The Most Offensive Thing Jesus Ever Said

Some people have a false picture of Jesus where he is this super nice guy who cradles lambs in his arms and tells people to be kind to each other. While certainly Jesus was compassionate and full of love, the gospels also portray him in a way that is far more complex than that. After all, the Bible records Jesus getting angry (Mark 3:5), confronting sin (Matthew 23:13), and even overturning tables in the Temple (Matthew 21:12).

Jesus was known to get into trouble for saying a lot of controversial things. It was his claim to be God that was the most offensive to the Jews of his day. Jesus claimed divine origin in a number of ways, saying he came from heaven (John 6:38), was able to forgive sin (Mark 2:5), existed before the time of Abraham (John 8:58), and made himself equal with God (John 10:33). These repeated statements are the reason many sought to execute him on terms of blasphemy, something which ultimately happened via crucifixion.

I think it is fair to say that claiming to be God is by far the most audacious claim Jesus ever made, and it would have been the ultimate offense in the midst of a Jewish society. Yet in today’s day—a far more secular environment than the one in which Jesus lived—many people simply fluff off Jesus’ claims to deity as the words of a delusional person. They are not exactly offensive, but rather just silly or ridiculous.

In our modern-day times, I think there is something else that Jesus said which would be considered much more offensive. Here in the West, we love our social justice causes, and we make supporting them the pinnacle of virtue. Relief of the poor and helping those less fortunate is seen as one of the greatest goods a person can do. With that in mind, consider this account and what Jesus says about the poor in John chapter 12.

[1] Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. [2] So they gave a dinner for him there. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at table. [3] Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. [4] But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, [5] “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” [6] He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it. [7] Jesus said, “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial. [8] For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.” (John 12:1-8)

The ointment that Jesus was anointed with is valued at around three hundred denarii. A denarius was a day’s wage in Bible times, so if you estimate a day’s wage today as being about $100-150, we are talking about ointment valued at about $30,000-45,000! This was expensive stuff, and Mary uses it on Jesus as an act of worship. It should not surprise us that some of those present considered this to be a poor use of the ointment, since it could have been sold and the money used for relief of the poor. Considering tens of thousands of dollars were at stake, it was no small decision to make!

Now, the obvious question arises: Was it right for Mary to use the ointment on Jesus instead of using it to help the poor? A costly item like that could have helped a lot of people in some significant ways if used for charity. What does Jesus think about this act?

His exact words: “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial. For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.” Put another way, he affirms the use of the ointment on himself instead of being sold and the money distributed to the poor. Jesus clearly believes it is right for Mary to use it on him instead of charitable works. Make no mistake about it, Jesus is making a moral judgment here. He considers it morally right for Mary to worship him in this way instead of helping the poor.

Stop and think about that for a minute. If any other person acted in a similar way, we would consider it the pinnacle of arrogance and selfishness. If I considered it better for you to spend several thousand dollars doing something nice for me instead of helping the poor, you would likely be repulsed at my suggestion. You’d think I was an egomaniac and callous towards those less fortunate. So ought we to see Jesus this way, too?

I think that in our day and age, this is the most offensive thing Jesus ever said. Jesus considered it a better use of thirty or forty grand to anoint himself one time (in preparation for his burial) than to do considerable help for those less fortunate. His reasoning is that the poor will always be here, but he will not. Anointing Jesus before his burial is a one-time shot, while doing charitable work can be done anytime. This is Jesus’ reasoning for supporting Mary’s actions. He does not outright condemn helping the poor, however. In fact, in the parallel accounts of this event in Matthew 26:6-13 and Mark 14:3-9, he actually encourages it. But he still believes it better to be anointed than to sell the ointment and distribute the proceeds among the poor.

There are only two responses we can have to this. The first is to be utterly disgusted by Jesus’ value system. We could see him as a repulsive narcissist who thinks way too highly of himself and ought to be scorned for his immorality. Or, we could take seriously his claim to be the Son of God who has come to earth to die for the sins of man. In such a case, we should actually expect for him to be given special treatment as the King of the Universe and Creator of all.

But make no mistake, the one thing we can’t be is indifferent. We can’t look at the life and words of Jesus and shrug it off or take the middle-ground approach. Many people who are not Christians still respect Jesus as a good man or moral teacher. Yet this is the one option Jesus never intended to leave open to us. When someone says that you can help the poor another day but drop $30,000 on them instead, you either have to despise their audacity or see them as actually worthy of such a claim on truly remarkable grounds. Either Jesus is a gross con-man to be utterly scorned, or he is the God-man to be worthy of our total allegiance.

As a Christian and follower of Jesus, I consider him to be the latter. I believe Jesus to really be God in the flesh, and that what the Bible says he said and did are accurate. I say I believe this while understanding what is at stake. I don’t take that kind of thing lightly. When I read the gospels, I see a Jesus that is either true and worthy of praise, or false and worthy of the most fierce rejection possible—because if Jesus is lying or is not who he says he is, then the absolute last thing he should be is praised. It is all-or-nothing for me, and that is really the only options I see as being valid.

I agree with Jesus that it is right for Mary to anoint him, but ONLY if he really is God. If not, he ought to be despised for such a statement. I believe it is right for Jesus to be valued as Mary did because if he really is God, then he is of higher value than us. Consider this analogy. If royalty were to visit your home for dinner, you would likely put out your best linens, use the expensive dinnerware, buy a fancy new outfit, and spare no expense on the meal. You would likely drop a ton of money that you otherwise would not have, because this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. And no one would reprimand you for taking such actions instead of donating that money to the Red Cross. It is an understandable and proper use of the funds. If so in a case like that, how much more so if God has come to earth to die in the place of sinners!

Jesus is offensive. He’s not the cuddly nice-guy so many portray him to be. And as the most important and most influential person who has ever lived (by either religious or secular standards), one would be wise to consider him carefully. Either he’s the mastermind of the biggest scam ever pulled off, or he really is divine. I have weighed the evidence as carefully and seriously as I can, and believe that Jesus is God. This belief radically changes who I am and what I do with my life, often at the expense of coming across as a weirdo to people I know and love. But I understand that with Jesus it is all-or-nothing. There’s no compromise in the middle. I’m not even asking you, the reader, to agree with my conclusions. All I’m asking you to do is think about it. Jesus is simply too offensive to be ignored.

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How to Tap In to God’s Power

Human beings are frail and weak. We are creatures marked by limitations that often frustrate us. Our ability to grow and do things eventually hits a cap where we can go no further, and we are painfully aware of this reality when the circumstances and troubles of life overwhelm us. Yet many of us yearn for more. We want to a make a difference in the world—and not just any old difference, but an eternal difference—that will out-pace our abilities and out-live our lifetime. We know that in our own strength this is impossible, and so we must find a way to tap in to power that surpasses our own. Said simply, we need God’s power at work in our lives.

Every Christian knows to varying degrees what it is like to experience God’s power. After all, even the act of becoming a Christian is a supernatural event where a person is spiritually born again by God. From that point on, the Holy Spirit is at work in the life of the believer, convicting and growing and shaping and changing him or her into the person God created them to be. This is the power we need to tap in to if we are to be people who live beyond our physical abilities.

Jesus himself said, “the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41). The war that rages inside a believer is between their sinful flesh and the Spirit of God. The flesh wants to rebel against God and carry out its sinful desires. But the Spirit leads us into truth and holiness. These two natures are at war with one another, and the flesh will inevitably keep us from living out our full potential as children of God.

Where can we find the power to overcome this struggle? If we are creatures of limitation but God is a Creator of infinite power, how can we get more of Him in our lives and less of ourselves?

As pastor Jeff Wiesner has pointed out, the Bible uses the phrase “the power of God” on only three occasions.

  • “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” (Romans 1:16)
  • “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:18)
  • “…but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:23-24)

So according to the Bible, the power of God is “the gospel”, “the cross”, and “Christ crucified”. These three, which really are one reality, is where the supernatural power of God lies.

What then does this mean? It means that to tap in to the power of God, one must build their life on the cross of Christ. The death of Christ on behalf of sinners is where God has placed supernatural power. The good news of this event is the most powerful force on earth, stronger than any man-made invention or clever idea any person has ever come up with.

The gospel is what transforms sinners into saints. It is what causes the lost to be found, the estranged to be adopted, and the wicked to be washed clean. The cross of Christ is where God’s transforming love is most powerfully displayed, and it is THE thing that has power beyond human limitation.

If you want to live a life of eternal significance, you must first embrace the gospel—the good news that Christ died for sinners like you. This reality will bring new life and a hope that can never be taken away. Then, in turn, you can share the gospel with others and set God’s power free upon the world. Telling others the good news about Christ’s cross is like letting a lion out of it’s cage. Power! Yet this lion is not there to feed on people but on death, fear, lies, and hopelessness. God is seeking to bring his kingdom to earth, and we can be a part of that process. But we can only do so on God’s terms. We may think that the world needs something else, be it positive thinking or education or freedom of the heart. But to invest in these things is to invest where there is no real power.

If you want to make a difference, then join God in what he is doing and what he has promised to bless. His power is active in the world through the sharing of the gospel of Christ. This is why nothing will ever replace the Christian Church as the most unstoppable force in the world. If the Church is preaching Christ crucified, and if its saints are hoping in the cross, there is supernatural power in motion that cannot be derailed. God himself is at work with divine power!

So the exhortation is twofold. First, the believer must make Christ and his cross central to their own lives. Therein lies the power to crush fear, resist sin, renew hope, and transform into the likeness of Jesus. Secondly, the believer must share Christ and his cross with the world, both in word and deed. When the love of God as demonstrated in the cross is on display, God’s light begins to penetrate the darkness. No other thing can compare to what God can do in a person’s life through an encounter with Jesus. The gospel is our only hope; on it we must stand firm. All other ground is shifting sand.

What to Look For In a Preacher

Not all preachers are created equal. Some are more helpful than others, and Scripture makes it plain that some preachers are downright dangerous because of their proliferation of false teaching. How can someone know who is a preacher worth listening to, and who isn’t? Here are 5 suggestions to look for in a preacher.

1. Character

Preaching is not just about the message, it’s also about the messenger. The Bible lays out qualifications for church leaders that include a number of moral issues they must be free from (1 Timothy 3, Titus 1). Preachers are to be men of integrity. They must be good husbands and fathers, honest and hard working, sacrificial and generous servants. Even if someone has great skill in communicating God’s Word, it is not sufficient if they have significant character flaws. Preachers must be men of godliness.

2. Clarity

The job of a preacher is to teach and preach God’s Word—it’s just that simple! Some preachers do a better job of this than others (1 Timothy 5:17), and all who share God’s Word must work to get better at this vital task. A good preacher is one who knows how to teach the Bible so that the people gain understanding and insight. They should be clear and concise with their content and not leave the congregation scratching their heads by the end of a sermon. Teaching the Bible with clarity is the expected requirement of a minister of the Word (Colossians 4:4).

3. Consistency

A preacher must be a someone who is disciplined and self-controlled. They can’t be the kind of guy who is easily swayed by emotions or cultural trends, but should remain steadfast under the guidance of the Word. A good preacher will preach the Bible consistently. It is no gift to a congregation when they are not sure what they will get from Sunday to Sunday. The preacher should methodically open the Word and preach it week in and week out. That is the bread and butter of his ministry and the main food for the sheep he is charged to feed.

4. Courage

The Bible says some things that are offensive to the spirit of our age. A preacher must not allow this reality to determine whether he will share God’s Word with truthfulness and conviction or not. He must proclaim God’s truth as it is. It will mean that people will inevitably be offended and some will leave the church. It will sometimes invite scorn and hurt the popularity factor. But a good preacher never allows this to make him waver. With boldness from the Spirit, he is a messenger for the Lord and not an editor. He says what God says and makes no apologies for it.

5. Christ

Lastly, a preacher must preach Christ. In fact, if he is a faithful teacher of the Word, this will be a natural byproduct. The Bible is about Jesus, and Christ said so himself (Luke 24:44). Any preacher who is teaching the Bible but fails to make Christ the centre has failed to teach the Bible well. Let such pep talks or religious homilies be for inspirational speakers or Jewish Rabbis. But for the Christian community, we preach Jesus Christ and him crucified. A Christless preacher is a worthless preacher. The main thing must always be kept the main thing.

9 Tips For Teaching Students

Teaching students the Bible can be hard work, but it is simply too important a task for us to take lightly. We can all improve on our speaking skills and work to get better at reaching the next generation with the gospel of Jesus Christ. In his leadership coaching material from 2012, Mark Driscoll shares these 9 tips for teaching students (points are his, comments are mine). They are still solid advice today.

1. Start strong — grab their attention right away

The first 30 seconds sets the tone. Students will either tune-in or tune-out right based on their first impression. Start strong with an engaging story, interesting question, or visual aid. And make sure the tone of your voice conveys to the students this is something you’re gonna want to pay attention to!

2. Teach one concept

Trying to cram too much into a talk is a bad idea. Keep it simple and flesh out one key concept. You want students to be able to easily answer the question, “What was the main point?”

3. Make it interactive

Ask questions and engage the group. This will keep their interest alive and can possibly drum up some helpful input. However, be careful with this one. If you engage too much, the talk might be hijacked and derail a good flow of thought. Know your group and who to call on and who to give less floor time to.

4. Be enthusiastic and keep the room alive

Keep your energy level up and show students that you care a lot about the material you are sharing. One pastor told me, “students won’t remember everything you say, but they will remember what you get excited about”. This proved to be true when a student who was converted in our youth ministry was sharing his testimony and talked about “this pastor who was always talking about Jesus. I’ve never seen anyone so passionate about anything before in my life”. I don’t get everything right, but that was a pretty cool moment for me!

5. Make it fun

Learning doesn’t have to be dry or boring. In fact, it shouldn’t be! Be creative and make the lesson fun to be a part of. Use humour, videos, props, perhaps bring a student up on stage with you, or whatever else might help to liven things up a bit.

6. Allow time for Q&A

You might not be able to do this every time, but giving students the chance to respond can be really helpful. It gives an opportunity for additional clarification and perhaps ways to personally apply what was taught.

7. Connect everything to Jesus

Christianity is about Jesus—duh! Make sure to keep the main thing the main thing. If we are only giving motivational speeches or moral lectures, we are not properly teaching the Bible. Christ is the centre of God’s Word and so he must be at the centre of all that we say.

8. Give away nice Bibles

Nowadays, everyone can get the Bible for free on their phone, and I think we should encourage every student to have a Bible app downloaded. But paper Bibles or devotionals make great giveaways, too.

9. Take a parental tone

Or, that of a big brother. More and more, student ministry needs to pick up a lot of what parents used to teach but no longer do about the practical stuff of life. Many kids just don’t get a lot of guidance from home, and so the youth ministry needs to work to incorporate it.

Awesome Christian Advice From a Hardcore Atheist

Daniel Dennett is a hardcore atheist. He is also a philosopher and scientist, but for the purposes of this piece, I am thinking of him primarily in terms of his staunch atheism. He is considered to be one of the Four Horsemen of New Atheism, along with Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and the late Christopher Hitchens. He writes and speaks often against the plague of religion and has argued that religious beliefs are nothing but products of evolution in his work Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon.

One of his most well-known quotes is a powerful and pointed one:

The secret of happiness: Find something more important than you are and dedicate your life to it.

What I find interesting is that I could not agree more with him. Finding happiness is one of the fundamental questions of life, and though he and I have completely different worldviews, I am 100% on board with his statement.

The reason we enjoy sunsets, a mountaintop view, and gazing at the stars is because we were made for bigness. We are the most exhilarated when we feel our smallest. It’s why we pay money to stand at the edge of the grand canyon. It’s why we are forever changed at their birth of our first child. The more we feel like the world doesn’t revolve around us, the more free and happy we will be.

Perhaps he did not realize it at the time, but this quote directly lines up with what the Bible teaches about Christianity and the meaning of life. Christians believe that “the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever“. This simply means that the purpose of life is to get outside of yourself and centre your life on God, and reap the joy that comes with that kind of life.

In other words, Christians believe that the secret of happiness is to find something more important than they are and dedicate their lives to it. And that “more important” thing that you devote yourself to? Well, that’s God.

We all live with a hierarchy of importance. Certain things are more important to us than other things, and many people do eventually get to the place where they find something that is even more important to them than their own lives. Such people discover happiness. All Christians aim to suggest is that if you keep following that chain of importance upward to the very top, you find God. And when you get there, and dedicate your life to him, you hit the pinnacle of human existence. We experience degrees of what this can be like now, and then we will know it’s fullness on the other side of death.

You show me the path of life; In your presence is fullness of joy, and at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. (Psalm 16:11)

How much happiness we enjoy depends on:

  • How big is it?
  • How long will it last?

Some people find a little happiness for a long time. Others find a lot of happiness for a brief while. Still others don’t find much or very often. But Psalm 16:11 promises that with God, happiness is “full” and “forever”. It can’t get bigger and it can’t last longer. It’s the best that this universe has to offer.

Daniel Dennett is right. If you want to be happy, find something more important than you and dedicate your life to it. I’m simply suggesting that, if you really want to pursue this goal, keep climbing the ladder of options until to get to the top.

Answering a Pro-Choice “Gotcha!” Argument

A pro-choice individual recently posted a thread of tweets creating a scenario that he says proves that pro-life people are dishonest and don’t actually believe that life begins at conception. It’s a sort of “gotcha” question that is supposed to stump the pro-lifer and expose them for the fraud they really are. It might be worth mentioning that he also went on a spree of blocking people on Twitter who took him up on the challenge, but that’s none of my business.

Here’s the challenge in his own words:

Whenever abortion comes up, I have a question I’ve been asking for ten years now of the “Life begins at Conception” crowd. In ten years, no one has EVER answered it honestly. It’s a simple scenario with two outcomes. No one ever wants to pick one, because the correct answer destroys their argument. And there IS a correct answer, which is why the pro-life crowd hates the question. Here it is. You’re in a fertility clinic. Why isn’t important. The fire alarm goes off. You run for the exit. As you run down this hallway, you hear a child screaming from behind a door. You throw open the door and find a five-year-old child crying for help. They’re in one corner of the room. In the other corner, you spot a frozen container labeled “1000 Viable Human Embryos.” The smoke is rising. You start to choke. You know you can grab one or the other, but not both before you succumb to smoke inhalation and die, saving no one. Do you A) save the child, or B) save the thousand embryos? There is no “C.” “C” means you all die. In a decade of arguing with anti-abortion people about the definition of human life, I have never gotten a single straight A or B answer to this question. And I never will. They will never answer honestly, because we all instinctively understand the right answer is “A.” A human child is worth more than a thousand embryos. Or ten thousand. Or a million. Because they are not the same, not morally, not ethically, not biologically. This question absolutely evicerates their arguments, and their refusal to answer confirms that they know it to be true. No one, anywhere, actually believes an embryo is equivalent to a child. That person does not exist. They are lying to you. They are lying to you to try and evoke an emotional response, a paternal response, using false-equivalency. No one believes life begins at conception. No one believes embryos are babies, or children. Those who cliam [sic] to are trying to manipulate you so they can control women. Don’t let them. Use this question to call them out. Reveal them for what they are. Demand they answer your question, and when they don’t, slap that big ol’ Scarlet P of the Patriarchy on them. The end.

So, as a pro-lifer, what am I to do with such a dilemma?

The first thing to say is that in that situation I am pretty much 100% certain I would save the 5-year-old child. I suppose no one ever really knows what they would do in a moment of crisis until they are there, but if I’m answering as honest as I can, I save the crying child.

Now, what does that do to my pro-life argument that life begins at conception? Have I just proven that I don’t really believe that to be true? Or that I am morally inconsistent by letting 1,000 human beings die in exchange for only one?

Well, let me counter this scenario with one of my own. It is equally as unlikely to happen as this first one, so work with me.

You have a significant amount of money saved up and one day you are standing at your kids’ bus stop (which happens to be in front of your house) before school. Chatting with the other parents, you discover that one of the other kids in your child’s class has fallen very ill and needs a serious medical treatment to survive that will cost about $3,000. The parent of the sick child does not have medical coverage and has no money to pay for the treatment. In your own mind, you begin to think that you could dip into your savings and pay for the treatment yourself. As you are standing there mulling it over, the mailman comes by and hands you the mail. You glance through it and notice a flyer from World Vision. They are running a campaign to dig wells in Uganda. A single water well can be dug for only $3,000 and will effectively provide clean water to an entire community of at least 1,000 people, saving them from dying of malnutrition and disease-carrying dirty water. Now, you have a choice to make. You can afford to part with only $3,000, so you must choose which of these two noble causes you will donate to. Which one do you choose?

My guess is that the vast majority of people would donate to save the kindergarteners life. But why? Aren’t they trading just one life for a thousand? Wouldn’t the more prudent choice be to donate to the water well?

Maybe it is the more prudent thing to do. But here’s the reality: people make decisions not only on their logic but also on their emotions. The pro-lifer probably saves the 5-year-old from the fire not because they don’t actually think that the embryos are human, but because the little kid has a a face. They can see the terror in their eyes, the screaming cry that turns your stomach to knot. They can see in this kid their own child, their niece or nephew. Even though the embryos are human life and are to be considered people, the personhood of this kid, much more immediately evident when compared to a metallic test tube, is so overwhelming that you can’t help but scoop the little tike up in your arms and run for safety.

It’s no different with the water-well example. Aren’t those people in Uganda human? Don’t they deserve to live too? Of course. Even a pro-choicer would agree with that. But the kindergarten kid situation hits closer to home. It’s more personal, and so you are likely to be more emotionally engaged in that situation than the other. The Uganda people are so far removed from your situation that you can’t help but have a harder time thinking of them in terms of personhood. Of course you know they are people. But it just doesn’t feel the same.

It’s like that with any act of kindness. There are a million great causes out there to support and donate to, but we almost always choose to get involved with the ones that affect us on a personal scale. We donate money to Autism research and not AIDS research because our sibling has autism. Or we go to the benefit concert for our co-worker instead of volunteering at the Red Cross event. Why? Because there is always good causes to support, but we can’t support them all. So we tend to pick and choose based on what is more emotionally and personally engaging than by sitting down and crunching the numbers to see where our time or dollars could be used most effectively.

We save the 5-year-old from the fire not necessarily because it is the logical thing to do, but because it is more emotionally and personally engaging to do so. We are creatures not just of logic and reason but of personality and emotion. Those parts of our human makeup play a huge role in how we make decisions.

So if the pro-choicer thinks this situation exposes the immorality of pro-lifers, he should at least be willing to admit that he does the same thing in other ways. No one lives in such a way as to clinically and systematically calculate their resources and determine how they are best allocated for the good of all humanity. We simply try to help people. And in doing so, we will inevitably choose to help someone for personal reasons even when our aid could have helped more people if we had let ourselves become a little more emotionally detached. But humans don’t work that way, not pro-lifers and not pro-choicers.

The Average Canadian Is Broke and Miserable, So Be Different

First, the facts. Studies show that in Canada:

  • 4 out of 10 first marriages will end in divorce (source)
  • 3 out of 10 children are born out of wedlock, a figure that is rising quickly (source)
  • The average monthly car payment is $570 for at least 48 months (source)
  • The average student graduates with $25,000 in student loan debt (source)
  • 77% of grads have regrets over their student loans (source)
  • About 25% of college grads are working in a field they didn’t go to school for (source)
  • The average adult has $22,000 in consumer debts (source)
  • By age 40, 40-50% of the population will have struggled with a mental health problem (source)

In other words, many young Canadians are up to their eyeballs in debt, unlikely to be able to pay off that debt anytime soon, unhappily employed, in unstable family situations (possibly with a child to support), stressed out and struggling with anxiety or depression.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the way we are doing things isn’t working. If you want to have a different outcome for your life, it means you are going to have to be weird compared to your peers. It means you will need to make different life choices than most everyone else is making to get better results.

One example of what this might look like is known as “The Success Sequence“. Studies have shown that if you live out the following formula in order, you will have only a 3% chance of being poor. You must, in sequential order:

  1. Graduate from high school
  2. Get a job
  3. Get married
  4. Have children

Those who follow this simple formula are more likely to beat the odds and have successful, happy lives. I’m not judging anyone—these are just the facts.

This comes as no surprise to me, since these basic concepts align perfectly with what the Bible says about having an abundant life. Right from the beginning, God laid out his plan for mankind:

Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. (Genesis 2:24)

In other words, a man grows up, establishes his independence (personally and financially), gets married, and enjoy sexual intercourse with his wife, usually leading to the creation of a family (“be fruitful and multiply”). It turns out that God’s way still works all these years later, yet we can’t help ourselves but fight against it.

Those who have found themselves outside of God’s plan are not destined to misery, but they will likely have a harder struggle to face. It is not easy to build a stable life in a sequence that is out of order, but through God’s grace and a lot of determination it can be done.

My point is not to bash the culture or look down on those who make different life choices. I could not care less about doing those things. My point is to encourage young people, especially those still in their teen years, to look at the data, look at the Word of God, and see if it makes sense. God loves you and knows what is best for you. Following his path for your life is the most likely way to lead you into the best life possible. Wisdom shows us that if we are going to find better outcomes, we are going to have to take a different way of getting there. Normal isn’t working.

Financially, God has warned us against the dangers of debt.

The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is the slave of the lender. (Proverbs 22:7)

When you borrow money from someone, you become their slave. They own you until you pay them back. The average Canadian is well over $50,000 in debt (minus a mortgage) and is struggling to find a good job to pay it off. When they get a paycheck, $1,000 immediately goes out the door for the car, the student loan, and the credit card…and that’s before taking care of rent, food, and other basic necessities. Ouch. They are also in the middle of trying to navigate raising a child out of wedlock. At any moment, add a crisis to this mix—an aging parent who needs care, losing a job, a health crisis, or a relational strain—and you have a recipe for disaster. No wonder everyone is so stressed out.

But imagine a different scenario. You are 26 years old, graduated with a 4 year degree from a local school, married, with a child on the way. Your schooling is paid off, your cheapo car has no payments, and your Visa has a balance of $0. Now, things might not be perfect. You could be having a hard time in the early stages of marriage, or there still could be trouble finding ideal employment. But throw some kind of trial on this scenario and you are far more likely to survive it than the first. No guarantees, but there is a more stable foundation to work from.

Life is hard enough as it is. Don’t make it harder through unwise decision making. While none of these things will necessarily cripple you for life, they will make it harder than it has to be. Pray for wisdom, ask God to help you along the way, and do your best to make good decisions as you follow God’s plan for your life. He loves you enough to have shown you the way. You will do well to follow it.

Christianity Isn’t Just For Old, White Men

Christians gather to celebrate Palm Sunday in Kampala, Uganda.

The common perception among many in North America, especially among those who are not exactly fond of religion, is that Christianity is a religion for old, white men. It is seen as a closed-club for people of power, and in our part of the world that generally is understood to be people who are the opposite of minorities. It is sad to say that many reject Christianity for this simple reason. They believe it is not for them, and that it in fact is a scourge because it only further entrenches people of power into their places of privilege. Christianity is for:

  • Men, not women
  • Older, not younger
  • Whites, not minorities
  • Wealthy, not poor

All of this is interesting, except that it is flat-out wrong.

The facts show that Christianity is the most diverse religion in the world. Unlike most other major religions which are still primarily centralized in their places of origin, Christianity has spread to every corner of the globe.

The Christian Church began in the middle East where Christ was crucified and rose from the dead. From there it spread to Europe and North Africa, later to North and South America, and currently is growing rapidly in Africa and Asia. The Pew Research Centre has some good data (albeit a few years old) on the distribution of Chistians across the world.

In addition, women are also more likely to be people of faith than men are on both a North American and global scale. The average church in the United States sees an average of 61% attendance from females, with just 39% from males.

If I were to ask you to close your eyes and picture a Christian, most people would see a middle-class white man. But the reality is that the average Christian in the world is lower-class, non-white, and female. Our perspective is all messed up!

A big-picture overview of Christianity will show that it spreads to a new region as a grass-roots movement among the lower class, over time gains footing and becomes well-established, and later begins to disintegrate and shift to another area. This is because Christianity isn’t meant to be forced onto people. It is not a political view like Socialism or Communism. Rather it is a spiritual experience and worldview that emanates from the heart. Whenever Christianity gets into bed with power, it is only a matter of time before things collapse.

This is exactly what we see happening in the United States right now, and what has been witnessed in Europe over the last 50 years. The increase of secularism has come while Christianity was at peak political power. It should be no surprise. This very thing has occurred over and over again throughout history and will continue to do so. When Christianity is forced onto people from the top-down, it is not really received or believed by people, but rather it is imposed on them. But Christianity cannot live where it is imposed onto people. The admonition from Christ to “love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength” and “love your neighbour as yourself”, while putting ones faith in Jesus the Son of God….well, these are all personal choices that an individual has to make. They cannot be done for you. And so as soon as Christianity becomes an established power that others must submit to against their free will choice, the magic is gone.

Here’s the truth: Christianity is for anyone and everyone because Jesus is for anyone and everyone. The Christian Church has an open door policy because Jesus has an open door policy. He calls out, “Come to me all who are weary and heavy burdened, and I will give you rest”. There is no qualification to meet for this request—no gender, race, age, or economic status—just simply the personal responsibility to respond.

That’s what Christianity is all about. It is a personal response to God’s love. God is a Father who opens his doors to anyone who wishes to enter. If one chooses to remain out, so be it. But no one is excluded up front. Christianity is not some old-boys club for power-hungry white guys. It is an invitation to a party that God is throwing, and anyone who wants to join in may do so.

One of the most powerful testaments to the truth of Christianity is it’s longevity, adaptability, and diversity. It does not require great wealth to thrive. It does not require a certain kind of culture to thrive. It just thrives simply because it is a move of God. Many Christians are panicking because Christianity is dying in the West, and that scares them because they live in a “Christian nation”. Except that there is no such thing as a Christian nation, only Christian people. Christianity will die off in one area but spring to life in another, because it is not a culture. It is not a white mans club. It is not only for the rich. It is not only for men. It is not only for Americans. It is for all and always has been and always will be.

If you are someone who thinks of Christians in narrow terms—white, middle class men—then you have a very narrow understanding of Christianity. You need to realize there is much more happening than what you see. The good news of Christ has spread, and will continue to spread, all over the world to every people group. If you think Christianity is dying because of what you see in America, you must remember the promise of Christ: “I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” Jesus will build his church. It is a guarantee. And the best part is that it is open to all.

What We Can Learn From the Cam Newton Debacle

In case you missed it, here’s a quick recap of the events that unfolded over the last week.

Star NFL quarterback Cam Newton was asked by a female reporter about one of his teammate’s improved route running, to which Cam laughed and chided, “it’s funny to hear a female talk about routes”. Not surprisingly, he received a lot of backlash for his comments and was accused of acting in a sexist manner. He was even dropped by one of his sponsors. The reporter took to Twitter to briefly express her disgust, and later in the week Cam issued an apology for his comments.

Here’s the twist though. The reporter, Jourdan Rodrigue, had someone later dig up some comments on her own Twitter account from several years ago in which she uses the n-word and talks about laughing at her “father’s racist jokes about Navajo land”, which she has since apologized for.

What has happened in the middle is a whole lot of back and forth between the public who aren’t sure who’s side they want to support. At first, Cam was the villain and Rodrigue was a feminist hero. But only days later, she was quickly being abandoned by those who had jumped on her bandwagon. As I have listened to various sports talk shows cover the situation, there’s a whole lot of confusion over exactly how we’re supposed to respond to this.

The first thing to say is an easy one: both comments are distasteful and downright inappropriate. Cam’s refusal to take a female reporter seriously was a classless and stupid demonstration of male chauvinism. Jourdan’s flippant racial comments were likewise a disdainful way to speak of other people groups. Both were wrong, and both people have since apologized. As I see it, we should try to move on.

But a different angle on the story, the one that intrigues me, is how people have handled the dirt dug up on the reporter. At first everyone was happy to stand behind her as a bastion of righteousness, but only a few days later she went from Cinderella girl to evil villain. And this is exactly the kind of thing we see happen in our culture over and over again. We raise up our heroes only to dethrone them later on. The very pedestal we use to prop our idols up on we are happy to kick out from under them the moment they no longer fit exactly into the squeaky-clean mould we had put them in.

We do the same thing in Christian circles too. The Christian sub-culture has favourite pastors, authors, bands, comedians, celebrities, and the like, which we champion and promote as shining examples to our kids. But then, when one of them shows their darker side, or begins to drift away from their faith roots, we feel shocked and almost personally betrayed by them.

This is the danger of making too much of any human being. We are all flawed, Christian or not. We all have the capacity for great evil within us, and it is bound to show sooner or later. Every person has a past filled with poor choices that could be drug out like skeletons from our closet for the purpose of public shaming. Seriously—for all those who are expressing outrage towards Cam and Jourdan, are you really acting as if there is nothing people could learn about you that would cause the mob to turn on you?

This is the result of secular humanism becoming the dominant worldview in our culture. If there is no God who demonstrates perfect righteousness, then we must look to ourselves and prop up those whom we esteem worthy of looking up to. But when these people fail us, which they inevitably will, we discard them and look for the next best person to champion our cause.

Don’t get me wrong. I believe that people should take seriously their place as role models. We should be able to point to others as those worth emulating. But we ought to do so with the understanding that we are imperfect sinners, even the best of us. Rather than raise someone up as an idol to be worshipped, we should consider their noble character qualities and aspire to them ourselves. But there is not one person alive—save the man Jesus Christ—whom we can point to as the ultimate model to follow. Everyone else is doomed to fail, so let’s not put that burden on them in the first place.

Deep down, we all like to feel superior to others. We love to point out other people’s sin because it makes us feel like we are better than them. That’s why so much of our culture is dominated by public outrage over every little thing, along with public demands for apologies and the like. And to a degree, there is nothing wrong with calling out sin when it confronts us. But we ought to do so as people who are also sinners. There should be a measure of humility, not toxic self-righteousness. The Christian worldview can uniquely empower people to stand against sin and injustice while still keeping human pride in check. We are all in this boat of sin together. All of us need forgiveness, and we should be as quick to extend it as we are to receive it. That kind of attitude is better served to bring the kind of peace among people our world so desperately needs.

Did the Story of Jonah Really Happen?

Everyone knows the story. Well, actually most people don’t know the whole story, but everyone knows the most memorable part of the story: Jonah being swallowed up by the whale, only to be spewed out on dry land three days later. Here’s the very brief account as recorded in the Bible:

And the LORD appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the belly of the fish…And the Lord spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah out upon the dry land. (Jonah 1:17, 2:1, 2:10)

An obvious and immediate question arises: did this really happen? We all know that it is scientifically impossible to spend three days inside the stomach of a sea creature and live to tell about it. Yet here it is, in the pages of Scripture, expected to be taken seriously. Many who discredit the Bible point to the story of Jonah to argue that the Bible is just a book full of fanciful tales and imaginary legends that we can readily dismiss.

So, for people like me who take the Bible seriously and believe it to be true, how do we explain such an absurd phenomenon?

Christians generally hold one of four positions when it comes to the story of Jonah and the whale. I will briefly list them and mention their strengths and weaknesses.

1. The story is allegorical

The first option is that the story isn’t literal at all, but more like a fairy tale with a moral point. If someone were to read the short four chapters of Jonah it becomes apparent that the fish is a mere side point to the story. The big idea is that God is a God of forgiveness, and that his mercy extends to even those we despise. Additionally, the story reveals that often we are unwilling to extend to others the very mercy that we have received from God. In short, it is a story about God’s grace.

There are some Christians who believe that the moral of the story is what matters, not the historical truthfulness of the account. They would argue that the events never really took place but are simply a legend used as a teaching tool, somewhat similar to Jesus using parables in the New Testament.

The strength of this approach is that it immediately alleviates any need to explain the impossible. One can still gain from the Bible the teaching point while not being hung up on the fanciful notions that the story includes. In that way, the problem disappears with convenience.

Yet this view has some significant weaknesses. The first is that the story is written more like history than a fable. Legends usually use generalities in the storytelling (ie. “long ago in a land far away”). But Jonah is written in a historical setting, with the names of real, physical cities (Ninevah and Tarshish) as part of the plot. The book also mentions the name of Jonah’s father (1:1). The whole account appears to be written so that the reader believes the events are actual, historical fact.

A second weakness in this view is that it creates all kinds of problems when interpreting the rest of the Bible. If the events of Jonah aren’t real, what else in Scripture isn’t real either? Was the exodus from Egypt just an imaginary story with a moral lesson? Was the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ just an allegorical teaching point? If you say that Jonah’s story isn’t real it becomes next to impossible to determine what else in Scripture isn’t literally true either. It also seems to betray a basic reading of the Bible, much of which is written as real historical events, naming real people and places and kingdoms that actually existed in the ancient world.

One final weakness with this view is that Jesus himself spoke of Jonah as if he were a real, historical figure. He makes reference to the story of Jonah—and specifically to the three days in the belly of the fish—as if he assumed it to be true (Matthew 12:39-40). So to say that the Jonah story isn’t real is to undermine what Jesus appeared to believe…dangerous ground to say the least!

As a result, I think it is fair to say that this first option is simply too problematic to be accepted.

2. It was a unique fish

A second option is to say that the particular fish that swallowed Jonah was uniquely designed by God so that a person could actually live inside of it for three days and nights. This idea comes from the statement that “God appointed a fish” to swallow Jonah. This means that a particular animal was chosen by God for the task, and it is at least theoretically possible that this creature had the proper features to sustain life in it’s own stomach.

This would mean that the swallowed person would somehow gain access to oxygen and be preserved from decaying in the fish’s stomach acids. It would be a horrible experience but potentially survivable. As far as I know, such a fish or whale does not exist in the animal kingdom. But is it possible that God somehow created and designed a specific fish for this very purpose?

This view is possible, at least in theory. God could have appointed a fish for this task and custom designed it for the needs of the job. But since Scripture gives very little indication that this was the case, other than a creative inference from the word “appointed”, this view is at best a minority perspective that most Christians don’t hold.

3. Jonah died and came back to life

A third option is that Jonah died in the whale’s stomach and was later brought back to life. This is a fairly common view among Christians and does have at least some biblical credibility to it. During Jonah’s prayer from the fish, he says “I called out to the LORD, out of my distress, and he answered me; out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and you heard my voice” (Jonah 2:2). The term Sheol is a Hebrew reference to the place of the dead. A modern-day synonym might be something like “the afterlife” or “the next world” or “the hereafter”. Jonah says in his prayer that this is where he called out to God. Therefore, many take this to mean that Jonah actually died in the fish (not exactly a surprising result), prayed to God from the afterlife, was then revived and spit out onto the land.

This does seem possible based on the text, and it eliminates the trouble of trying to explain how a person can live for days in the stomach of a fish. Not only does Jonah’s prayer open up this possibility, but Jesus’ interpretation of the Jonah account adds to the likelihood that Jonah had died in the fish. Jesus says “For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matthew 12:40). Since we know that Jesus died on the cross and rose again three days later, the fact that he would parallel his experience with Jonah’s time in the fish at least suggests that in both instances death and resurrection were the result. If Jesus really did taste death and come back to life, wouldn’t it makes sense that Jonah did also?

Perhaps. There seems to be good reason why this view is a very real possibility. But the weakness of this interpretation is that speaking of being in Sheol does not always mean literal death. For example, king David speaks about being delivered from Sheol in the Psalms on a number of occasions, even though he was not speaking of literal death (Psalm 18:5, 30:2-3). In such cases, Sheol is more of a poetic expression about the dire circumstance a person is in. David’s life was often in jeopardy from his enemies, and similarly Jonah was facing a hopeless fate in being swallowed by a fish in the open sea. It is possible that just as David was speaking metaphorically of being in mortal danger, so Jonah was referring to a near-death experience.

4. God miraculously sustained Jonah

The fourth position, and perhaps the most common among believers, is simply that God somehow kept Jonah alive in the belly of the fish. The explanation would certainly be beyond scientific understanding or human logic, but if God can create the universe with a spoken word, command the wind and waves to obey him, and raise the dead to life, can he not find a way to supernaturally keep a man alive in the middle of a fatal experience? Surely he could do so if he wanted to. It is not clear exactly how that would happen, but that God has the power to do it is of no question.

Since the story of Jonah gives no clear, definitive indication that the other three options are true, most Christians believe that Jonah really was swallowed alive and really did spend three days in the stomach of a great fish. That is the plain sense reading of the text. And as those who believe in the accuracy and truthfulness of Scripture, is easy to conceive—though hard to understand—of a scenario where God supernaturally preserves a man’s life. Nothing is impossible with God. In fact, the story of Jonah probably would not even make God’s top ten list of supernatural accomplishments recorded in the Bible.

Here’s my point. Jonah in the fish is far from evidence that the Bible is a fairytale book not to be taken seriously. The same people who espouse that idea also believe that the universe created itself out of nothing, evolved into an incredibly complicated ecosystem that can thrive and grow by random chance, that life arose from non-life, and that we are all here by accident and there is no meaning or purpose to life. Believing that is at least as “out there” as believing the story of Jonah, if not more so. The whale account doesn’t need to deter anyone from believing in the trustworthiness of Scripture at all.