, I’ll take that chance!” and is considered a genius. Donald Trump suggests Muslims be banned from traveling to the United States—a proposal which in practical terms would be all but impossible to implement—and the internet hyperventilates, while misogynistic hip-hop molds the minds of the youthful masses, pornography is being force-fed to our children, revenge porn is legal in more than half of the not-entirely-United States, and truly draconian minimum sentencing laws have condemned thousands of people to spend the rest of their lives in prison for offenses which—when taken in context—frequently struggle to rise above trivial.

Society has REAL problems, but Donald Trump and Tyson Fury aren’t among them. They’re simply two men who are profoundly good at what they do and who likely care less than you do about what people think of them and their opinions. There’s an ancient Chinese proverb that says, “Don’t feed the trolls.” Not one person has yet voted for Donald Trump to be leader of the free world, and there’s a good chance Fury won’t even win his rematch with Wladimir Klitschko, PhD. As Michael White wrote in The Guardian, “There comes a point when being vocally intolerant of intolerance oversteps the mark; it risks sounding like virtuous grandstanding or even intolerance in its own right. There’s a balance to be struck and wavering voters to be won over.”

“There’s a balance to be struck.” Responsibility should be exercised on both sides of the equation. Donald Trump revels in winding up the easily offended, while in Tyson Fury’s world his views might even be viewed as moderate. Both men are keenly aware of the deep offense caused by their remarks, but are erudite enough to realize it isn’t in their best interests to take a backward step. [4. I take it you have seen Donald Trump’s poll numbers.]

We all have in our midst people who disagree with us. Do we want them silenced? And if so, would the society we create as a result be an improvement on the one we currently have?

I’ve met people whose family members disappeared because their views didn’t square with the views of “society.” A woman told me of the death of her pastor husband, thrown by police from the roof of a building. The report into his death stated he had alcohol in his system when he died, in spite of the fact the man didn’t drink. I have held in my hands Christian books that were produced by stealth typists who worked in short shifts hidden beneath sound-dampening blankets. They labored in the knowledge that should the clickety-clak of their typewriter be detected by informers, their reward would have been to join the long procession to the labor camps where millions perished.

A careful reading of the Bible reveals that before the return of Jesus certain believers will be persecuted not for their crimes but their opinions. The mark of the beast will be forced on all who fail to fall in line behind the majority view. I was incredulous when Christians in one ‘free’ Asian country told me churches had to receive authorization in order to have a church gathering in a public place. I was less surprised when believers in a former communist country recalled the days of living under similar conditions before the iron curtain came down. Yes, those who disagree with statements publicly made have a right to be heard. But no greater right than those who are currently caught in their crosshairs.

I spoke with a man this past weekend who told me his grandmother chose to separate from the church of her childhood in the 1930s when her local priest could not answer her questions about the Bible Sabbath. In 1943 a neighbor—suspicious about the woman’s Sabbath observance—reported her to the authorities, who summarily transported her to the Ravensbrück Concentration Camp, which at the time was home to thousands of Sabbath-keepers. Like most of them, she died there. The final words she spoke to her daughters were words of faith and hope. “Be strong, and continue to stand for Jesus.”

As a society we’re either going to learn to live with each other’s viewpoint and move forward accordingly, or we’re going to end up embroiled in a constant barrage of intolerance. Tweetmageddon. My fear is that we’re going to become so adept at shame-shaming that when the troubles forecast in Scripture begin to come to pass, we’ll be pre-programmed to pile on without restraint, your right to believe as you please be damned.

And we’ll long for the good old days, when in a free world Donald Trump made inflammatory comments and Tyson Fury was bemused by the visceral reaction his chav upbringing couldn’t help but elicit.

As distasteful as some opinions might be, these are the good old days. We’ll miss them when they’re gone.

And gone they’ll be. Before we know it.


Mission: Mongolia Update


Even though many books have been written and sermons preached on the last verses in the Gospel of Matthew known as the Great Commission, those words can be summed in one simple sentence: Make friends for Jesus.

That’s exactly what our team of volunteers determined to do from October 1 to 10 during the first medical mission trip of the Mission: Mongolia project. From across the United States, 18 It Is Written partners and friends converged upon Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia. Most of us arrived as mere acquaintances, however, by the time the journey was over, we had become family because of the powerful experience we had making friends for our Lord.

The Mongolian government rarely gives permission for buildings to be designated as churches. Instead, community centers are build to serve the local communities and provide a place for worship. Our mission involved working with two community centers located in neighborhoods where the poorest of the poor Mongolians live. These are neighborhoods where there is no running water and in some cases even no electricity. Imagine these places in the dead of winter when temperatures drop to -30°F and people, for example, have to fetch water at the local water station up to a mile away. Living in Mongolia is definitely not for the faint of heart. Thankfully with money provided by It Is Written friends, wells were drilled so that community centers would have running water—something that made them very popular places for visitors.

On the first day of our clinics’ operation, the It Is Written team and the faithful local church members transformed the community centers into makeshift clinics. We set up waiting rooms, consultation rooms, and even little pharmacies. Once done, we wondered if anyone would show up. We didn’t have to wonder long because at both locations long lines of people quickly formed with people eager to meet with the foreign doctors.

With the help of dedicated translators, the team began to see patient after patient—700 altogether. As life-changing as a visit with a doctor could potentially be, we knew that the greatest blessing an individual could receive was the loving touch of Jesus through one of His children. So by God’s grace we determined to reflect the loving presence of Jesus through words and actions to a people who have no clue who Jesus is (over 97% of Mongolians are Buddhist or nonreligious). All consultations ended with a prayer and an invitation to a health presentation in the evening.

Every evening a miracle took place: the two community centers’ meeting halls were full. These are community centers that usually have just a handful of people in attendance. Every evening it was standing room only—to the point that one of our physicians donated money for more chairs. The nightly health presentations were followed by what we referred to as “Jesus Talks”, short personal and heartfelt talks to introduce people to Jesus. These nightly presentations were so successful that on Sabbath morning the regular attendance doubled. What a blessing it was on Sabbath morning to see all these special guests attend the worship services and receive their very own Bible in Mongolian. You should have seen their smiles.

One of the guests was a young pregnant woman who was suffering terrible back pain. She was so moved by the kindness of the Christian caregivers that she came every night to hear about Jesus and attended worship services on Sabbath. This revealed the power of combining healthcare with the gospel and making friends for Jesus.

If you’re interested in also making friends for Jesus in Mongolia, we have an upcoming mission trip in April (13–25). We need health professionals! Physicians, dentists, nurse practitioners, nurses, etc.

Please e-mail [email protected] for more information.

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Happy Thanksgiving

A friend’s daughter died a couple of days ago. She was eight years old.

We’ve been praying at the office lately for a little girl with brain cancer, and recently for another little girl—an infant—who has a particularly rare, aggressive cancer that one might expect would take her life.

Terrorists have orchestrated mass killings recently in Paris and Bamako and nobody believes we’ve seen nearly the worst of what is expected.

Happy Thanksgiving!

The truth is, life is gritty. Not even the Bible provides neat, pithy answers for the realities of life lived in a sinful world. 

No, we don’t choose to wallow in our problems and one has to believe that optimism is nearly always appropriate. The world has come through crisis after crisis and has managed to keep its head above water. Here we are again this year, settling in with our mashed potatoes (yum!) and cranberry sauce (not yum!) and green beans (green beans…) and turkey (or turkey-like substance), enjoying family, visiting in-laws and grandchildren and parents, grateful for a day to exhale. 

And yet the world is not well. And we know it.

The truth is we’ve never been promised a world without problems or personal pain. In God’s first conversation with the fallen human family, He promised enmity would undergird the experience of humanity from that time on. His words have proven to have been painfully accurate.

So how are we to be thankful this Thanksgiving? How are you to be thankful when your infant daughter is fighting for her life? Or how does a family unexpectedly bereaved of a nearly nine-year-old princess find it’s way to the point of thanks? Let’s not pretend there are easy answers.

Consider Acts 14:27. And keep its context in mind. In the same chapter a group of unbelievers had split a city down the middle so that half the people were not only opposing Paul’s work but were actively seeking to have him killed; the people of the city tried to offer sacrifices to Paul and Barnabas, and Paul was actually stoned, his body dumped outside the city where he was left for dead.

Acts 14:27 says, “Now when they had come and gathered the church together, they reported all that God had done with them.” 

In spite of hostility, brutality, rejection, and persecution, “they reported all that God had done with them.”

It is not alarmist to suggest our planet is sliding from bad to worse. Neither is it unreasonable to live in hope because Jesus is soon returning to this Earth to put an end to sin and pain and welcome us into eternity.

We really do have much to thank God for, most of all that God is in our midst. Paul had it right when he said in Romans 8:38, 39, “For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

It’s possible your world has been shaken recently. If it hasn’t been, it will be. But as long as God is on His throne and Jesus is returning to this Earth, we have everything to be thankful for.

Happy Thanksgiving.

IIW Social Media Post 11-26-15

WWII Veteran Traces Conversion to It Is Written

Today we received a special testimony of this 94 year old World War II veteran. He traces his conversion to Christ back to hearing George Vandeman, It Is Written’s founder, on the armed forces radio. We are thankful today for men like this one who sacrificed much so we could remain free. Thankful that the Lord touched this solider’s heart through a simple radio broadcast all those years ago. Happy Veteran’s Day!

Click here to watch his testimony!


IIW Social Media Post - 11-11-15

Reformation Day

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In the United States, October 31 means essentially one thing: Halloween. People dress up in costumes, children go trick or treating, and the fake cobwebs, carved pumpkins and plastic backyard tombstones will soon be put away until next year.

Halloween might just be the devil’s favorite day of the year as death, demons, zombies, and witches are all treated as harmless fun and games. And while the attention is on Halloween, most people are entirely unaware of the important significance of October 31.

On October 31, 1517, a young priest in the German town of Wittenberg made a defiant protest. Fed up with what he saw as the abuses of the church of Rome, Martin Luther nailed a list of 95 statements to the door of the castle church. And in doing so he altered the course of history.

Until this time, the Roman Catholic Church had been the ruling power in much of Europe. The Pope of Rome was the final authority not only in the church but also in society. Kings bent in the direction of the Pope. Those who did not were threatened with being shut out from the church. Whole kingdoms were made to fear being placed under “interdict”—religious services could not be held, baptisms were not performed, and the dead could not be buried in a Christian funeral.  The message to those under interdict was that heaven was essentially closed to them. Fear reigned as a church with unbridled power used that power with impunity.

One church practice Luther found especially galling was that of the selling of indulgences. For a sum of money people were able to purchase from the church the rescinding of the temporal punishment for sin. Payment of money to the church was said to release souls from Purgatory, and even pardon for sins not yet committed could be purchased. Appalled by this monstrous deception and other errors of his church, Luther eventually came to the place where he separated from the church and led others by his example and teaching to do the same.

Martin Luther originally had no intention of withdrawing from the Roman Catholic Church, but recognizing his faith in the Bible was incompatible with the teachings of his church he became a key figure in the Protestant Reformation. Although they did not agree upon every point of doctrine, Ulrich Zwingli and John Calvin in Switzerland, John Knox in Scotland, Thomas Cranmer and Nicolas Ridley in England and later John Wesley in England, all took steps away from the errors of the Roman church and lifted up the Bible as the believer’s rule of faith and practice.

Anyone who values religious liberty should remember the events of October 31, 1517 with thanks to God in their heart.  Martin Luther’s short walk along what is now known as the Schlossstrasse was a bold and defiant stand for Bible truth in the face of an extremely powerful church which tried repeatedly to end his life. Many people suffered persecution so that we today could have the freedom to read the Bible and follow it according as our conscience dictates.  Worse, thousands and thousands and thousands of people were killed because they chose to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit and reject the teachings of a corrupt church.

498 years later, it would appear the Protestant Reformation is over. Not only are precious few still protesting, but most people are unaware as to what the Protestant Reformation was even about. Where are the Protestants today?

If you hold a Bible in your hand; if you value the freedom you have to worship as you please; if you understand salvation comes by grace through faith in Jesus Christ; if you receive forgiveness from sin through Christ and not a priest or a church; say a prayer of thanks for what other great men and women of faith made possible by their example and their selfless dedication to God.

Forget Halloween.

Happy Reformation Day!

Never Too Late

One of the best things about conducting public Bible study seminars is seeing the Holy Spirit do wonderful things. In the Revelation Today series currently being held in Chattanooga, Tennessee, we’ve been blessed to see God reach an unlikely heart.

Pastor Dave—one of the outstanding Chattanooga-area pastors—told us some exciting news on Sunday night. The background to the story makes that news all the more incredible.

Ralph (we will call him) was 95 years old when his wife contacted Pastor Dave to ask if he would study the Bible with Ralph. Pastor Dave was thrilled to study the Bible with this kindly older gentleman, but the studies didn’t go well. Ralph was a former university professor and an atheist. He believed in evolution and rejected the creation account of the Bible, and Pastor Dave had a hard time finding any common ground with Ralph at all.

So Pastor Dave felt impressed to focus on simply establishing a friendship with Ralph. Ralph loved classical music, so Pastor Dave learned about classical composers and would talk music with Ralph as they visited. Ralph liked that and the two men became friends.

Ralph was born in Germany and had dedicated his life to academia. There was never room in his life for God.

A year or so ago, Pastor Dave woke up at 3:00 a.m. and felt impressed to pray for Ralph. He crept out of the bedroom without turning on a light, banging his shins on furniture as he went.

Pastor Dave prayed for Ralph. A few days later Ralph’s wife told Dave that Ralph had had a dream that very night, a dream that caused him to wake up.  In the dream, Jesus appeared to Ralph and asked him to surrender his heart to God. “What time did Ralph wake up from that dream?” Pastor Dave asked. “3 a.m.,” she replied.

Ralph dismissed the dream as just one of those things. “It wasn’t real,” he told his wife.

But a week later, Ralph had the dream again. This time he was convinced God was really speaking to him. He began to attend church with his wife.

People—including Pastor Dave—prayed for Ralph, and when the Revelation Today series came to Chattanooga, Ralph accepted Pastor Dave’s invitation to attend. He heard how the Bible can be trusted, about the signs suggesting the return of Jesus is near, and about the behind-the-scenes battle between good and evil. And then he heard the invitation to give his heart to Jesus.

After the meeting Sunday night, Pastor Dave received a text from Ralph’s wife. “You’ll never believe the wonderful news…” When Dave saw her, she was in tears. Ralph has made his decision for Jesus. “I want to be part of the church family,” Ralph told Pastor Dave. “I want to be a follower of Jesus.”

A 97 year old atheist accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior.  A 97 year old found the free gift of eternal life. A 97 year old man was transformed by the grace of God.

A patient God had worked on that heart for almost 100 years!

It’s never too late.

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Almost There?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

P.T. Barnum, Believers, and Blood Moons

Photo by Mike Mezeul

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which brings us to blood moons.

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

P.T. Barnum would have loved it.

Top moon photo by Mike Mezeul