“I’m my favorite rapper.” What Kanye West lacks in subtlety, he makes up for in honesty.
Kanye’s conversion to Christianity and his release of an album which reflects that faith, titled “Jesus is King”, is big news right now.
But to look at this and only see Kanye, is to miss the bigger picture.
Christianity is Not Collapsing in America
There has been much talk recently about the decline of Christianity in the United States. However, reports of decline are overstated. I have explained why the numbers alone do not tell the whole story in these posts:
Let’s put it this way: Christianity is much more widespread and influential than many would have you believe, and it is not going away any time soon.
Christianity is Thriving Amongst Minority Communities
Why are there fewer Christians were I live, near Boulder, Colorado, than there are in the American South? At least one reason is probably because of the relative homogeny of the population in this area, compared with the number of people of color in the South.
The type of person most likely to be an atheist in America – and in the entire world – are white males. According to Pew Research Group, 78% of atheists in America are white, and 68% are men, even though white males only make up just over 30% of the US population.
According to one study, for example, at historically black universities 85.2% of students identified as Christian, and 11.2% identified as atheist, agnostic, or none. This is contrasted with a national average in all universities of 60.2% of students identifying as Christian, and 30.9% identifying as atheist, agnostic, or none.
As the major Western countries, including the United States, continue to become more ethnically diverse, it is predicted that we will see the number of atheists and agnostics decline, not increase – due to the fact that atheism and agnosticism are overrepresented by white males. For more on this topic, read: Projections for Belief & Secularization Around the World
If you look at Kanye’s Sunday Services, you will notice many people of color. Christianity is not, nor ever has been, a white, Western religion. African American communities have a rich heritage of Christianity, including Christian music, and it should come as no surprise to see African American people making music with gospel themes; it’s nothing new.
Speaking of the gospel and gospel music, I loved this episode of Carpool Karaoke with James Corden and Kanye West – both what Kanye said, and the music the choir sang:
Of course one of the big topics of discussion has been whether Kanye’s conversion is for real. I really appreciated Greg Laurie’s comments on this:
Jesus said that his desire was that we would have his joy in us, and that our joy would be complete (John 15:11). He also told his disciples that if anyone wants to come after him, that person must deny themselves, take up their cross and follow him (Matthew 16:24).
So, which is it? Is Christianity about being happy, or is Christianity about denying yourself and dying to yourself?
In my previous post, I talked about happiness and whether there is a difference between “joy” and “happiness”. Check that post out here: Does God Want You to Be Happy?
One question I received in response to that post was how self-denial and taking up your cross to follow Jesus fits into this idea of happiness.
A Means to an End
Is self-denial the goal of Christianity, or is it a means to another end?
This is a very important question, as it shapes the way we think about the purpose of following Jesus.
I believe the answer is quite obvious: self-denial is not the end goal of Christianity, it is a means to another end, which is: joy.
In order to experience greater and increasing joy, we must deny ourselves in some areas. After all, it was for the joy that was set before him that Jesus endured the cross. (Hebrews 12:2)
For Jesus, dying on the cross was a means to an end, not the end in itself. The end goal, the purpose of that act of literally dying to himself and taking up his cross, was the joy of redeeming his creation, and everything that would bring in the future.
Likewise, the purpose of denying ourselves – even to the point of taking up our “crosses” and following Jesus is: joy.
This is true in all areas of life; if you indulge every desire you have, you will end up less-happy, not more-happy. Anyone who wants anything practices self-denial, because there are some things they want more than other things.
Real freedom comes from a strategically forfeiting some freedoms in order to gain others. Greater happiness always comes as a result of giving up some pleasures in order to greater pleasures.
Happiness is not the result of the absence of constraints but is found in choosing the right constraints and giving up the right pleasures and freedoms.
For example, if you want to have the freedom and pleasure which comes with having a good income, you will need to sacrifice many other freedoms and pleasures in order to get a good education, improve your skills, or build your business. If you don’t deny many of your impulses to go hang out with friends, spend money, travel, party, etc., you will not succeed in getting your degree, or building your business.
If you want to experience the elation that comes with being a top performer in sports or the arts, you will need to accept many constraints on your life. You may give up the freedom of where you live; you may have a coach who dictates what you will do with your time, what you will eat, etc.
Having children certainly restricts freedom. I have had to do some pretty gross things for my kids which I did not enjoy. More times than I can count, I have had to not do what I wanted to do in order to do things for them. But what has been the result of all this self-denial for my kids? Greater joy than I would have known without having them in my life.
Imagine a person who loves eating anything he wants, but also loves playing with his grandchildren. He goes in to the doctor, and the doctor tells him: “Unless you stop eating those foods you enjoy, you are going to die.” Obviously death would mean not being able to spend any more time with his grandchildren. So he is faced with a choice: which of the things that give him pleasure will he need to forfeit in order to enjoy the other? To deny himself the foods he enjoys will be driven by his desire for the greater joy of spending time with his grandchildren.
This principle can be found in almost every area of our lives: greater joy and happiness is always the result of denying ourselves something in order to gain something better.
Why would Jesus tell us to deny ourselves? Because he wants us to experience greater joy. Because there is a difference between momentary pleasures and long-lasting elation.
God loves you, and he wants you to experience the true and lasting joy that your heart longs for, and because he loves you he guides and instructs you on how to experience that greater joy.
Trust him, and follow his lead into that greater joy!
Maybe you’ve heard someone say it before: “God doesn’t care about your happiness, he cares about your holiness.”
Is that true? I don’t believe so.
Recently at White Fields, I taught on the subject of holiness from 1 Peter 1:13-25. You can listen to the message here: 1 Peter 1:13-25, “The H Word”. As I talked about holiness, I made the claim that the reason why God wants us to be holy is because holiness leads to happiness, and God wants us to be happy.
Holiness vs Happiness?
I have sometimes heard people say things along these lines: The world offers happiness, but God doesn’t care about your happiness, He cares about your holiness!
I completely disagree. Not only does it send the absolute wrong message, it is not accurate biblically.
Sometimes people think that holiness is opposed to happiness. “The worse something makes me feel, the better,” this thinking goes, “because the more miserable I am, the more holy and godly I must be,”
Friends, that is not holiness, that is self-righteousness.
While there may sometimes be an aspect of self-denial involved in holiness, the purpose of that self-denial is because it will lead to more happiness, not less, in the end. I will elaborate on the relationship between self-denial and happiness in a future post.
For Christians to pit holiness and happiness against each other is a fundamental error, and a misrepresentation of the heart of God and the gospel.
Jesus: Holy and Happy
In Hebrews 1:9, we are told that Jesus was: 1) holy (he loved righteousness and hated wickedness), and 2) the happiest person who ever lived (anointed with the oil of gladness beyond all his companions).
Furthermore, this verse tells us that Jesus’ happiness was the direct result of his holiness (“therefore…”).
Holiness is not opposed to happiness, rather holiness is the pathway to happiness.
Therefore, when God says “be holy as I am holy” – he is inviting us to be happy as he is happy!
But Isn’t “Joy” Different than “Happiness”?
Sometimes people have tried to make a distinction between “joy” and “happiness.” They claim that whereas “happiness” is momentary and fleeting, “joy” is something which is unemotional and doesn’t depend on circumstances.
Furthermore, this line of thinking tends to say that “happiness” is what “the world” has, but “joy” is something that only Christians can have.
This is a false dichotomy. It is well-intentioned, but incorrect, both linguistically and biblically.
Joy and happiness are synonyms. Not only does Jesus use the word “happy”, but it is found throughout the Bible. Furthermore, the Bible talks about the “joy” of the wicked (see Job 20:5), and it talks about the Pharisees having “joy” when Judas betrayed Jesus.
Consider this quote from Joni Eareckson Tada:
“We are often taught to be careful of the difference between joy and happiness. Happiness, it is said, is an emotion which depends on what happens to you. Joy, by contrast is supposed to be enduring, stemming from deep within our soul, and which is not affected by circumstances surrounding us. I don’t think God had any such hairsplitting in mind. Scripture uses the terms interchangeably along with words such as “delight”, “gladness”, “blessing”. There is no scale of relative spiritual values applied to any of these. Happiness is not relegated to fleshly minded sinners nor joy to heaven-bound saints.”
Our Happy God
1 Timothy 1:11 says: “…in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted.” (1 Timothy 1:11)
The word translated “blessed” is the Greek word markariou, which means: “happy”. In other words, a direct translation of the Greek text would be: “…our HAPPY God”
Furthermore, this word makarios (Greek for “happy”) is found in other places:
Happy are those whose sins are forgiven, whose wrongs are pardoned. Happy is the one whom the LORD does not accuse of doing wrong and who is free from all deceit. (Psalm 32:1-2 GNT)
Happy are those who reject the advice of evil people, who do not follow the example of sinners or join those who have no use for God. Instead, they find joy in obeying the Law of the LORD, and they study it day and night. (Psalm 1:1-2 GNT)
Lost in Translation
As to why the English translators of the Bible in the Middle Ages chose to translate the word “makarios” as “blessed” rather than “happy” is because they considered the word “happy” to be too trite, and not religious-sounding enough. However, in the process, we have lost the sense of mirth that these words were originally intended to have!
In other languages, such as Hungarian, the word “markarios” is translated as “boldog” – which is the normal Hungarian word for “happy”, rather than the word “áldott” which means “blessed”. This more faithful and straight-forward translation conveys the heart and feeling of happiness which has been lost in translation for those of us who read in English.
Charles Spurgeon and Amy Carmichael on God and Happiness
Amy Carmichael was a missionary to India who worked with exploited girls in horrendous situations, and rescued over 1000 of them in the name of Jesus. She spent the final 2 years of her life mostly bedridden. Here’s what she said during that time:
“There is nothing dreary or doubtful about this Christian life. It is meant to be continually joyful. We are called to a settled happiness in the Lord, whose joy is our strength.”
Charles Spurgeon, “The Prince of Preachers” asserted:
“God made human beings to be happy.”
“My dear brothers, if anyone in the world ought to be happy, we are those people. How boundless our privileges, how brilliant our hopes!”
Redeeming the Word
The problem is not with the pursuit of happiness, it is with the pursuit of happiness in the wrong places and in the wrong ways. This is the essence of sin. But rather than throwing out the baby (happiness) with the bathwater (sin), we should redeem this wonderful word which is truly ours as the people of God, and pursue holiness and happiness – the former leading to the latter.
Come back in time with me, all the way back to the magical year of 2007. I had a beautiful, thick head of hair… My wife was pregnant with our first child. I was living in Eger, Hungary, where we had planted a church which I was pastoring, and I had just gotten broadband internet hooked up in our flat. There was this new thing around at that time called YouTube, we weren’t sure if it was going to catch on or not… I mean, who wants to watch videos on their computer???
There on YouTube, I came across this video called Zeitgeist, which is basically a big conspiracy theory that says that everything you’ve ever been told about everything is a lie, conjured up by people who want to control you. Overall, I didn’t take the movie seriously, but… the beginning of the movie made some pretty serious claims about Jesus and the Bible that gave me pause when I first heard them…
For example, the video claimed that 3000 years before Jesus, the Egyptians had a god named Horus who was:
Born on December 25
Born of a virgin
His birth was marked by a star in the East
He was adored by 3 kings
He was a teacher at age 12
He was baptized and began his ministry at age 30
He had 12 disciples
Sound like anyone else you’ve heard of before? They went on…
The basic premise of their claims is that all the stuff the Bible says about Jesus was just ripped off and plagiarized from other ancient religions. For a moment, these claims surprised me and shook me, because I had never heard this before, and I realized that if these claims were true, then Christianity is just a myth and is not true…
The Reality: the “Christ Myth Hypothesis” is a misinformation campaign
I figured it was pretty important to find out whether the things this video claimed were true, so I immediately went and did some research.
Here’s what I found: these claims are nothing new, they have been around for hundreds of years AND they have been disproven and are not taken seriously by anyone who knows anything about history because their claims are false.
Several books and films have been produced by “evangelical atheists” such as Richard Dawkins, Bill Maher, and Tim Harper which promote these claims as the basis for why people should abandon belief in the Bible.
Not only are the claims of the “Christ Myth Hypothesis” not true, but they are intentionally misleading, which is even worse. This is no mere misunderstanding, this is a misinformation campaign aimed at swaying people’s opinions using underhanded and dishonest means.
The Reality: Historical Facts Disprove the Christ Myth Hypothesis
One of the big claims of those who promote the Christ myth is that Jesus never actually existed.
How Do We Know that Jesus Really Existed?
Edwin Yamauchi, Professor of History at the University of Miami says this: “Any argument that challenges the claim of a historical Jesus is so ridiculous in the scholarly community, it is relegated only to the world of footnotes.”
Why? There are at least 10 sources, other than the Bible, that talk about Jesus as a historical person. Here are 2 examples:
Tacitus (Roman official): “Nero fastened the guilt . . . (for a great fire that happened in Rome) on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace.Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of the procurator Pontius Pilatus.” (Tacitus, Annals, 15.44)
Josephus: “About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one ought to call him a man. For he . . . wrought surprising feats. . . . He was the Christ. When Pilate condemned him to be crucified, those who had come to love him did not give up their affection for him.On the third day he appeared . . . restored to life . . . and the tribe of Christians . . . has not disappeared.” (Josephus, Antiquities, 18.63–64)
Bart Ehrman is not a Christian, and yet he explains, “There is more evidence for the existence of Jesus Christ than there is for nearly any other person from antiquity,” and “Mythicists as a group, and as individuals, are not taken seriously by scholars,” because “the idea that Jesus did not exist is a modern notion. It has no ancient precedents. It was made up in the eighteenth century. One might as well call it a modern myth, the myth of the mythical Jesus.”
Another reason we can be sure that Jesus really existed is because of the rise of the early Christian church.
The rise of early Christianity doesn’t make any sense if Jesus never actually existed. It was a movement of people who claimed to have known, lived with, and witnessed the life, death and resurrection of this man, and as a result they willingly suffered persecution and death, including the torture and murder of their wives and children. Not even the leaders reaped any personal benefit from these claims at all. The history of early Christianity makes no sense apart from the fact that these people actually saw their leader crucified and then rise again.
Examining the Claims of the Christ Myth Hypothesis
Problem #1: Lack of Primary Sources
Problem #2:Gets basic facts about the Bible wrong
Let’s look at some of the specific claims, starting with the most popular: Horus.
Born on December 25 I hope I’m not ruining your Christmas, butJesus wasn’t born on December 25th. Nowhere in the Bible does it say when Jesus was born, in fact it is most likely it was not in winter, but in fall because it says in the Gospels that the shepherds were sleeping outside with their sheep – which they don’t do in Israel in December because it’s too cold.
It was around 400 AD, when Pope Julius I changed when the day when Christians celebrated the birth of Jesus, to December 25th — in order to subvert a pagan holiday which was celebrated on the Winter Solstice.
Christians have never actually believed that Jesus was born on Dec. 25th — that’s just the day we chose to celebrated it.If you want to celebrate it in August, go for it!So, December 25 is not an actual parallel.
Born of a Virgin
Here’s how Horus was conceived: His mom was a goddess named Isis — his dad was a god named Osiris. Osiris got into a fight with another god and lost (it’s such a bummer when your god loses…) The other god cut Osiris up and chopped him into pieces, and thenHorus’ mom came along and found Osiris’ severed phallus — and yada, yada, yada — she got pregnant, and that’s how Horus was conceived.
I’m pretty sure that doesn’t count as a virgin birth, and it’s certainly not a parallel to Jesus.
Star in the East — Attended by 3 Kings
Again, I don’t want to ruin your Christmas — but the Bible doesn’t say that 3 kings followed a star and arrived at the birth of Jesus. The only people who came at the birth of Jesus were the shepherds from the nearby fields.
In the Gospel of Matthew — it says that a group of magi came from the East, when Jesus was about 2 years old, but nowhere does it says they were kings… “Magi” were magicians, sorcerers, practitioners of Zoroastrianism (Persian traditional religion).
Furthermore, nowhere does it say that there were 3 of them. It says that they brought 3 gifts, gold, frankincense and myrrh —but there were probably more than 3 of them. There could have been 15 or 20 or 100.So, again: this isn’t a parallel.
Teacher at 12 and Baptized at 30
There aren’t any references to any of these things in ancient writings regarding Horus.
The Hieroglyphics show that Horus actually had 4 disciples — and they were: a turtle, a bear, a lion and a tiger. Also not a parallel
Some people say that Horus was crucified and then resurrected on the 3rd day. However, crucifixion didn’t exist in Egypt — it was invented by the Romans thousands of years later. Furthermore, in most stories of Horus, he didn’t die. In one story, he was killed and cut up into pieces, then thrown into a swamp, in which the pieces turned into a crocodile – and THAT is claimed to be a resurrection which was supposedly copied by the Gospels!
Mithra: Born of a Virgin
Mithra, legend says, was actually born fully-formed, out of a rock. That’s not exactly a virgin birth.
Another resurrection parallel that is sometimes claimed is the Greek god Attis, but if you look at his story, here’s how it goes:Attis gets killed by his father, then his father asks Zeus to resurrect him from the dead, and Zeus said: “No. But, here’s what I’ll do: I’ll make Attis’ pinky finger move eternally, and his hair will grow forever.”
Again that’s not resurrection, and there’s no parallel at all with Jesus.
Conclusion & Further Resources
It’s probably not a great idea to get historical information from YouTube videos and blatant propaganda materials, and yet many people do.
What makes Christianity unique is that it is not based on abstract ideas, feelings, or concepts, but it is based on historical events which either happened or they didn’t. The good news is that because of this, the claims of Christianity can be studied and researched from a historical perspective. Actual scholarly research and material refutes the claims of the Christ Myth Hypothesis and corroborates the claims of the gospel.
I spent this past weekend in Howell, New Jersey, where we held an Expositors Collective training weekend at Cornerstone Calvary Chapel. My wife came with me, which was fun. It was only our second time taking a trip without our kids, and we got to spend time serving together, visiting friends, and going to the beach at the glorious Jersey shore!
During our time in Howell, we heard a great message on Mark 6:1-6 from our friend David Guzik, who is part of the Expositors Collective team.
If you haven’t heard of David before, check out his website: enduringword.com. Part of David’s life-work has been the creation of a great resource, a free online commentary of the whole Bible, which is now being translated into many languages. His ministry Enduring Word also provides audio messages, podcasts, videos, and books to help equip people with an understanding of God’s Word.
“Many who heard him were impressed”
In Mark 6, we read about how Jesus returned to his hometown of Nazareth, where his mother and (half)siblings still lived, and preached in the synagogue there. It says there in verse that “many who heard him were impressed”.
Think about that for a second… These people got to see Jesus himself open up the Scriptures and teach. His words were the very words of God! What an absolutely epic experience!
You would assume that EVERYONE who heard him teach would have been impressed, their lives irreversibly changed as a result. And yet, it says that ”MANY” were impressed; in other words, SOME people were not impressed! Some people heard Jesus teach, and were like, “Meh.” 🤷♂️
As a preacher, I find it strangely comforting to know that there were people who heard Jesus preach, who weren’t impressed. I shouldn’t be surprised; it is well within our human nature to be cynical and critical of even the most beautiful, true, and life-giving words.
May we who speak and teach God’s Word never do so out of an insecure, desperate need for human accolades and approval, but out of a love for God and love for people that leads us to lovingly present the truth of God’s words for them.
They thought they knew him, but they didn’t
Many were surprised because they thought they knew Jesus, and they were realizing that, in fact, they didn’t actually know him.
In verses 2-3, we are told that the people said: ‘What is the wisdom given to him? How are such mighty works done by his hands? Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?’ And they took offense at him.”
The people of Nazareth thought they knew who Jesus was. They saw him growing up. They knew him as the carpenter. But they were coming to realize that although they thought they knew who Jesus was, they did not in fact know him.
The reality is that there are many people, even today, who are in this same situation; they assume that they know who Jesus is and what he is all about, while in fact they do not really know him. I came to a similar realization as a young man: through the help of a friend, I came to realize that I did not actually know Jesus, though I thought I had it all pegged.
It is a good day in a person’s life when they come to realize that Jesus is much more than they ever thought him to be previously. If that hasn’t happened for you yet, I pray it will; that you will see him for who he fully is, and respond appropriately.
Every human being has a physical body, yet clearly who we are is not only defined by our bodies. As our bodies age or are damaged, there is something fundamental to who we are which is distinct from our bodies. The Bible tells us that in addition to our physical bodies, as human beings we possess an immaterial spirit and soul.
What can be confusing, however, is what exactly a person’s spirit is, and what their soul is, and how these two relate to each other.
Two Views: Trichotomy and Dichotomy
The Trichitomous view holds that the soul and the spirit are two distinct things, whereas the Dichotomous view holds that soul and spirit are two words which describe two distinct aspects of the same thing, namely the immaterial part of a human being.
Those who hold a Trichotomous view often claim that this three-part human nature is one of the ways in which we have been created in the “image of God” (Genesis 1:26-27). Just as God is a greater trinity of Father, Son, and Spirit, He has created us in his image as a lesser trinity of body, soul, and spirit, says the thrichotomist. This assertion is usually followed by an explanation of what the difference is between soul and spirit. A common explanation is that the soul refers to the mind, encompassing both cognitive and personality-related aspects, whereas the spirit is the part of a person which connects with God. This, it is commonly said by trichotomists, is what distinguishes human beings from animals, who are not created in God’s image; though they have bodies and cognitive abilities (including emotions and personalities), they do not have a spirit, which makes them capable of relationship with God.
There are several passages in the Bible which suggest that there is a separation between the soul and the spirit (Romans 8:16; 1 Thessalonians 5:23; Hebrews 4:12). However, there are also several Bible verses which use the terms soul and spirit interchangeably (Matthew 10:28; Luke 1:46–47; 1 Corinthians 5:3, 7:34).
Hebrews 4:12 says that “the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” This would suggest that there is a dividing point between the soul and the spirit, but that they are so closely connected that the division of them is something which only God is capable of carrying out.
Advocates of the trichotomist position include James M. Boice, whereas J.I. Packer and John Calvin are some examples of those who hold a dichotomist view.
J.I. Packer’s argument for the dichotomous view
In his book “Concise Theology”, Packer explains the dichotomist view in this way:
Each human being in the world consists of a material body animated by an immaterial personal self. Scripture calls this self a “soul” or a “spirit.” “Soul emphasizes the distinctness of a person’s conscious selfhood; “spirit” carries the nuances of the self’s derivation from God, dependence on Him, and distinction from the body.
Biblical usage leads us to say that we have and are both souls and spirits, but it is a mistake to say that soul and spirit are two different things. (J.I. Packer, Concise Theology, pp. 74)
Packer goes on to explain that the trichotomous view tends to define soul as “an organ of this-worldly awareness,” whereas spirit is a distinct organ of communication with God.
This distinction, Packer argues, can lead to an unhealthy pitting of spirituality against intellectualism, in which intellectual engagement with God is considered “soulish”, i.e. unspiritual, while “spiritual perception” which is unrelated to the study of the Bible or rational thought. Furthermore, he adds that the trichotomous understanding of humanity may lead to a low view of the value of the material world, including our bodies, which would be inappropriate since we are embodied souls, and the hope of the gospel is not that we will escape this physical world, but that we will be resurrected to new and everlasting life in physical bodies.
However, I do not believe that we should decide on theological positions based on fear of what they might lead some people to do. This is the kind of thinking that leads people to avoid teaching the scandalous truth about God’s amazing grace because they are afraid that some people might use it as a license to sin.
I do not believe that we should decide on theological positions based on fear of what they might lead some people to do.
Instead, we ought to develop our theological positions based on Scripture first, considering authorial intent as well as how these things were understood by the early Christians, subsequently applying reason (this is called “theological method”).
It seems dishonest, based on Scripture, to not acknowledge a distinction between soul and spirit. However, I am in agreement with Packer that we must not ever believe or teach that an intellectual pursuit of God is unspiritual, or that seeking God’s will in Scripture is less spiritual than seeking it through “spiritual perception”. Yet, the way the words are used in the Bible leads me to believe that soul and spirit are separate, yet intimately connected aspects of human personhood, the latter of which sets us apart from the animal world.
What are your thoughts on this topic? Do you lean more towards the trichotomous or dichotomous view, and why?
“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”
This quote is often attributed to Plato, but whoever first said it doesn’t matter as much as the fact that it is true.
September is National Suicide Awareness Month, and this week is National Suicide Prevention Week.
A number of lives close to me personally and to those in my church community have been affected by suicide and attempted suicide recently. In these cases, you are always left with the feeling that you wish you would have known, or that they would have reached out, so you could have helped them work through what they were facing, and told them how much you love and value them, and that their situation is not hopeless.
I was saddened yesterday to learn of the death of Pastor Jarrid Wilson of Harvest Christian Fellowship in California.
Jarrid was not only a pastor, he was also a mental health advocate and the co-founder of Anthem of Hope, a Christian non-profit organization “dedicated to amplifying hope for those battling brokenness, depression, anxiety, self-harm, addiction and suicide.”
Jarrid was open about his own struggles with depression and suicidal thoughts, and was actively trying to help others who struggle with the same things.
Here is the statement from Pastor Greg Laurie, lead pastor of the church where Jarrid served:
It is with the deepest sadness and shock that I have to report that Jarrid Wilson went to be with the Lord last night.
At a time like this, there are just no words.
The Bible says, “There is a time to mourn.” This is certainly that time.
Jarrid is survived by his wife, Juli, his two sons, Finch and Denham, his mother, father, and siblings.
Jarrid loved the Lord and had a servant’s heart.
He was vibrant, positive, and was always serving and helping others.
Jarrid also repeatedly dealt with depression and was very open about his ongoing struggles.
He wanted to especially help those who were dealing with suicidal thoughts.
Tragically, Jarrid took his own life.
Jarrid joined us as an associate pastor at Harvest 18 months ago and had spoken out many times on this very issue of mental health.
Jarrid and his wife, Juli, founded an outreach to help people dealing with depression and suicidal thoughts called “Anthem of Hope.”
Sometimes people may think that as pastors or spiritual leaders we are somehow above the pain and struggles of everyday people. We are the ones who are supposed to have all the answers. But we do not.
At the end of the day, pastors are just people who need to reach out to God for His help and strength, each and every day.
Over the years, I have found that people speak out about what they struggle with the most.
One dark moment in a Christian’s life cannot undo what Christ did for us on the cross.
Romans reminds us that “nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:39).
At times like this, we must remember that as Christians, we do not live on explanations but on promises. We fall back on what we do know, not on what we don’t know. We do know that Jarrid put his faith in Jesus Christ and we also know that he is in Heaven now.
We stand on the promise of Revelation 21:4 that reminds us that in Heaven there is no more sorrow, suffering, or death.
Please keep Juli and Jarrid’s family in prayer.
The Harvest family has lost a bright light.
Pray for us as we grieve together
I didn’t know Jarrid personally, but several of my friends did. I grieve with them, and for Jarrid’s wife and his children who will grow up without their father. As Jarrid was the sole income-earner in his family, a GoFundMe campaign has been set up to ease the financial burden on his family in the wake of their loss.
Suicide doesn’t fix any problems or ease any pain. It only creates more pain and heartache for those who are left behind.
Thoughts like, “Everyone would be better off if I were gone” or “No one would notice or miss me if I died” are never true, and are lies from Satan, the “Father of Lies” and the enemy of our souls. We must respond to these lies with the truth, which God has revealed in His Word: that you are loved, you are valuable, your life matters, and God has a purpose for you.
There is hope, and your life matters! That’s the truth, regardless of how you might feel in any given moment.
If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts, Anthem of Hope has an anonymous live chat, where you can talk to someone and tell them how you are feeling: http://anthemofhope.org/hopeline.
For those in the United States, you can also reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK 
“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”
15 years, 2 countries, 3 cities, 4 kids. It’s been great. I am so thankful.
In addition to both being disciples of Jesus and committed to His mission, one thing I’ve learned over the past 15 years is that intimacy is created through shared experiences.
When we lived in Hungary, we had some friends from Finland who were medical students. They later became doctors, and we had the opportunity to visit them in Finland and teach at a retreat their church put on for students. Even though they were doctors, our friends lived in a nice, but modest apartment. They explained to us that they would rather live simply so they could spend their money traveling, having experiences and making memories together.
That stuck with us, and we’ve generally followed the same pattern throughout our marriage. Parts of our house are stuck in the 1970’s, yet we’ve chosen to spend our money traveling and having experiences rather than remodeling our kitchen.
We are firm believers in the idea that intimacy is created through shared experiences. When I see married couples who live separate lives even though they dwell in the same house, I get concerned, because I know they are having shared experiences with someone, and the power of shared experiences can be so strong, that they inevitably draw people together. If a husband and wife aren’t being drawn together through shared experiences, they are likely being drawn towards other people.
This principle is true outside of marriage as well, and therefore a wise person will be intentional about how, and with whom, they spend their time and create shared experiences.
I believe this is important when it comes to Christianity and a life of faith as well. Though our world is more connected than ever by technology, our society is increasingly lonely; I’ve written more about that here: “Toxic Loneliness and How to Break Out”.
How do we break out of this loneliness? How do we build a healthy kind of intimacy with other people that will help us grow? By getting out of our comfort zone and having shared experiences with other people.
Currently at White Fields, we are kicking off our fall season of Community Groups. If you’re in or around our local area here, we would love to help you get connected to a group of people with whom you can build shared experiences through prayer, fellowship, and Bible study. More information here.
If – as the Bible teaches – when a believer dies, their soul goes to be with God, where there is no longer any suffering, pain or sickness, then why would we not want to speed up the process a little bit? After all, as Paul the Apostle wrote to the Philippians, “My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better” (Philippians 1:23). Why not take up smoking, stop using sunscreen, and give up wearing seatbelts? Or, to take it even further, why not just go all the way and end your life now, so you can leave this harsh world behind and go to Heaven?
If that sounds preposterous, keep in mind that this was something that actually happened in early Christian history: there was a time when committing suicide became fashionable among Christians, and the church had to respond and try to end this tragic fad.
When Christians Were Killing Themselves
Until the Edict of Milan, AKA the Edict of Tolleration was issued in 313 AD, Christianity’s status in the Roman Empire was that of religio illicita, an “illicit” or illegal religion (as opposed to Judaism, which held the status of religio licita). During this time, Christians throughout the Roman Empire experienced waves of persecution, usually dependent on the attitudes of local authorities, although there were times when persecution was the official policy of the entire empire – such as during the reigns of Nero and Diocletian. Christians also faced persecution outside the Roman Empire.
During this period, many Christians were martyred, and martyrs were highly regarded and respected as those who had been willing to pay the ultimate price for their faith. In fact, martyrdom was so highly regarded, that people began to seek it out and desire it, as a way of expressing their devotion to Jesus. Ignatius of Antioch, for example, wrote about his desire to die as a martyr.
But some people took it even further. Jerome writes about a young woman named Belsilla who flagellated herself so much that she died from her self-imposed injuries. Another woman, Agathonike, upon witnessing the execution of a bishop by burning, also threw herself onto the fire, declaring “this is the meal that has been prepared for me.” She died in the flames, even though she had not been arrested nor charged. There are other accounts of Christians volunteering to be martyred even though they were not even being sought by the authorities. 
The Donatists, who considered themselves particularly hard core and dedicated, greatly desired to show their devotion by being martyred, some even going to the point of simply killing themselves to show how spiritual they were, i.e. how much they were not attached to this life and how much they desired to depart this world and be with Christ.
The Response of the Church
Seeking martyrdom and committing suicide became such a big issue with the Donatists in particular that it threatened the credibility, and even the existence of the church in their area of North Africa.
Judaism had always considered suicide to be sinful, whereas in pagan Roman culture it was considered an acceptable way to exit this life, and was practiced mostly by the wealthy, in part because slaves were not allowed to commit suicide since their lives did not belong to them, but rather to their masters.
It was Augustine of Hippo, a native of North Africa himself, who took up the challenge of addressing this issue and clarifying Christian thinking on this subject. In his book ‘The City of God’, Augustine considered what the Bible has to say about suicide and weighed various arguments for and against suicide. His conclusion was that suicide is always wrong as it is a violation of the sixth commandment (“Thou shall not murder”), and is never justified even in extreme circumstances. This became the official position of the church. 
The Meaning of Life
This whole issue touches on something which is core to Christian belief, and which sets Christianity apart from other worldviews and religions.
Many world religions view the world negatively, as a place of chaos, pain, and suffering – where the goal is to escape. This is the goal of transcendence and Nirvana in Eastern philosophies and religions, for example.
Christianity on the other hand, views this world positively. Rather than seeing the origin of the world as having come about through conflict or chaos, it is described as the thoughtful and good creation of a loving God. It is described as a garden paradise, given to us as a gift by our loving creator.
Although this good creation has been corrupted by sin and world currently “lies under the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19), the world still retains its fundamental goodness, and God has promised that one day He will redeem His creation.
The purpose of our lives, according to the Bible, is not to escape this world, but to steward this world (Genesis 1:28), as well as our lives and everything we’ve been given, to the glory of God and for the benefit and salvation of others. In other words: the people of God have been given a mission which can only be carried out in this life, and therefore this life matters greatly. Rather than escaping this world, His desire for us is to be about His business as long as we live.
It is an unbiblical an anemic theology of life and the world which leads to the attitude that the most spiritual thing to do is to bide your time as you wait to get out of this world to be with God. True spirituality is rather to value this life and the unique opportunities it affords to do the work of God, and be involved in his saving and redeeming work.
As Paul wrote to the Thessalonians: For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. (1 Thessalonians 5:19)
Between now and the end of our lives, there is a whole space that is significant. How you live it matters greatly to God. There are things he wants you to do with that time (cf. Ephesians 2:10). The Christian life, in other words, is not simply waiting to die so you can go to Heaven. God has given you this life for a purpose and He wants to use you to advance His Kingdom and to touch lives. He values our lives, and so should we!
July 20, 1969 was the day that the Apollo 11 mission successfully placed two men on the moon: Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin.
While Neil rightly gets much of the attention for being the first to set foot on the moon, with his famous, but accidentally misspoken phrase, “This is one small step for [a] man, but one giant leap for mankind,” Buzz Aldrin is the one I look up to the most.
A Committed Christian
At the time when Buzz Aldrin went on the Apollo 11 mission, he wasn’t only an astronaut, he was an elder at his church: Webster Presbyterian Church in Webster, Texas.
Communion on the Moon
In total, Armstrong and Aldrin spent 21 hours on the surface of the moon, much of which was televised and was, unsurprisingly, the most-watched television event of that year.
During their time on the moon, Buzz Aldrin asked for a moment of silence, so he could celebrate in his own way: by reading some passages from the Bible and taking Holy Communion.
The passages he had written down on a piece of paper to read on the moon were John 15:5, where Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing,” and Psalm 8:3-4: “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?”
As the men prepared for the next phase of their mission, Aldrin got on the comm system and spoke to the ground crew back on Earth. “I would like to request a few moments of silence,” he said.
Then he reached for the wine and bread he’d brought to space—the first foods ever poured or eaten on the moon. “I poured the wine into the chalice our church had given me. In the one-sixth gravity of the moon the wine curled slowly and gracefully up the side of the cup,” he later wrote. Then, Aldrin read some scripture and ate. Armstrong looked on quietly but did not participate.
Buzz’s Big Take-Away
In a video message which was broadcast back to Earth from the spacecraft as they made their way back from the moon, Aldrin recited the passage from Psalm 8:3-4.
There are many people who believe the moon landing never actually happened and is part of a conspiracy on the part of the United States government to show their supremacy over the Soviet Union during the Cold War.
One version of this conspiracy theory says that director Stanley Kubrick filmed the whole thing on a soundstage, and then was so upset by what he had been forced to do, that he hid a confession in a later film: The Shining. In Stephen King’s novel, on which the film was based, the room which is the epicenter of the bad vibes in the hotel is Room 217, but in his film adaption of the novel, Kubrick changed the room number to Room 237, supposedly because the moon is roughly 237,000 miles from Earth.
You can read a list of moon landing conspiracy theories here, but most have been thoroughly disproven.
In 2002, Buzz Aldrin was ambushed by Bart Sibrel outside of a hotel in Los Angeles. Bart called Buzz “a coward and a liar and a…”. He didn’t get to finish his sentence, because Buzz, then 72 years old, punched Bart in the face. Fortunately someone was recording; here’s the video:
While this wasn’t Buzz’s finest moment, nor his most Christian response, it’s easy to understand Buzz’s frustration. It reminds me of the time when Paul the Apostle cast out a demon from a girl in Philippi after becoming “greatly annoyed” with her antics. (Acts 16:18)
On the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, I’m impressed with Buzz Aldrin, who was himself, uncompromisingly, as a Christian, on the world’s biggest stage. In our current age, all of us have a platform; are you using your platform to be an ambassador for Christ? May God give us the courage and wisdom to do so, and to do it well.