Interview With Ryan Arnold

Several months ago I sat down with Ryan Arnold, a friend of mine who is living with terminal illness, to film an interview to share with the youth group at my church. Unfortunately, the video is basically rendered not usable, but here is a transcript of our conversation.


Tell us a bit about yourself.

I’m 35 years old, born and raised in Hartford, Connecticut. I am however, a permanent resident of Canada and my wife is Canadian also. Together we have a little girl (Brynn) who is 6 years old. It’s definitely been an interesting journey with immigration and coming to Canada but I love it here and it seems like the people are a lot friendlier [laughs].

When and how did you find out you had cancer?

For about a week I had some really bad headaches and two in particular that were really strong so that Tylenol didn’t do anything, along with nausea and vomiting. I just chalked it up to stress, stress at work and in my life. Finally, being a stubborn guy, it was my wife who told me to go to the doctor. The doctor looked me over and said, “Has anyone ever told you that, in your eyes, one pupil is larger than the other?” I said no, and he said he wanted to send me for a CT scan. I went, thinking it was nothing, and afterwards I was eating lunch at Quiznos and I got a phone call from my doctor—this is when I was living out west in Alberta—he said, “We are going to rush you to Calgary to have emergency brain surgery right now.” I didn’t know it yet, but they had already set up an ambulance to bring me down to Calgary which was about an hour and a half away. When I got to Calgary, everything happened so fast that it’s just really hard to comprehend.

What’s been the hardest part of your journey?

The hardest part as been, as a father, mourning the moments that I may not have, about not being able to raise my daughter, or be there for my wife. Living in a seniors home now is tough. I’ve already been stripped away from my family. The isolation and the loneliness that you feel is as if you’re on death row, just waiting. That’s when faith kicks in, you have hope, and you have to cling to the promises that are in Scripture. That’s going from fear, you feel like someone pulled the rug out from underneath you, to faith, knowing that Jesus promises he’ll never leave me or forsake me. And I have to cling to that. That transition from fear to faith has been the most challenging aspect of my journey.

Can you talk a bit more about how your faith has grown?

Growing up I had a knowledge of Christ and everything that he stood for but I didn’t put my full weight of faith on him until probably my 20’s, my college years. I think I had Jesus in my back pocket and sort-of compartmentalized him. I thought that was enough to sustain me. I was busy with life, school, girls, skateboarding, snowboarding and all the activities I was involved in, and I never really gave him much thought. Then once I got sick it really showed me the complete utter worthlessness of those trivial things, and how important it was to get real about my relationship with Jesus Christ. I had to make him a priority in my life instead of all these other things that slid in and forced me to put Jesus on the back burner. When they say you have 14 months to live (on average), what are you going to do with those 14 months? And thats just the average. You have people dropping off at 7 months or 9 months or who’s to say? So it really just made the promises of my faith significant. I had to get real with myself and say, I have to have this relationship with Jesus now and push everything else aide.

What do you hope other people would learn from what you’ve had to go through?

That my story is not unique. It’s unique in the sense that people my age typically don’t get diagnosed with stage 4 Glioblastoma Multiform (GBM) cancer. That’s the same cancer that Gord Downie from The Tragically Hip recently passed way from . I would hope that they take stock of their own lives and ask, where does Jesus fit into my life right now? What is my relationship with Jesus like? And what if I was the one who got that call? I pray that if they were to get that call, faith would be the leading attribute in their life facing it and not despair.

Lot’s of people struggle with the idea of a God that is powerful and loving but still allows suffering. How have you wrestled with that?

It’s certainly been a struggle. You have your questions, like “Why me?” and “Why did this happen?” I won’t deny it—I had those questions. But I read a book called Don’t Waste Your Cancer by John Piper. He basically said that people are going to be watching you seeing how you handle this, and it may be the best opportunity for you to show off your faith in Christ on a greater level than you’ve ever been able to before. That’s certainly been my case. I would never call cancer a blessing, but through it I have been able to grow my faith and my relationship with Christ to a level that I had never previously had. And through that, people seeing my heart and seeing my love for him, has really been great. I’ve been told I’m an inspiration to other people. For me to be called an inspiration to other people seems odd because I’m just a regular guy who got sick (in my mind at least). But I’ve really tried to reach out and touch other peoples lives, saying, “This could be you—what about this Jesus? You may want to get serious with him because he’s the answer.”

To the teenagers who might be watching this, what would you like to say to them?

You’re going to be going through a rough time, and it’s a confusing time. Theres so many distractions that you are faced with and, believe me, I know there are so many temptations thats come along too. Really fix your eyes on the Lord and make him a priority. I know there are things that will come along and tempt you, and there’s certainly years where you may fall off the path. But fix your eyes on the Lord and believe in him, have faith in him, and walk with him every day regardless of what’s in front of you, or what your friends are doing. Remember that there’s no better person to have as a friend than Jesus Christ.

With the time that you have left on this earth, what do you want to do with it?

I want to serve God to a greater degree than I ever did before. I want to live every day for him. I’ve learned that faith in action doesn’t look like following rules but it looks a lot like love. It looks like love in the sense that you love everyone you come across whether they are lovable or not. You make the choice to love them. Be thankful for each and every day that you have because it’s a gift. Simply find the people that may not know about the love that you have in your heart for Jesus Christ and share that with them. Be brave, be bold—you have nothing to lose. The truth is you’ll find that loving others, regardless of what you get back, will be more fulfilling than being the most popular person in the school, captain of the football team, or anything else. I can tell you with confidence that there’s nothing more fulfilling than leading someone to the Lord or bringing someone back who’s wandered away. When you see that happen it’s the greatest feeling in your heart and it’s truly a miracle.


To learn more about Ryan’s story and read his online journal entries, follow him on Facebook.

Critical Thinking and Christianity

One of my pet peeves is when Christians are characterized as blind fools who can’t think for themselves. Perhaps this is because I don’t like being insulted in this fashion, but honestly it bothers me more because it simply isn’t true. Not only do I know many incredibly smart and thoughtful believers, but as a student pastor I regularly encourage young people to take the brain God gave them and put it to good use. I say things like, Being a Christian doesn’t mean you stop thinking and just “have faith”. Faith is based on reason. Christians should be people who strive after the truth and think critically. They should not be blind followers. If your faith hasn’t been well thought through then it will collapse when the challenges of life confront it.

Even the Bible, which promotes faith, also promotes critical thinking. The greatest command of all is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength” (Luke 10:27). The centre of Christianity is, in part, loving God with your mind. There is a thinking aspect to faith. We are not given the capacity to reason and think so that we could leave those faculties at the door. Rather, they are to be harnessed for the right purposes—namely, loving God and loving others.

Scripture has other things to say about the role of thinking in the life of a Christian. Proverbs 14:15 says “The simple believes everything, but the prudent gives thoughts to his steps.” The biblical stance is that gullibility is to be resisted, and careful thinking used in its place. Even people of faith are actually discouraged in the Bible from being those who will believe anything. 

Another passage, 1 Thessalonians 5:21, says to “Test everything, hold fast to what is good.” In context, this is referring to “prophecies”, or statements made either about God or from God. In other words, just because someone comes along and says something about God doesn’t mean we should believe it. Instead, truth claims about God or from God should be tested. There is an element of critical thought that goes into this process. Christians should not believe everything they hear, because some information is true and some information is false.

The Bible never anywhere calls for people to have blind faith. This is because faith is not entirely blind. There is an element of acting on the unknown when it comes to faith, but that does not mean that faith can’t be grounded in reality. It certainly can—and should—be.

For example, Christians believe that God created the universe. That is an act of faith. Hebrews 11:3 says “By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.” Yet, that does not mean this belief is objectively “blind”. No one was there to see how the world came about. Those who believe the universe came into existence by purely natural forces are also exercising a degree of faith, since they were not there to see it either. Neither truth claim can be objectively proven to be true. But, there are reasons why one might believe a particular view over another. The question is, do Christians have any reasons to support their claim? The answer is that indeed they do.

As I have talked with skeptics and unbelievers, it becomes clear that many of them have such a limited understanding of what the Bible actually teaches or why Christians believe what they do that any real discussion about it is impossible. I remember when I was young and still pretty naive in my faith I would get very troubled by some of the arguments against Christianity. Only after I looked into it for myself and took the time to think through my faith did I become more grounded in the reasoning behind it.

I have tried on this blog and in my pastoral teaching to help people wrestle with the tough questions about the Bible and Christianity. I have regularly resisted the idea that Christian faith is to be naive and nothing but a leap in the dark. That’s not true for me, and I don’t want it to be true for others. A faith that is tested with hard questions and critical thought is what I’m after, and what I want to help forge in others.

My point in all of this is to encourage critical thinking among individuals and thoughtful dialogue among those who disagree. Hearing both Christians and non-Christians throw around the same old ad hominem attacks or straw-man arguments is tedious to say the least. There needs to be more respect among those who disagree and careful, honest conversation between them. Rather than dismissing one another with a wave of the hand, we should pursue the truth with an attitude of civility. I would very much like to be a part in helping that kind of thing happen more often.

He Didn’t Shoot

Only a few weeks after the horrific bus crash that saw an entire hockey team collide with a transport truck, my homeland of Canada is reeling again after a tragedy of a different kind. Yesterday a man intentionally drove a van into the busy sidewalk on Yonge St. in downtown Toronto and careened through the crowd of helpless pedestrians, killing at least ten and injuring 15 more. It is yet another disturbing example of mass assault by vehicle that has slowly become a more common form of inflicting crowd violence. The story is still developing and details are coming in, but one thing that is catching some noteworthy attention is the fact that the driver was arrested on the scene.

We are used to incidents of crowd violence by now (sadly), but those stories almost always end with the perpetrator dead by self-inflicted wound or in a shootout with police. In this instance, however, the suspect was subdued unharmed. When I first read that the suspect was in custody instead of being dead, it piqued my interest. That’s weird, I thought. Then not long after, video footage of the arrest surfaced on the internet.

Rather than a swat team surrounding the driver, only one officer is seen confronting the suspect. They have a standoff 20 feet away from each other that is unlike anything I have ever seen before. The officer, with weapon drawn, shouts at the driver to “get down”, while the man repeatedly yells back that he has a gun, dares the officer to shoot him, and even gestures that he has pulled something out of his pocket and aims it at the officer repeatedly (you can’t tell from the video if it is a gun or not). Even still, the officer doesn’t panic and eventually takes the man down to make the arrest.

I don’t intend to make a political statement here, but in this era of public debate over the use of force by police, this incident is sure to be a game-changer. That officer had every right to shoot, and no one would have blamed him one bit. If a maniac just ran over 25 people, got out of his vehicle and started pointing anything remotely resembling a gun at an officer who had no backup and was standing only a few feet away…who could question if the officer pulled the trigger?

I’m not sure what to make of this encounter. I haven’t seen any follow up yet on this standoff, but be sure that more info is coming. As I watched the scene, I had chills up my spine. I’m not sure if the officer is just incredibly well-trained, could see that the man was bluffing, had a gut instinct that worked out in his favour, or just has some serious courage, but I’m 99% sure that in that situation I would shoot. I’m not risking that my wife become a widow and my children grow up fatherless because I over-estimated how much patience to exercise with a crazy and dangerous man.

If I were to be honest, I am really touched by this incident. I’m not even exactly sure what it is. All I know for sure is that the officer had zero intention of shooting the man if he didn’t absolutely have to, even after he made an advance at him in the street. This is one powerful example of peace overcoming violence.

I am not at all suggesting that police officers don’t have the right to defend themselves. It’s just the opposite. They do have that right, and if any officer ever had the right to fire away, it was that lone cop standing in the middle of Yonge Street. Everything was gearing towards a violent takedown. And yet it wasn’t.

It might seem strange to say, but in some ways that incident reminds me of God’s love for me. In my own wickedness, I am hostile to God. I am confronting him with taunts and weapons drawn. I’m asking for a fight, and although he could take me down if he wanted, and would have every right to do so, he doesn’t. I may be willing to shoot at him, but he’s not willing to shoot at me. That’s the essence of the cross. Jesus comes among sinners who hate him, and rather than defend himself, he lays down his life. He moves in on us, his enemies, not to start a fight but to bring peace. And he does it at great cost to himself.

It is a healthy reminder that I am not worthy of God’s love or forgiveness. I’m not worthy of him offering terms of peace. I stand before him guilty as charged and worthy of his wrath. But to think that he would spare me, and move in on me with love, is a thought that I wish I appreciated more greatly. After being a Christian for a while, you begin to forget how powerful the miracle of salvation is—that GOD would show his love in that while we were yet sinners, Christ would die for us.

Forgiveness. Peace. Salvation. We can’t earn it, and we sure don’t deserve it. But he offers it. And for that I am eternally grateful.

Jesus is a Threat

Some people are more honest than others in their rejection of Christianity. In his book Ends and Means, Aldous Huxley gives some insight into his atheism with shocking openness. He says,

“I had motives for not wanting the world to have a meaning; and consequently assumed that it had none, and was able without any difficulty to find satisfying reasons for this assumption. The philosopher who finds no meaning in the world is not concerned exclusively with a problem in pure metaphysics. He is also concerned to prove that there is no valid reason why he personally should not do as he wants to do. For myself, as no doubt for most of my friends, the philosophy of meaninglessness was essentially an instrument of liberation from a certain system of morality. We objected to the morality because it interfered with our sexual freedom. The supporters of this system claimed that it embodied the meaning – the Christian meaning, they insisted – of the world. There was one admirably simple method of confuting these people and justifying ourselves in our erotic revolt: we would deny that the world had any meaning whatever….Most ignorance is vincible ignorance. We don’t know because we don’t want to know. It is our will that decides how and upon what subjects we shall use our intelligence. Those who detect no meaning in the world generally do so because, for one reason or another, it suits their books that the world should be meaningless…”

Huxley rejected God not because he didn’t understand the reasoning behind theism or because he thought atheism was more logical. Instead, he admittedly rejects it because it is more convenient to do so. Huxley rightly recognizes that belief in God has consequences. It means that life does have a higher meaning than the pure pursuit of animalistic urges, that we are accountable to a higher Judge, and that our actions and goals in life are not to be set by ourselves. Belief in God necessarily opens the door to divine accountability, and since he didn’t want any part of that, he simply chose to reject God altogether.

This is some brutal honesty. Few people would be willing to confess that their beliefs are shaped not on an unbiased search for truth, but rather a desire to have sex with anyone you want without fear of guilt. While some might think Huxley a little nuts to talk like this, it actually makes perfect sense given his atheist worldview.

Huxley specifically mentions “Christianity” as the worldview he dismisses because of the moral obligations that come from believing in Christ. Not many non-Christians I talk to would cite their own moral whims or willful ignorance as the main grounds for rejecting Jesus, but I suppose there is more of the Aldous Huxley spirit out there than is apparent on the surface. Any belief, religious or not, is easily dismissible once you determine it can’t even be an option. Personal bias and the protection of personal autonomy will easily override a genuine search for truth because it is more convenient to do so.

I will at least commend Huxley on this point: he evidently had some grasp of Christianity that was pretty accurate. Many people these days try to take the Jesus of the Bible and form him into some kind of modern-guru that is more culturally acceptable than the crucified and risen Son of God who atoned for human sin. Additionally, many churches have adopted a more secularized brand of Christianity in an effort to remain relevant to the broader public, hanging onto Jesus but ditching all the religious baggage that doesn’t fit with the times. Huxley, to his credit, wasn’t willing to do that. He kept Jesus more or less intact, although he still rejected him on shaky grounds.

The point is this: in our pursuit of truth, we must be willing to follow the evidence where it leads no matter the cost to our personal lives. Discovering the truth can mean that our whole worldview needs to be uprooted and replaced. It might mean that what we have built our entire lives on turns out to be a bad foundation and we have to start all over. Few are willing to even consider that an option, so we close off some doors of possibility and never really give the facts a fair chance. In these “post-truth” times, more than ever, we need to check our personal bias at the door.

I have tried, albeit imperfectly, to do this very thing. I still find myself a follower of Jesus even though he is like a wrecking ball in my life, destroying some of the idols I hold dear. Being a Christian is by no means convenient. It requires a complete surrender of one’s life to God. My ambitions become his, even though there are times I’d rather not have it be that way. Such is the reality of adapting to the truth rather than it to you. There is personal demolition, and then rebirth. In the case of following Christ, as I can personally attest, it is worth it.

Noise! Noise!

And then! Oh, the noise! Oh, the Noise! Noise! Noise! Noise!
That’s one thing he hated! The NOISE! NOISE! NOISE! NOISE!

   -Dr. Seuss, How the Grinch Stole Christmas

The sound of Christmas singing and holiday cheer was nothing but an unwelcome racket to someone as cranky as the Grinch. A creature of solitude, he wanted simply to be left alone in peace and quiet to wallow in his own misery. However, the Christmas hullabaloo down below in Whoville inevitably echoed up the mountainside every year to hassle the old grump, leaving him unable to keep the life of undisturbed silence he would angrily fight for.

This week I discovered that the Grinch and I have something in common. No, it doesn’t have anything to do with hating Christmas, stealing from people, or being green. Rather, like the Grinch, I’m slowly become more aware of the noise around me. Or, perhaps, it’s more like I’m getting annoyed by the noise around me. Being a relatively young man (31) and in the throes of raising a family with three small children, life is busy. There is always something to do, and the task list grows faster than my ability to check things off. There are meetings, errands, home care, shopping, feeding, bathing kids, and of course the crazy teenagers I spend every Tuesday and Wednesday night with at youth group. Life often just seems LOUD.

I’ll admit I need to give credit to my friend Ryan for showing me this, although he never meant to. Ryan is suffering from stage 4 GBM (brain cancer) and is no longer receiving treatment. He and I go out usually every week to grab a coffee and hang out, or just run a quick errand here and there. Our visits tend not to last very long, however, since Ryan’s condition often leads to what he calls “brain fatigue”, which is basically a sensory overload that makes it hard for him to concentrate. In order to try and make the most of our time together, we try to strategically avoid too much stimulation that would unnecessarily drain his energy. This has slowly opened my eyes to just how freaking noisy the world around us really is.

When I pick Ryan up, I make sure to turn off the radio. I turn down the blower in my car too because it makes a subtle ticking noise. If we go for coffee, we can usually get a good 45 minutes in of conversation. Yet I can’t help but notice the music over the speakers, the loud coffee grinder churning away, the sliding doors opening and closing constantly, and the clanging of grocery carts as a worker collects them in the foyer. Not to mention just the general noise of chatter and the hustle and bustle of people around us.

Wal-Mart is the absolute worst for this. We only go there if we have to. It is sensory overload to the max. Bright fluorescent lights, the sound of a few hundred shoppers, and colours and signs everywhere you look. Even the “fast” checkout is overload, with it’s 30 foot long racks of magazines, candy, and random trinkets. Then when you finally get near the front of the line, a loud computerized voice yells out, “Please go to cashier number 7!”. Once there, the cashier will scan your items one at a time. Have you ever bothered to listen to how loud that beep is? Even walking through the parking lot you are met with people all around pushing noisy carts across the bumpy pavement and cars with garbage mufflers circling around looking for parking spots.

As I’ve thought about this a little, it’s obvious we are inundated with noise at virtually every moment of every day. We consume hours worth of television, music, and cell phone apps/alerts/conversations from dawn to dusk. We go to work on a construction site with machinery banging all around, or in a bustling office with keyboards clicking and printers humming non-stop. No matter where we turn, our ears are pummelled relentlessly with vibrations both big and small that no doubt affect us more than we likely appreciate.

If you think you’re life isn’t very loud, just try sitting in a quiet place by yourself without doing anything. Do it for three minutes. After the first minute it will start to feel weird. You’ll begin to have the sense like you should be doing something or you need some “background noise” at the very least. It’s almost like we can’t function without noise. The world is noisy in general, but we exacerbate the problem by piling on. We would, like the Grinch, begin to cry out for the NOISE NOISE to stop, except that we’ve pretty much gotten used to it.

So what’s the big deal? Well, Scripture says that God speaks to us in a “still, small voice” (1 Kings 19:12, NKJV). While God does sometimes shout to get our attention, and in the Bible he often speaks with a voice like thunder, it seems more common that God’s voice comes like a whisper in the moments of silence. If this is true, then we are probably not hearing much of God in our lives because there’s simply too much NOISE.

I have felt closest to God when I have a regular pattern of quiet time with the Lord, reading Scripture, praying, and quietly singing a song. When I neglect this practice and allow the noise of life to overwhelm me, I begin to lose the sense of intimacy with him. And no wonder! How am I supposed to hear the sound of his still, small voice when I won’t bother to turn down the volume and even listen?

Friends, we do ourselves a great disservice when we refuse to find moments of quiet with God. The hustle and bustle of life is inevitable, but will eventually lead to serious burnout and a lack of God’s voice in our lives if left unattended. We need to develop the habits of slowing down, unplugging from all the technology, putting our to-do list aside, and just sitting in a quiet place for no other reason than just to unwind and meet with God. Nothing re-charges the soul quite like being immersed in his presence. It’s simply too important for us to ignore.

Jesus Is Alive, And That Ain’t No Joke!

This year Easter landed on April fools day, a rare occurrence that is set to happen again 11 years from now. For Christians, the coincidence is looked on with a bit of humour, spawning a few comical memes such as this one:

For skeptics, it’s an opportunity to poke fun at the Christian faith, seeing believers as gullible morons on par with the goof who falls for an April fools day prank.

But despite the sillyness of April fools day, the claims of the Christian faith are no joke. At the core of Christianity is the claim that Jesus Christ is the Son of God who died for sins and then bodily rose from dead three days later. This is the heart of the gospel, and without these elements Christianity completely falls apart.

Even the Bible admits this. 1 Corinthians 15:12-19 lays out some of the consequences if the resurrection of Christ did not really happen.

“But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either.17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.”

If resurrection is truly impossible, it means:

  • Jesus was never raised from the dead
  • Those who say he did are lying about God
  • No one will ever be raised from the dead
  • Everyone who dies simply perishes and there is no hope of eternal life
  • Having faith is a complete waste of time
  • Your sins are not forgiven
  • Living a Christian life is only going to affect this life, which means we are complete fools who should be pitied for wasting their lives on a lie

These are big time consequences. If Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, Christianity is not only a complete lie but it is a giver of false hope based on utter deception. I take these things seriously. I do not take my faith lightly and I would reject it in a heartbeat if I felt there was good reason to. Why am I wasting my time in prayer, resisting sin, making myself look like an idiot to half the world by preaching Christ, and leading people down a path that is not actually going to make any difference in their afterlife? I DON’T WANT TO DO THAT. I sincerely mean it. It would be so much easier for me to quit being a pastor, quit being a Christian, and live a “normal” life like most other people. I could make decent money, not be looked at like a weirdo, and just enjoy life. But instead I commit myself Jesus, a man I have never seen with my own eyes, heard with my own ears, or touched with my own hands. Am I completely nuts?

I have seriously considered these things. Some people are just religious because they were raised that way but never really question it or grapple with the implications. But I have, and still I cannot walk away from Christianity. And the reason is because I believe there is sound reasons to believe that Jesus really did rise from the dead and that this whole crazy thing is true.

Put aside any personal feelings, either positive or negative, and just look at the facts.

Fact #1 – Jesus was a real, historical figure

Only a tiny minority of scholars with any credibility believe that Jesus was a ghost from the past. Almost every single reputable historian recognizes that there was a man from Nazareth named Jesus who caused quite a stir about 2,000 years ago.

Fact #2 – Jesus died by Roman crucifixion

Again, every reputable piece of historical evidence confirms that Jesus died on a cross by government execution. Muslims reject this idea but have no evidence to back it up. All of the historical accounts about Jesus that are reliable and close in proximity to the events confirm his death on the cross.

Fact #3 – Jesus’ tomb was empty on the third day, and his body was never recovered

Once again, every shred of historical evidence confirms that Jesus’ dead body was missing from his tomb and was never discovered again.

Fact #4 – Hundreds of people were convinced they saw Jesus resurrected

It would be one thing for a couple of people to claim to have seen Jesus risen from the dead, because then you could just chalk it up to them being whacko.  But instead that number is at least in the hundreds. People came forward in droves claiming to have seen Jesus alive again despite (a) the risk of sounding like an idiot, (b) Jews didn’t even believe in bodily resurrection, (c) associating oneself with a condemned man was likely to result in personal danger, (d) there was nothing to gain from lying about it. Not to mention that these claims were never refuted. Some suggest is was hallucination, yet at least one appearance involved roughly 500 people at the same time. Hallucinations are always personal events, not crowd-shared experiences.

Fact #5 – Christianity exploded despite great persecution against it

Immediately following these events, followers of Christ multiplied and spread like wildfire. This makes absolutely no sense unless hundreds of people saw Christ with their own eyes and spread the news. Both the Romans and the Jews aimed to shut down the movement by force but were unsuccessful. How could a tiny group of people multiply in thousands in just a few weeks unless something remarkable had caused it?

Fact #6 – There are no reasonable explanations for these facts other than a real, literal resurrection.

Many have tried to explain away the resurrection, but as far as I can see, no one has supplied a historically supported, reasonable, sufficient alternative explanation. Many have tried, but all have failed.

Jesus didn’t exist? Historical data is more convincing that he did than almost any figure of the past, bar none.

Jesus was never crucified? Literally no source close to the events makes that assertion.

Jesus only passed out on the cross? He was beaten, nailed, stabbed in the heart by professional executioners, then left in a cold tomb for three days with no medical attention. He was dead.

The disciples stole his body? Good luck pulling that off with the tomb under Roman guard. Not to mention that doesn’t explain his post-mortem appearaces.

People hallucinated? Not by the hundreds they didn’t.

The disciples simply lied and gullible people believed them? Considering that the cost of believing that lie meant certain persecution, no one would do it without VERY CONVINCING reasons.

In short, the most logical (albeit supernatural) explanation of the data is that Jesus really did rise from the dead, and that’s why the most unstoppable movement in the history of the world began. I cannot believe anything else without recognizing that I’m sticking my head in the sand and ignoring the facts.

Either the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the most remarkable, elaborate, well-orchestrated, and wide-scale hoax in the history of the world, or it’s just simply the truth. It actually takes more faith the believe it’s a lie than to believe it’s true.

Some people have said that they would believe it only if they saw it with their own eyes. But I think that’s nonsense. We put people in jail all the time without anyone having seen them commit the crime. This is because circumstantial evidence is often overwhelming enough to believe something happened without having been there to see it. Such is the case with Christ. The circumstantial evidence surrounding the resurrection is so powerful that anyone with an unbiased eye looking at the information must come to the same conclusion. But alas, we are not unbiased people, and believing in a risen Jesus requires a leap into the supernatural as well as consequences about things like the meaning of life, morality, the afterlife, and so forth. Many people see what a resurrected Jesus would mean to their lives and deem it not profitable, so they invent rationale to reject him. But one day I fear that the joke will end up on them.

All I ask you to do is truly consider the facts. Follow the evidence where it leads, no matter the cost. That’s what a true seeker of the truth is willing to do. Are you?

Stephen Hawking and the Design of the Universe

Stephen Hawking died last week at the age of 76 after long outliving his life expectancy as someone diagnosed with ALS at just 21 years old. He is and will be regarded as one of the greatest minds of his generation for his work in physics and many remarkable insights into the intricacies of outer space.  It is no small feat that he achieved so much in his lifetime despite the limitations of a life-changing illness.

I have reflected some on his death over the past days, and on my own impending death as well, something I find myself doing frequently. The fact that one day I will close my eyes and end my time on earth is a truly sobering reality, and I think we do ourselves a disservice when we distract ourselves from thinking about this fate that awaits every one of us.

While Stephen Hawking deserves much admiration for aspects of his life, I cannot help but feel a deep sense of disappointment. Hawking made no qualms that he was an atheist, and as far as I’m aware, died holding firmly to such a belief. This grieves me greatly. Without a doubt, Hawking possessed a brilliant mind which understood things about our universe which I can’t even hope to grasp. He is intellectually head and shoulders above me and just about everyone else, yet he tragically denied the most obvious truth that was staring him right in the face.

Hawking is quoted as saying:

“We are each free to believe what we want, and it’s my view that the simplest explanation is; there is no god. No one created our universe, and no one directs our fate. This leads me to a profound realization; There is probably no heaven, and no afterlife either. We have this one life to appreciate the grand design of the universe, and for that I am extremely grateful.”

He is right that we each can believe what we want to believe. That, however, does not affect wether or not what we believe is actually true. People believe all kinds of things that are not true to their own detriment. My contention is that Hawking was in such a position concerning the most important subject one can think of.

Hawking denied the existence of God. This is not surprising, since many people are atheists. But it is tragic, because as someone who had such profound exposure to the workings of the universe, he should have known better. In the quote above, Hawking says we should “appreciate the grand design of the universe”. Indeed! But what is ironic is the use of the word design. Hawking looked to the skies and saw design—and no wonder! Our universe is packed full of fantastic displays of power and complexity and beauty and interconnectedness that are enough to baffle the mind. There is clear and obvious design. What should also therefore be just as clear is that design necessitates the existence of a designer.

We take this principle for granted in every other phase of life. We look at a motor and see the way all the parts function together and assume someone made it to work that way. We drive past a farmhouse in the countryside and assume someone built that home. We see an airplane flying overhead and assume a pilot is flying a machine put together by intelligent people. Everywhere we look we see the markings of design and assume a designer is behind it. Yet there are many who see the obvious workings of design within the natural universe and do not assume a designer is behind it.

Psalm 19:1 says “the heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork”. Few statements in Scripture are more obviously true than this. Virtually every human being has had the experience of looking up into the night sky, seeing all the heavenly hosts up there shining in all their brilliance, and having their breath taken away. It is one of those moments that transcend the day-to-day doldrums we usually live in and we realize we are part of something so much bigger than ourselves.

While every person knows this, men such as Stephen Hawking have an even greater sense of the awe of the universe. His academic work proves he spent much time reflecting on the greatness of the universe and what makes it “tick”. He himself was “grateful” to have been one small part of this “grand design”. Yet this is not completely true. If he was grateful, I may ask, grateful to whom? Did he mean just a sense of good fortune to have existed and not a special indebtedness to a personal designer?

Herein lies fatal blow to every atheist. We all know the universe screams forth “design”. We all feel some sense of thankfulness to exist and be a part of this living drama. Yet far too many refuse to take the next step and acknowledge a transcendent designer to whom we can show our gratitude. The heavens declare “the glory of God”. We are not to just look up at the sky and marvel, only to walk away and go back to our human existence. We are to marvel and then express that awe to the Creator. The heavens are glorious not for their own sake, but to express the glory of the One who made them. God deserves the glory, and I can think of no greater offense than to see the obvious beauty and power of God’s work and then give credit to random chance for it.

Hawking is right. People can believe whatever they want. But they cannot believe whatever they want without consequence. Though God’s existence is plainly obvious to every human being through the things he has made (Romans 1:19-20), many refuse to acknowledge him. This is not because of a lack of evidence, but because of a resistance to the implications of a God existing. If there is a God, what would that mean? It would mean we are accountable to him, that we are indebted to him, and that he rules and governs our lives. Not many people like that idea, so they reject God. And they do so to their peril.

My contention is to agree with Hawking completely on one point and disagree with him completely on another. I agree that people can believe what they want, and that our existence in the grand design of the universe is remarkable and worthy of gratitude. What I disagree with is that the story ends there. It is only the beginning of a journey that can lead to knowing God through a genuine pursuit of the truth. My hope is that you, dear reader, would at least consider for a moment that the smartest man of our generation may have missed the most obvious and life-changing truth that was looking back at him from the other end of his telescope. I pray that you would not do the same.

Why I’m Pro-Life

Few subjects stir up a hornets nest like that of abortion. My goal here is not to start a fight, but to provide a point-by-point analysis of the pro-life position from my own vantage point. With any luck, it will be of interest or help to someone. The subject matter is certainly important enough to warrant significant discussion.

The short version is this: I am pro-life because I believe abortion is murder. That is a significant charge, and I do not make it lightly. It is estimated that about 60 million abortions have been performed in the United States since the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973. That figure does not include the additional number of abortions that have taken place worldwide. Therefore, when I say that abortion is murder, I am quite literally calling millions of people murderers, or accomplices to murder. I would not, and should not, say such things without warrant. But it is absolutely essential to understand why pro-lifers are so stubborn in their rejection of abortion. It is not because they lack compassion for women who are in difficult situations that abortion could supposedly improve. Rather, it is because the practice of abortion is seen to be morally evil and therefore efforts to oppose it are valid.

So, is there actually any evidence to the charge? What makes abortion murder?

I believe abortion is murder because the evidence is convincing that what exists in the womb of a pregnant woman is a human being. That is really the crux of the matter. If the embryo is just a clump of cells void of personhood, then the woman can do whatever she wants with it. But if the embryo is a human being, then the woman must afford it human rights. This is true regardless what the government says. Morality is true apart from legislation. Even though I live in a democracy that does not see an unborn baby as necessarily human, I reject that decision as wrong. There are many reasons why.

You might expect my arguments for the personhood of unborn babies to be religious, and indeed I do have a number of arguments along those lines from the Christian Bible to which I ascribe. However, because not all people see the Scriptures as authoritative, I would start by pointing to science to show the personhood of the unborn. Believers and unbelievers alike both regard science as a useful tool for determining truth, so let’s begin there.

In his book Embryo: A Defense of Human Life, Robert P. George says the following:

“Human embryos are not, that is to say, some other type of animal organism, like a dog or cat. Neither are they a part of an organism, like a heart, a kidney, or a skin cell. Nor again are they a disorganized aggregate, a mere clump of cells awaiting some magical transformation. Rather, a human embryo is a whole living member of the species Homo sapiens in the earliest stage of his or her natural development. Unless severely damaged, or denied or deprived of a suitable environment, a human being in the embryonic stage will, by directing its own integral organic functioning, develop himself or herself to the next more mature developmental stage, i.e., the fetal stage. The embryonic, fetal, child, and adolescent stages are stages in the development of a determinate and enduring entity—a human being—who comes into existence as a single–celled organism (the zygote) and develops, if all goes well, into adulthood many years later.

But does this mean that the human embryo is a human person worthy of full moral respect? Must the early embryo never be used as a mere means for the benefit of others simply because it is a human being? The answer that this book proposes and defends with philosophical arguments through the course of the next several chapters is ‘Yes.'”

In other words, even from the point of conception, the unborn is not a different species from human beings. Also, it is not part of the mother, like an internal organ. It is, rather, a human being, albeit one at the earliest possible stage of development—but it is human nonetheless. From the very moment of conception, an embryo contains all of the DNA necessary to create human life; DNA which, by the way, is distinct from the mother’s DNA. From very early stages, the fetus begins to show the obvious signs of personhood. A heartbeat can be detected as early as 6 weeks, as can brain waves. Author Randy Alcorn notes,

“What do we call it when a person no longer has a heart beat or brain waves? Death. What should we call it when there is a heartbeat and there are brain waves? Life. It is an indisputable scientific fact that each and every legal surgical abortion…stops a beating heart and stops already measurable brain waves.”

Within the first 8 weeks of gestation, the embryo will already have every part of it’s body that will ever come into being. All it needs at that point is more time for more formation. The invention of the ultrasound and the advances of medical technology to understand fetal development has done much to demonstrate the personhood of the unborn. There is a reason that women getting abortions often don’t wish to see their baby on an ultrasound screen. Seeing the baby personalizes it, and no wonder!

Can We Know For Sure?

Some will counter these arguments by saying it is impossible to know when life truly begins. Even though many (or all) of the features of life are present, the baby still hasn’t taken it’s first breath, and the exact moment of personhood is unknown or at least uncertain. Does this objection stand to criticism?

I do not believe so. Simply put, if we are not certain when the moment of life truly begins…wouldn’t the most humane thing to do be to err on the side of caution? Consider this analogy. The New York Times reported in December of 2017 that a man accidentally shot and killed a woman while hunting, having mistaken her for an animal. He was charged with second-degree manslaughter. But why? Wasn’t it just an accident? Yes, but the guilt remains, because when a human life is at stake, you are morally obligated to exercise caution. If not, we send you to jail. Yet this principle, so clear in such a case like this, is somehow absent when speaking of the unborn. Even if one wanted to argue that we don’t really know when life begins, we are morally obligated to play it safe. Human life is not to be toyed with.

The incoherence of the pro-choice definition of life is further illustrated with a 2014 story out of the U.K. Scott Bollig was charged with murder when he secretly gave his pregnant girlfriend an abortifacient leading to the miscarriage of their baby. In one sense this seems odd: is the fetus a human worthy of life protection or not? The charge of murder indicated that the law recognizes a human life was taken. However, if the woman would have gone into an abortion clinic and had the baby removed via procedure, or taken the pills voluntarily, it’s apparently all good. What?

Similarly, women can be charged for murder if they attempt suicide (but fail) while pregnant leading to the baby’s death, or if they attempt to induce abortions in a way that is not legally authorized. But why? I thought women could do whatever they want with their own bodies? That’s because it is NOT the woman’s body. The unborn might be in the woman’s body, but it is not the woman’s body. The two are not the same. The law seems to recognize this in some cases, but not when it is more convenient to kill the baby. This inconsistency of identifying the unborn as a human with rights or not demonstrates the insanity of failing to recognize human life of being worthy of dignity at all stages.

There are other objections to the humanness of the unborn that pro-choicers raise. Some mention the viability of the fetus as the defining characteristic of life. If a baby is not viable outside it’s mothers womb, then should it really be afforded the rights of human life? My answer is yes. Since when does viability determine the personhood of a human being? A person on life support is still a human being with rights, even though they would not be able to survive apart from intervention—ie, they are not technically viable. If the viability of the fetus determines its humanness, then by transferring that principle I ought to be able to walk into a hospital and stab any person in a coma in the chest and not be guilty of murder. Just because that person has lived outside of the womb for a while does nothing to change the status of their right to life. Even the most helpless of human beings are still fully human.

Doesn’t the Woman’s Rights Trump the Unborn’s Rights?

There are some pro-choicers who will admit that abortion is killing a human life. This, however, does not sway them towards the pro-life position since they feel that it is a matter of the rights of the woman trumping that of the baby. John Piper recounts an experience along these lines:

“Many simply say it is the lesser of two evils. I took an abortionist out to lunch once, prepared to give him ten reasons why the unborn are human beings. He stopped me, and said, ‘I know that. We are killing children.’ I was stunned. He said, ‘It’s simply a matter of justice for women. It would be a greater evil to deny women the equal right of reproductive freedom.'”

This seems to be a more prominent argument these days, since the invention of the ultrasound has done much to undermine the “it’s not a baby” argument. So what are we to make of this claim: should women be able to have an abortion based on rights? Do their rights trump that of the unborn?

I see no reason why they should. On what grounds ought they? Is it because the woman has a voice while the unborn does not? Certainly that is not a sufficient reason for access to human rights. Is it because the fetus is growing inside the woman’s body, and therefore she has the right to do whatever she pleases? We have already seen that the fetus may be in the woman’s body, but it is NOT the woman’s body. It is not an organ that can be freely removed like an appendix. Nor is it some form of animal parasite that can be dispelled with. Check the DNA: human. The woman may be free to make choices with her body, but she should not be free to make choices about other people’s bodies, such as the one growing in her womb. As mentioned earlier, in some cases even the law agrees with this, considering it murder given the right circumstances. So it apparently is murder for a woman to try and remove a fetus using a coat hanger, but not if she goes to see a doctor who uses tools in a clinic. What this means is that abortion is simply controlled murder. It is government sanctioned, clinically performed murder.

Some might argue that since the fetus is in the woman, she does have some right over it. After all, it affects her body. But that logic doesn’t necessarily transfer to other situations. All a fetus is guilty of is dependance. It requires resources from the mother to survive. In no other scenario where a person is dependent on another person to live would we permit the caregiver to take the life of the dependent, so why do we here?

For a quirky example, consider conjoined twins. Does one twin have the right to do whatever they want, regardless of the will of the other? After all, it is her body! The answer is no, because there is another who is dependent on her body for life. Separation of conjoined twins is only done when it will lead to the likelihood their lives—either one or both—are preserved, but abortion is the exact opposite. In any case, it is obvious that a conjoined twin does not have autonomous rights over their own body because of the way it affects another person. Why do we treat a pregnant woman differently?

What About Rape or Mortal Danger to the Mother?

It is often put forth that women should be able to have abortions if she has been raped, or if continuing with the pregnancy would put the mother’s life at risk. Admittedly, these are more complicated issues. But in reality, no one supports abortion for those reasons. Less than 5% of abortions take place for these reasons, while the other 95% are mainly based on convenience. So consider this as a hypothetical. What if the entire pro-life crowd got together and agreed that abortion can remain legal in instances of rape or life-threatening circumstances, but would be illegal in all other instances? Would that satisfy the pro-choice crowd? Of course not. The reason is that their call for abortion has nothing to do with those extreme and rare situations. It is all about power of choice. So that argument is really nothing more than a false front.

Yeah, But Pro-Lifers Don’t Care About Babies After They Are Born

It is obvious that if abortions were to end overnight, the number of babies born into challenging situations would be immense. Obviously many women get pregnant in less-than-ideal circumstances, and abortion is a convenient way out. But if the unborn really are human beings with rights, as I have demonstrated, then that should not be an option.

As a pro-lifer, I hear all the time that I’m not really “pro-life”, but that I’m actually “anti-abortion”. After the baby is born, it is suggested, pro-lifers don’t care what happens to the kid. This is suggested to be the case because many pro-lifers have a high correlation to the same people who discourage socialism, food stamps, the welfare system, etc. It is assumed that pro-life is only really an option for the upper-middle class.

I won’t pretend to say that caring for children who are born into less-than-ideal circumstances is easy, or that all pro-lifers do everything they can to help. But the statistics say that Christians are more than twice as likely to adopt as non-religious people, are virtually the sole financial supporters of local crisis pregnancy centres, and that religious people are the most charitable people group in North America. This is not meant to be a “toot-my-own-horn” moment. Christians, myself included, can always do more to show care and concern for people in hard places. But the point is that many pro-lifers (of which Christian and other religious people make up a large majority) DO put forth an effort to care for their fellow man.

Besides, just because a person may not personally adopt an unwanted baby does not mean they cannot stand against abortion. An individuals ability to affect change does not determine their moral compass. It’s like accusing a pro-choicer of hypocrisy because they say people should have access to clean water but have never hopped on a plane and flown to Uganda to dig a well. People can want things to be a certain way even if they have limited personal capacity to make it so without being a hypocrite.

The Bottom Line

Here’s the sum of the matter. It is obvious to me that pro-life is the only logical, moral, and scientifically-supported position when it comes to the matter of abortion. Even though I am a highly religious person, I have not made even one appeal to religion to make my case! One does not need to because the evidence is irrefutable. Abortion is murder, plain and simple.

The reason many people are pro-choice is not based on scientific or logical grounds. It is based on personal convenience. The pro-choice crowd does not really even bother to disguise this. It’s MY body! You can’t tell me what to do! I have rights! I never asked for this! It is a position based on self-centredness to the core.

But I do have good news for pro-choicers. Heck, I have great news! Even though you are supporting murder, and even though you may yourself have participated in murder, God loves you. He loves you and wants to redeem you from your sin and give you new life and new hope and new eyes to see things differently. He wants to change your story and create a different ending, one where you experience his love and share that love with others. He wants to remove the heart of rebellion and selfishness that exists and give you a tender heart of compassion for others. And if you have had an abortion yourself, I believe he wants to reunite you with your child on the other side of death. That can happen through faith in Jesus Christ, who offers forgiveness for all and eternal life. That isn’t just true for pro-choicers, but for pro-lifers too. We need redemption and forgiveness just as much as anyone else.

What makes Jesus so fantastic is that his life is literally the opposite of an abortion. Abortion says “you die for me”, but Jesus says “I’ll die for you”. Christ took the place of sinners on the cross and shed his blood for the forgiveness of our sins, and that is a free gift he offers to all men who will call on him for salvation.

Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved (Acts 16:31)

I want that for you, for all. I want the salvation of souls more than I want to be right about this debate. I am praying that someone reading this article might come to Christ. Nothing would make me happier.

Remember Lot’s Wife

A new year is upon us and it is a good time for reflecting on our lives. The Bible speaks about the Christian life like it is a journey we are on; a race to be run, a path to follow, or a pilgrimage to be made. In our resolve to follow Christ, we are travelling from one place to another, moving away from our sinful selves and towards faith and godliness. As believers, we will make this journey for the rest of our lives until we arrive through the gates of death into our heavenly home.

This is the context of Jesus’ teaching in Luke 17:20-37, where he is speaking about the coming of God’s kingdom to earth. It will be sudden—therefore, be ready! The Lord could return at any time, or each one of us could be living our last day before tragedy strikes, and thus we should live accordingly. We ought to have our priorities in line with being a follower of Christ, and especially around New Year’s it is helpful to think about the direction our lives are headed.

It is in this chunk of text that the second-shortest verse in the whole Bible appears. Jesus calls on his listeners to…

Remember Lot’s wife. (Luke 17:32)

So let’s take a moment to do that very thing,

Who Is Lot’s Wife?

Lot was the nephew of Abraham. He was married and had two daughters. Lot and Abraham travelled together towards the Promised Land for some time until eventually Lot and Abraham parted ways. Lot chose to live in the region of Sodom and Gomorrah, while Abraham inherited the Promised Land.

What happens next is well-known. In Genesis 19, God determined that the wickedness of Sodom and Gomorrah has become so severe and vile that he decides to destroy the cities. In mercy, Lot’s family is spared, as God sends angels to take them from the city. “As morning dawned, the angels urged Lot, saying, ‘Up! Take your wife and your two daughters who are here, lest you be swept away in the punishment of the city.’ But he lingered. So the men seized him and his wife and his two daughters by the hand, the LORD being merciful to him, and they brought him out and set him outside the city.”

Moments later, the Lord hurls fire and brimstone out of the sky and completely incinerates the two towns in a striking display of God’s power and disdain for sin. The angels warn Lot, “Escape for your life. Do not look back or stop anywhere in the valley. Escape to the hills, lest you be swept away.”

But on their flight towards refuge, something happens. “But Lot’s wife, behind him, looked back, and she became a pillar of salt” (Genesis 19:26).

What To Learn From Lot’s Wife

Why would Jesus ask us to “remember Lot’s wife”? What does he intend for us to learn from the story?

Simply put, the problem with Lot’s wife was that she looked back. This doesn’t mean she just turned around to witness the carnage behind her. No, it means she looked back because she wanted to go back. She looked back longingly. Though she set out in a different direction, her heart was not really in it. Deep down, she loved Sodom and Gomorrah. Not the kind of love that cares for people, but the kind of love that enjoys the revelry of sin. The kind of love that is in love with the things of the world.

Lot’s wife may have started her journey, but she looked back, and God judged her as a result. We might think she is foolish to have loved such a wicked and sinful place, but are we really that much different? Do we not feel genuine longing for things that God would have us turn away from? Are we really following the Lord with our whole heart, or do we have certain ways in which we are looking over our shoulder, wishing we could have the Lord’s blessing without needing to give up certain things?

Being a follower of Jesus doesn’t just mean we are headed toward something. It also means we are headed away from other things. Jesus warns, “Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it” (Luke 17:33). When we try to live our Christian lives half-heartedly, or we regret losing that which God calls us away from, we are in danger of repeating the mistake of Lot’s wife. Don’t be fooled into thinking that just because you made a verbal commitment to Jesus that you are really with him on the journey. The question that matters is, where is your heart?

Take It To Heart

When Jesus tells us to “remember Lot’s wife”, he really means it. Recall the story, mull it over, and ponder how it applies to you. I do not think that we are much different from Lot’s wife. There is a part of us all that wants to go back towards our life of sin. Though we don’t necessarily want to give up on Jesus, deep down we wish we could have him without losing cherished sinful desires. But Christianity doesn’t work that way. Either you are escaping the judgment of God that he, in his mercy, provides, or you are making your home among a world to be judged and destroyed.

Do you believe that what God is leading you to is better than anything he would ask you to leave behind? Do you lack faith in God’s plan for your future? As you enter 2018, do you find yourself being drawn to the life you’ve been asked to leave behind? Or are you ready to square your shoulders and walk directly into the place God is taking you to?

It’s a good time for reflection. Take Jesus up on his suggestion. Remember Lot’s wife.

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.