24 Podcasts That I Listen To

PodcastsListening to podcasts is an important part of my lifelong learning strategy. I listen to podcasts while I cut the grass, walk the dog, do the laundry, drive to work and any other opportunity that I get. I find it makes tasks that are not so fun to be more enjoyable.

I have purposely designed my podcast playlist to cover a number of different subjects. They help me to have much wider range of knowledge than I would normally have.

Here are the twenty-four podcasts that I’m currently subscribed to. The links will take you to their iTunes pages. They are ranked in alphabetic order and not according to my preferences.

  1. Andy Stanley Leadership Podcast
  2. The British History Podcast
  3. The Carey Nieuhof Leadership Podcast
  4. The ChurchLeaders Podcast
  5. Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History
  6. The Heritage Podcast
  7. The History of Egypt Podcast
  8. History of Philosophy Without Any Gaps
  9. History of the Crusades
  10. The History of WWII Podcast
  11. Kingdom Roots With Scot McKnight
  12. Mind Matters
  13. The Paulcast
  14. Philosophy Bites
  15. ProBlogger Podcast
  16. Rainer on Leadership
  17. Reasonable Faith Podcast
  18. Theology in the Raw
  19. Theology on Mission
  20. Timothy Keller Sermons Podcast
  21. Unbelievable?
  22. Word Matters
  23. 5 Leadership Questions
  24. 200churches Podcast

Bonus Podcasts

Although those are the twenty-four I subscribe to, I would like to recommend two more.

History of Rome Podcast – The only reason I don’t listen to it anymore is that I have listened to every episode. It is one of the best podcasts I have listened to and has inspired many of the history podcasts that I currently listen to.

Hope’s Reason: A Podcast of Discipleship – This is my podcast and I couldn’t leave it out. It includes episodes on a number of topics related to apologetics, theology and leadership, as well as my sermons.

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Midweek Apologetics Roundup

Here are some apologetics-related posts I came across this week. Have a look.

Recommended Books:


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Did Jesus Really Have a Brother?

Jesus BrotherRichard Carrier argues that the James who is described as the brother of Jesus, is not really his brother. Why is this important to Carrier? Unlike Catholic apologists who want Mary to be a perpetual virgin (although they do not deny they are related), Carrier needs to break this relationship because he denies that Jesus existed and yet James is definitely a historical figure.

We seem to be on firm historical ground when Paul writes:

When James, Cephas, and John, recognized as pillars, acknowledged the grace that had been given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to me and Barnabas, agreeing that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. (Galatians 2:9, HCSB)

If James really existed, who was this James?

Richard Carrier claims that this is the James who was one of the twelve apostles. But which one?

It cannot be James the brother of Zebedeee. Luke describes the death of this James in Acts 12:2 and yet describes another James, the head of the Jerusalem church in the rest of Acts.

The only other James is the son of Alphaeus. This would be possible except for the fact that the other James is described as the brother of Jesus or the brother of the Lord.

Carrier has a ready response to this. James is called the brother of the Lord as another way to say he was a Christian. He observes that the Christians called each other brothers and this is exactly what we have going on here.

It is true that early Christians did call each other brother and sister. This led to accusations of incest by the Roman authorities. But I cannot find anyone else in the New Testament being described as “the brother of the Lord.”

It could be argued that James the son of Alphaeus could be called the brother of the Lord because he was especially close to Jesus. The problem with this is that James son of Alphaeus only appears in lists of the twelve and does not play an important role. If anyone, we would expect Peter and the sons of Zebedee to be called brothers of Jesus. However, the only one called this is this James, who is not the son of Zebedee.

An important passage to take into account is Acts 1:12-14.

Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called the Mount of Olives, which is near Jerusalem—a Sabbath day’s journey away. When they arrived, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying:

Peter, John,
James, Andrew,
Philip, Thomas,
Bartholomew, Matthew,
James the son of Alphaeus,
Simon the Zealot,
and Judas the son of James.

All these were continually united in prayer, along with the women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, and His brothers.

First, there is no indication that James the son of Alphaeus will become the James who is in charge of the Jerusalem church. Once again, he is simply a name on a list.

But notice that there is a mention of brothers of Jesus. These brothers are paired with Mary, the mother of Jesus. A plain reading of this in context would suggest that brothers means exactly what we normally mean: male siblings.

There are numerous mentions of Mary and the brothers in the Gospels, and they do not seem to be disciples but rather are skeptical of Jesus’ claims. One important verse is:

Isn’t this the carpenter, the son of Mary, and the brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon? And aren’t His sisters here with us?” (Mark 6:3, HCSB)

This passage indicates that not only did Jesus have brothers (siblings), but one was named James.

There is another passage we need to look at.

For I passed on to you as most important what I also received:

that Christ died for our sins
according to the Scriptures,
that He was buried,
that He was raised on the third day
according to the Scriptures,
and that He appeared to Cephas,
then to the Twelve.
Then He appeared to over 500 brothers at one time;
most of them are still alive,
but some have fallen asleep.
Then He appeared to James,
then to all the apostles.
Last of all, as to one abnormally born,
He also appeared to me. (1 Corinthians 15:3-8, HCSB)

Carrier suggests that the latter part of this early creed is an addition, “since everyone who saw Jesus was already an apostle and James the pillar was already one of the twelve.” It is not that there is textual evidence that part of this creed is a later addition. Rather, Carrier needs James to be one of the twelve and so he simply asserts his claim. This is not the only time that Carrier does this.

Read my post: Responding to Richard Carrier’s Dating the Corinthian Creed

There is a passage in Josephus that describes the death of James. James is described as “the brother of Jesus (who was called the Christ).” Carrier claims that this was a copyist’s error and that it originally said “the brother of Jesus ben Damneus.” Again, there is no textual evidence for this. Carrier needs to break the relationship between James and Jesus and so he asserts an alternative theory.

Did Jesus have a brother? Yes he did. Several actually. One of them was named James. He was called “the brother of the Lord,” not because he was a Christian but because he was Jesus’ half-brother.

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5 Questions Pastors Should Ask at the Beginning of the Ministry Year

PastorsAlthough the financial year for a church might start in January, the ministry year really starts in September. As I write this, September is just a couple of days away. Pastors should not just walk into the new ministry year blindly.

Here are five questions that pastors should ask at the beginning of the ministry year:

  1. What is my goal for this ministry year? What one accomplishment will make this year a success?
  2. What happened last year that didn’t really work and needs to be rethought for this year?
  3. What worked really well last year that can be built on this year?
  4. How is the church doing right now in fulfilling its mission/vision statement? What can be done to improve this?
  5. What one person in the congregation do I need to invest in and develop as a leader?

As a pastor, these questions are important to my ministry and they will be integral to what I do this year.


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What is the Kingdom of God?

A sermon based on Matthew 6:25-34, preached at Queen Street Baptist Church.

Introduction

You Asked For ItFuturists, a number of decades ago, had some predictions about what life would be like now. The hope was that advances in technology would allow us to work less and live less stressful lives. We would be able to sit back, relax and enjoy the fruits of technological gains.

I have seen the advance in technology, but I’m still waiting for the drop in stress. If anything, things have become more stressful. It is not that life is more difficult, but we are more connected and more available to all the areas of life that are calling for our attention.

There are so many things in the world that are screaming for attention. We try to solve one issue, only to have five more take its place. This can lead to a high level of anxiety. This is nothing new, as Jesus deals directly with this dynamic in the passage that we read.

I need to make something clear when we talk about anxiety. The anxiety that Jesus speaks about in this passage is not the anxiety that is based on a chemical imbalance. Jesus is not telling people with clinical anxiety to just stop feeling their anxiety. Rather Jesus is speaking about the anxiety that develops when we lose our priorities and allow ourselves to be pulled in too many directions.

We should also acknowledge that Jesus is not dismissing our physical needs. We shouldn’t just quit our jobs and believe that food will magically appear in our homes. Jesus knows that we need our physical needs met. At this point, we should state that there is a difference between needs and wants. My children often come with me with lists of their “needs” and I quickly recognize them as their wants. It is okay to have wants, but we should not mistake them for our needs.

But even when they are legitimate needs, getting completely focused on them can lead to great anxiety. I’m sure most of us have experienced this at some point. The solution to this anxiety, according to Jesus, is to seek first the kingdom of God. That sounds great, but what does that mean? What is the kingdom of God and how do we seek it? That is what we are going to look at.

What is the Kingdom of God?

How important is the kingdom of God? I can say without a doubt that the kingdom of God was the centre of both Jesus’ preaching and healing ministry. We are told at the beginning of the Gospel of Mark that the gospel that Jesus preached was that the kingdom of God was at hand. The miracles that Jesus performed were both illustrations and signs about the coming of the kingdom of God.

But what is the kingdom of God? Even though this seemed to be the most important thing to Jesus, I find that many Christians have not thought deeply about it. I have also been told that many Christians have never heard their pastor preach on the kingdom.

If people have thought about the kingdom of God, they may think about it as heaven. Normally we think of a kingdom as a place and the only place where God seems to be reigning is in heaven. In addition, Matthew often calls the kingdom of God the kingdom of heaven and so people assume the kingdom is heaven. The truth is that Matthew replaces God with heaven out of sensitivity toward his Jewish audience’s reverence for the name of God. Mentioning heaven is not locating the kingdom but identifying who the king is.

That is not to say that there is no connection with heaven. In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus teaches his disciples to pray, “your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” The prayer is for the kingdom to come, something we have seen was very important to Jesus. But what does that look like? When God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven. God is already reigning in heaven. The goal for the kingdom of God is for that same dynamic to take place on earth. That is the first thing that we need to know, that the kingdom of God is on earth.

The second thing we need to know is that there is a present and future aspect to the kingdom of God. When did the kingdom of God arrive? The kingdom arrived with the ministry of Jesus. All of the things that we read about in Jesus’ ministry, from sermons to miracles, were part of the kingdom’s appearing. The crucifixion and resurrection were major events in the kingdom of God. But if we look around, we see plenty of areas in which God is not reigning. People still get sick and suffer. People hurt one another and seek their own profit by taking advantage of others. Theologians call this, living between the times. On one hand, the kingdom has begun and we can see signs of God’s activity. But on the other hand, we are waiting for the kingdom to come in its fullness. When will this happen? It will happen when Jesus returns. Then all evil will be destroyed and God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

The third thing that we need to know is that the kingdom has a king. We talk about the kingdom of God, it can seem rather impersonal and abstract. However, essential to the kingdom of God is the role of the king. The king is God. The title of king is not just a term of respect. Rather God really is a king and we are supposed to obey our king. It is true that we are saved by grace and there is nothing we can do to earn God’s love but that does not mean that we are off the hook when it comes to obedience. We must take God’s role as king seriously.

This leads nicely into the fourth thing we need to know about the kingdom and that is it needs a people. Anyone can call themselves a king but if they do not have a people that they are ruling, then it really doesn’t mean anything. Who are the people of the kingdom of God? We are. The Church. Christians of every race and language, of every tradition. All those who trust in Jesus are part of the kingdom of God. This is very important. Churches can get competitive and feel envy or jealousy over what is happening in another church. But the truth is that we all belong to the same kingdom. If one church has five hundred baptisms in a year, that is as much a victory for us as it is for them. We are all on the same team and working for the same goal. One of my favourite parts of being a pastor is working with other pastors and congregations from different Christian traditions. There may be differences in style and emphasis, but we are working together for the same kingdom.

How Do We Put the Kingdom First?

That is a nice theology lesson but the point of all this was to avoid situational anxiety by putting the kingdom first. Knowing what the kingdom is does not mean that we know how to make it first.

So what does it mean to seek first the kingdom of God? Let’s start with what first means. In this case it is not about logical order, in the sense of doing one thing and doing the other. So it is not about seeking the kingdom and then after that consider all your other needs. Seeking first here means that the kingdom is the number one priority. You still care about where you are going to sleep and what you are going to eat, but all of that takes place in the shadow of kingdom concerns.

How do we seek the kingdom? Think about the things that we have learned. There is a king and we are the king’s people. What does the king want us to do? This teaching is found in the midst of the sermon on the mount, so that is a good place to start. Jesus has taught us what the Christian life is supposed to look like. We need to put our efforts into this. Too many people have looked at the sermon on the mount and judged it to be too difficult and have not even attempted it. Will we live the sermon on the mount life perfectly? Probably not, but as subjects of the king, it is our duty to try our best. Again, we should not condemn ourselves when we stumble, rather we should learn from our mistakes.

How does this fit with the anxieties of life? A number of things happen. God often will provide for our needs. I have seen this numerous times in my life. In addition, if we are following the commands of the king, that means that we are also taking care of each other’s needs. The picture of the early church that we have is of a community where no one was in need because they shared what they had. But there is something else that takes place. When we seek first the kingdom, there is a change in our priorities. When we focus on ourselves, we feel every missing want or need very keenly. But when we seek first the kingdom, our eyes are taken off ourselves and put onto the big picture. The kingdom is much bigger than each of us as individuals. The kingdom is much bigger than this one church. When we have our eyes on the kingdom, our problems don’t seem so big.

Conclusion

I do not want to dismiss the stress that goes with the troubles of life. I have experienced financial and physical needs and it is no fun. God cares about these needs and there is a reason why we are told to pray for our daily bread.

But beyond our individual experiences, there is the kingdom of God. God is the king and we are his people. The kingdom is big and it is growing. It began with Jesus’ ministry and it will be fulfilled when Jesus returns. In between the times, there will be difficulties. But the king will never forget about us.

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Good News: Thankful for Every Blessing

Good NewsI try to share one Good News story every week as a way to keep me thankful. Tonight, I was looking at my computer and was not sure what to say. There was no one event that came to mind.

That is not to say that things are bad. Rather, there was not one blessing that stood out over all the others. While our family continues to have some challenges, there are many things that I’m thankful for.

Here are some of the things that I’m thankful for.

  • My relationship with God.
  • My wife Amanda.
  • My two oldest children, although they live in a group home an hour and a half away, I get to see them on a regular basis and I have a great relationship with them.
  • My three youngest children, who have been able to spend time at a Christian camp for a number of weeks this summer.
  • My job as the pastor of Queen Street Baptist Church.
  • My health, while not perfect, is much better than it could have been.

There are many other things that I’m thankful for, but these are the ones that came to mind. I’m thankful for my many blessings and this is good news.

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Weekend Leadership Roundup

Here are some leadership posts that I discovered this week. Go and check them out.

Recommended Books:


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Research That Demonstrates the Need For Apologetics

I continue to hear from Christian leaders that there is no need for apologetics. People are looking for community and experience and are not impacted by intellectual arguments. Apologetics belonged a modernistic vision of the church but people today do not benefit from it.

Is it true that there is no longer a need for apologetics?

The Pew Research Centre recently did some research on why the ‘Nones’ have left religion behind. You can find the results here.

I found the results from this research to be very interesting. Here is one portion of their report.

About half of current religious “nones” who were raised in a religion (49%) indicate that a lack of belief led them to move away from religion. This includes many respondents who mention “science” as the reason they do not believe in religious teachings, including one who said “I’m a scientist now, and I don’t believe in miracles.” Others reference “common sense,” “logic” or a “lack of evidence” – or simply say they do not believe in God.

There were other reasons why people abandoned religion but intellectual reasons played a significant role. Let those words sink in. This seems to provide clear evidence that there is a need for apologetics in the church today. I encourage you to share this with your pastor and other church leaders. It is one thing to read the results, the church needs to take the next step of deciding what to do in response.

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5 Questions to Ask Jesus Mythicists

EgyptThe Jesus Myth Theory claims that Jesus never existed and that the narratives of the Gospels are based on pagan myths. In my recent book, Unmasking the Jesus Myth, I attempt to give practical advice on how to respond to the Jesus Myth.

If you ever find yourself in conversation with a Jesus Mythicist, I would recommend you ask them these five questions.

  1. Have you ever read any of the actual myths (as opposed to summaries in mythicist books)?
  2. If you were to contact any random professor of ancient history at a secular university and asked them if there is enough evidence to believe that Jesus was historical, what do you think they would say?
  3. Can you name one Josephus scholar who believes that Josephus did not mention Jesus and that the Testamonium Flavianum is a complete forgery?
  4. Why do mythicists claim that certain gods/heroes were virgin born when the myths say that they were conceived in intercourse?
  5. Why should ancient documents be discounted as historical evidence if they are considered to be scripture for a religious group?


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Reviewing Leadership

Reviewing LeadershipI have read quite a few books on leadership and will continue to invest in this area of knowledge. However, Reviewing Leadership by Bernice M. Ledbetter, Robert J. Banks and David C. Greenhalgh fills in a gap that I have not seen in other leadership books.

This is not a “how to” book for becoming a good leader. In fact it does not put forth a leadership strategy as the recommended way. Instead, this book puts all of the other leadership books into their larger context.

The authors look at the history of leadership studies and its struggle to become its own discipline. Since many of the readers will be Christian, they look at faith-based concepts of leadership. However, they don’t just describe Christian approaches. Remember, this book is about looking at the big picture and the authors place Christian approaches in the larger context of faith-based leadership. For example, they do a good job of explaining how Stephen Covey’s Mormon faith informed his leadership teaching, even when he did not discuss Mormonism in his books.

As I read Reviewing Leadership, I could see the connections between concepts that I had never seen before. I recommend this book for all those involved in Christian leadership as it will help you see leadership from a new perspective.

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Persevering in Times of Uncertainty

Wesley HuffRecently we had Wesley Huff preach at Queen Street Baptist Church. Wesley has an incredible story, including a very dramatic healing. If you struggle to believe in miracles, you need to hear his story.

But don’t think that Wesley preaches a prosperity gospel where you just have to say the word and you get an automatic healing. Wesley reflects deeply on what it means to suffer and acknowledges that healing is not the norm.

I would encourage you to listen to his story through the link below. Also, you can find Wesley’s blog here.

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Unmasking The Jesus Myth Now Available in Print

Unmasking the Jesus MythMy book, Unmasking the Jesus Myth, which has been available in Kindle, is now available in print. It is short book that is meant to be a practical introduction to the Jesus Myth, giving the basic information and providing suggestions of ways to respond.

In addition to the body which is aimed at the interested layperson, it includes three appendices that are articles that I have had published in scholarly journals.

Make sure to pick up your copy of Unmasking the Jesus Myth, whether in print or Kindle. If you can’t get the print copy from your Amazon, you can get it here.


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Midweek Apologetics Roundup

Here are some apologetics-related posts that I came across this week. I hope you enjoy them.

Recommended Books:


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What is the Difference Between a Speech and a Sermon?

PulpitI was asked today on Facebook about the difference between a speech and a sermon. I thought that was a good question and so I have decided to look more closely at it.

What is a speech? According to one online dictionary, a speech (at least in the relevant context) is:

A formal address or discourse delivered to an audience:
‘he gave a speech about the company’

According to this definition, a sermon is a speech as it is an address or discourse delivered to an audience.

That same dictionary gives this definition of a sermon:

A talk on a religious or moral subject, especially one given during a church service and based on a passage from the Bible:
‘I preached my first sermon on original sin’

So is a sermon just a speech on a religious topic?

I have taught the New Testament for a number of years at a couple of schools. In those classes, I spoke on the Bible to a Christian audience. Was it preaching? While there were times when I would slip into preaching, in general it was not preaching. The difference was not just that it was not taking place in a church service.

What do I see as being different between a sermon and a speech on a religious or biblical topic?

BibleA sermon has an authority that a normal speech does not have. I need to make it clear that the authority does not come from the position of the pastor. The authority comes from the passage of Scripture that is being preached on. A sermon should not be a motivational speech with a little illustration from the Bible. A sermon should be an expounding of Scripture and it should be authoritative because it is so thoroughly biblical.

A sermon should not be a motivational speech with a little illustration from the Bible. Click To Tweet

The other difference is that a speech often passes on information, while a sermon seeks transformation. I must make it clear that I’m a teacher by nature, and so my sermons do pass on information. But I’m always asking myself the “So what?” question. What is it that I want my congregation to do with what they hear from Scripture? There must be a clear application.

So a sermon is a speech. But it is a special kind of speech. A sermon is an authoritative expounding of Scripture that seeks to transform the audience with a biblical challenge.


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What is Sin?

A sermon based on 1 John 1:5-2:6 preached at Queen Street Baptist Church.

Introduction

You Asked For ItWhat is sin? Well, isn’t it obvious? Sin is doing something bad. We can all probably recollect a time when we did something that was pretty bad. Perhaps not requiring legal intervention, but still something that you are not proud of.

The closest I came to getting into real trouble at school happened when I was in grade five. Someone brought some Exlax chocolates into school. He handed a bunch out to some of the students and dared us to give them to another student. I gave three chocolates to one student and then met up with the others, only to find out that everyone else had second thoughts and never gave them out. You can imagine that none of the adults were impressed with my actions, much less the student I gave them to.

That would probably qualify as a sin, not to mention stupid. But what kind of things should be considered sin? Are they only things that harm another person? Much of contemporary morality would lean in this direction?

Often within the church, there is distinction among sins. There are those sins that are serious and those that are not so bad. The problem with this is that there is no biblical distinction.

The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19-21)

Notice that in this list there are things like discord, jealousy and selfish ambition that would be tolerated in most churches. But lumped in with these “acceptable” sins are things like witchcraft and orgies. What we need to realize is that sin is much more complicated than just doing a bad thing.

The word for sin literally means missing the mark. In this case, the mark is the will of God. The moment sin entered into the world, we were immediately separated from God. We began to go against God’s will and that built a wall between us and God.

The only way for that wall to be broken and for our relationship with God to be restored, is through what Jesus Christ did on the cross. When we accept Christ’s sacrifice through faith, our sins are forgiven and we are adopted into God’s family.

But what happens after we are Christians? What are the effects of sin after we have believed and have been baptized? I find that John’s first letter is particularly helpful in addressing these questions.

Sin is Unacceptable

John begins his letter with some pretty strong statements about sin. They all stem from the nature of God. God is light. That is not just a theological statement, it is something that must impact Christians. If God is light, it is unacceptable for us to walk in the darkness. How we live must reflect who God is. This goes back to the Old Testament where we are told that we should be holy as the Lord our God is holy.

The Apostle Paul addresses this topic in his letter to the Romans. Paul spends a lot of time preaching about salvation by grace. There is nothing we can do to earn our salvation, it is only by the grace of God. After hammering this idea to his readers, he anticipates their reaction. If there is nothing we can do to bring about our salvation, it does not matter what we do. Since God saves us in our sinfulness, it does not matter if we continue to sin. Paul makes it clear that is not the case. Salvation by grace is not a license to sin, as if with each sin we were giving God another opportunity to be glorified by his grace. Sin is unacceptable.

Think about how our sins are forgiven in the first place. We are forgiven because of what Jesus did on the cross. Jesus suffered terribly, paying the price for our sins. What does that mean to us? Do we care at all? If we take Jesus’ suffering seriously, we should hate sin. We shouldn’t need God’s condemnation of sin, our own love for Jesus should make us hate sin. Sin is absolutely unacceptable.

Sin is Inevitable

Did you feel uncomfortable at all as I talked about how serious sin is? I know I did. There is one problem with sin being unacceptable and that is that I know that I still sin. While I try to keep things within the “acceptable” sin category (which unfortunately doesn’t exist), I know that I sin.

Does this mean that I just happen to be a particularly sinful Christian? John tells us that if we say that we do not sin, we are a liar. Notice he says “we” and not “you.” John, one of the twelve apostles, includes himself as one who continues to be a sinner.

This is the problem, everyone sins, including Christians. There will be a time when we are free from sin, but it will not be until Jesus returns and we receive our resurrection bodies. Until then, we live with the consequences of being a sinful people living in a sinful world.

Hopefully, this gives us some grace toward one another. We are never the perfect looking down at the really bad sinners. We are all sinners, in that we regularly do things that are against God’s will. This leaves us in a really bad spot.

Sin is Forgivable

We should be feeling some frustration right now. If sin is both unacceptable and inevitable, there is a very serious problem. Unless something radical takes place, we are left in a place of condemnation. Thankfully, something radical has taken place and that is the appearance of Jesus Christ.

We have already said that it is the sacrifice of Jesus that first grants us forgiveness of sins and eternal life. That happens at our conversion. But Jesus is not done with us at that point. I once heard a minister say that he never wanted to be born again because he never wanted God to be done with him. That is a complete misunderstanding of what it means to be born again. No parent thinks all the work is done after a baby is born. It is the same with the spiritual birth. We give plenty for our God to do.

There is a place for forgiveness of sins even after our conversion and baptism. But there is a misunderstanding about what this means. Some Christians think that remaining in God’s family requires confession of every specific sin that is committed. There are two problems with that. One is that it is not biblical and the other is that it is not possible. We sin in ways that we are often not consciously aware. And the biblical message is that we are not saved by our good works and so we cannot be ‘unsaved’ by our bad works. So we should not fear that if we get hit by a truck after coveting some nice car that we are going to hell. That is not the purpose of confessing our sins.

So why should Christians confess our sins? We should do it because we want the closest possible relationship with God. I apologize to Amanda when I have done something wrong, not because I’m afraid she will divorce me, but because I want us to have a healthy relationship. It is the same thing with God. Sin leads to separation from God. Faith in Jesus means that we need not fear eternal separation from God. But we are still in danger of experiencing barriers in our relationship with God in this life.

I have experienced this in my own life. When my thought life has gotten out of control or I get focused on gaining material things, I sense my relationship with God to be strained. He seems more distant when in fact it is I that am more distant. Ironically, it is in moments of confession and repentance that I have felt the closest to God. When the confession is sincere, I can feel the restoration in the relationship with God.

Confession of sins is meant to be something positive. The Christian life is not to be a life of self-condemnation for all our faults. Yes, we should regret our sins, but we should also rejoice that we have a loving and gracious God who longs for us to experience an intimate relationship with him.

Conclusion

What do we need to know about sin? Sin is unacceptable. We should never get to the point where we are comfortable with sin. We should not just shrug it off as being acceptable since we are only human. Sin is serious and it is the reason why Jesus went to the cross.

Sin is inevitable. If we ever get to the place where we are satisfied with our own holiness and we cast a judgmental look on all the sinners out there, we are in trouble. If you are a living and breathing human being you are a sinner. They may be the respectable sins, but they are still sins.

This leaves us in a difficult position with sin bot unacceptable and inevitable. Thank God, and I mean that literally, that sin is also forgivable. We can confess our sins, not out of a fear of hell, but out of a love for God and a valuing of our relationship with him.

Live a life in which you take sin seriously, seeking to live a holy life, and confessing our sins to a God who will always love us.

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Good News: Storytime

Three of our children just returned from a week at camp. I will admit, it is nice to have a bit of a break when they go to camp. At the same time, I miss them when they are gone. One of the things that I miss is reading to them at bedtime.

I know that my dad never read to me. If my mom ever read to me, it was when I was really young and I don’t remember it. But for some time it has become our routine that I read to the children before bed. They take turns as to which night I read to them and I read to each of them a different book. I read to Justus from the Guardians of Ga’Hoole series. I read to Emma from the Goosebumps series. And I read to Faith from the Chronicles of Narnia series.

To be honest, it is as much for me as it is for them. I enjoy spending the time with them and reading is one of the things that I love most. I hope that our time reading together is building good memories for them. It is for me.

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4 Reasons Why I Am an Apologist

I have been involved in apologetics almost right from the beginning of when I made a personal faith commitment. But this was no phase I was going through. Apologetics has only become more important to me, leading me to write about, speak about and even teach Christian apologetics. But why do I want to be an apologist?

I would like to share four reasons why I am an apologist.

  1. I believe Christianity is true. Although I grew up attending church, I was an atheist for a number of years. After much seeking and reflection, I became a Christian. I believe that this stuff is true. I really believe that there is a God. I really believe that Jesus rose from the dead.
  2. I value the truth. Some of the apologetics that I’m involved in, I must confess, is not motivated by my commitment to Christianity. For example, one of the reasons why I respond to the Jesus Myth is that it really bothers me the way they misrepresent ancient myths and make a mockery of the way historians do history. Truth matters.
  3. I want to help seekers. I have no desire to shove religion down people’s throats. I do not force my faith on others. But I do know, from personal experience, that there are people who are considering Christianity and who are struggling with certain topics. If I can clear away some of these obstacles to faith by clarifying the facts, then I am happy.
  4. I want to help Christians. I believe that apologetics is just as much for Christians as it is for seekers. I remember what it was like as a skeptical young Christians with plenty of questions. I didn’t find much help within the church. If I can be the help that was missing in my faith journey, than I will have done something of value.




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Weekend Leadership Roundup

Here are some leadership posts I have encountered this week. Go and check them out.

Recommended Book:

Leading Change Without Losing It: Five Strategies That Can Revolutionize How You Lead Change When Facing Opposition by Carey Nieuwhof (USA) (Canada)

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The Four Cs of Good Apologetics

ApologeticsI recently wrote a post on the four Rs of good apologetics. I decided that I would follow this up with a post on the four Cs of good apologetics. Here they are:

Character

Are you the same person when you are discussing apologetics as your are when you are by yourself or when you are with your family? Are you a person of integrity? There are too many stories of Christian leaders that experience a moral fall. We usually hear about the pastors but it happens on all levels. While arguments for the truth of Christianity do not become less accurate if we have a bad character, they become less convincing to skeptics and seekers. What are we doing to build up our character?

Communication

When people desire to become better apologists, they often study philosophy, theology or biblical studies. But what about communications? How we communicate is as important as what we communicate. This does not mean that you have to take a course in communications (although this is not a bad idea). But it does mean that we should take the way we communicate seriously, whether it is in our speaking or writing ministry. Read Acts 17 for examples of how Paul adapts his communication according to his audience. This leads nicely into our third C.

Competency

What are we doing to develop our skills for apologetics? We should dedicate ourselves to being a lifelong learner. Stephen Covey tells a great story about a lumberjack who wouldn’t take the time to sharpen his saw and thus was far less effective than he could have been. What are we doing to sharpen our saw? What books are we reading? Have you considered taking a course or getting another degree? Do you have more knowledge and skills today than you did a year ago?

Commission

The mandate for the Christian church is the Great Commission as found in Matthew 28:19-20. I see in the Great Commission the call to both evangelize and disciple. The wonderful thing about apologetics is that it can do both. Apologetics is effective in removing barriers to belief but it is also helpful in helping Christians grow in their in confidence in the faith. Our apologetics activity should be constantly held up to the measure of the Great Commission.

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Do Guardian Angels Exist?

Guardian AngelsThe idea of guardian angels is very popular in our culture. Some people are more likely to rely on their guardian angel than on God.

But do guardian angels even exist?

I have always been skeptical but had not really looked at the biblical evidence. However, I came across a passage in the Church Dogmatics that I thought was helpful. After looking at the biblical evidence, Karl Barth points to an observation by John Calvin.

The most forceful, because positive, objection to this view (guardian angels) was again brought by Calvin, who maintained that the divine care for an individual is not committed only to one angel, sed omnes uno consenu vigilantur pro salute nostra. If we do not think it sufficient that all the hosts of heaven keep watch over us, what will be the value of thinking that one angel in particular is our guardian? This is sound angelology.




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3 Reasons Why I Am Convinced That God Exists

NebulaI am a skeptic by nature. I was a skeptic as an atheist and I am skeptic as a Christian. So why do I believe in God? Obviously since I left atheism, I have thought this over and my belief in God is not based on tradition.

I would like to share three reasons why I am convinced that there is a God. I need to make it clear that I am not offering three reasons why YOU need to believe in God. Nor am I formulating these as philosophical arguments. These are the three reasons that when in the middle of the night I wake up with a question about God that I can go back to sleep in confidence.

  1. I exist. This reason includes a number of philosophical arguments but I’m going to present it as they appear in my mind. I live in a universe that exists, on a world that has life and I’m a complex life form living among a wide variety of other complex life forms. I’m too skeptical to believe this was an accident.
  2. I believe that Jesus rose from the dead. The evidence for Jesus being dead one day and being seen alive a couple of days later by a number of people from different backgrounds is very good. Explaining the resurrection of Jesus from a naturalistic perspective is more difficult than explaining it from a theistic perspective.
  3. I believe that God has answered many of my prayers. I do not mean vague prayers like hoping that I would find a parking spot. I mean very specific and dramatic answers to prayer. It has happened too often for me to dismiss them as coincidences.

You might be interested in this podcast episode where I explain my journey from atheism.

Also, here is a podcast episode where I talk about some of the answers to prayer that I have experienced.




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Midweek Apologetics Roundup

Here are some apologetics-related posts that I came across this week. Make sure to go and check them out.

Recommended Book:

Apologetics Study Bible (USA) (Canada)

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The Ontological Argument

The good people at Reasonable Faith have produce another animated apologetics video. This one is on the ontological argument. Make sure to check it out. You may understand the ontological argument for the first time ever!


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Churches Need More of an Inward Focus

CommunityWhat?! Am I out of my mind? Pastors and other church leaders have been working hard for decades to get congregations to move from an inward to an outward focus. We have finally made some progress and now I’m saying that it is time to go back to the old ways?

I’m not suggesting that we go back to the old ways. Let me explain.

I have heard from all the experts that churches need to stop the focus on the congregation and have more of an outreach focus. It seems to make sense and even seems to work.

But as I would read the Scriptures, I was seeing something that was in tension with popular trends. The picture of the early church is one of congregations with a heavy emphasis on caring for their own.

One example would be Galatians 6:10.

Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.

Current wisdom would rewrite Paul’s sentence to say, “especially to those who are not connected to a church.” But Paul doesn’t say that. There is a need to bless all people, but there is especially a need to take care of those within the church.

The picture that Luke gives in Acts is one that emphasizes the caring for the believers.

Now the large group of those who believed were of one heart and mind, and no one said that any of his possessions was his own, but instead they held everything in common. And the apostles were giving testimony with great power to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was on all of them. For there was not a needy person among them, because all those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the proceeds of the things that were sold, and laid them at the apostles’ feet. This was then distributed for each person’s basic needs. (Acts 4:32-35)

What about Jesus? Wouldn’t Jesus emphasize outreach over internal ministry? Scot McKnight, in his book Kingdom Conspiracy, argues for a fresh interpretation of the parable of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25. Most people, including myself, have interpreted “the least of these” as anyone who is in need. McKnight argues that Jesus is actually talking about those who belong to the family of believers who are in need. It is our care for each other that is the measure of this serious judgment.

I can imagine someone reading this and responding with, “What about evangelism?” The early church saw many people coming to faith. You can’t experience that if you are inward focused.

First of all, I’m not arguing against evangelism or other forms of outreach. They are obviously biblical. But taking care of believers is not contrary to evangelism. The picture I see of the early church is that of a healthy and loving community that people outside the church found attractive and wanted to be a part of. The church grew as they cared for their own.

I said that I was not arguing that we go back to the old ways. What I meant is that although there was an inward focus in earlier generations, it was not in a biblical manner. The inward focus was on entertaining Christians and keeping them happy tithers. That is not the picture of the New Testament.

I’m arguing for a church that really cares for its members in the areas that matter. We should be taking each other’s needs seriously and sacrificing for the sake of our brothers and sisters in Christ.

I’m not suggesting that we stop feeding the hungry or caring for the poor in our communities. But I would challenge us as to how well we are doing that within our own congregations first. When we share the Gospel, we are not just offering Jesus, we are also offering the church. What kind of church are we offering to people?

 

 

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The Universe Next Door

Universe Next DoorOne of the most important topics that we can study is that of worldviews. We all have a worldview, the question is how well do we understand our own and that of others? An excellent resource on this topic is The Universe Next Door by James W. Sire.

This is one of the best books that I have read on worldviews. In the book, Sire looks at the following basic questions:

  1. What is prime reality⏤the really real?
  2. What is the nature of external reality, that is, the world around us?
  3. What is a human being?
  4. What happens to a person at death?
  5. Why is it possible to know anything at all?
  6. How do we know what is right and wrong?
  7. What is the meaning of human history?
  8. What personal, life-orienting core commitments are consistent with this worldview?

Each of these questions are applied to the following worldviews:

  • Theism
  • Deism
  • Naturalism
  • Nihilism
  • Existentialism
  • Monism
  • New Age Spirituality
  • Postmodernism
  • Islamic Theism (This chapter is written by Winfried Corduan)

The result is, as the subtitle suggests, a basic worldview catalog. Sire writes with an engaging style that is easy to understand and is also based on extensive research. After going through this book, the reader will have a solid understanding of the major worldviews and will be in a much better position to engage them. I highly recommend The Universe Next Door.


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Good News: Going Back to a Job I Love

Good NewsToday is the last day of three weeks of vacation. In many ways, it has gone by very quickly. We didn’t go away anywhere for vacation but it was still fun to have family time. Someone from our church let us use their pool for a week and that was great. Both Amanda and I slept in longer than we have in a long time. It was very nice.

I often hear people dreading their return to work after vacation. Holidays can be a temporary reprieve from a job that is hated. I’m thankful that is not the case with me.

Not that I want my vacation to be over, but I’m not upset that I go back to work this week. I really enjoy my job at Queen Street Baptist Church. I love both my career as a pastor and the specific congregation that I get to minister with. It will be good to see people from the church again.

My good news is that I have a job that I love. I have not always been in that place but I am now.

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Weekend Leadership Roundup

Here are some leadership posts I discovered this week. Go and check them out!

Recommended Book:

Communicating for a Change: Seven Keys to Irresistible Communication by Andy Stanley and Lane Jones (USA) (Canada)

Recommended Video:

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Redeeming Doubting Thomas

If you were one of Jesus’ twelve apostles, how would you like to be remembered by history? Simon gets to be the Rock. James and John get to be the Sons of Thunder. Thomas? Thomas gets to be Doubting Thomas.

I must confess that I have a soft spot for Thomas and I feel that he gets treated unfairly. So, I was quite pleased when Sean McDowell wrote a piece on Thomas that addressed his supposed doubting. Here is a part of his post and I encourage you to read the full article.

Thomas is my favorite apostle. I love his inquisitive nature (John 14:5) and his demand for evidence (20:24-29). Thomas may have even been the boldest apostle! When Jesus announced to his disciples that he was going to Judea, they tried to stop him (11:8). And yet Thomas was not dissuaded. He boldly proclaimed: “Let us also go, that we may die with him” (11:16). Thomas may have even first evangelized India and died there as a martyr. As I demonstrate in my book The Fate of the Apostles, the stories and traditions surrounding the apostle Thomas are utterly fascinating. In fact, Thomas was one of the most commonly cited apostles in the early apocryphal traditions.[i]

And yet most people simply remember Thomas as a doubter. How unfortunate! The great irony is that Thomas wasn’t even a doubter. That’s right, Thomas was not a doubter. Let me say it one more time to be sure it sinks in—“Doubting Thomas” was not a doubter.

You can read the full post by Sean McDowell here.

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Kingdom Conspiracy – Review

Kingdom ConspiracyThe kingdom of God is arguably the most important topic in the Gospels. It definitely was the core of Jesus’ preaching. But what is the kingdom of God? Scot McKnight tackles this important topic in his book, Kingdom Conspiracy.

McKnight observes two ways of looking at the spectrum that he cleverly calls the skinny jeans and the pleated pants views. Skinny jeans people (the younger generation) see the kingdom as being primarily about acts of justice. Pleated pants (the older generation) see the kingdom in spiritual terms, such as salvation.

McKnight confronts some of the common understandings of the kingdom. For example, he rejects the idea that anything that is consistent with God’s will (such as feeding the hungry, caring for the poor) is included in the kingdom. Such good deeds are admirable and should be encouraged, but they are not the kingdom.

McKnight also rejects the idea that the church and the kingdom are separate categories. Many would see the church and the kingdom as overlapping but different. McKnight argues that the kingdom is the church and the church is the kingdom. Only when something is done as the activity of the church, can it be described as kingdom activity.

McKnight brings together solid New Testament research with a passion for church ministry. The result is a book that is of value to pastors and Bible students. If the kingdom of God was so centrally important to Jesus, we dare not ignore it. Kingdom Conspiracy is a tremendous resource for reflection on the nature of the kingdom of God.


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What Has Been the Most Influential Book in Your Life?

BooksHas there been one book that has really changed or shaped you? Is there one book that you are continually recommending to others?

For me, I would have to say that is C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity. It is not just the content of the book, although that is fantastic, but the way in which Lewis communicates. Part of this is because it began as a series of BBC talks. What I like about it is that is intellectually sound but is not communicated in an overly academic manner. There is a reason why this book has had so much impact over the generations.

What about you? What is the book that has the most impact on you?

Since many of my readers are Christians, let’s take the Bible as a given. Other than the Bible, what book has really shaped you?

Leave your comment here on this blog post (as opposed to social media where you might find this) and I will compile a list of the most influential books. Thanks for your participation!

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Responding to Richard Carrier’s Dating the Corinthian Creed

One of the key passages for Christian apologists is the creed that Paul quotes in 1 Corinthians 15 as part of his discussion on the resurrection.

For I passed on to you as most important what I also received:

that Christ died for our sins
according to the Scriptures,
that He was buried,
that He was raised on the third day
according to the Scriptures,
and that He appeared to Cephas,
then to the Twelve.
Then He appeared to over 500 brothers at one time;
most of them are still alive,
but some have fallen asleep.
Then He appeared to James,
then to all the apostles.
Last of all, as to one abnormally born,
He also appeared to me. (1 Corinthians 15:3-8, HCSB)

It is not surprising that atheist apologist Richard Carrier would want to respond to this.

In his article, Dating the Corinthian Creed, Carrier admits that the creed is very early. He describes it as coming from the dawn of the Christian sect. I fully agree with Carrier on this.

Does this mean that it goes back 2-3 years after the crucifixion, as many evangelical scholars, as well as liberal scholar Gerd Ludemann, claim? Carrier says no.

In my own use of this passage, I don’t rely on such an early dating. First Corinthians is already very early, being from the early to mid-50s. Paul is quoting something earlier, but it is difficult to know when this creed was first formulated. But we know that it is early, as Carrier also agrees.

But there are a couple of other things that I want to address. Carrier suggests that the creed did not originally mention the five hundred, but rather was “then he appeared to all the brethren together at the Pentecost.” That is a simple assertion and there is no evidence for this alternative reading.

He also discounts verse 7 because it is redundant, since James and the Apostles were already covered in the earlier mention of the Twelve. This is simply incorrect. The James mentioned in verse 7 was not one of the Twelve (that was James, son of Zebedee), but was the half-brother of Jesus. Acts clearly knows two James, as the brother of John is an early martyr and brother of Jesus becomes an important leader in the church. I understand it is important for Carrier to conflate the two James because of his belief that Jesus never existed, but it doesn’t fit the evidence.

Also, the Twelve and the Apostles are not exactly the same. The Apostles were a larger group (a number of people outside the Twelve are described as Apostles in Acts) that had a core group of the Twelve. So all of the Twelve were Apostles but not all of the Apostles were the Twelve.

Even if Carrier is right about the five hundred (which I highly doubt), that does nothing to diminish the apologetic value of the creed. It would still make it unlikely that the appearances were a mass hallucination. You don’t need five hundred to make this unlikely.




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How to Have a Successful Blog

BlogI would not consider myself an expert in blogging but I have blogged for ten years and so have learned a thing or two. I would like to share a few ideas about how you can have a successful blog.

The only way to know if you are successful is to determine what your goal is. Are you trying to make money? Are you trying to get readers? Are you trying to build an email list? Are you trying to establish yourself as an expert in your field? Figure this out first.

I’m assuming at this point that you have a blog but perhaps are not happy with the results. Here are some ideas that may bring your blogging to the next level.

  • Blog regularly. It doesn’t have to be every day, but it really shouldn’t be less than once a week. Consistency is key.
  • Produce quality content. It is not enough to just get massive amounts of content on your blog. Work hard to write posts that people are actually going to want to read.
  • Take into account SEO practices. There are simple things that you can do to make it more likely for search engines (especially Google) to find your post. It is worth the extra couple of minutes.
  • Share your posts on social media. A lot of the traffic I get comes from social media, especially Facebook. Join relevant groups and start a page for your blog. Share on your personal page.
  • Make sure you have share buttons prominently displayed on your blog. I’m amazed that I still come across interesting posts that I want to share and I can’t find a share button anywhere. Help people to help you.
  • Do guest posts for other blogs and sites. This does two things. First, it often includes a link back to your site. Secondly, it helps to establish you as an expert in your area.
  • Establish relationships with other bloggers. This can include collaborative projects or just mutual encouragement.
  • Regular review. Take time to reflect on what is working and what is not. Be ready to make changes. There may be minor adjustments or major changes that are needed.

These won’t guarantee that you will become a millionaire blogger, but they should help you to become more successful in what you are trying to accomplish.

Interested in a Blogging Coach?



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Midweek Apologetics Roundup

Here are some apologetics-related posts I discovered this week. Go check them out and feed your mind.

Recommended Book:

God’s Crime Scene: A Cold-Case Detective Examines the Evidence for a Divinely Created Universe by J. Warner Wallace (USA) (Canada)

Recommended Video:

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How I Was Called Into Pastoral Ministry

Stephen BedardI really enjoying being the pastor of a local congregation. It is a fulfilling and stretching career. But how did I get to this point? What led me to pastoral ministry?

This post is about how I first went into ministry. For the story of how I returned to ministry after a three year break, read How I Went From an Ex-Pastor to an Ex-Ex-Pastor.

Perhaps there are some pastors that have one major experience which gave them the push to go into ministry. I am not one of them. I’m not sure if it is just that I was not listening or what. But there were multiple events that led to me into pastoral ministry.

Soon after coming to personal faith, I became involved in a home Bible study. For some reason, after a year I was leading the Bible study. I found it strange that I was the newest Christian and I was leading, but people in the group sensed some teaching gifts. Around the same time, I became involved in leading a Bible study with the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship group at Brock University.

It was also around this time that I went on a short-term mission trip with Operation Mobilization to London, England. A number of people on the team and at the church where we were working began to encourage me to consider pastoral ministry.

You would think this would be enough but it wasn’t, at least not for me. The youth pastor at the church I was attending asked me if I would volunteer as a leader. I said that I would come out once to check it out. He misunderstood and my first evening there, he introduced me as the newest youth leader. This became an important step in my journey into ministry.

One of the most important events did not take place in a church but took place in my parents’ house. It was Christmas day. We never said grace before meals. Although my mother attended church, my father didn’t and he refused to talk religion with me. I asked if I could say grace. I gave thanks for the food but also gave thanks for the gift of Christ. When I opened my eyes, my father was crying and told me that I needed to go into the ministry.

I finally gave in and enrolled in the Master of Divinity program at McMaster Divinity College. Even then, things were uncertain. After the end of my second year, I was seriously considering not continuing in ministry. I was going to continue and finish my MDiv but I didn’t know what I was going to do as a career.

Read my post, Why You Should Get a Master of Divinity Degree.

However, a few weeks before the start of the fall semester, I received a phone call from one of my professors. He wanted to know if I would consider applying for the youth pastor position at the church where he was the senior pastor. I did apply and got the job. This ended up being the church where I was eventually ordained.

The questions and uncertainties I had about pastoral ministry do not make me doubt my call. Rather, they confirm it. I’m thankful that I didn’t just jump into a career because I thought it would be an easy job.

This may be different from other pastor’s call to ministry, but this was my experience.




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Pauline Christology

Pauline ChristologyWas Jesus divine? Was the divinity of Jesus a later invention of the church? What did Paul, our earliest Christian writer, say about Jesus? I can think of no better resource to answer these questions than Gordon Fee’s Pauline Christology.

I have read Fee’s earlier book, God’s Empowering Presence, where Fee looked at every mention of the Spirit by Paul. That was an amazing book. In Pauline Christology, Fee does the same thing for Jesus.

When we think of Jesus as divine, the two passages that often come up are Philippians 2 and Colossians 1. Those are important passages but there is so much more. Fee demonstrates convincingly that Paul’s high christology permeates all of his letters. For example, Paul repeatedly describes Jesus accomplishing what the God of the Old Testament was prophesied to do. Paul’s use of Lord for Jesus was not just a term of respect, but as a statement of Jesus’ divinity.

Pauline Christology, is an essential resource for those interested in biblical studies and also those involved in Christian apologetics.

I recently gave a lecture that touched on the divinity of Jesus, you can listen to it below.

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6 Things You Should Know About Sarcoidosis

SarcoidosisI have a disease that is called sarcoidosis. A lot of people have never heard of sarcoidosis. In order to increase awareness, I would like to share six things that you should know about sarcoidosis.

  1. Sarcoidosis is an inflammatory disease that can attack many different parts of the body.
  2. Even though many online articles will describe it as such, sarcoidosis is not a lung disease. Yes the lungs are one of the most common organs attacked and sarcoidosis is often treated by respirologists, but sarcoidosis can attack many different areas of the body. I have it in my eyes and kidneys, as well as in my lungs.
  3. Many people with sarcoidosis go into complete remission soon after diagnosis, or after an initial prednisone treatment.
  4. Not everyone goes into full remission. Some people experience symptoms for the rest of their life and others experience flareups periodically for the rest of their life.
  5. It is possible to die from sarcoidosis, especially if it gets in the heart or if there is significant damage done to the lungs.
  6. Just because a person with sarcoidosis looks healthy, does not mean that they are not suffering from pain and fatigue.

I share my experience with sarcoidosis here.

 


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What is 4 Maccabees?

Despite the name of this book, 4 Maccabees has nothing to do with Judas Maccabeus and his brothers. So why is it called 4 Maccabees?

4 Maccabees is in the Hellenistic Judaism tradition. The point of the book is that reason can be used to overcome every situation. The author uses some Old Testament examples to start off but then spends most of his time talking about Eleazar and the seven brothers, who we were introduced to in 2 Maccabees.

These Jews were tortured during the reign or Antiochus IV Epiphanes. In this version of their story, it is more their use of reason than their faith that allows them to remain loyal to their traditions and face death bravely. The proper use of reason is the focus of the entire book.

One other interesting aspect of this book is the view of the afterlife. The martyrs in 2 Maccabees look forward to the resurrection of the body. In 4 Maccabees, it is the immortality of the soul that is the hope.

You can find the text for 4 Maccabees online but I’m using the one found in the The New Oxford Annotated Bible.

If you want to learn more about the Apocrypha, I recommend that you listen to this podcast episode.

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Good News: Teaching at Tyndale

I just finished teaching a course on the Apostle Paul at Tyndale University College. I have been teaching for the adult modular program at Tyndale since 2010. I still remember being contacted by Daniel Wong and being offered the opportunity to teach a course on 1 Corinthians. It was dream come true to be able to teach a course at the university level.

I have taught quite a few courses for Tyndale since then. My experience at Tyndale played a big part in allowing me to teach at Emmanuel Bible College for a number of years.

I love teaching, whether it the New Testament, apologetics or ethics. I enjoy working through important subjects and learning from my students. My recent course on the Apostle Paul was no exception.

If you are an adult (over 25) who works during the day but would like to get a theological degree, you should check out the program I teach with. I will be teaching a course on Revelation, Nov. 2016 – Jan. 2017. That should be a pretty interesting class.

I love being a pastor and I have no intention of seeking a career in full-time teaching, but I do appreciate these teaching opportunities that come my way. I believe strongly in keeping the connection between the church and the academy as close as possible.

I’m so thankful for my teaching experience and this is my good news.

You can listen to some short excerpts of my lectures on the Apostle Paul at the links below:

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4 Bible Passages That Totally Confuse Me

ConfusionI love it when people contact me and seek clarification about the meaning of Bible passages. As a pastor and a Bible teacher, I love this stuff.

Most of the time.

There are certain passages that for me are just hard to understand. This is not a plea for people to explain them to me. I have read the explanations but I still find them rather strange. Here are four passages that totally confuse me.

  1. “On the trip, at an overnight campsite, it happened that the Lord confronted him (Moses) and sought to put him to death. So Zipporah took a flint, cut off her son’s foreskin, and threw it at Moses’ feet. Then she said, “You are a bridegroom of blood to me!” So He let him alone. At that time she said, “You are a bridegroom of blood,” referring to the circumcision.” (Exodus 4:24-26, HCSB)
  2. “Jesus shouted again with a loud voice and gave up His spirit. Suddenly, the curtain of the sanctuary was split in two from top to bottom; the earth quaked and the rocks were split. The tombs were also opened and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. And they came out of the tombs after His resurrection, entered the holy city, and appeared to many.” (Matthew 27:50-53, HCSB)
  3. “Otherwise what will they do who are being baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, then why are people baptized for them?” (1 Corinthians 15:29)
  4. “But she will be saved through childbearing, if she continues in faith, love, and holiness, with good judgment.” (1 Timothy 2:15, HCSB)

What Bible passages do you find confusing?


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Weekend Leadership Roundup

LeadershipHere are some leadership posts I came across this week. Go and check them out right now.

Recommended Book:

Leadership That Works: Hope and Directions for Church and Parachurch Leaders in Today’s Complex World by Leith Anderson (USA)

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What is Christian Apologetics?

Christian ApologeticsIs this even a question worth asking? Doesn’t everyone know what Christian apologetics is?

I would suggest that we need to define Christian apologetics clearly. It is bad definitions of apologetics that lead to some people and churches rejecting apologetics. Some people define apologetics as attempting to bully people into faith with a barrage of intellectual arguments. While they might not use those words, this ends up being the form of apologetics they reject.

What is apologetics?

Apologetics comes from the Greek apologia, from which we get the word apology. People are quick to clarify that we do not apologize for being Christians. However, from the original meaning of the word, that is exactly what we do.

When my son hits my daughter (not that that would ever happen!), we tell him to apologize. He then goes on to explain why he hit her. We then tell him that we were not looking for his reasons, we were looking for an expression of regret. But technically our son would be correct (not in hitting his sister).

Make sure to check out my Apologetics Resources.

An apology is about giving a reason or a defence for something. Apologetics is not limited to the Christian faith. If you can give a reason why you think hockey is the greatest sport, you have just done apologetics. Christian apologetics is simply doing the same thing but for the Christian faith.

I like James Sire’s definition of Christian apologetics:

Christian apologetics lays before the watching world such a winsome embodiment of Christian faith that for any and all who are willing to observe there will be an intellectually and emotionally credible witness to its fundamental truth.

I also like John Stackhouse’s definition:

I suggest that anything that helps people take Christianity more seriously than they did before, anything that helps defend and commend it, properly counts as apologetics, and should be part of any comprehensive program of apologetics.

What I like about these definitions is that they can include philosophical arguments but are not limited to them. As helpful a the cosmological argument might be, Christian experience and social justice can also be used as apologetics. We should not limit ourselves to a needlessly small number of defences for the truth of the faith.

So what is Christian apologetics?

Christian apologetics is the reason why we believe Christianity to be true. Thankfully, there are many reasons for us to present to those looking for the truth.




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5 Ways a Church Can Support Their Pastor

ChurchBeing the pastor of a church can be a rewarding experiencing. However, much of that depends on the nature of the congregation. Individuals within a church have the power to make or break the experience of the pastor.

Assuming that the congregation wants the pastor to be effective in ministry, here are five ways that the church can support their pastor.

  1. Be careful with your criticism. Nothing wears a pastor down like the nitpicking and muttering of people who are never happy. This is not to say that the pastor is always above criticism. Just make sure that you are not looking for every little mistake to satisfy your own desire to be superior.
  2. Offer words of encouragement. I don’t mean the obligatory “Nice sermon, pastor” at the end of the service. But if the pastor is doing something positive and edifying, take a moment to mention it. It really does make a difference.
  3. Don’t place expectations on the pastor’s family. It is not easy having your family on display. Whether you like it or not, the pastor’s family is under the same pressures and temptations as everyone else. Have some grace toward the pastor’s family.
  4. If you have a concern, go directly to the pastor. Keeping in mind the first point above, if you have a concern don’t spread it around the congregation. As soon as your concern arises, go directly to the pastor and speak with a gentle and humble attitude.
  5. Pray for your pastor. Being a pastor is great, but it can be difficult at times. Take some time to pray for your pastor and let your pastor know that you are doing it. You make even want to ask for specific prayer requests.
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Why You Should Get a Master of Divinity Degree

McMaster Divinity CollegePerhaps you are considering attending seminary and getting a theological degree. But what degree should you pursue? I would like to put forth the case for getting a Master of Divinity (MDiv) degree.

  • The MDiv is the standard degree for many denominations for ordained pastoral ministry.
  • The MDiv offers a blend of academic and ministry courses that provide a balanced education.
  • The variety within the MDiv gives the student a taste of different subjects that is helpful in deciding potential future studies.
  • Most MDiv programs have some sort of practical field education which is extremely valuable.
  • Even if you are considering an academic career, many seminaries and Christian universities see the MDiv as valuable because it helps you to bridge the gap between the academy and the church.
  • The MDiv opens up the most doors when it comes to careers post-seminary.

These are just some of the advantages of pursuing a Master of Divinity degree. If you found this helpful, you might be interested in my post, What Theological Degree Should You Get?




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Midweek Apologetics Roundup

Here are some apologetics-related posts that I came across. Go and check them out.

Recommended Book:

The Historical Jesus: Five Views edited by James K. Beilby and Paul R. Eddy (USA) (Canada)

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Health Update

In my last health update, I reported that I had developed diabetes after having begun a prednisone treatment for my sarcoidosis. It has been a while since then, so I thought I would give a new update.

There is good news and bad news.

The good news is that I am almost finished weaning myself off of prednisone. This has had the desired effect on my blood sugar. I had been taking insulin at each meal and at bedtime. I have now been able to eliminate all of the mealtime insulin and am decreasing the bedtime insulin. My blood sugar is lower now than it was when I was on the insulin, and that is with a bit of cheating.

So what’s the bad news?

Although I’m weaning off the prednisone, I have started another medication for the sarcoidosis. That is fine except it does not seem to be as effective as the prednisone. My fatigue is back. I have been sleeping in most mornings (I’m currently on holidays) and yet I still need a nap after being up only an hour. In addition, the aches and pains in my muscles and joints is coming back.

This is the challenge of sarcoidosis. Prednisone is the most effective treatment but it has bad side effects on my blood sugar and cholesterol. So I have to weigh the benefits and drawbacks. At this point, I’m happy to be almost off prednisone and am willing to work around the sarcoidosis symptoms I have.

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A Little Primer on Humble Apologetics

Little Primer on Humble ApologeticsAs a part of my research for my DMin thesis, I recently read James Sire’s A Little Primer on Humble Apologetics. I really didn’t have any expectations going into it but I ended up loving this book. Sire, who was a student of Francis Schaeffer, brings not only an intellectual understanding of the topic, but practical experience from working with university students.

I particularly liked Sire’s definition of apologetics:

Christian apologetics lays before the watching world such a winsome embodiment of Christian faith that for any and all who are willing to observe there will be an intellectually and emotionally credible witness to its fundamental truth.

That is good stuff! That is the kind of definition that should break down much of the opposition to apologetics in many of our churches.

Sire does a fantastic job of setting up the biblical basis for apologetics. He also takes the reader through both the value and the limits of apologetics. By providing a realistic view of apologetics and its role, Sire demonstrates the type of context in which apologetics can be effective.

Sire gives brief summaries of various apologetics arguments, but that is not the purpose of the book. Instead, Sire offers suggested reading for those who want to go deeper.

This is a great little introduction to apologetics that should be used widely.

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How to Talk to Your Pastor About Apologetics

I have heard from a number of people who have been frustrated when their church leadership does not seem interested in apologetics. You have read the books and have been to the conferences and you know how powerful apologetics can be. But when you talk to your pastor, there seems to be no interest. What are you to do?

As an apologist and a pastor, I have a foot in both worlds. I am sympathetic to both sides. I would like to share some ideas about communicating the importance of apologetics to your pastor.

Don’t Do This

  • Don’t hand your pastor an armful of books on apologetics to read. People are always suggesting/lending/giving books to pastors. At the same time, pastors have their own list of books to read.
  • Don’t tell your pastor to start an apologetics group. Pastors are already busy and everyone wants them to focus on their particular interest.
  • Don’t tell your pastor about another pastor who is interested in apologetics. Being compared to another pastor is not great motivation.

Do This

  • Tell your pastor about one influential book on apologetics but don’t ask them to read it. Summarize it or share a review you have written about the book.
  • Talk about apologetics in terms of evangelism or discipleship. Evangelism and discipleship should already be important for the church.
  • Share stories about how apologetics has influenced your Christian faith.
  • Tell your pastor what you are willing to do to make something happen rather than what you expect them to do.

Follow these principles and you may find that you have more success in introducing apologetics to your church.




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What is 2 Esdras?

2 EsdrasLike 1 Esdras, 2 Esdras was not written by Ezra. The earliest part of the book was not written until the first century AD. Second Esdras is made up of a Jewish writing called 4 Ezra with 5 Ezra stuck at the beginning and 6 Esdras at the end. Although 4 Ezra is a Jewish writing, the other sections are Christian.

Second Esdras belongs to the apocalyptic genre and so it is helpful when looking at Revelation. In fact, Revelation and 2 Esdras was written around the same time. This book is another example of the Jews looked to the destruction of the first temple by the Babylonians in their attempts to deal with the destruction of the second temple by the Romans.

You can find the text for 2 Esdras online but I’m using the one found in the The New Oxford Annotated Bible.

If you want to learn more about the Apocrypha, I recommend that you listen to this podcast episode:

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3 Things Pastors Can Learn From Donald Trump

Donald TrumpDuring this election season, I must confess that I’m thankful that I’m a Canadian. My thoughts and prayers are with my American brothers and sisters. In some ways I’m surprised that Donald Trump has made it to this point that there is a good possibility that he might be the next president.

I have no desire to attack him but I do believe that there is something that pastors and other leaders can learn from the rise of Donald Trump.

1. Fear is a Powerful Motivation

I am not expert in politics but I would guess that a large part of Trump’s success is his ability to tap into people’s fears. Whether or not it is based in truth, people are afraid of terrorism and illegal immigration. Trump has been able to name those fears and address them head on. We may disagree with his answers, but tackling those fears has been effective for him.

Pastors need to be aware of this principle. In no way am I promoting fear mongering. But there are things that people fear and instead of ignoring them, pastors should be willing to address them. It has been demonstrated that fear is a powerful motivation for change. Speaking to fear in a healthy way can be beneficial.

2. Clear Vision is Attractive

I am not a fan of Donald Trump. But it does not take a lot of guess work to figure out where he stands. One of the reasons that he is hated by so many people is that he does not hide what he wants. There is a clear vision. Whether it is good or bad is another question.

Where is the pastor taking the church? Is the vision clear? It is not enough to have a vision on the letterhead or the website. The vision needs to be pushed and articulated clearly on a regular basis.

3. Confidence is Inspiring

For all the criticism, I have never heard people suggest that Trump lacks confidence. Some may argue that he is overconfident. I would guess that there are many people in this uncertain world that find Trump’s confidence to be refreshing.

I’m not saying that pastors should try and act like Donald Trump. But a bit of confidence, anchored in an understanding of God’s sovereignty, could benefit some pastors. Is the message that the congregation is hearing just some vague hope of keeping the doors open for another year? Or does the pastor really believe that God is going to do something big with and through the congregation?

 

 

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Weekend Leadership Roundup

Here are some leadership posts I came across this week. Go and check them out.

Recommended Book

Autopsy of a Deceased Church: 12 Ways to Keep Yours Alive by Thom S. Rainer (USA) (Canada)

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What is Your Goal for Apologetics?

I’m sure that most people involved in apologetics want to be successful in their apologetics endeavours. But how can you know if you are successful? You need some way to measure. One way to do this is to set some goals.

General Goals

I would start with some very general goals. What are you trying to accomplish with apologetics? Here are some potential goals:

  • Provide apologetics resources for seekers.
  • Increase confidence of the truth of Christianity for Christians.
  • Increase acceptability and respect for apologetics within churches.
  • Develop more apologetics material in a certain area that you have background or interest in.

These goals are not enough but they give you some place to start. It is better than just having a goal to do apologetics.

Specific Goals

Once you have a general idea of what you want to accomplish, it is time to develop some specific goals. These are goals that are aimed at a specific task or event and that you can measure your success or failure. Here are some examples of specific goals.

  • Start a small group for seekers that looks at the claims of Christianity.
  • Lead a workshop on an apologetics-related topic at your church.
  • Start an apologetics blog or podcast.
  • Write an eBook on a specific apologetics topic.

The aim of all this is to set a goal that is possible but is also stretching. Setting a goal to share the gospel with everyone on the planet, while admirable, is not practical. Set a goal that you can actually accomplish and be thinking of how you can set your next goal just a little higher.




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5 Reasons I Write About the Jesus Myth

Jesus MythIf I have a specialty in apologetics, it is in responding to the Jesus Myth Theory. The JMT argues that there was no historical Jesus and the Jesus of the Gospels is based on pagan myths.

My first major foray into the apologetics world was co-writing Unmasking the Pagan Christ. Since then, I have written a number of journal articles and many blog posts on the JMT. My most recent book, Unmasking the Jesus Myth, also responds to the JMT. I have another book planned, but I won’t start it until I’m done my Doctor of Ministry thesis.

Why do I write so much on the JMT? I’m glad you asked. Here are five reasons why I write about the Jesus Myth.

  1. Jesus is the most important part of Christianity. If we get Jesus wrong, we get everything wrong.
  2. The Jesus Myth Theory is getting more popular and not less popular. People are being led astray and somebody needs to respond.
  3. I have always loved history and have been naturally drawn to historical Jesus studies.
  4. I love mythology. I studied classics a bit in university and have been collecting books on mythology, as well as Greco-Roman history for some time.
  5. I value the truth. The claims made by mythicists are lies that need to be exposed. It is not just my opinion that Dionysus was not born of a virgin. The myths describe his conception as taking place through intercourse. This is typical of the JMT.

If you want to learn more, I encourage you to pick up my book, Unmasking the Jesus Myth. (USA) (Canada)

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Midweek Apologetics Roundup

Here are some apologetics-related posts that I have discovered this week. Make sure to go and check them out.

Recommended Book:

Humble Apologetics: Defending the Faith Today by John G. Stackhouse (USA) (Canada)

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5 Reasons Why Pastors Should Care About Apologetics

As both a pastor and an apologist, I believe that there should be connections between both roles. I actually became an apologist because of a need that arose while being a pastor at a local church.

I also understand that there are many pastors who are not interested in apologetics. They believe that the keys to successful ministry are community, relationships and Christian experience. I’m all in favour of those things. But I would argue that apologetics should play an important role as well.

Here are five reasons that pastors should care about apologetics.

  1. There are Christians in our churches that are not confident in their faith. They struggle with certain issues and wish that someone would address them.
  2. There are skeptics and critics of Christianity who are actively trying to attack Christianity with their own form of apologetics.
  3. Apologetics is a way for us to worship God with our minds.
  4. There are seekers that are held back by unanswered questions.
  5. The Bible tells us that we should (1 Peter 3:15).


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Don’t Be That Pastor

PastorI recently wrote a blog post called Don’t Be That Apologist, where I gave some examples of apologists (without names) that are bad examples. I thought I would do the same thing for pastors.

As a pastor, I have made plenty of mistakes and have witnessed mistakes by other pastors. Unfortunately there are lots of bad examples. So I would urge you to not be that pastor who…

  • Gives in to our current biblical illiteracy by not teaching the Bible.
  • Sees their current pastoral position as simply a stepping stone to something better in the future.
  • Sacrifices their family for the sake of ministry.
  • Tries to do all the ministry by themselves, leaving nothing for the congregation.
  • Spends more time in meetings than being with the people or preparing for sermons.
  • Isolates themselves from the congregation.
  • Neglects to invest in other leaders (whether staff or lay).
  • Requires authority over others for self-worth.
  • Attempts to please everyone in the congregation.
  • Loses their relationship with God in the busyness of ministry.
  • Gives up on the Church because of some bad experiences with a local congregation.

Whatever you do, don’t be that pastor.




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Abortion and Euthanasia

This is a message that was preached at Queen Street Baptist Church.

Introduction

You Asked For ItThe Ten Commandments have been a huge influence in the development of morals in western society. Each of the commandments are important, but the commandment against killing would seem to be the least controversial. Thou shalt not kill. Or as more accurately found in most translations, you shall not murder.

Why this distinction? The Old Testament does include teaching that allows for the killing of some human life. There are commands about how to engage in warfare, which necessarily leads to some killing. There are also commands that include capital punishment. Now it can be argued about the role of both these means of death in the New Testament era, but that is not our purpose here. Rather, I’m simply stating that there are biblical examples for taking the life of a human that is acceptable. This should lead us to reflect on if there are any other exceptions.

We live in a society where abortion is both legal and socially acceptable. We also live in a society where euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide are soon to be embraced. Can we include these as reasonable exceptions to the command against killing if they are done for compassionate reasons? We need to reflect deeply on this.

Abortion

I need to begin by saying that my purpose is not to condemn women who have had abortions. I do not know if anyone here has had an abortion. I believe in grace and healing. I believe in educating people rather than condemning people. I hope that my words are heard in that context.

My first experience in the pro-life/pro-choice debate took place in a seminar at Brock University. I was not a Christian at the time. The topic of our seminar was abortion. I had been on the fence on the issue but had been moving toward the pro-life position. When I indicated that I was leaning toward pro-life, I suddenly found myself facing fierce anger from the female students. Being against abortion was seen as an attack on women. The only reason they could see that a person would be pro-life was if they hated women and were determined to take away all of the hard fought freedoms and rights that women had achieved. I was shocked by the level of anger. I was also surprised at the accusation of being anti-woman. I was not even thinking about limitations on women. I simply thought that if I was a fetus, which I once was, I would rather that my mother not have an abortion. Not as punishment for my mother but so I could live. Since then, my pro-life views have evolved, but they still do not contain any anti-women content. Since about half of babies conceived are female, I would say that I’m very pro-woman.

Since about half of babies conceived are female, I would say that I’m very pro-woman. Click To Tweet

I want to tackle another misconception. It is often assumed that the pro-life position is religious and that is one of the reasons that view should be suppressed. But in my case, I came to my view while I was an atheist. In my view, this life was the only life that anyone ever had. There was no afterlife to make up for anything bad that happened here. Because of that, I thought it only fair that every baby conceived have the opportunity to enjoy this one chance. It seemed to make sense from an atheist worldview. 

Having said all that, there are many people who strongly argue that abortion is acceptable and should remain legal. Here are some of the questions that come up.

For some people it is a matter of when life starts. For people who are pro-life, the answer is at conception. For others, it is some other later date. However, aside from morning after pills, most abortions take place when both camps agree that there is some life going on there.

For some, the key is that the fetus is part of the woman’s body. Because of this, the woman can choose to do with her body as she wishes. We would not interfere with a woman making choices about any other parts of their body, why would we interfere with her choice about a fetus? One of the problems with this is that research has demonstrated that the fetus has a distinct DNA from the mother and so is in a different category from any other part of her body.

For some others, there is agreement that the baby is alive and has its own DNA. What makes abortion acceptable is that it is not yet a person. Personhood and being a human being are seen as different things. A person is aware of their own life and have preferences of if they live or die. A baby would not be a person until they are at least a month old or later and so even infanticide should be considered a possibility. This category of personhood can also be used to determine if the elderly, the sick or the disabled have the right to life that people who are clearly persons do. This is very frightening. Taking away rights by placing artificial labels has only led to harm.

Why am I pro-life? There are two main reasons. The first is biblical. There is the command not to kill innocent life. But even more important than that is the biblical witness to the value of human life. I think of passages like this from Psalm 139:

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; our works are wonderful, I know that full well. (Psalm 139:14-15)

And there is this word to the prophet Jeremiah:

Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations. (Jeremiah 1:5)

But I also am pro-life from personal circumstances. Our two oldest children are on the severe end of the autism spectrum. Our three youngest children, which we have adopted, were unwanted pregnancies born to a woman in difficult circumstances. To many, all five of our children would have been prime candidates for abortion and yet I’m so thankful that they are alive.

Euthanasia

Somewhat related to this topic is that of euthanasia. What is euthanasia? The word itself simply means “good death,” and so by literal definition, we would all agree with it. The question is, what is a good death? Euthanasia in its current meaning means to put to death a person that it is felt does no longer have a good quality of life. Euthanasia is when the doctor administers a substance that ends the life. Physician assisted suicide has similar motives, but in this case it is the doctor providing the substance to the patient and the patient administering it to themselves.

Euthanasia has a powerful emotional argument. We are to imagine a terminally ill patient who is suffering unbearable pain and it is urged that the only humane thing to do would be to end that life.

However, this worst case scenario is usually not the typical situation. Good quality palliative care with properly administered pain medication can provide an end of life situation that is much different from those promoted by supporters of euthanasia.

But what about those who are terminally ill? They can no longer do the things they want to do? What is their quality of life? The problem is that we measure quality of life by what people can do. That is not the way God measures value. We are valuable by being created in the image of God and being able to interact in relationships. A terminally ill person may be frustrated by their limitations, but that does not mean that they can’t bless other people with their wisdom and love.

Something else that we need to keep in mind is that we have the benefit of learning from the experiences of Belgium and the Netherlands, which have had legal euthanasia for years. We can see that it has moved far from terminally ill people in unbearable pain. Now you do not have to be terminally ill or to be physically sick in order to request and be granted euthanasia. Not only that, there is evidence that the patient no longer has to request or even be informed of the doctor’s intention to euthanize. If a doctor feels it is a hopeless case and they need the room in the hospital, the doctor can just decide to euthanize the patient.

To make things more complicated, there is a difference between active and passive euthanasia. Active euthanasia is the administering a substance that will end of life. Passive euthanasia is when the decision is made withhold treatment, whether medication or breathing assistance. Passive euthanasia is much different and I do not see that as being wrong. Thirty-five years ago, my aunt collapsed after a brain aneurysm. She never regain consciousness and was considered brain dead. My mother had to make the decision to disconnect her from life support and I believe she made the right decision. She allowed nature to take its course.

Conclusion

Abortion and euthanasia are difficult topics. But they are important and need to be discussed. There are different aspects of the issue that need to be raised. But one of them is what the Bible says about life. Life is important and valuable. Life is a gift. The value of life is not dependent on what the individual can do. From the time that life begins in the mother’s womb to the last breath on our death bed, we have value. We do not need people to label us as persons. Simply being a living human means we are created in God’s image. That is a good reason for us to take life seriously. We need to stand up for life. But we need to do it respectfully and with love.

The value of life is not dependent on what the individual can do. Click To Tweet

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Good News: Vacation Time!

Good NewsIt is easy to come up with good news today. Today is the start of three weeks of vacation. What makes this better, is that my excitement is not about the chance to get away from work. I love my job and I enjoy doing what I do. This won’t be one of those vacations where it takes two weeks just to recover from a terrible job.

What I am excited about is the chance to spend lots of time with the family. The vacation is already off to a great start. After my Sunday afternoon nap (always a necessity!), we went as a family to see Star Trek Beyond. You can read what I thought of it here.

After the movie, we went out for a bike ride as family. This is the first time we have ever done that. We stopped at the park and played tennis for a while. It was a lot of fun.

We don’t really have any plans to go away, but we intend to have lots of fun. All of this is very good news.

Stephen Bedard

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Don’t Be That Apologist

It is easy to call oneself an apologist. It is a different thing to be a good and effective apologist. There are plenty of bad examples of apologetics for us to learn from. Obviously, I won’t name names. But I will give examples of the apologist that you shouldn’t be.

Don’t be that apologist who is…

  • More interested in attacking other orthodox Christians than defending the faith against skeptics.
  • Known more for their angry outbursts than for the reasoning of their arguments.
  • Not so concerned with accuracy as long as what they presents supports their views.
  • Focused more on the winning of the argument than helping the individual.
  • Losing their own spiritual life as they read the Bible for only apologetics fodder.
  • Always learning but never putting into practice what they learn.
  • Making a bad name for apologetics.
  • No fun to be around.

Whatever you do, don’t be that apologist.

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Weekend Leadership Roundup

Here are some leadership posts that I came across this week. Go and check them out.

Recommended Book:

Whom Moved my Pulpit? by Thom Rainer (USA) (Canada)

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4 Reasons to Study the Apostle Paul

I’m currently teaching a course on the Apostle Paul at Tyndale University College. One of the things that I ask my students is, why should we study the Apostle Paul? Shouldn’t we be “red letter Christians,” that is shouldn’t we just follow Jesus and not worry about Paul? After all, we are Christ-ians and not Paul-ians.

I would affirm that I am indeed a follower of Jesus and it is only in the name of Jesus that we find forgiveness and eternal life. But I would also affirm that it is important to study the Apostle Paul. Here are four reasons why.

  1. Our New Testament doesn’t stop after John (or Acts). The New Testament includes thirteen letters of Paul and the early church, right from the beginning saw Paul’s letters as worth including with the Gospels. We dare not reject that lightly.
  2. Most of us are Gentile (non-Jewish) Christians. Jesus’ teachings, while definitely applicable to us, were given in a Jewish context. Paul applies the gospel in a Gentile setting, raising issues that are relevant to us.
  3. Paul’s teachings are in continuity with Jesus’ teachings. Some people attempt to pit Jesus against Paul. Some even try to make Paul the founder of Christianity. The truth is that Jesus and Paul preach the same gospel. Paul works out the details of application more widely than Jesus, but it is the same gospel.
  4. Paul received his gospel from Jesus. God spoke through Paul to the churches he wrote to and God continues to speak to us through Paul. Some of the key events in church history (e.g. Reformation) have been sparked by fresh readings of Paul.

The truth is that we do not have to choose between Jesus and Paul. We are to be followers of Jesus, but we can look to Paul, another follower of Jesus, as a brilliant and practical theologian who applies the Jesus gospel to real life.


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If I Could Restart My Life…

Stephen BedardThis morning, my ten year old son asked me a very interesting question. He asked me, if I could restart my life, what job would I want to do?

Imagine having that second chance. Being able to design your education and plan your experiences to gain that dream job that you have always wanted. What would you do?

For myself, there was no hesitation. I would choose the career that I am in right now, a pastor. I love doing what I’m doing. I would not want to do anything else.

This might be surprising to you if you are a long time reader of this blog because I went through a significant period of time where I didn’t think I would return to pastoral ministry. However, it was that break in ministry (which I do not regret) that confirms for me that I’m doing what I’m supposed to do.

Read How I Went From an Ex-Pastor to an Ex-Ex-Pastor

It is a pretty amazing feeling to realize that where I’m at now is not a stepping stone to something else. I’m not biding my time until I can become a full-time professor. I’m not waiting for my big break as a conference speaker. I’m where I want to be.

Understanding that one can never know the future, my hope and intention is to remain at Queen Street Baptist Church for the rest of my career. St. Catharines is my hometown and I don’t want to leave. I don’t see QSBC as stop along the way to getting a bigger and more glamorous church. I love QSBC.

That is not to say that I’m fully content the way things are and have no (healthy) ambition. I want to be the best possible pastor here and I look forward to new projects and initiatives that will take place in the context of QSBC.

I’m thankful that I’m in this place and doing what I’m doing. If I could start over, I would want to get back to where I am right now.




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What is 3 Maccabees?

3 MaccabeesOne would assume, based on the title, that like 1 and 2 Maccabees, that 3 Maccabees is an account of the revolt led by Judas Maccabeus. That would be a reasonable assumption. It would also be incorrect.

Despite the title, 3 Maccabees has nothing to do with Judas Maccabeus or his family. Rather 3 Maccabees is a fictional account of Egyptian Jews under Ptolemy IV Philopater, half a century before the Maccabean period.

The basic plot is that Ptolemy was visiting Jerusalem and wanted full access to the Jerusalem Temple, including the area that only the high priest could enter in. Ptolemy is prevented from doing so and reacts by severely persecuting the Jews back in Alexandria. This persecution includes attempts to get the Jews to worship Dionysus. The story is a bit humorous in that Ptolemy unsuccessfully attempts numerous times to execute the Jews with a herd of drunken elephants. Although, this is a fictional account, there were indeed strained relations between the Jews and Greeks in Alexandria at various times.

So why is it called 3 Maccabees? Likely because it has the same tone and theme as 1 and 2 Maccabees. Just as a Jewish remnant endure persecution by Gentiles under Antiochus IV, the same thing happens here under Ptolemy IV. All three books call the Jewish people to faithfulness, even under the most difficult of circumstances.

You can find the text for 3 Maccabees online but I’m using the one found in the The New Oxford Annotated Bible.

If you want to learn more about the Apocrypha, I recommend that you listen to this podcast episode:

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4 Questions Pastors Need to Ask

PulpitThe unfortunate reality is that not all pastors finish well. We hear about the pastors of megachurches who have moral failures but it happens in small churches all the time. The key is not to wait until the pastor is in burnout or is dealing with the consequences of bad choices. Like every other area of life, preventative medicine is the way to go.

Here are four questions that all pastors should be asking themselves.

Why am I Doing What I am Doing?

Being a pastor can be an enjoyable and rewarding career but it is important to reflect on motives. Are you doing it because it can be an “easy” job? Are you doing it because of the rush of having so many people look up to you? Is it something that feeds your ego? Or are you doing it because you feel that God has called you to pastor a congregation?

Am I Sacrificing My Family for Ministry?

While things have changed somewhat, some congregations still respect pastors who work 70-80 hours a week and never see their families. The truth is that you will one day leave your current congregation but family will always be family. You cannot be a good pastor if you are a bad spouse or parent. How do you want people in your congregation to treat their families? Treat yours the same. Lead by example.

Am I Sacrificing My Relationship With God for Ministry?

Pastors spend more time reading the Bible and attending worship services than anyone else. So they must be the most spiritual, right? Unfortunately not. It is difficult to worship at church when you are leading and are thinking about the next thing that you need to do. It is difficult to read the Bible without looking for a possible sermon. Pastors need to work extra hard on their relationship with God.

How Desperate Are You for Your Church to Grow?

It is good to want your church to grow. It is admirable that you are willing to work hard to make that happen. But desperation can be a dangerous thing. First of all, desperation can be a sign that your ego is wrapped too tightly around your ministry. Secondly, desperation can lead to a willingness to compromise if it will provide the results. In the long run, this will be disastrous.

I’m so thankful for all of the faithful and hard working pastors out there. God bless you for what you do. But I encourage you to ask these questions of yourself on a regular basis.




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Unmasking the Jesus Myth

Unmasking the Jesus MythI am excited to tell you about a brand new resource. My newest book, Unmasking the Jesus Myth, is now available in Kindle!

What is this book and why should you buy it? In 2006, I co-wrote a book with Stanley Porter, called Unmasking the Pagan Christ. It was a response to one specific mythicist, Tom Harpur, although it certainly is relevant to the Jesus Myth in general.

Since that time, I have seen only growth in the popularity of the Jesus Myth. Often it is my blog posts on the Jesus Myth that get the most hits. I frequently hear from Christians who are looking for resources to respond to the Jesus Myth.

Unmasking the Jesus Myth is written for the interested layperson who needs a way to respond to the Jesus Myth. I purposely limited the footnotes in the main body of the book and I focus on practical ways to respond. At the same time, I included three articles that I wrote for journals that provide more academic responses for those who need that.

I am very happy with the final product and I believe this will be a helpful resource for many Christians.

You can get Unmasking the Jesus Myth from Kindle (USA) (Canada).

If you don’t own a Kindle reader, you can get a Kindle app for Mac, PC or Android.

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Spiritual Warfare

A sermon based on Ephesians 6:10-20 preached at Queen Street Baptist Church.

Introduction

You Asked For ItI remember back about twenty-five years ago when I was deep into my spiritual journey. I had recently moved from atheism to a generic belief in God. I was then working for some Christians and they were eager to get me to convert to Christianity. They spoke to me about Jesus every day and I endured it because I was paid to listen. I had started to read the Bible and to reflect on who Jesus was and what he had done for us. I had actually gotten to the point where I was seriously considering becoming a Christian.

Then one day as I was cleaning my boss’s pool, his wife began to talk to me about demons and evil spirits. At first I thought she was joking but she was serious. She really believed in demons and thought they were active in corrupting and oppressing people. This actually put the brakes on my willingness to become a Christian because it sounded more like mythology than truth.

Fast forward a number of years. I had finally become a Christian and had discovered C.S. Lewis. In addition to his apologetics books like Mere Christianity, I also read his fiction like the Screwtape Letters. The Screwtape Letters are written as a series of letters from a senior demon to a junior demon, giving advice on how to corrupt a man and to keep him away from God. As I read it, even though it is full of humour and fantasy, I was struck at how it rang true. But how was it true? Was it true in that Lewis had discovered aspects of human psychology and nature? Or was it true in the sense that there are spiritual forces that affect how we act and respond to temptation? Those are good questions.

As I have mentioned many times, I am a skeptic by nature. I do not apologize for that. But I’m left with biblical and experiential evidence about the spiritual aspect of life and I need to sort through it. Our passage in Ephesians 6 is a great place to start.

The Spiritual Realm Exists

Is there an actual Satan? Are there demons and evil spirits? Depending on what part of the world we come from, it may be harder or easier to believe in. What we have to acknowledge is that Satan and his demons are mentioned throughout the Bible, in the Old and New Testaments, in the Gospels and in Paul. Their existence is just assumed by the biblical writers.

So why is it so difficult for us to believe in them? A big part of it is how they are portrayed in literature and popular culture. We picture a kingdom of flaming hell ruled by a devil dressed in red with pointy horns, leading armies of winged demons who systematically torture all the poor souls who are damned to hell. The problem is that none of that is found in the Bible.

Hell is not a kingdom ruled by Satan. In fact there is no reason to believe that Satan has ever been to hell. Hell was created as a place of punishment for Satan and he will not go there until the day of judgment. This gets rid of the whole idea of demons involved in torture as well. In terms of what the devil looks like, the idea of the horns and the pitchfork are all made up as well. The closest the Bible gets to a description is saying that Satan can appear as an angel of light.

But even with an accurate biblical description of Satan and demons, can modern people of the twenty-first century really believe that there is a personal manifestation of evil rather than just people choosing to do bad things for psychological reasons?

There was a time in history called the Enlightenment when people felt they could reject the supernatural and explain everything in human terms. The assumption was that with enough thought and determination, humanity could create a heaven on earth. This dream began to die during World War One when all of our best technology was used to kill people by the thousands. Since that time, we have seen too many attempts at genocide and ethnic cleansing. The stories that have come out of the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda point to an evil that is beyond our minds to comprehend. Romeo Dallaire, a Canadian general, was in Rwanda during the genocide. Dallaire makes this amazing statement: “I know there is a God because in Rwanda I shook hands with the devil. I have seen him, I have smelled him and I have touched him. I know the devil exists, and therefore I know there is a God.”

I know the devil exists, and therefore I know there is a God. -Romeo Dallaire Click To Tweet

If you have ever taken time to study the holocaust and the things that took place, even beyond the mass executions and burning of bodies, there seems to be an evil present that goes beyond what humans can normally accomplish on their own.

But I don’t want to suggest that evil forces are only active in cases of terrorism and ethnic cleansing. There have been times in our life when we have felt like something really strange was going on. Just over a year ago, Amanda and I felt that God had something for us, that there was a plan for us and ministry. I was not a pastor at the time, so we did not know what that was going to look like. At that same time it seemed like we got hit by Murphy’s Law on steroids. Everything that could go wrong, went wrong. Every day there was new crisis. Everything that happened seemed to try and push us into giving up on what God had for us. Neither Amanda and I are the type to look for a demon under every rock, but we both felt like there was something spiritual going on. It takes a lot to get us to think in those terms, but that is what we felt.

So is there a Satan and demons? I would say that there is indeed some sort of personalized evil that opposes us in our journey to love and serve God. It does not look like any of the Hollywood portrayals, but there is something that is real out there.

We Are Distracted By People

Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is one of my favourite letters. What I love about it is that Paul is able to make the connection between the spiritual and the practical. If you look at the first chapter, Paul gives a wonderful and worshipful description of how great God is and then goes on to describe how we should then live the Christian life. Spiritual and practical.

In Paul’s description of spiritual warfare, he makes the following statement:

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (Ephesians 6:12)

We read this and immediately want to get into speculation about all these spiritual forces. But Paul wants us to read the first part as well. “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood.” Paul would not say this unless there was a temptation to actually believe that our struggle was against flesh and blood.

I have heard many horror stories about things that have happened at churches. I have been blessed to have had only good experiences with the churches where I have pastored. But this is not the case everywhere. There have been painful church splits. There have been hateful divisions. There have been families in churches that seem determined to drive out the new pastor before they even have their first Sunday. There seems to be some people in some churches determined, not just to have their own way, but to destroy the church. I hear these stories and wonder what is really going on. Is it that there is just a bunch of jerks in the church? I do think there are jerks. But sometimes the level of spitefulness that we see goes beyond just an unhealthy personality.

What if that person we are having conflict with is not just trying to be difficult? What if there is some evil force that does not want the unity in the church that God designed us to have?

We have a choice. We can put all our energy into being angry on a human level with this individual. Or we can consider that something else is going on, something that can not be explained away by human conflict.

What if our struggle is not against flesh and blood?

Prayer is the Key

When many people look at this passage, they look forward to discussions of the various parts of the armour of God. I’m not going to do that. Paul is using imagery that was familiar to the Ephesians to make his point. What Paul is getting at, and the point that we need to get, is that we need to be prepared spiritually. There are no noncombatants when it comes to spiritual warfare. We are all targets, whether we believe in spiritual warfare or not. By telling the Ephesians to put on the armour, he is reminding them that victory does not come by accident. What are we doing to prepare spiritually? What is our worship life like? How much are we studying God’s Word?

In all of this, I see Paul pointing to prayer as the key. Paul says,

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. (Ephesians 6:18)

We don’t need to study demonology or understand everything that goes on in the spiritual realm. What we need to do is take prayer seriously. Prayer matters. Not just during our prayer time in church. Not just during our morning devotions. Not just when we are looking for a parking spot when we are running late.

Paul tells us to pray on all occasions. We need to be praying always. This does not mean with your eyes closed and your hands folded. Rather being in a constant attitude of prayer. We should be praying for ourselves, but we should also be praying for others. There are plenty of people who are going through difficult times. There are people whose lives are falling part. There are people who are being oppressed spiritually. Paul urges us to pray for such people, not with a casual or uncaring attitude, but to really intercede for them. Prayer is the key for being victorious in spiritual warfare.

Prayer is the key for being victorious in spiritual warfare. Click To Tweet

Conclusion

You may be here and thinking that all this talk of Satan and spiritual warfare is just really strange. I think it is really strange as well. But I also believe it is true. I believe it is true, based on what I read in the Bible but also by what see happening in our world. There is an evil in our world that is more than accidental immorality, it is an evil with intelligence and malice toward God’s people. Call that evil what you will, but it must be taken seriously. We need to take our eyes off of the people that we think are the problem and get focused on praying in strategic and intentional ways. Let us lift up our brothers and sisters, in this congregation and around the world, and pray that God would come in his strength and truth.

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Good News: A Gift to an Introvert

This has been a different kind of a week for me. For the past week, three of our children were away at camp. That by itself is good news as they had a very fun time. At the same time, Amanda has been gone for a week as well. She has been visiting with some friends in Calgary.

This is not her first time in Calgary. We have some good friends there that we met at a previous church where I pastored. This has been a bit of a retreat for Amanda and we are so thankful for their hospitality.

All of this has meant that I had much of last week to myself. Don’t get me wrong, I have missed Amanda and the kids. But as an introvert, I have also enjoyed a few days by myself. I have been able to dive a bit more into reading. I also finished a little project that I have been working on for some time (you will find out about it soon).

For some people, being alone in a house would drive them crazy. But as an introvert, it actually helps to recharge me. But there is more.

This also meant that things looked different for Logan and Abby’s visit. Normally it is a house full, with seven of us enjoying the weekend together. This time it was just the three of us. That really changes the dynamic and it was nice to have Logan and Abby to myself.

Now Logan and Abby are back at their group home. The other three are back home from camp. Amanda will be home soon. I’m especially looking forward to having Amanda back. I may be an introvert but I want my wife back.

Still, I’m thankful the few days of alone time that I had to embrace my introvert side. But I’m also thankful that it won’t be any longer than it already has been.

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What is Psalm 151?

Did you even know there was a Psalm 151? The truth is there are many more psalms than the 150 found in the Bible. A psalm is a genre and there is no reason why we can’t write more psalms.

There is a Psalm 151 that is a part of the apocrypha. It is actually two psalms, Psalm 151A (vv. 1-5) and Psalm 151B (vv. 6-7). While Psalm 151 has been a part of the Septuagint, a Hebrew version was found among the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Psalm 151 is a narrative of the choosing of David among his brothers and the killing of Goliath.

You can find the text for Psalm 151 online but I’m using the one found in the The New Oxford Annotated Bible.

If you want to learn more about the Apocrypha, I recommend that you listen to this podcast episode:

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Weekend Leadership Roundup

Here are some leadership posts that I came across this week. Go and check them out.

Recommended Book:

Simple Church: Returning to God’s Process for Making Disciples by Thom S. Rainer and Eric Geiger (USA) (Canada)

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The Four Rs of Good Apologetics

ApologeticsIt takes much more than an excitement or appreciation about apologetics to be a good apologist. You can have read dozens of apologetics books and have listened to all the best podcasts and still be ineffective as an apologist.

Here are four Rs that can get you started on the road to being an effective apologist.

Research

Our society has gotten used to quick answers. For some people, a Facebook meme provides all the information they are looking for. Do not fall into this trap. Take the time to research the topic you are going to talk about. With all of the good tools available on the internet, there is no excuse not to research.

Relevant

What is it that you are going to talk about? Apologetics is not for you to show off how much you know about your favourite subject. Apologetics is providing a reason for your faith in order to bring someone closer to Jesus. Make sure that what you are going to say is relevant to the person you are talking about.

Reasons

We are called to provide a reason for the hope within us. What are those reasons? Work through the reasons why you became a Christian and why you still believe. The reasons can be on the intellectual level, but experience can be a reason as well.

Respect

The manner in which we present our reasons is just as important as the content of those reasons. The moment we become disrespectful, we have shut down the conversation. The more respect we show the person, the more likely they will listen to what we have to say.

The manner in which we present our reasons is just as important as the content of those reasons. Click To Tweet
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Terrorism, Race Riots and the World We Live In

TerrorismThis is a heartbreaking time that we live in. We live in a world where we can watch a black man killed by a police officer live on the internet. We live in a world where people respond to injustice by killing innocent police officers who are only trying to protect. We live in a world where terrorists are killing innocents, supposedly in the name of God. The attack in Nice, France yesterday is only one example of what life has become like.

I’m going to respond to this with a surprising source. I’m currently rereading H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds. Wells was not known for being particularly pro-religion. In the story, the main character encounters a minister who is completely distraught by the Martian attack. He has no way of reconciling what he is seeing with his faith. The main character, after trying to be patient with the minister’s confusion, finally blurts out, “What good is religion if it collapses at calamity?”

What good is religion if it collapses at calamity? - H.G. Wells Click To Tweet

The answer is obvious. Such religion is of no value at all.

However, Christianity is a faith that need not and should not collapse at calamity. None of what we see today should be of any surprise to those who know the Bible. The presence of evil, whether racism or terrorism, does not contradict the biblical worldview. Rather, it confirms it.

The Bible teaches that we live in a fallen world, where humanity lives in rebellion against God. This rebellion alienates us both from God and from each other. The natural result is what we are seeing on the news.

So where is God in all of this?

God has acted by providing the means to reconcile us to him (and to each other) through Jesus Christ. God offers hope and truth and life and peace to all of his children.

But that does not mean that God is content to have his little family while the rest of the world falls apart. God is also active through his people.

It would be easy for the Church to become like that minister described H.G. Wells, overcome by grief and confusion over the things we see. However, we need to fight against that and determine to take a stand.

This is the time for the Church to make a difference. It is the time for the Church to proclaim (in word and deed) a message of hope and love. Instead of turning inward out of fear, let us turn outward to the world that needs us now more than ever.

 

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What is the Prayer of Manasseh?

In 2 Kings 21:1-18, Manasseh is portrayed as a purely wicked king of Judah. In 2 Chronicles 33, Manasseh is also described as a bad king but with the added detail of his repentance.

Read my post on What is the Difference Between Samuel/Kings and Chronicles?

Wouldn’t it be great to have more information about that repentance?

That is what we get (sort of) in the apocryphal book of The Prayer of Manasseh. This not the actual prayer that Manasseh prayed, but rather a later writer’s attempt to reconstruct what such a prayer could have looked like. This prayer was likely written in the second or first century BC.

You can find the text for The Prayer of Manasseh online but I’m using the one found in the The New Oxford Annotated Bible.

If you want to learn more about the Apocrypha, I recommend that you listen to this podcast episode.

 

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My Eschatology Has Changed (But It’s Not the End of the World)

EschatologyWhen we speak of eschatology, we must remember that there are a couple of aspects to this doctrine. It both refers to what will happen to the world when Jesus returns and what happens to individuals when we die. My eschatology has developed in both areas.

Growing up Anglican, I had no beliefs about the return of Jesus. If the second coming was discussed at all, it was to laugh at the “fanatics” who thought the end of the world was imminent. In terms of afterlife, I believed that good people who died went to heaven and existed as disembodied spirits. Interestingly, skepticism about this played a major role in my becoming an atheist.

I eventually left the Anglican church and joined the Pentecostal church. If the Anglicans ignored the second coming, the Pentecostals focused on it. I talked to people at my church who were spending their retirement savings because it was so obvious that Jesus was coming back any day.

It was not just that there were strong beliefs, there were specific beliefs. In theological language, my friends and the rest of the church held to what is called premillennial, pre-tribulation eschatology. In plain language, it was believed that Jesus would appear (likely soon) and would rapture the Church (all born again Christians) before the start of a seven year tribulation. At the end of the seven years, Jesus would come again and defeat the Antichrist and the devil and then would start a thousand year reign of Christ.

I accepted these beliefs because it was taught with such passion and conviction. I would read summaries of this belief with lots of Bible references and assumed it was true.

However, study of the Bible and examination of other theories have changed how I see eschatology, both cosmic and personal.

First I would say that I’m agnostic when it comes to the millennium. I would not describe myself as amillennial but I won’t commit to premillennialism. I definitely am not convinced by postmillennialism.

What about the rapture? When I talk about eschatology, I do not think in terms of the category of the rapture. To me, the rapture speaks of a rescue of God’s people from a world going to hell. What I see in the Bible is the focus on the resurrection. The purpose of the resurrection is for God’s people to be transformed into what God wants us to be. In Paul’s language, that we would be revealed as being children of God (Romans 8:19).

The purpose of the resurrection is for God's people to be transformed into what God wants us to be. Click To Tweet

This resurrection will take place when Jesus returns. Jesus will return once. Not twice with the first being a secret return. Once. If my understanding had to be forced into a premillennial mould, it would be something like post-tribulation beliefs, but not exactly. I really believe that we should use resurrection language and not rapture language.

Speaking of the resurrection, that is the other shift. I do not see eternity in heaven as a disembodied spirit as being the biblical hope. Rather, the hope of the Christian is to experience the resurrection of the body. After the resurrection, Christians will live on a resurrected Earth, what the Bible calls the new heavens and the new earth. Going to heaven as a spirit at death is only the waiting room. We are really looking for what N.T. Wright calls, “life after life after death.” The resurrection of the body is where the action really is.

We are really looking for what N.T. Wright calls, 'life after life after death.' Click To Tweet

If you are looking for a good book on eschatology, I recommend Millard Erickson’s A Basic Guide to Eschatology: Making Sense of the Millennium (USA) (Canada). I would also recommend N.T. Wright’s Surprised by Hope (USA) (Canada)

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Midweek Apologetics Roundup

Here are some apologetics-related posts that I came across this week. Go and check them out.

Recommended Book:

How to Talk to a Skeptic: An Easy-to-Follow Guide for Natural Conversations and Effective Apologetics by Donald J. Johnson (USA) (Canada)

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What is 1 Esdras?

The most complicated aspect of 1 Esdras is that it is sometimes called 1 Esdras and sometimes 3 Esdras. When it is called 3 Esdras, it is because the Old Testament books of Ezra and Nehemiah are names 1 and 2 Esdras respectively. We will go with 1 Esdras.

Firs Esdras is rather unique in that is basically a repackaging of already existing material. It is made up of 2 Chronicles 35:1-27, 36:1-21; Ezra 1-10 and Nehemiah 8. It was probably compiled around the second century BC.

You can find the text for 1 Esdras online but I’m using the one found in the The New Oxford Annotated Bible.

If you want to learn more about the Apocrypha, I recommend that you listen to this podcast episode.

 

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Race Relations and the Church

RaceMy heart is breaking as I watch the events that are currently taking place in the United States around race relations. The killing of both black men and white police officers is so wrong. It feels as if society is falling apart.

I must confess that this is so strange for me to see as a Canadian. I’m not saying that Canada is perfect. We have made many mistakes, especially with our aboriginal peoples. But I also know that Canada has a more blended culture and race relations have been smoother than with our neighbours to the south. A good friend of mine that I grew up with here in Canada and who has been living for more than a decade in the United States has told me that attitudes toward race are much different in the United States than it is in Canada.

However, the purpose of this post is not that the United States should be more like Canada. I’m more interested in challenging the Church to lead the way. We may not be able to have an immediate influence on society, but as Christians we should be able to shape the Church as being a positive witness of mutual respect and love.

I am the pastor of Queen Street Baptist Church. One of the many things that I love about our church is that it is multicultural. I would guess that 40% of our church is white, 30% Asian (mostly Philippines but a few other countries) and 30% black (mostly Jamaican and African). When I look out at my congregation and see us worshiping God together, I feel like I’m getting a taste of heaven. Of course with this multicultural nature of our congregation, our potluck meals are amazing!

In addition, we have a Spanish congregation as part of our church. But this is not a segregated congregation, as we often get together. We are separate services only in that it benefits them to have the worship and preaching in Spanish.

There were racial tensions in the early church as well. The big challenge that we see both in Acts and in Paul’s letters is the conflict between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians. We can argue about the nature of that conflict (old vs new perspective), but the fact is that the conflict was real. In the midst of this, Paul wrote these powerful words:

There is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28, HCSB)

This is a vision for what the Church is supposed be like. We come from different backgrounds and have different labels from a worldly perspective but we are to be one in Christ.

This is not something that the Church can just sit around and hope will occur naturally. We have to work at it. We need to create a colourful culture that acts colourless within the Church before we tell the rest of society what to do.

Here are some questions we should be asking ourselves:

  • Does our congregation represent the racial diversity of our community?
  • Does our leadership represent the racial diversity of our congregation?
  • Is there an “us” vs “them” mentality within our congregation?
  • Is our congregation ahead of or behind our community when it comes to mutual love and respect between races?

As sad as recent events are, this can be a time for the Church to have a prophetic voice. Not a voice of condemnation or finger pointing. But rather a witness of what we believe being in Christ means in terms of breaking down the walls between the races.

As sad as recent events are, this can be a time for the Church to have a prophetic voice. Click To Tweet

Is the Church up for the challenge?

 

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What is the Birmingham Qur’an?

The history of Islam and the teachings of the Qur’an are one of the areas that I’m interested in. Fairly recently, what seems to be the earliest copy of the Qur’an was discovered. It is known by its informal name, “The Birmingham Qur’an.” What is it and what is its significance? I found this episode of the 15 Minute History podcast on the Qur’an to be very interesting. It is well worth listening to. Here is the description of the episode from the podcast page:

In the summer of 2015, an obscure Qur’ān manuscript hidden in the far reaches of the Cadbury Research Library at the University of Birmingham grabbed attention worldwide when carbon dating revealed that the book was one of the oldest Qur’āns known to exist. In fact, it might have been written during the lifetime of the Prophet Muḥammad … or might it even have been written before Muḥammad’s lifetime?

Guest Christopher Rose (yes, our regular co-host) has been following the headlines and puts the discovery of the Birmingham Qur’ān within the larger field of Islamic and Qur’ānic Studies, and explains how the text might raise as many questions as it answers.

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Good News: There Was Praise in the Park

My good news for this week was about a fantastic church service we had this morning. Queen Street Baptist Church had our annual (and my first) outdoor service at Montebello Park. I really did not know what to expect, having never been a part of this before. Everything we have done so far this year has been a first time for me.

First of all, the weather was perfect. Despite our recent heat wave, we had a beautiful breeze blowing through the pavilion. It was very comfortable. I had no idea who would come or how many would be there. I was very pleased with the turnout, with more people there than I had expected. It was great to have people from our Spanish congregation as well as our Saturday night service there with us.

We sang worship songs, prayed, read Scripture and listened to the testimony of a young lady from our church. There was great food (our church loves to eat together!) and games for the kids.

My part in the service was to share my testimony. I gave the story of my life beginning with my Anglican origins, my slide into atheism, my discovery that there really was a God and the even more shocking discovery that God was personal and could be found in Jesus Christ. I hope to get that testimony up on my podcast soon.

A lot of people in our church worked very hard to make this service happen. I’m so thankful for Queen Street Baptist Church and all that the people do. They now know more about their pastor than they probably ever wanted to know, but that is okay. It was a great service and that is good news.

 

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Weekend Leadership Roundup

Here are some leadership posts that I came across this week. Check them out.

Recommend Book:

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey (USA) (Canada)

 

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God is Great, God is Good

God is Great God is GoodOne of the major challenges to the Church in recent years has been the New Atheism. The New Atheists do not have new arguments, but they do have a new aggressiveness and a new level of visibility with their media savviness. It is in response to this that William Lane Craig and Chad Meister edited, God is Great, God is Good.

The strength of this book is both the wide variety of topics and the quality of authors providing essays. The contributors to this volume are really a who’s who of the apologetics world. As with any compilation, the chapters are of varying quality, but there definitely are some excellent essays. I found the ones by Alister McGrath, Paul Copan, John Polkinghorne and Gary Habermas to be particularly good.

If you are concerned with the New Atheism and are looking for a resource, God is Great, God is Good will likely provide what you need.

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5 Things You Need to Know About the Jesus Myth

Jesus MythThe Jesus Myth Theory, the belief that Jesus never existed and that the Gospels are based on pagan myths, just does not seem to go away. The recent appearance of a mythicists on the Unbelievable? podcast shows how much more prominent mythicist ideas are becoming. More and more books and websites are appearing that argue what is considered to be a fringe theory.

At the same time, I frequently see requests from Christians looking to know about this theory. Here are five things that you need to know about the Jesus Myth Theory:

  • Not every mythicist who believes Jesus was based on pagan myths necessarily denies that there was a real historical Jesus at the core.
  • Mythicists hold a historical standard for Jesus that no professional historian would hold to any other ancient figure.
  • There is a consensus among Josephus scholars that Josephus did mention something about Jesus, even though there were later Christian additions.
  • Mythicists are betting on the fact (usually accurately so) that most people will not read the original myths to find out if what they are saying is true.
  • Mythicists define a “virgin birth” as any conception, even if it includes sexual intercourse, as long as there is a supernatural element to it.

These are some of the basics about the Jesus Myth Theory. If you want to find out more, make sure to check out my Jesus Myth Theory page.

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What is 2 Maccabees?

2 MaccabeesYou should not think of 2 Maccabees as the sequel to 1 Maccabees. It is not like 1 and 2 Kings where one book is broken into two parts for the sake of space. Nor is it like 1 and 2 Corinthians, where the same author is writing twice to the same audience. First and 2 Maccabees are not written by the same author and they are extremely different, even though they both deal with Judas Maccabeus.

First Maccabees is a rather sober (and accurate) history of the revolt led by Judas and his brothers. Second Maccabees, while dealing with some of the same period of time, is much different. Second Maccabees is filled with the supernatural and God takes an active part in the fight, unlike 1 Maccabees where God is more behind the scenes. There is even a white-clad angelic horseman with a golden sword that leads Judas’s army into battle.

One of the important parts of 2 Maccabees is the martyrdom narratives, especially that of Eleazar and seven brothers. These are inspiring stories that should be read. Warning: some of the torture and death narratives are pretty graphic. Second Maccabees is also a good source for understanding beliefs about the resurrection of the body. The martyrs look forward not to heaven but to receiving their body parts back at the resurrection.

You can find the text for 2 Maccabees online but I’m using the one found in the The New Oxford Annotated Bible.

If you want to learn more about the Apocrypha, I recommend that you listen to this podcast episode:

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Reflecting on My Anglican Heritage

Today was a bit of a blast from the past. I was blessed to be able to have tea with Jim Powell, who was the minister of St. James Anglican Church, the church I grew up in, over thirty years ago. It was a joy to be able to catch up and to hear the things that are going on in each of lives.

When I was in junior high back then, I had no idea that I too would one day become a minister. Another thing that we have in common is that Jim is a retired army chaplain, and I am just releasing from my ministry as an army chaplain. This was another area of my life that I hadn’t anticipated.

Talking with Jim makes me think about my Anglican heritage. While I’m happy to be a Baptist pastor, I do value my time growing up in the Anglican church. In my office at Queen Street Baptist Church, I proudly have my little Book of Common Prayer on my desk. Those were some very important times as I learned Bible stories and was even given opportunities to serve.

Some people see the different denominations of Christianity as a weakness. I disagree. I think the different denominations within Christianity bring a richness that is needed. As much as I love the Baptists, it is nice to visit an Anglican or Pentecostal church for something different.

I’m thankful for my Anglican heritage and it continues to help inform my faith journey.

 

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The Living Paul

Living PaulI have been reading through some of my books on Paul for the course on the Apostle Paul that I’m teaching at Tyndale University College. One of the ones that I read was Anthony Thiselton’s The Living Paul: An Introduction to the Apostle’s Life and Thought. I picked this up at ETS/SBL a few years ago and just got around to it.

It is a good solid introduction to Paul and is a book that I would consider using as a text for future courses. But there was something specific that I really liked about the book. Thiselton is a not a New Testament scholar but is a theology professor. Although he interacts with the relevant biblical scholars in this book, he also draws theologians into the conversation. “Purists” may feel that biblical studies and theology should be kept separate but I found the wider conversation to be refreshing.

If you have read lots of books on Paul and want something that is not just more of the same, I do recommend The Living Paul.

As a bonus, here is a video of Anthony Thiselton talking about why we should study hermeneutics.

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Midweek Apologetics Roundup

Here are some apologetics-related posts that I came across this week. You should check them out.

Recommended Book:

Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air by Francis Beckwith and Greg Koukl (USA) (Canada)

 

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Sean McDowell and Ken Humphreys on the Martyrdom of the Apostles

UnbelievableI recently listened to the debate between Sean McDowell and Ken Humphreys on the Unbelievable? podcast. One of my main areas of research is the Jesus myth theory and Humpreys is a mythicist, so this was of some interest to me. Having listened to the debate, I thought I would share some random thoughts.

  • Justin Brierley continues to amaze me at how respectful he is to all sides. He does a fantastic job on this show.
  • If some people paid attention to Sean because of who his father is, they should now do it because of who Sean is. Sean is a talented scholar and apologist.
  • Sean provides an excellent example in this debate, not just of intellectual quality, but of how to keep cool in a frustrating conversation.
  • Ken provided as a good a reason not to hold a mythicist position as Sean’s arguments. I don’t think that was his intention.
  • This conversation nicely illustrates how mythicists attempt to do history in a way that no historian does.
  • Sean was absolutely correct that the Gospels can be used as historical sources, even if they are Christian scripture. Those studying the history of Islam use the Qur’an as an important source, even though Muslims hold it as scripture.
  • It blew my mind that Ken is actually contemplating that the Apostle Paul might not have existed. That is radical even for mythicists.
  • I’m reminded that even though I enjoy writing about the Jesus myth, I could never debate a mythicist. I may have the knowledge, but I don’t have the patience. I could feel my blood pressure rising as I listened to Ken. There may have been some physical damage.
  • I’m thankful that there is a show like Unbelievable? where these kinds of discussions can take place.

If you are interested in Sean McDowell’s book on the apostles, you can get it here: (USA) (Canada).

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I Hate Coffee!

CoffeeI never thought I would say those words. I used to drink tremendous amounts of coffee. It was not unknown for me to drink two pots (not cups!) of coffee in an evening and still be able to sleep no problem. I loved the taste and just the experience of having coffee with my friends.

I began to cut down on coffee mostly because it caused heartburn. Even just more than one would cause me some discomfort. It did not matter if it was caffeinated of decaffeinated. As I cut down, I noticed another side effect. It got my heart going and raised my anxiety. I had no patience, especially for my children.

I decided to cut out coffee completely from my life except for the odd decaf. I haven’t had coffee in months.

Until now.

I love Tim Horton’s steeped tea and I drink it regularly. I ordered one and they accidentally gave me a coffee instead, something I did not realize until I got home. I’m too cheap to pour it down the drain and so I drank it.

Big mistake.

Within ten minutes I was in a bad mood. I feel anxious and everything my kids do and say is driving me crazy. I know it is not them, they are actually quite well behaved. It is all me. Or at least the caffeinated me.

Coffee can have no place in my life. I love drinking tea and I will continue to drink large amounts of it. But the next coffee will go down the drain.

You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me. ― C.S. Lewis

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Healing and the Prosperity Gospel

A sermon preached at Queen Street Baptist Church.

Introduction

It was about thirty years ago. I was up early to catch a plane to go to Florida for March Break with my friends. I was pretty groggy, and my mother after waking me had started telling me about Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker. My parents watched the PTL Club regularly, not because they agreed with the things that were being said but because they thought it was very funny. They looked forward to their antics and the next gimmick they were going to use to ask for money.

But the reason my mother was talking to me that morning was that it had just been reported about the downfall of the Bakkers. Jim had an affair with a secretary, Tammy Faye had become addicted to drugs, and there were some significant financial mismanagement that would lead to criminal charges. I can’t say that it was a huge surprise. It may reflect my own prejudice, but it always seemed like something shady was going on. And the Bakkers were not the only ones.

The problem with the Bakkers and others like them, was not just the way they acted, but the “gospel” they preached. They proclaimed something that has influenced many Christians in more subtle ways and this is the prosperity gospel. What is the prosperity gospel? As the name states, the good news is that God wants us to prosper. When it comes to prosperity, they have a very specific meaning and that is health and wealth. According to the prosperity message, health and wealth is available to every Christian and all one has to do is claim it in faith.

This is not something limited to flashy televangelists. We have had friends express frustration with us that we have not just asked God to take away our children’s autism. All we have to do is claim in in Jesus’ name and it is done. What are we waiting for? I heard one healing evangelist attempt to speak highly of doctors by saying, “I think doctors are great for non-Christians and Christians without enough faith.”

Not enough faith. How many times have people been crushed under the condemnation that the challenges in their life are the result of their lack of faith? The truth is that I have known Christians who refused medical treatment as an act of faith and died as a result. The consequences of the prosperity gospel are serious and need to be addressed.

The consequences of the prosperity gospel are serious and need to be addressed. Click To Tweet

Practical Concerns

I have a number of concerns about the prosperity gospel but I will begin with some practical concerns. This may seem petty but I must say that a lot of televangelists are weird. They look weird and they sound weird. They have big hair and shiny clothes and act in some pretty bizarre ways. The King James of 1 Peter 2:9 says, “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people.” A peculiar people. Some people take that bit too literally. Strange and weird is of course not what Peter is talking about. The NIV translates that as “God’s special possession.”

Now why do I complain about this? I do because these televangelists have a large platform from which to communicate their message. People, and not just church people, watch them. Many people will judge Christianity based on what they see from these televangelists. Now I’m not saying it is wrong to be a preacher on television. We could easily broadcast my messages. But the strange televangelists unfortunately set the tone for others.

I remember sitting in my home church in my early 20s and hearing our minister speaking respectfully of Billy Graham. This surprised me because, without having heard or seen Billy Graham, I judged him based on Jim Bakker and others. I watched a Billy Graham crusade on television just to see how often he would ask for money. I was shocked when he didn’t ask for money at all and that he was not even that weird. Billy Graham ended up having a significant impact on my faith journey.

There is a more serious concern. It has come out from time to time that some televangelists are frauds. When they hear “a word from the Lord,” they are really getting some information from one of their associates through and an ear piece. When prayer requests with donations are received, the cheques are removed and the prayer requests are dumped without a thought. People who are healed are actually people pretending to be sick who are arranged to be at the right place at the right time to be “healed.” Those who are really sick or have an obvious disability are kept safely away from the stage. There have been plenty of documentaries and exposes done on televangelists and the truth does come out. Strangely, even after having been exposed, they come back with a new television show and people start giving money to them again.

This has a negative impact on the work of sincere Christians who are trying to make a difference by sharing the real truth and love of Christ. Some assume that all or many clergy are just as bad as the televangelists. There is serious damage being done by frauds.

Theological Concerns

Even more than the practical concerns, there are some significant theological concerns. We will look at issues surrounding wealth, health and faith.

The prosperity gospel claims that financial wealth is the inheritance of the Christian. We are children of the King and so we should live like kings. It seems to work as these prosperity preachers have plenty of money. However, I would suggest that their money comes not from God but from desperate people who are trying to escape poverty by giving to the preachers. It is not far off those who put their trust in lottery tickets.

It is true that the Bible talks a lot about money but in the way prosperity preachers talk about it. In fact in the New Testament there are some pretty serious warnings to the rich. I have never heard a sermon on “Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you.” (James 5:1) from a prosperity preacher.  What about, “”Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” (Luke 6:20)? There are some pretty scary passages about wealth and some very uplifting passages about the poor in the Bible. There is no indication in the Bible that God’s standard operating procedure is to bless his people with wealth.

I’m not saying a rich person cannot be a Christian or that all Christians should be poor. The Bible does teach that there are some unique challenges to being a rich Christian and there seems to be a special place in God’s heart for the poor. Even a quick look at the Bible would show that the Scriptures have the exact opposite message of the prosperity gospel. To be completely honest, I would not want to be in the shoes of an extremely rich prosperity preacher who has lined their pockets out of the desperation of the poor.

The other part of my theological concern is in reference to views on health. It is claimed that no Christian need ever be sick. I heard one healing evangelist say that a Christian should be able to go their entire life without being sick and should be able to die at the end, not of any disease or organ failure, but just by God calling them home. The problem is that every person dies of a sickness or a disease or organ failure. I used to work with a lady who obviously had a bad cold. I mentioned it and she denied being sick because she had claimed healing in Jesus’ name. That may be so, but her “health” happened to look an awful lot like being sick. I have seen people suffered from serious health problems being pronounced healed and then struggling with their faith when they discovered that their physical health had not changed.

This topic is messier than that on wealth. The Bible’s teaching on money is fairly simple. But what about health? The truth is that Jesus in his ministry went around and healed people of physical diseases. We see his followers and disciples continuing a healing ministry in the early church. James’ letter gives guidelines for elders in the church to anoint with oil and pray for the sick. So healing is something that is very biblical. Not only that, there are plenty of testimonies of people being healed of various diseases and injuries. It does happen.

For some Christians, there is a difference between a person praying to God directly for healing and a person being prayed for by another person for healing. I believe that both types of healing continue today, although I’m always suspicious of someone self-describing as a “healing evangelist.”

What we need to wrestle with is the problem that some people seem to get healed and some people do not. The prosperity preachers would say that healing is available for every Christian and a lack of healing is simply because of a lack of faith or the presence of sin. I reject that message. Others believe that God never heals. Based on biblical and experiential evidence, I reject that as well. To me, there is only one option, even if it is not very satisfying. It seems that God chooses in some circumstances to heal people and in other circumstances to not heal. Healing is neither guaranteed nor impossible. Why does God operate in this way? One thing to keep in mind is that we live in what is called “between the times.” This means that things have changed with the coming of Jesus but until Jesus returns, there is still a part of the old world that defies God in operation. I sometimes describe it as being a soldier between D-Day and V-E Day. Victory will take place but there are still battles to be fought. There are likely other things going on, but we need to let God be God. I find the story of Paul and his thorn in the flesh to be helpful. We do not know what his thorn was. Many think it was a physical illness, others that was spiritual and still others that it was people. The point is that Paul had a serious problem and he asked Jesus to remove it. Jesus did not remove it but pronounced his grace sufficient. In this, Paul learned that there was strength in his weakness. Paul had no temptation to be proud in his own strength. The weaker Paul was, the stronger that Jesus was in him.

This is completely the opposite of the prosperity message, The prosperity gospel argues that you need to be strong now, in health and wealth. The Jesus Gospel is that God works the strongest in the midst of weakness, that victory comes through the cross, the ultimate symbol of weakness. We may think of Paul as strong but a close reading of his life reveals personal weakness and a life far from what we would consider prosperity. But God used Paul in such an amazing way that it is difficult to imagine any other Christian as influential as Paul. If God can use Paul in his weakness, God can use us in our weakness.

The final theological concern that I have is the way the prosperity gospel uses the concept of faith. In many ways, the prosperity gospel sees faith as a force to be manipulated. It is as if there is a huge storeroom in heaven filled with material blessings. It is up to the Christian to access that storeroom with the key of faith. This faith is used by saying the right things and thinking the right thoughts. It often takes place through an action. So if you do not have enough money to pay your bills, you take the little you have and give it to the prosperity preacher and this will open the storeroom doors for you. There is something called seed faith, where you get something by giving a little of what you want.

None of this is new. It is something that has been around forever and it is called magic. What is the difference between magic and prayer? Magic is about accessing supernatural power by doing or saying the right thing. Prayer is about communicating with God and respecting God as a person who is free to respond to our prayers according to his will. The problem with the “faith” of the prosperity gospel is that it seeks to bypass the will of God and get directly to his power.

I do believe that we need to pray in faith and that we can pray for things like healing. But this faith is not an impersonal power, it is a trust in the God that we are in relationship with. That trust acknowledges that God may act in a way beyond what we ask for. It is a faith that understands that God is God and we are not.

I do believe that we need to pray in faith and that we can pray for things like healing. Click To Tweet

Conclusion

The prosperity gospel is something that I’m very concerned about. It is popular because it touches on where people are at. Life can be scary and unpredictable and we would like to be in control. The idea of being wealthy and healthy is awfully attractive and seems like a good step in gaining that self-control. The problem is that the prosperity gospel is not biblical. Wealth and health are not offered as signs of God’s blessing for the Christian. We only have to look at the Apostle Paul as an example. Nothing about his life seems to reflect prosperity. He was not healed of his thorn, whatever that thorn was. But Jesus offered Paul his grace and that was enough. The power of God flowed through Paul’s weakness.

We may never live the extravagant lifestyle of a televangelist but that is okay. There are real blessings to be experienced as we rely on the grace of God and trust in God’s goodness whatever our life circumstances may be.

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Emotionally Healthy Spirituality

Emotionally Healthy SpiritualityMy brother-in-law sent us a copy of Peter Scazzero’s Emotionally Healthy Spirituality some time ago. To be honest, I am given/lent/recommended so many books that I don’t often get around to reading them. I have enough trouble reading the books that I am given in exchange for agreeing to review them on my blog. So this book sat on my bedside table for quite a while.

More recently, I had heard a bit more about Scazzero and my wife had started reading his wife’s book, The Emotionally Healthy Woman. So I thought, why not give it a try?

I ended up really enjoying this book. In fact it was exactly what I had been hoping that Anderson’s Becoming a Disciple-Making Church would be but was disappointed in.

The basic thesis of the book is that the missing component in discipleship is contemplative spirituality and emotional health. There is something that happens when these two come together that helps the Christian to achieve those other goals that seem so hard.

I will confess that contemplative spirituality does not come easy to me. But that does not mean that I should reject it. There are aspects of it that I can integrate into my faith life.

As for emotional health, this is something that people inside and outside the church, are beginning to notice. Even in the business world, people are looking for emotionally mature potential employees.

Scazzero is very honest in this book concerning his own journey and shortcomings. As a pastor, he shares what this looks like in the context of local church ministry.

I really appreciated this book and I’m looking forward to reading some of his other books.


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Good News: A Much Better Week

Good NewsLast Sunday in my Good New post, I shared that it had been a difficult couple of days. I did not give many details about what happened and I will not in this post either.

However, many people have been praying for our family and we have seen the results of those prayers. This week has been much better than I could have possibly imagined. There have been moments where I wanted to pinch myself to see if I was dreaming. It has been that dramatic.

Does that mean that I believe that all problems are finished and I can get ready for the perfect life? Of course not. I have learned long ago that I need to celebrate each blessing as it comes and for what it is. When things go well, I give thanks to God. I know full well that more challenges will come. I will have bad days. I will get frustrated. But more good days will comes as well.

I can be thankful for what I have seen and experienced this week. This morning in church we sang the hymn, “O God Our Help in Ages Past.” To me the faithfulness of God in the past gives us hope for the future. The blessings of this week give me hope for what God has in store for our family in the days and weeks to come.

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What is 1 Maccabees?

1 MaccabeesIt has long been my opinion that if a person is going to read only one book from the apocrypha, they should read 1 Maccabees.

First Maccabees covers some important events in Jewish history from the early to mid-second century BC. After the death of Alexander the Great, his empire broke up into four pieces. For the Jews, this meant they were now once again between two kingdoms, this time the Ptolemaic kingdom (Egypt) and the Seleucid kingdom (Syria).

During this time, certain Jews desired to embrace Hellenistic culture. This was supported and enforced by the Seleucid king Antiochus IV Epiphanes. Antiochus went as far as sacrificing a pig to Zeus in the Jerusalem Temple. You can imagine how well that went over.

This led to a Jewish rebellion, largely led by Judas Maccabeus. It is a tremendous story of guerrilla warfare and of eventual victory against vastly superior forces. The Jews were able to retake Jerusalem and rededicate the Temple. This is the event that is still celebrated by Jews today as Hanukkah.

First Maccabees is a well written history composed in a very sober matter. It has a different style than that of other books describing this event. It is important for us in understanding this crucial time in Jewish history.

You can find the text for 1 Maccabees online but I’m using the one found in the The New Oxford Annotated Bible.

If you want to learn more about the Apocrypha, I recommend that you listen to this podcast episode:

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Weekend Leadership Roundup

Here are some leadership posts that I came across this week. You might find them helpful, so go check them out.

Recommend Book:

Preaching by Timothy Keller (USA) (Canada)

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Who Moved My Pulpit?

Who Moved My PulpitOne of my favourite podcasts is Rainer on Leadership and Thom Rainer’s blog posts that I share seem to get a lot of engagement. So I was looking forward to finally reading one of his books.

The book I chose is his latest, Who Moved My Pulpit? I love that this book is a reply to a real email from a real pastor. The book is a study in the leading of change in the church, something that is close to the heart of most pastors.

This book is incredibly practical. It is not a theory-only resource. Any pastor, even with no formal leadership training, can take the principles here and apply them in their context.

The heart of the book is the roadmap for leading change:

  1. Stop and Pray
  2. Confront and Communicate a Sense of Urgency
  3. Build an Eager Coalition
  4. Become a Voice and Vision of Hope
  5. Deal with People Issues
  6. Move from an Inward Focus to an Outward Focus
  7. Pick Low-Hanging Fruit
  8. Implement and Consolidate Change

Rainer illustrates every step of the process with real life experiences. The reader is confronted with situations that ring true to what many pastors experience. Both positive and negative attempts at change are presented.

Rainer writes with an engaging style and this book is something that could be shared widely with the leadership of the church. Each chapter concludes with reflection questions.

One of the things that I appreciate about Rainer is that he writes for a wide variety of contexts. This resource is not just aimed at megachurch pastors with a paid staff of twenty leaders. The principles he offers are very applicable to my situation as a solo pastor of congregation of less than a hundred people.

Who Moved My Pulpit? is a fantastic resource and it is something I plan to revisit over and over again in my ministry.

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What’s Happening at Queen Street Baptist Church This Summer?

Queen Street Baptist ChurchWe are now into the summer of 2016. While many things in church slow down, I’m excited about what will be taking place this summer.

When it comes to preaching, I will be starting a new series called, “You Asked For It!” I gave people at Queen Street Baptist Church the opportunity to pick topics or passages for me to preach on and we got some great suggestions. I can’t get to them all, but I will do some and file the others for later.

In addition to this series, we have some fantastic guest speakers coming in. You will definitely want to hear them preach. Make sure to come to Queen Street Baptist Church this summer!

  • July 3 – You Asked For It: Faith and the Prosperity Gospel
  • July 10 – I will be sharing my testimony at our outdoor service at Montebello Park
  • July 17 – You Asked For It: Spiritual Warfare
  • July 24 – You Asked For It: Thou Shalt Not Kill (Looking at Abortion and Euthanasia)
  • July 31 – Guest Speaker: Wesley Huff – Find out more about Wes at his blog.
  • August 7 – Guest Speaker: Jean-Marie Atitso – Jean-Marie is originally from Togo, a recent grad from McMaster Divinity College and soon to be ordained by our church.
  • August 14 – Guest Speaker: Richard Longenecker – Dr. Longenecker is a well respected New Testament scholar and was one of my professors at McMaster Divinity College.
  • August 21 – You Asked For It: What is Sin?
  • August 28 – You Asked For It: Seek First the Kingdom of God

If you can’t make the services in person, you can always find links to sermons here.

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5 Reasons I Love Being a Canadian

CanadianToday is Canada Day and it is natural for me to be reflecting on what it means to be Canadian. I must say that I’m very proud to be a Canadian and truthfully, I would not want to live anywhere else in 9the world. The winters might be long but I still think that Canada is the best place to be.

Here are five reasons why I love being a Canadian:

  1. Canada is a beautiful country. Being the second largest country in area, there is a wide variety of geographical features. You name it and we got it. I have travelled to many amazing places around the world but I still think Canada is one of the most beautiful countries.
  2. We have great health care. I realize that universal healthcare is controversial among certain people to the south of us. But I must say that when I got really sick during a time that I did not have health benefits through my job, it was nice to not have to worry about taking on a huge financial debt. Our system is not perfect but it is pretty darn good.
  3. Canadians are friendly. Yes there are lots of jerks in Canada and no not every Canadian apologizes all the time. But in general, Canadians are pretty friendly and nice to be around.
  4. Canadians have a good reputation. When I have travelled around the world and people find out that I’m Canadian, there is always a good response. No, Canadians are not perfect but it is nice that we have a good reputation and respect internationally.
  5. We have a good standard of living. There is poverty in Canada and I have experienced first hand. But generally, there is a high standard of living. Canadians are able to get their basic needs met and really are quite prosperous when compared to many other countries.

So Happy Birthday Canada and thanks for letting me be a part of this great country!

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Positively Powerless

Positively PowerlessThere is power in positive thinking. Or is there? And what do we really mean by that? Is the power of positive thinking just a harmless fad?

L.L. Martin, in her book Positively Powerless, looks at this popular but so misunderstood movement. In this book, Martin looks at the historical background of the movement and reveals that it is much bigger than some people just trying to stay positive. It goes back to the New Thought movement of the nineteenth century that birthed many sects including Christian Science. It has become even more popular in recent years and it has heavily influenced the prosperity gospel.

If you are like me, you will likely ask yourself, “What is wrong with positive thinking?” After all, we have all been around positive people and negative people and there is no contest as to who we would prefer to be around. Martin is not preaching a message of negativity by any means.

By the power of positive thinking, something very specific is meant. This is the belief that we can influence our circumstances by our positive thoughts. For example, in the prosperity gospel, people will speak of the “positive confession.” Keep speaking words of wealth and eventually your bank account will come into line.

Martin seeks to provide a biblical alternative that is realistic. Humans are both created in the image of God and are fallen creatures. We live between the times and that means we experience both good and bad things. What we should be seeking is God’s will and not just a happy and easy life.

Positively Powerless is a helpful resource that will make it impossible for you to see many of the common phrases and attitudes of our culture the same way again.

I recently had a conversation with L.L. Martin on my podcast. Have a listen:

You can also find L.L. Martin’s blog here.

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Midweek Apologetics Roundup

Here are some apologetics-related posts I came across this week. You should check them out.

Recommended Book:

Handbook of Christian Apologetics edited by Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli (USA) (Canada)

 

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The Bible That I Recommend

There so many different kinds of Bibles out there. There is a wide variety of translations, study Bibles and so on. But there is one Bible that I must admit I really like and recommend above all others.

In this video, I explain why I like the ESV Journalling Bible.

If you are interested in this Bible, you can purchase it from Amazon here: USA      Canada

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I Don’t Have Time Not to Write

writeLike most people, I have a desire to be as productive as possible. When I come into my church office in the morning, I write on my white board all of the tasks that I need to accomplish on that day. Unexpected things always come up and so I have to be careful with my time. Because of this, I have often found that I do not have time to write.

Or do I?

I recently tried an experiment. I decided to plan into every day 15-30 minutes of writing. By writing, I do not mean blogging. Generally it has been writing a magazine article, a devotional meditation or working on an eBook. Now 15 minutes of writing does not sound like a lot but it is more than I was doing when I was not writing at all.

The question is, where will I get that 15-30 minutes to do my writing? What other important activity will need to be neglected? What I discovered was that there was nothing I needed to give up. I found that choosing to write for 15 minutes gave me a charge of creative energy that allowed me to accomplish my other tasks faster than I could without writing. Writing actually gives me more time instead of taking it away.

Writing actually gives me more time instead of taking it away. Click To Tweet

What I have found out is that I do not have time not to write. Taking a bit of time to write helps me to be a better pastor and it even helps me be better husband and dad. The reason is that I’m tapping into that “sweet spot” where my gifts and opportunities come together. I’m able to be more present in my other roles because I’m spending that little bit of time doing something I really enjoy.

What about you? What is it that you don’t have time not to do? What is the activity that gives you energy?




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What Are the Additions to Daniel?

Additions to DanielSome of my favourite parts of the apocrypha are the Additions of Daniel. As the name suggests, they do not originally belong to Daniel. Still, they are fun to read and worth looking at. The date of composition is unknown. Some scholars have thought that they were originally composed having nothing to do with Daniel and then were changed to fit that context.

The first addition is the Prayer of Azariah and the Song of the Three Jews. Azariah is the friend of Daniel, more commonly known as Abednego. Both the prayer and the song take place in the story of Daniel’s friends being put in the furnace.

Susanna is a fine example of an ancient novel. In many ways it is the first detective story. Susanna is a righteous woman who is falsely accused of a crime. Daniel steps in and uses his detective skills to prove her innocence and bring the guilty to justice.

Bel and the Dragon is really two stories, one about priests of Bel and another about a dragon. In the story of Bel, it looks as if the god Bel is alive enough to consume the food that is offered to him. Daniel, who know that only his God truly lives, uses his wisdom to show the king what really happens to the food. In the story of the dragon, Daniel’s nemesis is truly alive, but not for long as Daniel kills him with a greasy hairball.

You can find the text for the Additions to Daniel online but I’m using the one found in the The New Oxford Annotated Bible.

If you want to learn more about the Apocrypha, I recommend that you listen to this podcast episode:

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5 Tips for Associate Pastors

Being an associate pastor can be a very rewarding ministry in a local church. One of the advantages of being an associate pastor Associate Pastorsis that you often have a more focused ministry portfolio than a solo pastor who has to do everything.

I was a youth pastor for four years and an associate pastor for two years. I won’t say I was the best associate, but I hope I learned something from those experiences as well as my time as a solo and lead pastor. Here are some tips that may make your associate pastoral ministry more effective.

  1. Make sure your words and actions support the senior pastor, especially in public. You may disagree with your senior pastor, you may not even like your senior pastor, but as long as you are the associate, you are there to support that ministry.
  2. Do not allow people in the congregation to drive a wedge between you and the senior pastor. Some people will try and they will stroke your ego in their attempts. Do not let this happen.
  3. Take your associate position seriously and not just as a stepping stone to something better in the future. You may have dreams of being the senior pastor of a large church, but you will do better in that position if you put your full focus in what you are doing now.
  4. You are a “real” pastor. I would visit people and they would ask me when the pastor was going to visit them. By that, they meant the senior pastor who was the “real” pastor. It is frustrating but your value is not based on the label people place upon you.
  5. Be willing to do the unglamorous jobs. You may find yourself setting up chairs (I did!) or doing something else that doesn’t feel like ministry. Just do the things that you have to do and do not grumble. If it doesn’t feel like “real” ministry, take that time to pray for the congregation and for the specific focus of your ministry.

I hope these tips are helpful. Being an associate pastor is an important role and should be taken seriously. May God bless you in this role!

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