20 Reasons to Believe that Jesus Actually Rose from the Dead

In 1 Corinthians 15:12-19, the Bible states what the results are if Jesus has not risen from the dead. If Jesus is still dead, it means that:

  • Our faith counts for nothing (vs. 14)
  • We are misrepresenting God (vs. 15)
  • We are still in our sins (vs. 17)
  • Those who have already died did not go to a better place (vs. 18)
  • Our faith is good only for this life, which makes us people to be pitied (vs. 19)

In other words, if Jesus did not really rise from death, it is bad news for Christians! A lot is hanging on this one event. Did Jesus come back from the dead? Is there any evidence that this actually happened? There is a lot of things that could be said, here are some significant points to consider.

  1. The body was missing. There is virtually no doubt that Jesus was killed by Roman execution on the cross. Yet three days later, his body was missing from the guarded tomb. Some have said that it was stolen by grave robbers, or perhaps by the disciples themselves (more on that later). Interestingly, the government even acknowledged that there was no body. This doesn’t prove that Jesus rose, but it does at least show that everyone knew Jesus’ body had disappeared.
  2. The testimony of women. In Jesus’ day, the word of a woman carried very little weight. So little, in fact, that a woman could not even testify in court because she was not believed to be reliable. Yet the Bible states that it was women who first discovered the empty tomb and saw the risen Jesus (Matthew 28:1-10). If someone were trying to fabricate Jesus’ resurrection, they most certainly would not base their lie on the claims of women, because it would be less credible. The only way that someone would record that women were the first to see Jesus is if that’s how it really happened.
  3. The transformation of Jesus’ brothers. Contrary to what some say, Mary and Joseph had other children besides Jesus. On one occasion, Jesus’ family showed up to take him home because they thought he had gone crazy (Mark 3:31-35). Yet these same brothers, who here are hard skeptics, became worshippers of Jesus. In fact, at least two of Jesus’ brothers, James and Jude, went on to write the books of the Bible that bear their names. In addition, James became the lead pastor of the church in Jerusalem. What would it take for someone to worship their own brother as God? What would make James and Jude go from thinking their brother is crazy to believing he is God? A resurrection would.
  4. The transformation of the disciples. Jesus’ followers had gone into hiding after their leader was crucified (John 20:19) for fear that they would lose their lives. Yet these same men, just a few days later, are boldly proclaiming that Jesus had risen in public, even at the cost of great persecution and ridicule. It makes sense that actually seeing the risen Jesus would give them cause to come out of hiding and courageously put their lives on the line. Nearly all of the disciples suffered brutal martyrs deaths because they would not stop proclaiming they had seen Jesus risen. There is no way they would have done this if they knew it was a lie.
  5. The change in “doubting Thomas”. One of Jesus’ 12 disciples is famously known as the “doubter”. After the disciples come and tell Thomas they have seen Jesus, he declares he will not believe it unless he can place his own finger into the nail-pierced hands of Jesus (John 20:25). Yet Thomas too becomes a hard believer that Jesus resurrected. The only thing that could explain this is if Jesus really did appear to Thomas, just as the Bible says.
  6. That change in Peter. Perhaps the disciple whose change was the most dramatic was that of Peter. This disciple, who is famous for denying even knowing Jesus three times (including to a little girl), later is preaching in the streets of Jerusalem for all the people to repent of their sin and trust in Jesus (Acts 2:14-41). How could Peter go from being afraid of a little girl to facing hostile crowds unless he had a really good reason to do so?
  7. Jesus is seen by a crowd of 500. In 1 Corinthians 15:6, we learn that a crowd of 500 people saw the risen Jesus at one time. This could not have been a hallucination, since visions of that sort are personal and not experienced by multiple people. We also learn that most of those 500 people were still living at the time 1 Corinthians was written. Since 1 Corinthians was a public letter, the author (Paul) was essentially saying to the reader that they could go and ask these people if they really saw Jesus alive. Had Paul been making it up, he could not have made such a bold, public claim. Not only this, but there is zero historical evidence that anyone even tried to refute Paul’s claim of the 500 seeing Jesus. Apparently, no one who looked into it found any reason to doubt.
  8. Jesus appeared for 40 days. It was not like Jesus appeared to only a handful of people on one or two occasions. Historically, Jesus appeared to hundreds of people over a long period of time – 40 days to be exact (Acts 1:3). This kind of hoax is next to impossible to pull off. Many people saw Jesus multiple times. By sticking around for 40 days before ascending back into heaven, Jesus left no doubt that he had indeed risen from the dead.
  9. Mary prayed to her son as God. Again, this is not strong evidence by itself. Some might say Mary was simply crazy or deceived. But put together with the rest of the evidence, it cannot be taken lightly that someone would truly believe their own son was God (Acts 1:14).
  10. Jesus ate food and had scars. Some claim that Jesus rose not in a physical sense but only in a spiritual sense. This does not make sense since his body was missing. It also does not make sense because Thomas felt the scars of Jesus and there is at least one occasion where Jesus eats breakfast with his disciples (Luke 24:42-43). He could not have been a ghost if he had a body with scars and the ability to eat food.
  11. Jesus walked for 7 miles. Some say that perhaps Jesus didn’t die on the cross but merely passed out and was later revived. This would account for his appearances since he had not actually died at all. This is medically unsound, since the trauma Jesus received by flogging, crucifixion and stabbing would have certainly killed him, especially without medical treatment in a cold tomb. Not only this, but the risen Jesus was said to have walked from Jerusalem to Emmaus with two men, a distance of 7 miles (Luke 24:13). There is no way Jesus could have walked for 7 miles only days after having his feet pierced with giant spikes. So the claim that Jesus didn’t actually die makes no sense.
  12. The lack of motive for the disciples. If the disciples had not really seen Jesus but were making the whole thing up, what was their motive? Most people lie to gain something, but their “lie” only brought them pain and persecution and death. It makes sense instead that they weren’t lying but simply willing to die for the truth. Some might push back and say that they were genuinely deceived. But how can these men, who spent over 3 years with Jesus daily, be mistaken that they had seen and talked with Jesus numerous times? They would have had to be absolutely convinced, otherwise their boldness makes no sense.
  13. The conversion of Saul/Paul. Saul was essentially a terrorist. He literally travelled from town to town killing or throwing Christians into jail. It was his job to stop the Jesus movement. He even was present at the killing of the very first Christian martyr, a church leader named Stephen (Acts 8:1-3). Yet this same man suddenly became a follower of Jesus and began to travel to world, proclaiming that Jesus had risen. He started dozens of churches, wrote 13 books of the Bible, and suffered greatly for the forward progress of Christianity. There is nothing that could explain such a dramatic transformation, except that Saul had met the risen Jesus himself and changed his mind, just as the Bible records (Acts 9:1-19).
  14. Jewish people worshipped Jesus as God. In the Jewish tradition, it is strictly believed that there is only one God and that you should worship him alone. The concept of idolatry was extremely significant to the Jewish people. So the fact that thousands of them began to worship Jesus as God, knowing full well that they would be committing idolatry against their God if they were wrong, speaks volumes. Something very convincing would have had to happen for them to change their beliefs so significantly. A resurrection would do that.
  15. The change of the holy day. Jewish culture holds to Saturday as the Sabbath, or holy day. It is the day of worship. Yet suddenly people started worshipping on Sunday (the day of Jesus’ resurrection). This is no small change. This would be like going to church on a Monday; it would require gathering at the crack of dawn or very late at night, a great inconvenience, unless one was convinced that day held significant meaning. The cultural shift from worshipping on Saturday to Sunday gives weight to the fact that Jesus truly had risen Sunday morning, just as the story goes.
  16. The growth of the early Christian Church. These days, some people say that Christianity is good for society because of it’s moral teachings. If that’s all Christianity was good for, it most certainly would not have grown as it did during the early years. Remember that Christians were heavily persecuted! Simple moral values are not worth losing your family, house, or life over. The early church did not see Christianity as good for society because of moral values, but as the truth that needed to be fought for at any cost. Only a risen Jesus could provide that kind of motivation.
  17. Jesus’ tomb is not enshrined. In a religious society like that of Jesus’ day, his tomb most certainly would have been enshrined by his followers. Yet this is not the case. It makes sense only if the resurrection took place, since a tomb is meaningless if the occupant has risen.
  18. The account of Josephus. Josephus is an early historian who was not a believer in Christ. In his book The Antiquities, he records the devotion of early Christians and says of Jesus “on the third day he appeared to [his disciples] restored to life.” This is Josephus’ journalistic, historical, unbiased report. Keep in mind that he would have had access to many first-hand eyewitnesses of the resurrection.
  19. The account of Sosthenes. Sosthenes, a Roman historian, accounts the intense persecution of early Christians, whom he calls a “class of men given to a new and mischievous superstition”. By this he is referencing the fact that Christians believe Jesus is God because he came back from the dead.  This “superstition” he describes as “mischievous” because it was against Roman law to have any authority higher than the Emperor. Christians would not obey the Emperor over Jesus, because they believed Christ was the higher authority. This lead to great conflict and persecution. In other words, Sosthenes understood that Christians were convinced that Jesus had risen from death to the point that they were willing to pledge their allegiance to him even if it cost them their lives.
  20. The account of Pliny the Younger. Pliny, who was a prominent governor, wrote a letter to Emperor Trajan in 111 AD which recorded his investigation into the Christian movement. Among his findings that Christians would  gather on Sunday to “chant verses alternately among themselves, in honour of Christ as if to God”. Pliny saw that Christians believed Jesus to be God as evidenced by his resurrection on a Sunday.

In short, there is a ton of evidence that point to the historical truth of a risen Jesus. What does it mean? I close with the words of Jesus himself in John 11:25-26, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”

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Top 10 Rules for Small Group Discussion

small goup
One of the things we do at our midweek youth meetings is break into small groups after the teaching time for discussion and prayer. Here is a top 10 list I put together for my youth leaders to help them make the most of small group time.
  1. The leader must facilitate. All groups have different personalities represented. It is up to the discussion leader to allow those who are quieter a chance to speak while sometimes restraining those who always dominate the conversation. If the leader doesn’t set the tone, then the most naturally outgoing people will rule the entire group.
  2. Set a comfortable atmosphere. Try to be laid back and make everyone feel safe. Use humour and get to know people’s names. Don’t force anyone to speak who doesn’t want to. Group time is especially scary for first-timers, so give them a chance to settle in and observe without having to contribute.
  3. Less talk, more listening. The worst thing a leader can do is talk too much. The leader’s job is not to recap the study time but to help the students think through how it applies to their everyday life. Draw out their thoughts and help them engage the material. The less a leader needs to talk, the better.
  4. Know when to jump in. Inevitably there will be times the leader needs to cut in. Sometimes it is to stop an overly-talkative person. Sometimes it is to get the discussion back on track. Sometimes it is to correct someone’s misunderstanding of the material. Whatever the case, the leader must know when to exercise their authority.
  5. Encourage. Letting students know they are on the right track or thinking well is a good thing. Commend their contributions and insight. Leave them feeling good for having shared positively with the group.
  6. Lead by example. Your own thoughts or examples are sometimes needed to get the ball rolling. Also, being respectful and knowing when to laugh and when to be serious will set the tone for the rest of the group.
  7. Be flexible. Sometimes the conversation will veer from the listed questions. Use discretion to let it go that way if the conversation is still helpful. Remember that the questions are a guide, but the let the conversation develop naturally.
  8. Ask open-ended questions. Questions that require a yes/no or right/wrong answer stunt conversation. Ask open-ended questions and feel free to get a student to expand on an answer for clarification.
  9. Pray simple. Avoid lengthy and wordy prayers, especially with Junior aged students. When a leader prays, the goal is for a student to hear the simplicity of it and think to themselves “I can do that!”
  10. Follow up. Some things said in group should be followed up on. It might be in the form of encouragement, instruction, inquiry, or discipline. But it is good for students to know that we care about them inside and outside of youth settings.

Cupcake Day & Discussion Recap

Every Thursday I visit one of our local high schools to help run a student ministry called ISCF (Inner School Christian Fellowship). For the last three years we have put on an event called Cupcake Day where, during lunch, we give away hundreds of free cupcakes to the students and staff. This past Tuesday we gave away 1,300 cupcakes during the 45 minute lunch period…awesome! It’s such a great way to make someone’s day a little brighter and show the love of Jesus in a simple, practical, and enjoyable way.

Along with free cupcakes, we handed out a flyer inviting people to our Thursday ISCF meeting which was scheduled to be an open discussion on the topic of the afterlife. I thought I would jot down a few thoughts from that discussion today and share them for whoever is curious to know what went down. Here are a few things I noticed.

Everyone loves free food. We gave away free cupcakes on Tuesday and for our meeting today we gave away free pizza. Not the healthiest of food giveaways, but everyone seems to love it anyways. Hey, who says ministry can’t be fun?

There is a lot of diversity in beliefs. Obviously on a world-wide scale, religious views are all over the map. But even in a smaller school of about 900 (do the cupcake math…yup, more than 1 per student) there was a good variety of opinions about the afterlife. Views included heaven and hell, reincarnation, purgatory/place of the departed, and annihilationism (once you’re gone, you’re gone). So the discussion was lively and varied, which made for great conversation.

You’d be surprised at some people’s insight. I’ll be the honest one to say that a lot of Christians believe in their own views so strongly that they assume others who disagree are simply naive. This was shown not to be the case. In fact, those who differ from Christian views at today’s discussion were able to articulate their beliefs clearly and confidently. I think this surprised some of the church-going teens.

Apologetics is important! Apologetics (the practice of defending one’s faith logically) is a skill that every Christian should grow. If you truly believe your faith is the truth, as pretty much any Christian would confess, then you should be able to show how it makes sense to other people. Our young, Christian students gave this a stab with mixed results. Some were able to defend the Christian view well while others struggled to back up their points with logic or evidence. We will have to work on this 🙂

The focus needs to be Jesus. My role in the discussion was as moderator, so I never injected any of my own thoughts into the conversation (though at times I really wanted to!). What I found was that the Christian students missed a few key opportunities to bring the topic back to Jesus. His resurrection and teachings were not mentioned, although the Bible was referenced. I was waiting for a student to say something like “Our opinions don’t really matter, because none of us have ever experienced the afterlife. So let’s turn to the one person who has tasted death and came back – Jesus – to see what he had to say about it.” It didn’t happen, unfortunately, but that’s okay. I will have a chance to follow up with our students and help them see where they can improve.

The discussion rages on. The students really want to continue the conversation, so we will do it again next Thursday. I’m hoping to see an extra degree of thoughtfulness and some provoking questions. I’m glad that the conversation was respectful and no one stormed out of the room offended. So next week we’ll get back at it and see where it goes. Please pray for our young believers as they try to be faithful witnesses. It’s a tough gig and they are pretty new at it. But God can use anything to grow his Kingdom and open the eyes of the lost.

The Power of an Organized Youth Leader

This post also appears on the great youth ministry blog morethandodgeball.com.
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One of the joys of working with youth is how spontaneous and creative the ministry can be. It feels so free flowing and easy going. Most youth pastors cherish this aspect of the ministry, but there is another side that a lot of us youth leaders fear and struggle with: administration.

The stereotype for youth leaders and youth pastors is that they are wild, free-for-all types who lack organizational skills. Often, this stereotype is closer to the truth than we’d like to admit. Yet this is unfortunate because there is power in being organized. Some examples from Scripture come to mind. Joseph’s knack for planning caused Egypt to become the most powerful nation on earth. Nehemiah organized the impressive construction project of rebuilding the walls in Jerusalem. Paul led a network of churches that spanned hundreds of miles even before the days of technology. None of these great feats could have been accomplished with a leader who was disorganized.

I know that organization is a skill that comes easily for only a handful of people. But it is something we all must address. An organized youth leader is able to accomplish more because he/she is on top of things. Events go more smoothly because they are well prepared for. Less students fall through the cracks because we can track their participation. Growth is easier to measure. Volunteer leaders become more dependable because they are not always frustrated. Students are better cared for because you know where they are at. Teaching is more well-rounded because you have a scope and plan for your material. There is a whole host of benefits to being well organized.

If you are not very good at being organized, you need to learn from or delegate to someone who is. It is too important a skill to be careless with. Here is a list of questions to help you get thinking about being organized:

  • Is your event schedule planned at least three months in advance?
  • Do your volunteers have job descriptions?
  • Do you have mission, vision, and value’s outlined on paper?
  • Are you keeping track of attendance?
  • Do you have a way of contacting parents at a moments notice?
  • Are you aware of exactly how much money you’ve spent from your budget, and on what?
  • Have you set any short and long term goals?
  • Are you keeping track of your Bible teaching so that you can confidently say you are teaching the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27)?

Hopefully these questions will give you an idea of where you need to improve organizationally. It might feel at first like the task is too daunting, but the truth is that once you do the hard work of putting the right systems in place, being organized is a lot more enjoyable than winging it all the time. It is freeing. So get organized and get ‘er done!

Three Views of Church

In North America there typically seems to be three ways people view church in relation to culture. Having only three categories may be oversimplifying it, but the more simple we break it down, the easier it is to see the differences.

View 1: Church as a Bomb Shelter

This view sees the primary purpose of a church as keeping God’s people unstained by the world. A Bomb Shelter church is one that is inwardly focused. It sees the culture as full of filth and desires to keep it outside the walls of the church. Most Bomb Shelter churches have been around for a long time, but they usually haven’t seen a ton of growth. It feels to some people like a Christian club. The Bomb Shelter church often is old fashioned and loves tradition. It is slow to change and sees other churches that go “contemporary” as sell outs. They teach sound doctrine and emphasize living a holy life.

View 2: Church as a Mirror

This view is pretty much the opposite as the Bomb Shelter. Rather than going against the culture, the Mirror church flows with it. They believe that in order to reach new people, new methods are necessary. They attempt to assimilate, or mirror, the culture around them in order to seem more relevant to non-church goers. A Mirror church sometimes holds loosely to doctrine and tradition. They use technology and terms that are up-to-date. A heavy emphasis on social relief is present and the pastor preaches like a storyteller.

View 3: Church as a Missional Outpost

This view sees the church as existing within culture in order to transform culture. A Missional Outpost church mixes historical Christian doctrine with current methodology. They view every church member as a missionary, and the purpose of the church is to gather and train it’s people in order to send them back into the culture to reach and transform it for Christ. In this view, culture is not the enemy, nor is it to be copied, but it is the mission field to be reached.

Which View is Correct?

Again, knowing these descriptions are overly generic and stereotypical, I would still put forth that a Missional Outpost model is the best approach. It is, to me, the view that best reflects the church portrayed in the Bible. One verse to highlight is Ephesians 4:12, which states that leaders are given to churches to “equip the saints for the work of the ministry”. This means that every Christian is seen as a missionary to be trained for ministry work. The purpose of church is to gather and equip them in order to send them back out to their families, workplaces, and communities and bring the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The ministry of Paul seems to be the same. His strategy was to go into a city, learn the culture, preach the gospel, start a new church by establishing leadership, and then move on to the next city to do the same thing there. Then, each church was charged with reaching the lost in their own community. This is essentially how Christianity has spread across the world for roughly 2000 years. I say, let’s keep the trend going!

School Shooting in Newtown: Where was God?

On December 14, 2012 a heavily armed, 20-year old entered Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut and gunned down 20 children and 6 adults. The media firestorm that followed this horrific act was gigantic, and so has been the response through social media. People are trying to make sense of it all. The main question I wish to tackle is, “Where was God?” I don’t know what it’s like for anyone else, but my own Facebook news feed has been littered with attempts to answer this question. Opinions vary widely, but it is a legitimate question to ask. Where is God in all this? Why would he let this happen? Can’t he do something to stop it? Is he disinterested? Does he care? Is he too weak and feeble to do anything? This post is an attempt to answer some of these questions.

Let me first say that I don’t want to treat this event like it is some case study for theological minds to examine. I don’t want to be disrespectful or without compassion. What happened was real. Real families in a real community suffered unspeakable loss. Like many parents, my wife and I have appreciated the presence of our own children all the more over the past few days, and our conversation and prayers have turned to this matter a number of times. I feel deeply for every parent who is about to go through this Christmas season without a loved little one. I have lost a child myself, by a different means, but I think I can begin to understand the stabbing pain that those affected are feeling. I want to be clear that this is not just theory for some uninvolved bystander like myself to wrestle with. I am grateful for every church in Newtown that is attempting to respond to a broken town with the love and grace of God. Prayers are with those brothers and sisters.

But while this is hardly an event to be examined impersonally, we still must take time to think biblically and come to some conclusions. As Christians, it is our responsibility to address this issue with a theologically informed mind – that is to say, we need a suitable and truthful answer to the question, Where was God? Our beliefs about God and the Bible need to intersect with real life. After all, if the Bible has nothing to say about something like this, it is a book with major flaws. Our world is so full of evil and suffering that the Bible ought to address it. Thankfully, it does.

Right now there is a picture floating around on the internet with the following quote on it:

Dear God,

Why do you allow so much violence in our schools?

– Signed, a concerned student

Dear concerned student,

I’m not allowed in schools.

– God

There’s been some debate whether this is true or not. As I see it, it is true in one sense and false in another. It is false in the sense that God is everywhere. No one dictates where God is or isn’t. Because schools have removed prayer, the Bible, and the Ten Commandments does not mean that God is removed as well. He is not subject to our silly laws. We do not govern him. When God says he is everywhere (Psalm 139:7-12), it means he is everywhere.

Yet there is a hint of truth here too. The basic idea behind this quote is that God will honour a person’s own wishes. If a society wishes to ignore God, then he leaves them alone. If a person rejects God, he lets them go on their way. Is this idea Biblical? In Romans 1:18-32, it is shown that for those who reject God and instead become idolators (ie. all of us), God “gave them up” to do whatever they want, a list that includes murder (vs. 29). The real problem then is not that our school system has rejected God but that the entire human race has.

This fundamental truth of Christianity is founded all the way back in Genesis 3, where Adam and Eve chose to rebel against God and brought upon themselves, and every human being, the consequences of their sin. Because of their sin, and our own, we make ourselves enemies of God. So where is God in the midst of our fallen, evil, corrupt world? The answer is that, though he has been rejected by his own creation, God remains present for the purpose of compelling his children to return to him. This is made possible because the penalty of sin has been removed by the death of Jesus, whose life was taken in our own place. The amazing reality is that the God who has been rejected by his own people is the very God who is willing to forgive and remove any obstruction to a renewed relationship with him.

There is still more to be said. It was not just Adam and Eve who rejected God. Recall that they were tempted towards sin by the serpent, the Devil himself. Adam and Eve were not forced to sin, therefore they (and we) remain guilty and accountable for our own sin. No one can blame God for evil; it is our own fault by choosing sin and death. Yet Satan has a part to play in this as well. The devil is a liar and the first murderer, and his appetite for death and carnage is active and unquenchable.  While Satan seeks death, it is God who gives life and who gave his own life that others may live (John 10:10). Therefore Satan, along with the willing compliance of human beings, is the cause for suffering and evil in the world. Our hope is knowing that God is countering this attack with love and forgiveness and life.

One wonderful truth to cling to is that each child that was mercilessly slain had the inexpressible joy of entering into the very presence of Jesus that day. The Bible confirms that God loves children, and that his kingdom belongs to them (Matthew 19:14). They are safe with Jesus forever! No more fear or pain or suffering awaits them; only eternal happiness with the God who created them. What a comfort!

There is also a sense in which the element of faith is necessary. While the Bible can give us some guidance during times like these, we are never fully able to understand exactly why things like this happen. One thing we know about God is that he is always working things out for good. Just like in Genesis 50:20 where God takes the evil actions of others and uses it for the saving of many lives, God is at work as well in this tragedy for the saving of souls. The eye of faith looks beyond the visible suffering and sees the invisible hand of God, moving behind the scenes to extend his love and grace to more and more people. God’s plan is never thwarted, nor is he overcome by the evil of Satan or mankind. God is strong and wise; his ways are higher than ours. We can trust that just as God used the suffering of his own Son to accomplish good, so too he is doing the same here. We simply need to trust him in what we cannot ourselves understand.

While I do not pretend to have all the answers, I do believe that Scripture gives us some understanding to make sense of what is going on in the midst of heartache. We can slowly begin to see God’s love in action as those who are hurting are comforted. Clinging to the promises of God, we can know that in time his peace will fill our hearts. We can celebrate with joy knowing that each precious child is in paradise with Jesus forever. We can know for certain that evil does not have the upper hand. Satan is a defeated foe. His power has limits. King Jesus is in control, and while we may not grasp why certain things may happen, we can know for sure that God is in the business of making all things new, and that eventually, for all those who have faith in Jesus, the world will once again be the way it was always intended to be.

My Advice for Cussing Preachers

Lately there has been a very small number of preachers making the news for their use of coarse language in the pulpit. This is a relatively rare phenomenon as far as I know, and perhaps not new at all. My hunch is that over the centuries there have always been cussing preachers here and there, but one factor that makes it different these days is that the use of technology can spread their influence farther and faster than ever before. It is important to think through this issue since Bible teachers will be judged more strictly (James 3:1). With that said, here is my advice for cussing preachers:

Stop.

And now that you have that little nugget of wisdom, here’s why.

  • It’s a sin. Ephesians 4:29 says it clearly “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”
  • It sets a poor example. Christian leaders are supposed to set a good example for their people to follow. Cussing in preaching does not fit that category. In fact, it is an especially harmful example since there is no other time that a person should be more prepared for what they are about to say than when they are preaching. What does it show your people that you cuss during a prepared talk? What would your language be like if your temper caught you off guard? Yikes!
  • It exposes a spiritual deficiency. Jesus said in Luke 6:45 that “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” In other words, what you say is simply exposing who you really are. Your bad language is signalling for you that something is wrong with your heart that needs to be corrected.
  • It’s not clever or hip. I think most cussing preachers use poor language to try and seem relevant to young, non church-goers. Perhaps it seems to “work” because it can draw an audience and get a laugh. But don’t fool yourself into thinking you can make Christianity more palatable by making it seem cool. Carl Trueman points out the obvious when he says “You really do kid only yourselves if you think you can be an orthodox Christian and be at the same time cool enough and hip enough to cut it in the wider world. Frankly, in a couple of years it will not matter how much urban ink you sport, how much fair trade coffee you drink, how many craft brews you can name, how much urban gibberish you spout [emphasis mine], how many art house movies you can find that redeemer figure in, and how much money you divert from gospel preaching to social justice…”
  • It undermines your ministry. If the goal of foul-mouthed preaching is to exert more influence on people for Christ, realize that by cussing you are sapping power from the very goal you wish to achieve. Don’t confuse the size of your following with the strength of your influence. A crowd like that is more interested in shock-value than the penetrating truth of God’s Word.
  • It’s childish. Little kids on the playground use filthy language. Grown adults should not. Yes, I realize that it is normal even among adults, but should we embrace that? Especially as Christians? I’ve always found it annoying when people use foul language; to me it’s immature. You’re an adult – learn how to use the English language in a more effective way. Get a bigger vocabulary.
  • You are going beyond what Scripture says. In defense, some will point out that the Bible itself sometimes uses provocative language. This is true. However, these instances – Paul calling his phony religion “dung” or “feces” in Philippians 3:8, the repetitive use of “whore” to describe idolatry in Ezekiel, the veiled yet powerful sexual imagery in Song of Solomon – are rare in the grand scope of the Bible and are shocking but not crass. Use powerful language where the Bible uses powerful language, but use the words the Bible uses and stay within that range.
  • You’re displaying a false humility. Sometimes a preacher won’t swear but say that they almost did. Recently, in reference to the Philippians 3:8 passage above, I heard one preacher say “Paul calls his religious accomplishments dung. He calls it feces. And I’m not allowed to say the other word I’m thinking.” You don’t have to let us know you almost cursed. You might as well have, because us knowing you were thinking it is not much different from hearing you say it. Instead, try not to think like that and if you do, keep it to yourself.

For more on use of language, see Psalm 19:14, Proverbs 4:24, Colossians 3:8, Matthew 15:11, Ephesians 5:4.

My Take on Live Tweeting at Conferences

It has become very popular in recent years to “live tweet” while attending special events or conferences. It is now quite normal, in fact, for events to be “covered” through live tweeting. Can’t make it to the event? No problem! Keep up with what’s happening with instant twitter updates right to your phone!

Now I realize that there can be certain instances where this would be really helpful, but I don’t think this is always the case. I have in mind especially conferences that feature keynote speakers where those in attendance feel the need to live tweet. I have significant issues with this. Granted, it really isn’t a big deal, but it’s grown to be a rather annoying pet peeve for me. Here’s why:

1. You should be listening, not tweeting. As a preacher, I can attest that I would not appreciate knowing that people are busy texting my quotes 6 or 7 times during a talk rather than carefully listening to the whole thing. If you are tweeting, it means you’re not listening, which means you’re missing out on other stuff I’m saying.

2. A talk is more than good quotes. Tweeting while listening is a bad habit because it causes us to listen wrongly. Rather than tracking a point and thinking deeply, we are only listening for the next dynamite sentence we can share with others. This is not a healthy way to listen. Again, as a preacher, my job is not to provide a bunch of quotable quotes. That’s not the measure of a good sermon, and if that’s how you are listening, you’re probably missing the bigger picture.

3. Your motive is probably pride. Why the need to share it as it’s happening? Why not listen to the whole thing, jot down some notes, and tweet it later? Can it really not wait 30 minutes? Or even a day or two? My hunch is that a lot of live tweeting is fuelled by pride… “You heard it here first! Aren’t you glad I’m taking notes for you?” Suddenly we get the sense that others are dependent upon us more than they actually are. I’m sure the motive for some is that it could help others, but I think more than likely it’s just pride.

4. You’re not taking time to internalize. One of the rules of good sermon listening is that we should apply what is being said to ourselves first. Only after we have considered the implications for our own lives should we feel like that truth should be shared with others. Live tweeting doesn’t give us time to think and reflect on our own failures. It makes us seem spiritual, but in reality it exposes how superficial we are. You didn’t tweet that because you were deeply convicted and moved to repentance…you tweeted it because for a split second you felt a flash of conviction and felt like it would do the same for others. I would be surprised if this brought about the kind of life change that God seeks in you or your readers.

5. Frankly, I don’t think anyone cares. Perhaps I’m speaking only for myself here, but I assume not. I really don’t care about your live tweeting because there is no way I would rely on it for any real, provocative experience. Think about it: who sits and ponders on a tweet for any length of time, even if it is a really good one? People probably think “wow, that’s a good point” and then never think about it again. Also, if I was unable to be at a conference that I would have liked to be at, I would not rely on live tweeting as my experience with it. Most conferences post the talks online the very next day! I’ll just listen to it for myself. Again, your need to be the first to provide the material, at least in my eyes, screams of self-importance.

I would suggest that if you genuinely think that your live tweeting can filter through these five points and still seem necessary or helpful, then go for it. Otherwise, I don’t think it’s a very healthy activity for you to engage in.

“Soo Memes” Takes Aim at Christians, And Why It Matters

When I logged on to Facebook this morning, one of the first things I saw was the latest meme created by Soo Memes. (If you don’t know what a meme is, basically it is a picture with a clever or funny caption on it. In the case of Soo Memes, they do this with things related to Sault Ste. Marie culture.) You can view this meme by clicking here. It is a picture of one of the local church road signs with the words “Searching for truth? Read the Bible.” written on it. The meme caption states “Daylight was created before the sun. Seems legit.” It’s a reference to the creation story in Genesis chapter 1 which states that God created daylight on day 1 of creation, yet created the sun on day 4.

This seeming contradiction is the target of Soo Memes humour here, attempting to point out the discrepancy and thus debunk the statement that the Bible is the source of truth. Certainly any number of other Bible “discrepancies” could have been used here; the specific one is not really the point. Rather, the point is to display the silliness of believing that the Bible is God’s Word and full of truth, and perhaps even that religion and Christianity in particular is stupid.

The actual pot-shot taken here doesn’t really bother me. As a Christian and pastor, I’ve heard plenty of very anti-Christian comments and arguments that were far more severe, blunt, or even downright vicious. The specific discrepancy itself is laughably weak, considering that God doesn’t need the sun to shine light. Since when is He subject to the limits of His own creation? Not only this, but in Revelation we are told that at the end of history God replaces the sun with His own glory. He is light, the gospel of John declares, and so He is not dependent upon the sun for anything. In fact, the sun, as with the entire universe, is dependant upon Him. It is God who holds all things together in the universe (Colossians 1:17).

That being said, there is something very important for the believer to pay attention to here. It is the general hostility and distaste for the Christian faith that exists in our world and, more importantly for me, in my own city.  This should form our way of thinking in at least three ways:

1. We are a post-Christian culture. Not that this should be news for most people. Unless you pay virtually no attention to the world around you, this should be obvious. Yet somehow we may have failed to grapple with what this really means. Simply complaining about how far from God the world is moving is not an appropriate response to this situation. Our hearts should break for those who are wandering from life in Jesus, and we should desperately be pleading with the Father to reveal His Son to them. We’ve got to stop thinking that doing things the same as before and looking back on the religious success of yesteryear will be enough to reach this generation with Christ. It will not. This brings me to point two…

2. We must re-evaluate how we do evangelism. There are a lot of valid ways to do evangelism. The Bible gives a lot of freedom in this area, and we should make full use of any creative or uncreative idea as we can. At the same time, however, a responsible approach will consider the view of the culture and then respond in relevant ways. For example, tracts were very popular in my parents and grandparents generation and definitely had some success. And while tracts are still a valid evangelistic method, they likely won’t be as effective as they used to be. The reason is that a generation ago the world was not as hostile to faith as it is now. People used to think that religion was valuable even if they weren’t religious themselves. Now, people think of religion as damaging to society. A tract will simply not have the same effect as it used to, at least generally speaking.

This is why I feel very committed to the “missional” model of evangelism. This method, which is really nothing new but is being somewhat rediscovered, essentially takes the position that evangelism is done best when real relationships in everyday life are involved. I share my faith within a friendship, where other things can be talked about and life can be shared. It means that rather than impersonally handing an outline of the gospel to someone I don’t know, I share my own testimony with someone who already values what I say because I have earned their trust by being a helpful friend over a period of time. Within this framework, we can still disagree about faith issues but have a chance to discuss them, ask questions, respond, share doubts, give real-lif examples, and demonstrate true personal care for the other person. While I would never say that God can’t move powerfully in a person’s life based on other methods of evangelism, I am still convinced that back-and-forth discussions within personal relationships is the best avenue for the Holy Spirit to move in a person’s life.

3. We have a lot of work to do. Are you committed to the cause of Christ? I mean really committed? Not just in the “I’m a Christian and I go to church” kind of way, but the “Jesus is my everything and I will live every day for Him” kind of way? It’s a good question to ponder, because in order to see people come to faith in an anti-Christian culture, we’re going to need Christians who are deeply committed for the long haul. We need Christians who will, over weeks and months and years, reach out to other people and show them the love of Christ in practical ways in order share with them the love of Christ found in the cross. This is no small task. It is swimming upstream against the pull of the cultural sway, and it will take courage and faith to make the journey. It will cost you deeply as you turn away from other pursuits you’d rather engage in, and break your heart when those you pray for continue to reject Jesus for years and years. Yet it is the only true response to this crisis.

I ask you, fellow believer, are you willing take a stand? To enlist in the army of God and fight for the souls of men? To thwart the plans of the enemy by not sitting on the sidelines any longer, but overcoming the world by the blood of the Lamb and the word of your own testimony? Don’t waste your life. Don’t play games with people’s eternal fate, including your own. Strive like Paul to be able to say “I have fought the good fight, I have kept the faith, I have finished the race.” You are needed, and the time is now.

The Story of My Son’s Birth

My son James Alexander Leaf Edgar was born into the world on October 15th, 2012. If his wild birth is any indication of what’s to come, he’s going to have a very exciting life!

Sarah had been getting some intense contractions and cramping over the past few weeks, and her belly looked like she was shoplifting a watermelon, all signs leading us to believe that James’ birth was coming soon. We were sure he’d come before his due date, even to the point of guessing he’d come two weeks early. So when day after day of contractions went by with no baby, I didn’t pay particular attention to Sarah’s early-labour-like contractions on Monday. After an afternoon nap, her contractions began coming back to back more steadily and we started timing them. Though they were intense, they were spaced too far apart and not lasting long enough to be worried about…or so I thought!

Sarah believed it was early labour, while I skeptically expected it to be false labour. Either way, we decided to go over to Sarah’s parents’ house since they have a nice jacuzzi tub she could relax in. She wasn’t even in the tub 15 minutes before she began to shout “My water broke!” and feeling like she needed to start pushing! A quick phone call to our midwife Fiona instructed us to get to the hospital asap with one key command: do not push!

As quickly as we could (which is not quick at all for someone who is about to birth a baby), we got into our car and left for the hospital. The traffic wasn’t too bad and I didn’t need to do any crazy driving in order to get there in good time. Fiona met us at the pull-up entrance with a wheelchair and whisked Sarah off inside while I went to go park. Thankfully I found a spot right away and sprinted as fast as I could back to the entrance doors.

As soon as I got into the lobby of the hospital, one of those terrifying moments where your mind freezes struck me: where is the labour ward?! I did actually know, and I could picture it in my mind, but in the heat of the moment I couldn’t remember if it was on the first or second floor! A total stranger standing nearby simply said “you need to go downstairs to get to ‘maternity'”. To this moment I have no idea if it was a man or woman who gave me those directions, or if they were a visitor or hospital staff or anything about them. I once again took off running and managed to catch up to Fiona and Sarah just as they were going into the maternity ward.

We went straight into one of the birthing rooms, got Sarah onto the bed, and started pushing. Literally three minutes later, my son was born! A beautiful healthy boy, 8 pounds 8 ounces, with super-light blonde hair just like his mommy and daddy when they were babies. I think I spent the next hour simply trying to regain control of myself; I felt like I was still in shock over everything just had just happened so quickly!

Our family hadn’t even made it to the hospital by the time he was born, and some of them didn’t believe us when we told them he was already here! In all, from the time Sarah started having regular contractions to the time James came into the world, only one hour had passed! Unbelievable! It’s a good thing I was at home that day or I might have missed the whole thing! I remember after Bella was born how I would mock the movies and TV shows that showed labour happening quickly…it never actually happens like that, I would say. Well, apparently it does!

I’ve had a million thoughts go through my head since our little boy has officially entered our lives, but those are for another time. Right now, I simply want to enjoy some time with my family and the tiny man who could hardly wait to get here!