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.
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.
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.
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.
 Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead.  So they gave a dinner for him there. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at table.  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.  But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said,  “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?”  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.  Jesus said, “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.” (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.
Human beings are frail and weak. We are creatures marked by limitations that often frustrate us. Our ability to grow and do things eventually hits a cap where we can go no further, and we are painfully aware of this reality when the circumstances and troubles of life overwhelm us. Yet many of us yearn for more. We want to a make a difference in the world—and not just any old difference, but an eternal difference—that will out-pace our abilities and out-live our lifetime. We know that in our own strength this is impossible, and so we must find a way to tap in to power that surpasses our own. Said simply, we need God’s power at work in our lives.
Every Christian knows to varying degrees what it is like to experience God’s power. After all, even the act of becoming a Christian is a supernatural event where a person is spiritually born again by God. From that point on, the Holy Spirit is at work in the life of the believer, convicting and growing and shaping and changing him or her into the person God created them to be. This is the power we need to tap in to if we are to be people who live beyond our physical abilities.
Jesus himself said, “the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41). The war that rages inside a believer is between their sinful flesh and the Spirit of God. The flesh wants to rebel against God and carry out its sinful desires. But the Spirit leads us into truth and holiness. These two natures are at war with one another, and the flesh will inevitably keep us from living out our full potential as children of God.
Where can we find the power to overcome this struggle? If we are creatures of limitation but God is a Creator of infinite power, how can we get more of Him in our lives and less of ourselves?
As pastor Jeff Wiesner has pointed out, the Bible uses the phrase “the power of God” on only three occasions.
- “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” (Romans 1:16)
- “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:18)
- “…but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:23-24)
So according to the Bible, the power of God is “the gospel”, “the cross”, and “Christ crucified”. These three, which really are one reality, is where the supernatural power of God lies.
What then does this mean? It means that to tap in to the power of God, one must build their life on the cross of Christ. The death of Christ on behalf of sinners is where God has placed supernatural power. The good news of this event is the most powerful force on earth, stronger than any man-made invention or clever idea any person has ever come up with.
The gospel is what transforms sinners into saints. It is what causes the lost to be found, the estranged to be adopted, and the wicked to be washed clean. The cross of Christ is where God’s transforming love is most powerfully displayed, and it is THE thing that has power beyond human limitation.
If you want to live a life of eternal significance, you must first embrace the gospel—the good news that Christ died for sinners like you. This reality will bring new life and a hope that can never be taken away. Then, in turn, you can share the gospel with others and set God’s power free upon the world. Telling others the good news about Christ’s cross is like letting a lion out of it’s cage. Power! Yet this lion is not there to feed on people but on death, fear, lies, and hopelessness. God is seeking to bring his kingdom to earth, and we can be a part of that process. But we can only do so on God’s terms. We may think that the world needs something else, be it positive thinking or education or freedom of the heart. But to invest in these things is to invest where there is no real power.
If you want to make a difference, then join God in what he is doing and what he has promised to bless. His power is active in the world through the sharing of the gospel of Christ. This is why nothing will ever replace the Christian Church as the most unstoppable force in the world. If the Church is preaching Christ crucified, and if its saints are hoping in the cross, there is supernatural power in motion that cannot be derailed. God himself is at work with divine power!
So the exhortation is twofold. First, the believer must make Christ and his cross central to their own lives. Therein lies the power to crush fear, resist sin, renew hope, and transform into the likeness of Jesus. Secondly, the believer must share Christ and his cross with the world, both in word and deed. When the love of God as demonstrated in the cross is on display, God’s light begins to penetrate the darkness. No other thing can compare to what God can do in a person’s life through an encounter with Jesus. The gospel is our only hope; on it we must stand firm. All other ground is shifting sand.
Not all preachers are created equal. Some are more helpful than others, and Scripture makes it plain that some preachers are downright dangerous because of their proliferation of false teaching. How can someone know who is a preacher worth listening to, and who isn’t? Here are 5 suggestions to look for in a preacher.
Preaching is not just about the message, it’s also about the messenger. The Bible lays out qualifications for church leaders that include a number of moral issues they must be free from (1 Timothy 3, Titus 1). Preachers are to be men of integrity. They must be good husbands and fathers, honest and hard working, sacrificial and generous servants. Even if someone has great skill in communicating God’s Word, it is not sufficient if they have significant character flaws. Preachers must be men of godliness.
The job of a preacher is to teach and preach God’s Word—it’s just that simple! Some preachers do a better job of this than others (1 Timothy 5:17), and all who share God’s Word must work to get better at this vital task. A good preacher is one who knows how to teach the Bible so that the people gain understanding and insight. They should be clear and concise with their content and not leave the congregation scratching their heads by the end of a sermon. Teaching the Bible with clarity is the expected requirement of a minister of the Word (Colossians 4:4).
A preacher must be a someone who is disciplined and self-controlled. They can’t be the kind of guy who is easily swayed by emotions or cultural trends, but should remain steadfast under the guidance of the Word. A good preacher will preach the Bible consistently. It is no gift to a congregation when they are not sure what they will get from Sunday to Sunday. The preacher should methodically open the Word and preach it week in and week out. That is the bread and butter of his ministry and the main food for the sheep he is charged to feed.
The Bible says some things that are offensive to the spirit of our age. A preacher must not allow this reality to determine whether he will share God’s Word with truthfulness and conviction or not. He must proclaim God’s truth as it is. It will mean that people will inevitably be offended and some will leave the church. It will sometimes invite scorn and hurt the popularity factor. But a good preacher never allows this to make him waver. With boldness from the Spirit, he is a messenger for the Lord and not an editor. He says what God says and makes no apologies for it.
Lastly, a preacher must preach Christ. In fact, if he is a faithful teacher of the Word, this will be a natural byproduct. The Bible is about Jesus, and Christ said so himself (Luke 24:44). Any preacher who is teaching the Bible but fails to make Christ the centre has failed to teach the Bible well. Let such pep talks or religious homilies be for inspirational speakers or Jewish Rabbis. But for the Christian community, we preach Jesus Christ and him crucified. A Christless preacher is a worthless preacher. The main thing must always be kept the main thing.
Teaching students the Bible can be hard work, but it is simply too important a task for us to take lightly. We can all improve on our speaking skills and work to get better at reaching the next generation with the gospel of Jesus Christ. In his leadership coaching material from 2012, Mark Driscoll shares these 9 tips for teaching students (points are his, comments are mine). They are still solid advice today.
1. Start strong — grab their attention right away
The first 30 seconds sets the tone. Students will either tune-in or tune-out right based on their first impression. Start strong with an engaging story, interesting question, or visual aid. And make sure the tone of your voice conveys to the students this is something you’re gonna want to pay attention to!
2. Teach one concept
Trying to cram too much into a talk is a bad idea. Keep it simple and flesh out one key concept. You want students to be able to easily answer the question, “What was the main point?”
3. Make it interactive
Ask questions and engage the group. This will keep their interest alive and can possibly drum up some helpful input. However, be careful with this one. If you engage too much, the talk might be hijacked and derail a good flow of thought. Know your group and who to call on and who to give less floor time to.
4. Be enthusiastic and keep the room alive
Keep your energy level up and show students that you care a lot about the material you are sharing. One pastor told me, “students won’t remember everything you say, but they will remember what you get excited about”. This proved to be true when a student who was converted in our youth ministry was sharing his testimony and talked about “this pastor who was always talking about Jesus. I’ve never seen anyone so passionate about anything before in my life”. I don’t get everything right, but that was a pretty cool moment for me!
5. Make it fun
Learning doesn’t have to be dry or boring. In fact, it shouldn’t be! Be creative and make the lesson fun to be a part of. Use humour, videos, props, perhaps bring a student up on stage with you, or whatever else might help to liven things up a bit.
6. Allow time for Q&A
You might not be able to do this every time, but giving students the chance to respond can be really helpful. It gives an opportunity for additional clarification and perhaps ways to personally apply what was taught.
7. Connect everything to Jesus
Christianity is about Jesus—duh! Make sure to keep the main thing the main thing. If we are only giving motivational speeches or moral lectures, we are not properly teaching the Bible. Christ is the centre of God’s Word and so he must be at the centre of all that we say.
8. Give away nice Bibles
Nowadays, everyone can get the Bible for free on their phone, and I think we should encourage every student to have a Bible app downloaded. But paper Bibles or devotionals make great giveaways, too.
9. Take a parental tone
Or, that of a big brother. More and more, student ministry needs to pick up a lot of what parents used to teach but no longer do about the practical stuff of life. Many kids just don’t get a lot of guidance from home, and so the youth ministry needs to work to incorporate it.
Daniel Dennett is a hardcore atheist. He is also a philosopher and scientist, but for the purposes of this piece, I am thinking of him primarily in terms of his staunch atheism. He is considered to be one of the Four Horsemen of New Atheism, along with Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and the late Christopher Hitchens. He writes and speaks often against the plague of religion and has argued that religious beliefs are nothing but products of evolution in his work Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon.
One of his most well-known quotes is a powerful and pointed one:
The secret of happiness: Find something more important than you are and dedicate your life to it.
What I find interesting is that I could not agree more with him. Finding happiness is one of the fundamental questions of life, and though he and I have completely different worldviews, I am 100% on board with his statement.
The reason we enjoy sunsets, a mountaintop view, and gazing at the stars is because we were made for bigness. We are the most exhilarated when we feel our smallest. It’s why we pay money to stand at the edge of the grand canyon. It’s why we are forever changed at their birth of our first child. The more we feel like the world doesn’t revolve around us, the more free and happy we will be.
Perhaps he did not realize it at the time, but this quote directly lines up with what the Bible teaches about Christianity and the meaning of life. Christians believe that “the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever“. This simply means that the purpose of life is to get outside of yourself and centre your life on God, and reap the joy that comes with that kind of life.
In other words, Christians believe that the secret of happiness is to find something more important than they are and dedicate their lives to it. And that “more important” thing that you devote yourself to? Well, that’s God.
We all live with a hierarchy of importance. Certain things are more important to us than other things, and many people do eventually get to the place where they find something that is even more important to them than their own lives. Such people discover happiness. All Christians aim to suggest is that if you keep following that chain of importance upward to the very top, you find God. And when you get there, and dedicate your life to him, you hit the pinnacle of human existence. We experience degrees of what this can be like now, and then we will know it’s fullness on the other side of death.
You show me the path of life; In your presence is fullness of joy, and at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. (Psalm 16:11)
How much happiness we enjoy depends on:
- How big is it?
- How long will it last?
Some people find a little happiness for a long time. Others find a lot of happiness for a brief while. Still others don’t find much or very often. But Psalm 16:11 promises that with God, happiness is “full” and “forever”. It can’t get bigger and it can’t last longer. It’s the best that this universe has to offer.
Daniel Dennett is right. If you want to be happy, find something more important than you and dedicate your life to it. I’m simply suggesting that, if you really want to pursue this goal, keep climbing the ladder of options until to get to the top.
A pro-choice individual recently posted a thread of tweets creating a scenario that he says proves that pro-life people are dishonest and don’t actually believe that life begins at conception. It’s a sort of “gotcha” question that is supposed to stump the pro-lifer and expose them for the fraud they really are. It might be worth mentioning that he also went on a spree of blocking people on Twitter who took him up on the challenge, but that’s none of my business.
Here’s the challenge in his own words:
Whenever abortion comes up, I have a question I’ve been asking for ten years now of the “Life begins at Conception” crowd. In ten years, no one has EVER answered it honestly. It’s a simple scenario with two outcomes. No one ever wants to pick one, because the correct answer destroys their argument. And there IS a correct answer, which is why the pro-life crowd hates the question. Here it is. You’re in a fertility clinic. Why isn’t important. The fire alarm goes off. You run for the exit. As you run down this hallway, you hear a child screaming from behind a door. You throw open the door and find a five-year-old child crying for help. They’re in one corner of the room. In the other corner, you spot a frozen container labeled “1000 Viable Human Embryos.” The smoke is rising. You start to choke. You know you can grab one or the other, but not both before you succumb to smoke inhalation and die, saving no one. Do you A) save the child, or B) save the thousand embryos? There is no “C.” “C” means you all die. In a decade of arguing with anti-abortion people about the definition of human life, I have never gotten a single straight A or B answer to this question. And I never will. They will never answer honestly, because we all instinctively understand the right answer is “A.” A human child is worth more than a thousand embryos. Or ten thousand. Or a million. Because they are not the same, not morally, not ethically, not biologically. This question absolutely evicerates their arguments, and their refusal to answer confirms that they know it to be true. No one, anywhere, actually believes an embryo is equivalent to a child. That person does not exist. They are lying to you. They are lying to you to try and evoke an emotional response, a paternal response, using false-equivalency. No one believes life begins at conception. No one believes embryos are babies, or children. Those who cliam [sic] to are trying to manipulate you so they can control women. Don’t let them. Use this question to call them out. Reveal them for what they are. Demand they answer your question, and when they don’t, slap that big ol’ Scarlet P of the Patriarchy on them. The end.
So, as a pro-lifer, what am I to do with such a dilemma?
The first thing to say is that in that situation I am pretty much 100% certain I would save the 5-year-old child. I suppose no one ever really knows what they would do in a moment of crisis until they are there, but if I’m answering as honest as I can, I save the crying child.
Now, what does that do to my pro-life argument that life begins at conception? Have I just proven that I don’t really believe that to be true? Or that I am morally inconsistent by letting 1,000 human beings die in exchange for only one?
Well, let me counter this scenario with one of my own. It is equally as unlikely to happen as this first one, so work with me.
You have a significant amount of money saved up and one day you are standing at your kids’ bus stop (which happens to be in front of your house) before school. Chatting with the other parents, you discover that one of the other kids in your child’s class has fallen very ill and needs a serious medical treatment to survive that will cost about $3,000. The parent of the sick child does not have medical coverage and has no money to pay for the treatment. In your own mind, you begin to think that you could dip into your savings and pay for the treatment yourself. As you are standing there mulling it over, the mailman comes by and hands you the mail. You glance through it and notice a flyer from World Vision. They are running a campaign to dig wells in Uganda. A single water well can be dug for only $3,000 and will effectively provide clean water to an entire community of at least 1,000 people, saving them from dying of malnutrition and disease-carrying dirty water. Now, you have a choice to make. You can afford to part with only $3,000, so you must choose which of these two noble causes you will donate to. Which one do you choose?
My guess is that the vast majority of people would donate to save the kindergarteners life. But why? Aren’t they trading just one life for a thousand? Wouldn’t the more prudent choice be to donate to the water well?
Maybe it is the more prudent thing to do. But here’s the reality: people make decisions not only on their logic but also on their emotions. The pro-lifer probably saves the 5-year-old from the fire not because they don’t actually think that the embryos are human, but because the little kid has a a face. They can see the terror in their eyes, the screaming cry that turns your stomach to knot. They can see in this kid their own child, their niece or nephew. Even though the embryos are human life and are to be considered people, the personhood of this kid, much more immediately evident when compared to a metallic test tube, is so overwhelming that you can’t help but scoop the little tike up in your arms and run for safety.
It’s no different with the water-well example. Aren’t those people in Uganda human? Don’t they deserve to live too? Of course. Even a pro-choicer would agree with that. But the kindergarten kid situation hits closer to home. It’s more personal, and so you are likely to be more emotionally engaged in that situation than the other. The Uganda people are so far removed from your situation that you can’t help but have a harder time thinking of them in terms of personhood. Of course you know they are people. But it just doesn’t feel the same.
It’s like that with any act of kindness. There are a million great causes out there to support and donate to, but we almost always choose to get involved with the ones that affect us on a personal scale. We donate money to Autism research and not AIDS research because our sibling has autism. Or we go to the benefit concert for our co-worker instead of volunteering at the Red Cross event. Why? Because there is always good causes to support, but we can’t support them all. So we tend to pick and choose based on what is more emotionally and personally engaging than by sitting down and crunching the numbers to see where our time or dollars could be used most effectively.
We save the 5-year-old from the fire not necessarily because it is the logical thing to do, but because it is more emotionally and personally engaging to do so. We are creatures not just of logic and reason but of personality and emotion. Those parts of our human makeup play a huge role in how we make decisions.
So if the pro-choicer thinks this situation exposes the immorality of pro-lifers, he should at least be willing to admit that he does the same thing in other ways. No one lives in such a way as to clinically and systematically calculate their resources and determine how they are best allocated for the good of all humanity. We simply try to help people. And in doing so, we will inevitably choose to help someone for personal reasons even when our aid could have helped more people if we had let ourselves become a little more emotionally detached. But humans don’t work that way, not pro-lifers and not pro-choicers.
First, the facts. Studies show that in Canada:
- 4 out of 10 first marriages will end in divorce (source)
- 3 out of 10 children are born out of wedlock, a figure that is rising quickly (source)
- The average monthly car payment is $570 for at least 48 months (source)
- The average student graduates with $25,000 in student loan debt (source)
- 77% of grads have regrets over their student loans (source)
- About 25% of college grads are working in a field they didn’t go to school for (source)
- The average adult has $22,000 in consumer debts (source)
- By age 40, 40-50% of the population will have struggled with a mental health problem (source)
In other words, many young Canadians are up to their eyeballs in debt, unlikely to be able to pay off that debt anytime soon, unhappily employed, in unstable family situations (possibly with a child to support), stressed out and struggling with anxiety or depression.
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the way we are doing things isn’t working. If you want to have a different outcome for your life, it means you are going to have to be weird compared to your peers. It means you will need to make different life choices than most everyone else is making to get better results.
One example of what this might look like is known as “The Success Sequence“. Studies have shown that if you live out the following formula in order, you will have only a 3% chance of being poor. You must, in sequential order:
- Graduate from high school
- Get a job
- Get married
- Have children
Those who follow this simple formula are more likely to beat the odds and have successful, happy lives. I’m not judging anyone—these are just the facts.
This comes as no surprise to me, since these basic concepts align perfectly with what the Bible says about having an abundant life. Right from the beginning, God laid out his plan for mankind:
Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. (Genesis 2:24)
In other words, a man grows up, establishes his independence (personally and financially), gets married, and enjoy sexual intercourse with his wife, usually leading to the creation of a family (“be fruitful and multiply”). It turns out that God’s way still works all these years later, yet we can’t help ourselves but fight against it.
Those who have found themselves outside of God’s plan are not destined to misery, but they will likely have a harder struggle to face. It is not easy to build a stable life in a sequence that is out of order, but through God’s grace and a lot of determination it can be done.
My point is not to bash the culture or look down on those who make different life choices. I could not care less about doing those things. My point is to encourage young people, especially those still in their teen years, to look at the data, look at the Word of God, and see if it makes sense. God loves you and knows what is best for you. Following his path for your life is the most likely way to lead you into the best life possible. Wisdom shows us that if we are going to find better outcomes, we are going to have to take a different way of getting there. Normal isn’t working.
Financially, God has warned us against the dangers of debt.
The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is the slave of the lender. (Proverbs 22:7)
When you borrow money from someone, you become their slave. They own you until you pay them back. The average Canadian is well over $50,000 in debt (minus a mortgage) and is struggling to find a good job to pay it off. When they get a paycheck, $1,000 immediately goes out the door for the car, the student loan, and the credit card…and that’s before taking care of rent, food, and other basic necessities. Ouch. They are also in the middle of trying to navigate raising a child out of wedlock. At any moment, add a crisis to this mix—an aging parent who needs care, losing a job, a health crisis, or a relational strain—and you have a recipe for disaster. No wonder everyone is so stressed out.
But imagine a different scenario. You are 26 years old, graduated with a 4 year degree from a local school, married, with a child on the way. Your schooling is paid off, your cheapo car has no payments, and your Visa has a balance of $0. Now, things might not be perfect. You could be having a hard time in the early stages of marriage, or there still could be trouble finding ideal employment. But throw some kind of trial on this scenario and you are far more likely to survive it than the first. No guarantees, but there is a more stable foundation to work from.
Life is hard enough as it is. Don’t make it harder through unwise decision making. While none of these things will necessarily cripple you for life, they will make it harder than it has to be. Pray for wisdom, ask God to help you along the way, and do your best to make good decisions as you follow God’s plan for your life. He loves you enough to have shown you the way. You will do well to follow it.