Did Jesus Condone Slavery?

This question on the r/Christianity subreddit sparked quite a controversy in the comments. But I think it’s worth thinking about and trying to get at an answer.

Would Jesus have been in favor of, or at least complicit with the system of slavery?

[TL;DR – NO!]

The unfortunate part of answering this question is that a biblical case can be made both in support of slavery and against it. That’s why both Union and Confederate soldiers could believe they had God on their side. Slave owners and abolitionists both used Scripture to justify their actions and ideologies.

I think we have to start by admitting some things:

  1. Slavery was a part of society and culture basically from the beginning of Scripture. The Israelites were slaves in Egypt. The Israelites were allowed to have slaves/servants (with certain rules and restrictions). The Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, and Romans all had slavery as part of their economic system.
  2. Jesus and his earliest followers did not explicitly fight against the institution of slavery. They did not speak out against it. They weren’t really abolitionists.
  3. Both Paul and Peter addressed slaves and slave masters in their letters, but never encouraged slaves to rebel or run away and never indicated that masters should free their slaves.
  4. As pointed out by one of the commenters (a self-described atheist), the entire letter of Philemon is about Paul sending a runaway slave back to his master.

If that’s all we looked at, then it would seem clear that Jesus, the early Christians, and indeed the Bible and God himself, all condoned and approved of slavery. These are the things atheists will point to as a reason for not taking Scripture seriously.

I don’t have time here to comb the entirety of Scripture. I think the Bible handles slavery like it does war, violence, women, patriarchy, disease, etc. Here’s what I mean by that. War, slavery, and oppression of women were not prescriptive, but rather descriptive. The Bible was not written in a vacuum. The biblical authors were products of their time and place in history. Slavery was a part of the culture, but it didn’t have to be forever. War was a seemingly inevitable part of life, but it didn’t have to be forever. Women were viewed as inferior to men and treated as property, but it wouldn’t have to be that way forever.
Looking specifically at slavery, here’s what we see. In Exodus 21 God gives the Israelites rules and restrictions concerning slaves. They had been slaves themselves in Egypt under cruel, oppressive masters. So they were not to be cruel and oppressive. In fact, God commanded that after 7 years all the slaves were to be set free. And slavery in this case was for economic purposes. The Israelites weren’t invading other lands and dragging people away from their homes in order to buy and sell them off for life. Slaves in Israel were rather like indentured servants. If a man fell on hard times economically, he could go to work for a wealthier family in order to pay down his debt and get back on his feet financially. And after seven years he was allowed to go free.
There were other laws and regulations about taking foreign slaves after winning battles and such. But again, the laws were in place to protect the dignity and wellbeing of the slaves and to restrict the cruelty and violence of the slave owners.
But was slavery intended to be part of the system forever? No. Look at this vision of what would happen when the Messiah came:

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendor.
(Isaiah 61:1-3)

Freedom for prisoners, release for captives, mercy for the oppressed, the Year of the Lord’s Favor (i.e. the year of Jubilee, see Leviticus 25). This is what could be expected when the Messiah comes. In fact, Jesus read this very passage at the start of his ministry and boldly pronounced that he was the one Isaiah was talking about.

Slavery had no place in the Kingdom of God as inaugurated by his Anointed One.

Mary knew this would be the case. As the incarnate God developed in her womb, Mary offered a song/prayer known commonly as the Magnificat. Look at what she says right in the middle of it.

He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.
(Luke 1:51-53)

Mary knew something was about to happen. She knew that God’s kingdom was near. She knew the implications that would have for societies and cultures and economic structures. And she rejoiced that she got to play a role in it.

Like we admitted early, Jesus never really addresses the institution of slavery except to turn all power structures on their heads. Jesus may not have said that slavery is evil and wrong. But he did say that whoever wants to be the greatest must become a slave to all (Matthew 20:27; Mark 10:44). The gospels record Jesus talking about servants much more frequently. But even then, it was mostly in parables describing our relationship with God. God is the “master,” we are his “servants.” But when it came to human power structures, Jesus would say things like “the greatest among you will be your servant.”

As evil as slavery was/is, that wasn’t Jesus’ primary goal. If Jesus only came as an outspoken abolitionist, he wouldn’t have been the Savior of the world. Working toward ending slavery is a fantastic, necessary endeavor, but that’s only a small part of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Here’s the genius of what Jesus was doing. If you set all the slaves free, you ostracize and demonize the slave owners. But if you show how slaves and masters are on equal ground at the foot of the cross, then real lasting change is possible.

One of my favorite lines from any Christmas hymn is this one from “O Holy Night”:

Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother
And in His name all oppression shall cease

So if Christ came to break chains, end oppression, and set us free (among other things), then what did that look like in the early church? Let’s take a look at some of Paul’s and Peter’s letters to see how this played out.

Were you a slave when you were called? Don’t let it trouble you—although if you can gain your freedom, do so. For the one who was a slave when called to faith in the Lord is the Lord’s freed person; similarly, the one who was free when called is Christ’s slave. You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of human beings. Brothers and sisters, each person, as responsible to God, should remain in the situation they were in when God called them. (1 Corinthians 7:21-24)

A few important notes about this passage. Paul encourages slaves to “gain freedom” if they can, but not necessarily to fight and rebel. If you came to faith in Christ as a slave, then you are free in the Lord. If you were a free person, then you are a slave to the Lord. Faith in Christ changes our status among each other. There’s no need to fight for what’s already been given. It’s also important to keep in mind that the earliest followers of Christ still believed that his return was imminent. Christ would be coming back any day now, so they thought. Therefore, let’s not rock the boat too much. We see a lot of things change over time as we progress through Paul’s letters.

Now we come to one of the most incredible passages not just in the Bible but in all of ancient literature:

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:26-28)

Paul makes a similar statement a little later, too.

Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. (Colossians 3:11)

Paul makes the bold claim that we are all equal in Christ. Race, nationality, gender, language, and socioeconomic status have no bearing on your place in the church. When masters and slaves are worshiping and serving together, that is laying the groundwork for bringing slavery to an end.

Now we need to take a look at the “household codes” found in Ephesians, Colossians, and 1 Peter.

Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do, whether they are slave or free.
And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him. (Ephesians 6:5-9)

Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to curry their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. Anyone who does wrong will be repaid for their wrongs, and there is no favoritism. (Colossians 3:22-25)

Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves. Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor.
Slaves, in reverent fear of God submit yourselves to your masters, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh. For it is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God. But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. (1 Peter 2:16-21)

Paul and Peter are trying to reframe the whole hierarchy of human power structures. If you are a slave, you are not working for your master but for the Lord. If you are a master, then you should treat your slaves like you would a brother, or in fact Christ. As Christ submitted himself to human authority, so should we. But as Christ never used his power and authority to oppress others, neither should we.

A quick word about Philemon. Yes, Paul was sending Onesimus, a runaway slave, back to his master, Philemon. But if you actually read the letter, Paul makes it clear that things have changed. Onesimus is not returning as a slave, but as a brother in Christ. Paul urges Philemon to welcome Onesimus back as he would welcome Paul. The slave and the master are brothers. This changes everything.

NEVER, under any circumstances, was it ever stated or even implied that the North American Slave Trade industry was ordained by God or anything but pure evil. Those who used these passages as justification for the atrocities of slavery in the Americas and the British Empire were completely missing the whole point. Using the very words of Jesus (who said not to lord power over others) in order to lord power over others is entirely heretical. It’s a gross abuse of power and Scripture. It’s a sad part of our history as a church and as a nation that there were slave owners who thought God was on their side.

Jesus said, “Whatever you did/did not do to the least of these, you did/did not do it to me.”

Jesus stands with the oppressed. Jesus parties with the marginalized and outcast. Would Jesus approve of or condone slavery? I think the answer is emphatically NO.

Jonah: Head Above Water

When we left off, our rebellious prophet was recruiting the pagan Gentile sailors to assist him in committing suicide.

“Pick me up and throw me into the sea,” he replied, “and it will become calm. I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you.” (Jonah 1:12)

But the sailors didn’t buy into this crazy scheme and tried for Plan A.2 – row to shore. But they couldn’t. God/the storm wouldn’t let them. Jonah tried to force God’s hand in overthrowing the Assyrians by running from the mission. Now God is forcing the sailors’ hands to throw Jonah overboard – Jonah’s idea, not God’s, just so we’re clear. God never asked this of Jonah.

Then they took Jonah and threw him overboard, and the raging sea grew calm…Now the Lord provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. (Jonah 1:15, 17)

FINALLY! Here’s the fish! Now we get to pull out the flannel graph board and sick a kneeling/fetal-position Jonah onto a cutaway felt image of a whale fish. We get to sing the songs and put in the Veggie Tales movie!

This is where so many of us stop with the story of Jonah. It’s always David and Goliath, Daniel and the Lion’s Den, Jonah and the Whale Fish. But the story of Jonah is not about a big fish. The story of Jonah is about a God who is big with a big plan. The fish is mentioned in a whopping 3 verses – 1:17; 2:1; and 2:10. That’s it. And the whole fish scene isn’t even the most impressive miracle of the story. But we’ll get to that later.

JONAH’S PRAYER

Can you imagine drowning in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea? Drowning is one of the top fears among humans. A lot of people are hesitant to swim or get in a large body of water for fear of drowning. What a terrible way to die! I get panicky just thinking about it.

Jonah wanted to die. It wasn’t a heroic self-sacrifice to save the lives of the sailors. It was a selfish get-out-of-mission-work-free card. It was a last ditch effort to run from God. It wasn’t martyrdom, it was suicide.

So God gave him a taste of what Jonah said he wanted. Sometimes the worst thing God can do is to give us what we want. Look at this prayer of Jonah’s that we have recorded in chapter 2.

“In my distress I called to the Lord,
and he answered me.
From deep in the realm of the dead I called for help,
and you listened to my cry.
You hurled me into the depths,
into the very heart of the seas,
and the currents swirled about me;
all your waves and breakers
swept over me.
I said, ‘I have been banished
from your sight;
yet I will look again
toward your holy temple.’
The engulfing waters threatened me,
the deep surrounded me;
seaweed was wrapped around my head.
To the roots of the mountains I sank down;
the earth beneath barred me in forever.”
(Jonah 2:2-6a)

Maybe we have a hard time feeling sorry for Jonah, but I think we’ve all been there. Maybe you haven’t had the physical experience of drowning, but most of us have felt like we’re drowning figuratively – from stress, depression, broken relationships, pressure from school or work, the demands of everyday life that keep adding up. Maybe you’ve felt like you were drowning under the weight of some sin that has pulled you down – addictions, anger, lies, etc.

Every sin has a consequence. Sometimes we bring them on ourselves, and we have to face the natural consequences of our own dumb choices. Other times we have to pay for our actions through punishment or retribution. Or maybe we’re suffering under the consequences of generational/societal sin that we really didn’t have anything to do with, but we’re still negatively affected by it.

Every sin has a consequence.

I’ll say this. I don’t think God causes bad things to happen. But I believe God allows bad things to happen as a wakeup call. God didn’t cause Jonah to be thrown overboard. But God used this experience of drowning as a wakeup call to this rebellious prophet. God definitely got Jonah’s attention. It only took a trip to literal rock bottom. But for some people, like Jonah and like the younger brother in the Story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15), that’s what it takes for them to come to their senses.

UNEXPECTED SALVATION

FINALLY the prophet of God actually prays to God – the first time in the whole book so far. Even when the sailors were crying out to their own gods and urged Jonah to do the same, Jonah kept silent. Jonah refused to even utter a word in prayer to God until his life was on the line. And when he finally decides to pray, what does he talk about?

He thanks God for saving him. He recounts his terrifying experience of drowning, sinking down to the “roots of the mountains.” The imagery Jonah uses to describe his underwater experience is quite similar to how other writers and poets describe Sheol, aka the grave or realm of the dead. Jonah is coming to terms with the reality of his watery grave.

But not so fast. What’s that? A giant mouth opening in my direction and sucking me in like a spaghetti noodle!

“But you, Lord my God,
brought my life up from the pit.
When my life was ebbing away,
I remembered you, Lord,
and my prayer rose to you,
to your holy temple.
Those who cling to worthless idols
turn away from God’s love for them.
But I, with shouts of grateful praise,
will sacrifice to you.
What I have vowed I will make good.
I will say, ‘Salvation comes from the Lord.’”
(Jonah 2:6b-9)

The punishment was the near death experience as he was sinking into the salt water. The salvation came in the form of fish guts. The “great fish” was God’s chosen means of salvation for his runaway prophet.

What a weird story.

And what a testament to the fact that God’s modus operandi for saving people is constantly changing. I’m glad this story never caught on in religious rituals. “In order to experience God’s salvation you must be swallowed and vomited up by a fish.”

PRAYING FROM ROCK BOTTOM

Anyway, God saves Jonah. Jonah at least has the decency to acknowledge his need for God and his utter helplessness apart from God.

When you feel like you’re drowning – by sin, by stress, by life – this is a great prayer to go to. Read it. Reflect on it. Make it your own. We all have been at rock bottom before. We all know what it’s like to desperately cry out to God. This prayer in Jonah 2 is a great way to find the words if you don’t have them.

In fact, a song came out recently by Avril Lavigne. I hadn’t heard anything from her in years. Turns out she was battling Lyme Disease, an absolutely debilitating illness. In an interview she recalled a time in the hospital when the disease affected her lungs in such a way that it literally felt like she was drowning in that hospital bed. She fought through the disease, and is in a much better place now. But her first single released is called “Head Above Water.” The first time I heard it, I thought this is straight from Jonah’s prayer. If you haven’t heard it, check it out. It’s amazing.

More posts in the Jonah series:

Messiah Is Coming, pt. 1

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. We know that story. We know its power, its beauty, its wonder. God simply spoke into being all the we see, hear, feel, taste, and smell. At God’s word, galaxies were formed and our planet burst to life with vegetation and wildlife. The crowning jewel of God creation in this opening song of Scripture is man and woman who were created in God’s own image and likeness.

And God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.
God planted a garden in Eden in which the man and woman could live out their calling to “be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it.” God placed man in the garden to tend it and protect it. God gave the man a woman as a helper equal to and suitable for him.
And all was right and good and pure and innocent. For a while at least.
Because somehow, God’s good creation was yet susceptible to the influence of evil. The deceiver slithered into the scene, hissing lies and injecting doubts like venom in the bloodstream. The serpent fooled the humans into breaking God’s one rule by making them believe that God was holding out on them.

The woman ate the fruit and then gave it to her husband, and he ate, too. Their eyes were open to the realities of their sin, their nakedness, their shame. They hid from God. For the first time ever they felt unsafe in God’s presence.

Maybe you remember what that was like? The first time you felt like you hadn’t just done something bad but that you were bad? That’s shame.
Every sin has a consequence. From that point on we would be subject to broken relationships – with each other, with the earth, and with God. But God would not leave his children in this helpless state. He would not let that evil serpent win. He would set it all right one day through the woman’s own offspring.

God (to the serpent):
What you have done carries great consequences.
Now you are cursed more than cattle or wild beasts.
You will writhe on your belly forever,
consuming the dust out of which man was made.
I will make you and your brood enemies
of the woman and all her children;
The woman’s child will stomp your head,
and you will strike his heel. 
(Genesis 3:14-15 | The Voice)

God had a plan from the beginning. That last sentence is commonly known as the protoevangelion, “the first gospel.” God would not leave his children in the grasp of the serpent.
The Deliverer is coming.

Fast forward in the story, past the flood, past the tower of Babel, and we’re introduced to a man named Abram (later known as Abraham) who lived in the Mesopotamian city of Ur. Abram was married, childless, and very wealthy. God chose Abram to be an integral part of his great plan to rescue his children from the schemes of the serpent.

Abram, get up and go! Leave your country. Leave your relatives and your father’s home, and travel to the land I will show you. Don’t worry—I will guide you there. I have plans to make a great people from your descendants. And I am going to put a special blessing on you and cause your reputation to grow so that you will become a blessing and example to others. I will also bless those who bless you and further you in your journey, and I’ll trip up those who try to trip you along the way. Through your descendants, all of the families of the earth will find their blessing in you. (Genesis 12:1-3 | The Voice)

Abram would become the father of Isaac. Isaac would become the father of Jacob, who would later be named Israel. Jacob would become the father of Judah, from whose line would come the kings and the Messiah. From one family, all nations would be blessed, all peoples would be rescued from the power of evil. From one family God would work to create one new family, one new humanity.
The Messiah is coming.

rCQ: Questions from an atheist

/r/Christianity Questions

Recently, I came across this series of of questions asked by a Reddit user:

1) Do you agree with everything in the bible, sometimes it can be really messed up (like those quotes atheists like to bring up when they are debating with christians for example “Now therefore, kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known man intimately. But all the girls who have not known man intimately, spare for yourselves. Numbers 31:17-18”

2) Is the Bible like your law or advice for better life?

3) How often do you question your beliefs?

4) Are creationists the majority of christians?

Here are my answers:

1) It is my belief that if it can’t be said about Christ, it can’t be said about God (seeing as they are one and the same). I read about the violence of the nations in the Hebrew Scriptures in light of the cross of Christ. Jesus’ violent death at the hands of the state reveals the evil of state-sanctioned killing. So no, I don’t particularly “agree” that God truly commanded the killing of innocents. It was a shocking reality of war. I think this actually gives credence to the reliability of Scriptures. The writers certainly don’t try to sanitize or sugar coat anything. God is for sure a God of justice, but God is more so a God of grace and mercy, willing and desiring to save all who would turn to God.

2) The Bible is an argument about God. It’s a compilation of history, law, poetry, prophetic writings, letters, and biographical accounts. The Bible is a collection of 66 (or more) individual documents by at least 40 different authors/editors, written and compiled over the course of about 1500 years. It’s so much MORE than a law or book of good advice. It’s a window into how the people of God have interacted with, debated about, and sometimes literally wrestled with God. It’s the story of God and his people. The closest thing we Christians have to a “law” is maybe Matthew 5-7, the Sermon on the Mount. But it really boils down to “Love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and straight, and love your neighbor as yourself.” That is our law. That is our advice for a better life.

3) I question my beliefs all the time. Doubt is not the opposite of faith. Certainty is. Faith isn’t faith if there isn’t a degree of doubt, the idea that I could be wrong about all this. Certainty is the destroyer of faith, because as soon as your faith becomes too rigid it stops growing and evolving.

4) Young Earth Creationism stems from a demand for a 100% literal reading of Genesis 1-11. That view is dying off, and certainly isn’t as much of a stronghold as it used to be.

rCQ: Did Judas believe Jesus was the Son of God?

I’ve been browsing the r/Christianity subreddit. Some of it is weird and a bit out there. But there are also some people asking great questions. I am a sucker for good questions, so I decided to begin a series on my blog called r/Christianity Questions (or rCQ for short).


Recently I came across this question:

Did Judas believe Jesus was the Son of God?

Here’s my answer.

[TL;DR version – No, Judas didn’t know Jesus was the Son of God like we know him to be. No, I don’t think Judas really knew what he was doing because he didn’t understand Jesus’ mission. Yes, I think Judas could have been forgiven had he not hanged himself.]

It depends on what you mean “Son of God.” The phrase is a Messianic title taken from Psalm 2, which God actually quotes at Jesus’ baptism. The Messiah would be hailed as “God’s Son” in a kingly sense, not necessarily in a divine incarnation sense. In that regard, I’m not sure that any of the apostles truly believed to the fullest extent. Even when Peter confesses that Jesus was the Christ, the son of the living God (Matthew 16:16), he has Psalm 2 and maybe Daniel 7 in mind.

He said to me, “You are my son;
today I have become your father. (Psalm 2:7)

What happened with Judas, in my understanding, is that he was trying to force Jesus’ hand at overthrowing the Romans. He saw an opportunity to make a little money, get Jesus arrested, and maybe beaten. I don’t think he realized the lengths to which the Jewish leaders would take the whole thing. And I think Judas believed Jesus would defend himself in some way. It makes some sort of sense. If Judas had devoted the past few years of his life to following someone who was going to be the Messiah, Israel’s deliverer who would overthrow Roman rule and establish an independent Jewish state as the heir to David’s throne (see John 6:14-15), then maybe Judas was simply trying to start the ball rolling. It’s clear from James’ and John’s question about sitting at Jesus right and left when he came into his kingdom (Mark 10:35-40) that this was the vision the other apostles had for the kingdom.

It’s not until Jesus’ trial that we hear “my kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my followers would fight for me” (John 18:36). Judas wanted a fight. Peter wanted a fight – hence the sword in the garden (John 18:10). James and John wanted a fight. But that was not the way of Jesus.

What really gives away that Judas didn’t actually think Jesus was going to be killed because of his betrayal is this:

When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. “I have sinned,” he said, “for I have betrayed innocent blood.”
“What is that to us?” they replied. “That’s your responsibility.”
So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself. (Matthew 27:3-5)

Judas assumed (rightly) that the leaders wouldn’t have enough evidence to charge Jesus, much less convict him of anything. Judas also assumed (wrongly) that Jesus could and would defend himself against any accusations. Sometimes, it’s even the wrongful arrest of a movement leader that gives said movement legitimacy. Maybe Judas wanted to thrust Jesus into the spotlight for all to see. Little did he know just how well his plan would succeed in doing that.

There’s also the question: Could Judas have been forgiven? And I think the answer is yes. All the other disciples were forgiven. Saul (aka Paul) was forgiven. Jesus cried out for God to forgive the very people who nailed him to that cross because they (like Judas) didn’t know what they were doing.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not defending Judas’ actions. What he did was greedy at best (John 12:4-6) and pure evil at worst (John 13:2). But Judas also wasn’t the only one who betrayed Jesus that night. All the apostles ran. Everyone deserted. Peter denied even knowing Jesus at all.

It wasn’t until after the resurrection that Peter and the other apostles began to really know what it meant for Jesus to be the “Son of God” in the fullest meaning of the phrase.

Alexa, Share My Thanksgiving Playlist

You know, I hear all the time that people listen to Christmas music in November because there isn’t “Thanksgiving Music.”  I call B.S. (bologna sandwich)! Here is my playlist that gets me in the Thanksgiving mood. These are songs that remind me of God and his blessings – my wife and kids, home, family, friends, love, belonging, joy, freedom.

It’s got a little bit of everything, from show tunes to indie/folk to rap to pop punk. There’s Mumford & Sons, U2, Queen, Lecrae, Michael Bublé, and more. If you’ve got a long road trip before digging into the pile of mashed potatoes or if you need something to listen to in the kitchen while you’re cooking, go ahead and give these songs a listen.

Jesus Is the New Jonah…And So Are You.

A prophet of God sleeping in a boat at sea during a particularly violent storm which has everyone else on board panicked. The prophet is rudely awakened and miraculously causes the storm to cease.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.

The more I study the story of Jonah, the clearer it becomes that Jesus based a lot of his ministry and teachings on the life of Jonah. The connections become obvious to anyone paying attention. In fact, Jesus makes it obvious for us by coming right out and telling us that “something greater than Jonah is here” (Matthew 12).

So how is Jesus the new Jonah?

We’ll look at this throughout the story, but let’s just stay in chapter 1 for now.

THE WORD OF THE LORD

The opening phrase of Jonah’s story should perk the ears of Christians. “The Word of the Lord…” doesn’t that have some significance?

Look at how John’s gospel begins: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

Jesus IS the Word of God. Jesus’ story is inextricably connected to Jonah’s from the opening phrase.

GO TO NINEVEH

God calls Jonah to leave his home (Israel) and go to a foreign, hostile land (Nineveh) to proclaim God’s message. Jonah, somewhat understandably, is hesitant to do this. Instead, he runs away from the call to foreign missions.

Where is Jesus in this? How is Jesus the new Jonah in this regard? The answer is best summarized in Philippians 2:

Who, being in very nature God,
Did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
Rather, he made himself nothing
By taking on the very nature of a servant,
Being made in human likeness,
And being found in appearance as a man,
He humbled himself
By becoming obedient to death –
Even death on a cross!

Looking back at John 1, The Message version puts it this way:

The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood.

Jesus was sent on a mission from God to leave his home in heaven, to come to a foreign land (the world), to preach to a hostile population, and ultimately to be killed for it.

Jonah didn’t want to leave Israel and go to Nineveh for fear of what might happen. Christ left heaven and came to Earth fully knowing what would happen. Christ is the greater Jonah.
THE STORM AT SEA

Then there’s the storm. I want to draw your attention to all the parallels between Jonah 1:3-16 and Mark 4:35-41.

Sailing in the opposite direction/other side

  • But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. (Jonah 1:3)
  • That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” (Mark 4:35)

Violent windstorm on the sea and imminent danger of ship’s sinking

  • Then the Lord sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up. (Jonah 1:4)
  • A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. (Mark 4:37)

Deep sleep during the storm

  • All the sailors were afraid and each cried out to his own god. And they threw the cargo into the sea to lighten the ship. But Jonah had gone below deck, where he lay down and fell into a deep sleep. (Jonah 1:5)
  • Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. (Mark 4:38)

Rude awakening by frightened shipmates

  • The captain went to him and said, “How can you sleep? Get up and call on your god! Maybe he will take notice of us so that we will not perish.” (Jonah 1:6)
  • The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” (Mark 4:38)

Calming of sea by protagonist’s actions

  • Then they took Jonah and threw him overboard, and the raging sea grew calm. (Jonah 1:15)
  • He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. (Mark 4:39)

Shipmates’ awestruck fear at divine power

  • At this the men greatly feared the Lord, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows to him. (Jonah 1:16)
  • They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” (Mark 4:41)

Before you start crying “Coincidence!” I must remind you that it was Jesus himself who drew the parallels between his ministry and Jonah’s. Jesus’ earliest followers purposefully pointed to these connections in the way they told their stories.

God was trying to teach Jonah (and subsequently Israel) the lesson that God cares about the Gentile nations, too. As Peter and Paul would put it, God wants all people everywhere to be saved (Acts 17:30; 2 Peter 3:9). God loved the world to the extent that he sent his one and only Son (John 3:16).

Not long after Jonah, the Assyrian Empire would rise in power once again and overthrow the evil kingdom of Israel, taking their people into exile and erasing them from the annals of history. Even in the face of this unspeakable tragedy, God still had a bigger plan in mind:

“It is too small a thing for you to be my servant
To restore the tribes of Jacob
And bring back those of Israel I have kept.
I will also make you a light for the Gentiles,
That my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.” (Isaiah 49:6)

Jesus, with this very passage in mind, would tell his earliest followers, “You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5).

Jesus is Jonah. So am I. So are you. Each one of us is called to leave the comfort and security of our own tribe in order to take God’s word to the nations.

MORE POSTS IN MY JONAH SERIES:

The Fear of Insignificance | My Life As A THREE

In his book The Sacred Enneagram, Chris Heuertz explains it this way:

Their quietly competitive nature is rooted in their inner drive to prove to themselves that they are valuable. This inner drive is perpetuated by the Basic Fear of the Three, that somehow they are hopelessly worthless and characteristically base.

Ian Cron and Suzanne Stabile frame it this way in The Road Back to You:

Once in a blue moon when Threes slow down long enough to reflect on their lives, they might feel like they’re a fraud. I wear a thousand masks, but which is the authentic me? When this flash of insight comes to them it surfaces a Three’s worst fear: What if there’s no one behind the image? What if I’m no more than an empty suit?

The Basic Need for Threes is success, whatever that looks like to us. You would think that would make failure the corresponding Fear of the Three. And while we Threes try to avoid *public* failure at all costs, I’m not really that afraid of failure. If I try something and it doesn’t work, then I try something else. Threes are adaptable like that.

The problem with failure, though, is that it’s so closely tied to our own sense of self-worth. We avoid failure because we fear being viewed as not valuable, worthless, useless, insignificant. If I’m going to bust my tail working, performing, achieving, sacrificing, doing…I want to know that it will all be worth it in the end.

What if I’m no more than an empty suit?


THE SEARCH FOR SIGNIFICANCE

Again, I can’t speak for all Threes, I can only share my own experience. But I think I can say this with confidence: Being a Three pastor is so hard!

You would think that pastoring would be great for Threes. We get to be up in front leading. Our job is very performative. We get the praise and respect of a lot of people. We get to change masks constantly and almost no one knows. (I’ll get to the mask-wearing bit in a later post.)

While all those things are true, it can also be incredibly frustrating work. There is no end to ministry. I can never say that I’m done or that I’ve accomplished everything I want to. There is often very little guidance and few guidelines. And worst of all, there is no good, clear measure of success for a pastor.

Is success defined by attendance numbers? Baptisms? Giving? What happens when the numbers begin to drop? Even if it’s not our fault, we can’t help but take these things personally – because our identity is so closely tied to what we do.

And to make matters worse, the 21st Century American culture doesn’t value the leadership of pastors (especially youth pastors!) like we used to. Church is optional, even for most Christians. The job of pastoring is getting harder and harder with less and less payoff. That’s a terrible way of viewing the work, but it’s how Threes, especially, see the world.

So as a minister, I’ve found that I can’t stake my sense of significance solely within the framework of traditional church. If I want to make an impact, I have to be involved in other aspects of community life. That’s why you won’t find me in the office as much as you used to. I get the feeling that I’m not the only minister who feels this way.

MORE THAN USELESS

Where have I been searching for significance?

I’ve been substitute teaching at the high school and junior high in town. I’ve been getting involved with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes at both schools. I hold leadership positions in both the Mitchell Area Ministerial Association and the Lawrence County Youth Network. There is a Teen Pregnancy Prevention Coalition that has started up recently that I’m involved with. I’m getting my oldest son involved in Scouts and Soccer programs.

I write blog posts.

As I type all this out I realize that significance is another one of those intangibles. That’s the paradox of the Three. We want to feel significant so badly that we exchange significance for busyness in order to feel like we’re somehow gaining significance.

The “wounding message” Threes received in childhood is that we are loved and valued for what we do. Threes don’t crave success. We crave the feelings love and significance that comes from it. This sets us on an endless cycle to do more in order to feel more valuable. Believe it or not, Threes really do have a hard time accepting that we are loved no matter what we do. We all need to have a moment of realization that we have intrinsic worth and value whether we “succeed” or not.

It took me a long time to come to grips with this. And still most days I have a hard time remembering it. And this is why one of the best things that can happen to a Three is to experience that which we strive so hard to avoid: public failure. For many Threes, myself included, the only thing that will finally and fully convince us of our own value is failing publicly in a big way – and still receiving love and acceptance from those closest to us.

When I fail and think What if I’m no more than an empty suit? God is there to remind me that I am his beloved child. That’s why this song from Relient K has been so helpful to me over the years.

If you are a Three, what has been your experience with finding significance? Do you struggle with earning love and worth? Remember that you are God’s beloved, not because of anything you’ve done but because of who God is.

4 Life Changing TED Talks

My reaction to most TED Talks is, Huh…that was interesting. And then I go about my day.

But every so often there is a Talk that sticks with me. It get lodged inside my brain. It goes on repeat, and I can’t help but think about it. I come back to it time and time again in conversation or my own thoughts and research.

These four in particular are on that playlist. These are the videos I wish EVERY person would watch, because they will challenge you to grow. They will make you uncomfortable. They will question the status quo. They will help you see yourself, others, and the world in a new way.

These Talks emphasize Vulnerability, Humility, Empathy, and Creativity. Chances are you’ve probably seen one or two of these before. If you have, watch them again. I’m sure you’ll find something new. If not, prepare to have your world turned on its head.
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Brené Brown | THE POWER OF VULNERABILITY

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Kathryn Shultz | ON BEING WRONG

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Sam Richards | A RADICAL EXPERIMENT IN EMPATHY

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Ken Robinson | DO SCHOOLS KILL CREATIVITY?

What TED Talks have been particularly impactful for you? Share them with me in the comments, and don’t forget to SUBSCRIBE so you never miss a post!

Review: The Path Between Us: An Enneagram Journey to Healthy Relationships

The Path Between Us: An Enneagram Journey to Healthy Relationships
The Path Between Us: An Enneagram Journey to Healthy Relationships by Suzanne Stabile
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’ve been following the work of Suzanne Stabile and Ian Cron for a couple of years now. I’ve read The Road Back to You, and I was an avid listener of their podcast by the same name. I’ve continued to follow Ian’s podcast, Typology, but I’ve kind of lost touch with Suzanne.

Until this book.

Suzanne Stabile has a way of understanding relationship dynamics better than the vast majority of people. This book, The Path Between Us, is going to be a helpful reference guide for years to come. The Enneagram is abundant in wisdom not just for discovering more about ourselves but understanding who we are in relation to other people. Why is it hard for Sevens and Fours to experience lasting, fruitful relationships? Why do Fives and Ones butt heads all the time? How can Threes seem so outgoing but be so inwardly lonely?

This is not a book for Enneagram novices. This is not the first book you should read on the subject. But if you’ve read The Road Back to You and have put in some Enneagram work in your own life, this is a great book to take you to the next level.

And if you’re having trouble finding your own particular number, this can help narrow it down for
you by revealing how the different types interact with each other. If you’re stuck between two or three numbers, Suzanne’s relational insights can help reveal what’s really going on so you can be more confident in knowing your type and knowing what to do next.

S0 many people can benefit from this book – managers, pastors, parents, spouses. Basically, if you deal with or interact with people on a regular basis, this book is for you.

View all my reviews