My Favourite Verse About Heaven

My perspective about heaven has changed a lot over the years. When I was young, I pictured it mostly the ways cartoons do: up in the clouds, wearing white robes, flying around with wings. That seemed pleasant enough, albeit kinda boring to a young kid. Later, I began to discover more of what the Bible described heaven to be like. Scripture portrays heaven as a physical place adorned with great wealth. Streets of gold, pearly gates, a huge city and gorgeous garden to enjoy. At the centre of it all is Christ on his throne, engulfed in full glory. Even later, I read Randy Alcorn’s book on heaven and learned that heaven is a place bustling with life. There are things to do, and it will be more like going back to the garden of Eden—building, creating, cultivating a society—than just an eternal worship service.

This progression has helped me to fill out a better and more accurate view of heaven. But over the last year or so, I’ve discovered another dimension to heaven that excites me as much as any other. It is the concept that heaven will be the ultimate experience of perfect freedom.

Here’s one way the Bible puts it. In Malachi 4:2, it says “for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall.”

The first image is that of a healing sunrise. Being from Canada, I am used to long, harsh winters. It can get bitter cold, and the sun is often not even up when you leave for work in the morning and has already set before you leave work to go home. It’s a lot of dark days for a solid 6 months. Like many people, I find this affects my mood. You get bored, lazy, grumpy, stir crazy. There is even a medical term to describe this phenomena: Seasonal Affective Disorder. It is basically a form of depression brought on by the long and gloomy days of winter.

But when spring comes…ah!! Spring! Suddenly you notice the sunrise coming up as you head out the door in the morning. Soon you are driving home before the sun has set. The snow starts to melt, the temperature rises, and the trees start to grow leaves. This experience of new life is so refreshing and encouraging that it almost has a healing element to it. Your mood, energy, and optimism all start to rise. Before long the snow is gone and God’s creation begins to fill with colour again and you can’t help but want to be outside all the time and enjoy the great weather.

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This is a tiny little picture of what heaven will be like. It will be like our entire life on earth was living through a dark, cold winter, and finally spring has sprung. Our spirit will discover new life and the sensation will be so utterly wonderful it can be described as nothing other than healing. Man, what a great analogy!

The second image from Malachi 4:2 is that of a calf leaping out of the stall.

I don’t have much experience with cows. I didn’t grow up on a farm. But I do know a little about dogs. I have a dog who is just 1 year old right now. He’s a little, fluffy furball that is bursting with energy. And, like most dogs, he loves being around people! However, he’s still at a point where we can’t trust him when we leave the house. So, whenever we head out, he has to get put into his kennel.

When we come back home, we always finding him standing in his crate, tail wagging, practically vibrating with anticipation. He wimpers and whines until we go over and open the crate door. And what does he do? He bolts out like a rocket! He tears around the house like a maniac and jumps all over us until we give him the attention he’s craving.

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Our experience of heaven will be like that. It will feel like all this time we had been caged up, and finally we are set free! We will go leaping like a calf let out of the stall! I find that to be an incredibly profound analogy. And honestly, it makes my heart leap a little with joy.

I’m not sure if you can relate, but there are times when life just frustrating. Actually, I feel like life is mainly frustration that is broken up with moments of joy. I always feel like there is more than what I’m experiencing. I feel like I can be a better man, a better husband, a better father, a better friend. I get so annoyed with myself because I know I’m not fully being the person God has created me to be.

And not just that, but it’s like that everywhere you look. This world is not as it should be. Yes, there is beauty. There is happiness. There are meaningful experiences. But overall, you can’t help but just feel angered by the way things are. People all over this world are starving, dying of disease, suffering under oppression, straining and clawing to scratch out a meaningful existence. We fail, we falter, we make mistakes that have negative consequences for ourselves and others around us.

In other words, this world is broken. It’s broken beyond repair. And not only is this world broken, but so am I. And so are you.

The thought that one day all that could be changed—how amazing is that? That hate would be replaced with love, darkness with light, despair with hope. That struggle and suffering would be lifted and replaced with enjoyment and satisfaction. That I no longer would feel like things shouldn’t be this way, but instead feel like this is the way things were always meant to be! That is heaven!

It won’t just be our environment that changes. More importantly, it will be us. I will finally be free from myself. Free from my own sinfulness, my own stupidity, my own selfishness, my own disease, and made whole. I will be able to be who God created me to be. His glory will shine full strength in my life, because it will no longer be marred by my own sin. And we will be able to see that fully realized in each other, and then enjoy that forever together. And Christ will get all the glory. Wow!

I do feel like I’m living in a cage, like I’m trapped inside myself and inside this world where nothing is quite right. I see glimpses of what could be, but efforts to get there are futile. Then, when I’m with the Lord in heaven, all that will be gone and the fullness of life that God has planned for those who love him will be realized for the rest of eternity. It will feel like someone swung the cage door open and we are finally free.

The apostle Paul put it this way in Romans 7:24–25, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? [25] Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

I can relate to this on a deep level. I feel the exact same way. Wretched man! Why do I keep doing these things? Why can’t I break free from my sin? Why can’t I be the person I want to be? This body of death, this sinful flesh of mine, keeps me down. It’s wasting away slowly and dragging me down into a pit of death both physically and spiritually. It has to go! And the greatest news ever is that Christ died to remove that part of me. He will remove completely the sin and death that clings to me and I’ll finally be free. Free to be happy, to love, to be loved, to laugh and live and know the fullness of life that Christ came to give.

For now, we get a taste of this future hope here and there. But one day it will be a reality. I hope you reach out and take hold of Christ, the only one who can offer you this gift, free of charge. He alone holds the keys to your freedom. Don’t delay another day!

How to Share Your Testimony

The following is a short, step-by-step process on how to share your testimony. I created this document for people in our church who are getting baptized. It is based off of original material I found on the websites of Living Waters and Cru.


 

In Acts 26:1-23, the apostle Paul shares his testimony and gives a general outline of what it might sound like. His format basically was a 3-step process:

  1. What his life was like before Jesus (v. 1-11)
  2. How he became a follower of Jesus (v. 12-18)
  3. How his life has changed because of Jesus (v. 19-23)

Using this basic outline, you can build your own testimony by considering some of the following questions.

1. Describe your life before you met Jesus

What was your religious upbringing? How did you view God, Christ, the Church, and Christians? What beliefs and values did you hold to? What sins and idols were you clinging to? How did these things ultimately let you down, or cause you to feel a void?

2. Describe how you became a follower of Jesus

What were the circumstances that led you to believe in Jesus as your Saviour? What caused you to have a change of mind and heart? Where and when did these events occur? Who influenced your decision? How did you come to realize you needed forgiveness from God, and that Jesus was your only hope? What made that decision easy or hard?

3. Describe how your life has changed because of Jesus

What has changed in your life? Even if circumstances haven’t changed, how have you changed personally? How has the love of God changed your outlook on life? On death? How do you hope to continue to grow in your faith moving forward?

A Few Other Tips

  • Your testimony is about God; it is not about you. Make sure that Christ is the centre of your story.
  • Write down your testimony in full, or by bullet points, if that will help you to remember or feel calm presenting it. It’s ok to read it verbatim if you need to.
  • Share a meaningful Scripture verse if you have one.
  • Share the gospel during your testimony.
  • Try to avoid too much “churchy” language. Share your story in a way that non-religious people, or even children, might understand.
  • Don’t exaggerate your story. Let the truth speak for itself.
  • Don’t worry if your testimony seems “boring” to you. What seems boring to you might be exactly what someone else needs to hear. God has saved you, and that’s a big deal!
  • You don’t have to pretend that you have all the answers or that your life is perfect now that you’re a believer.
  • Be faithful, share what God has done, and let Him be glorified!

One of These Days My Head’s Gonna Explode

There are just certain things that drive me crazy. Most of them are silly, little things that are of no consequence—pet peeve’s, if you know what I mean. But there are other things that are important that get under my skin. Yesterday I was reminded of one.

As I was casually scrolling through my Facebook feed, I came across this post:

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Screenshot from my cell phone.

This was posted by a former student of mine from our youth group, one I haven’t seen or spoken to in a while. I have seen this exact image before, and every time I do, it makes my head want to explode.

There’s so much wrong here I don’t know where to begin. For starters, I have no idea what it means to be “against gays”. I know a lot of Christians, and I don’t hardly know any of them that I would categorize as “against” gays. To be against someone, as far as I can tell, means to take a posture of hate towards them. It means you are not on their side, that you don’t want what is best for them, that you are unwilling to care about them in any way. If that is what it means to be “against gays”, then there really aren’t many Christians like that running around.

Now, if you want to say that Christians are against homosexuality, and believe that it is a sin, that’s a different story. Believing that homosexual acts are sinful is fairly standard Christian teaching in accordance with the Bible—along with a whole host of other sexual sins mentioned in the Good Book. But I would put forth this groundbreaking idea (*gasp*) that a person can be against something while still for the person who is doing it. We see this all the time in life. If your friend is strung out on drugs, you are against them taking drugs, but you are for them as a person. You want them to have a better life. That may not be a perfectly parallel example to being gay, but it serves this point: you can love someone while not agreeing with everything they do.

This is the Christian perspective on homosexuality, or any form of sin for that matter. We are called to love people, all people, everywhere, at all times, even our enemies. But that does not mean that we always agree with what they say or do. To me this seems so utterly basic and obvious, but I guess I should not necessarily expect this to be common sense.

Back to the original Facebook post. It says that if you are against gays, then you better not do X, Y, and Z because those things are also condemned in the Bible. The charge is one of hypocrisy, picking and choosing what commands from the Bible you will obey and which ones you will ignore. Now, that is actually a fairly decent argument. Hypocrisy is, in fact, a significant problem, and one called out in the Bible (1 John 4:20, Romans 2:3, Matthew 23). However, the specifics of the list reveal that they were put together by someone who doesn’t know what they are talking about. Let’s briefly look at each one.

Masturbation. The Bible says nothing about masturbation. Literally nothing. I’ve read the book, cover to cover. Not one verse. So, we’re not off to a good start since this is supposed to be a list of things the Bible doesn’t support.

Pornography. Technically, the Bible doesn’t say anything about pornography either. It didn’t exist back then. But, the Bible does say a lot about sex outside of marriage (1 Corinthians 7:2), which is a sin. It also condemns lust (Matthew 5:28). So, I’ll grant this is a valid one.

Eating bacon. Leviticus 11:7-8 says “the pig…is unclean to you. You shall not eat any of their flesh”. Here is where naiveté is shown. The Bible here condemns eating pork, to be sure. But condemns it for who? Who is the “you” in verse 7? The answer is: the Old Testament Israelites. They were forbidden from eating pork. However, I am not an Old Testament Israelite. Not to mention, pork is specifically allowed for Christians in the New Testament (Romans 14:14, 1 Timothy 4:3-5).

This is the fundamental problem with this list. It demonstrates a lack of understanding of what the Bible even is. The Bible isn’t a list of rules. Anyone who has actually read it for themselves can see this. The Bible is a big, continuous story. Along the way there are commands given, but they are given in context, to specific people at specific points in history. Some are meant to remain that way, and other commands are timeless. By reading the whole Bible we can tell which ones are which. Christian’s don’t pick and choose what to believe. They let the Bible dictate what is binding and what is not.

Having tattoos. Once again, this command is given in Leviticus 19:28 specifically to ancient Israel. I am not part of ancient Israel, so it does not apply to me.

Getting remarried. The Bible does say that people should not remarry under certain circumstances (1 Corinthians 7). But there are other circumstances where remarriage is permissible. It isn’t a blanket statement.

Gossip. Gossip is a sin (Proverbs 20:19, 16:28, 1 Timothy 5:13)—you got this one.

Play American football. Football did not exist during Bible times. Neither did America. I have no idea what to do with this one except laugh.

Have premarital sex. Another correct one. The Bible forbids sex outside of marriage.

Wear polyester. Another Leviticus one (19:19). Also Deuteronomy 22:11. Once again, this is for ancient Israel, so it doesn’t apply to today.

Work on Saturday. Once againnnnn….the Sabbath was a command in the 10 Commandments given to ancient Israel. Not. For. Us. Although, there are some Christians who observe some sort of Sabbath rest on Sunday’s.

It is frustrating that these kinds of things gain traction on the internet. They sound so clever—but only to people who don’t know what they are talking about. If you’re going to criticize the Bible, or Christians, or God, at least have a legitimate point. I’d be the first to admit that there are some decent criticisms one could levy against the faith I hold to, but silly stuff like this isn’t it. You can’t mischaracterize someone’s position in order to make a fool of it. In doing so, you make a fool of yourself.

I hope that we can educate young people to be good thinkers. Social media doesn’t do much to help this cause. Social media is a place for quick wit and catchy phrases, not careful and systematic inquiry. It’s a shame. I hope that young people manage to overcome the draw and simplicity of social media to be people who read up and learn about a subject before they feel the need to sound their opinion. If not, it’s for the worse.

Why I Haven’t Been Writing Lately

My last published blog post was over 7 months ago. Prior to that, I had published every month, usually more than once per month, for the previous 6 years. Why the sudden scaling back?

The main reason is that I have been focusing more on my health. I was fortunate to be born as a natural athlete and enjoyed sports up until age 19. At that time, life changed. I was out of high school, working, doing school full-time, in a long-term relationship that resulted in marriage and a bunch of kids pretty quickly. For a 10+ year stretch I virtually stopped doing most physical activities I used to enjoy out of sheer business from my stage of life. And because I have decent genetics, it seemed like no big deal. I ate whatever I wanted, didn’t exercise (except to play frisbee or dodgeball with the youth groups), and that worked out fine.

Well, turns out, it wasn’t really working out fine. I realized one day that my poor lifestyle was starting to catch up with me. I had put on 25 pounds since my wedding day, felt lousy, had regular back pain, and discovered through an asthma test that my lung function was terrible. I hadn’t medicated for asthma in years, and I thought I was doing ok. Turns out I had just gotten used to being short of breath and didn’t even notice it anymore.

It really hit me one day when a friend at church jokingly and without ill-intention said, “you’re starting to get a muffin top there, aren’t ya?” I laughed it off, but I was embarrassed. I knew that I was a bit out of shape, but I didn’t think it was really showing. It was then that I decided I had to actually start making some changes. If I just kept going the way I was, I would end up being a big, fat pastor who couldn’t play outside with his kids. Not to mention that my family has a history of heart attack and stroke, so even more serious health issues could be a concern.

For the last while, I have been dedicating myself more to taking care of my health. I started by making a few small changes in my eating habits: drinking diet Pepsi instead of regular (a sacrifice for me), and eating scrambled eggs and oatmeal for breakfast instead of Lucky Charms or Frosted Flakes. I also signed up for a gym membership and started going three times a week. Getting to the gym has been the hardest part of this process. As a busy husband, father, and pastor, it is hard to find a “convenient” time to make it happen. As a result, I’ve been working out mostly late in the evening (9pm) or early in the day (5:30am). But as I have developed the discipline to keep at it, the results are showing.

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Deadlifting at the gym. My current bests are 415 deadlift, 240 bench, and 375 squat.

I feel better than I have in years. My asthma is improved, and I’ve been taking a regular puffer which has made a world of difference. My back never hurts anymore. I lost the 25 pounds, then started to gain it back mostly in muscle. I feel good, look better, and have my confidence back. Honestly, working out is now one of the highlights of my day and eating healthier is getting easier. If I’m going to put in all that work in the gym, I don’t want to ruin it by putting garbage back in my body.

I do a little bit of cardio, but I have fallen in love with weightlifting. I’m hoping to eventually sign up for a powerlifting competition when the time is right and my numbers are respectable enough to do so. It’s been a welcome break to the routine of life that I had been living. While I love to write and still do, it never really gave me a mental break from the ministry work I was already engulfed in. Lifting has allowed me to have a true hobby apart from ministry work, and I’m better off for it.

I do plan to resume writing a bit more and not ignore it completely. However, I will probably not resume the pace that I was doing before for the reasons outlined above. Thank you to everyone who reads this blog. I hope that I have been an encouragement to your faith and can be so moving forward as well. Just don’t forget to take care of yourself too!

 

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?