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Friday, July 13, 2018

How Freedom in Jesus Impacts Our Daily Life

Last week, I published an article titled Celebrating Our Freedom. In this article, I shared the fundamentals of the freedom we can find in Jesus. When we hear the word freedom, most of us probably paint a picture of being set free from a tyrannical government or leader. But this is far from the picture the Bible paints for us about the freedom offered in Jesus.

What does it really look like for Jesus to set us free? And how does it impact our daily lives? These are the questions I seek to answer in this article by providing a few practical examples from my own life which demonstrate the ways in which Jesus has set me free. If there’s one thing I’ve learned since God began setting me free from sin,[1] it’s that this freedom is something which permeates every area of my life. My entire outlook on life, the things I strive after, and the things I think about throughout the day have completely changed.

As I share a few of the ways in which my life has been changed by Jesus, know that these are only a few specific examples which have taken place in my life and that they aren’t the only changes I’ve experienced, nor are they the only changes other people have experienced. The reason I’ve decided to share these specific examples is because I think they will be relatable for many of you reading this article.

Jesus Set Me Free from Shame

Shame is one of the most under-discussed and under-researched topics in the world. It’s an incredibly hard subject to talk about because of the pain it stirs up. Nonetheless, I’m going to spend a little time discussing shame because of the stronghold it once had on me and because of the stronghold it probably has on many of you.

Based on the research of Dr. Brené Brown, often recognized as the leading researcher in the area of shame, shame is defined as “The fear of disconnection.” To say it another way, shame is the fear of rejection. All of us have struggled with this fear at some point in our lives and may still be struggling with it today. We so desperately want to be accepted.

As I look back on the few childhood memories stored in the archives of my brain, most of them are somehow connected to the shame I felt in the midst of those experiences. Throughout grade-school, I was often picked on by my classmates which led me to feel rejected by them. For example, I can remember wearing a sleeveless shirt to school one day and one of my classmates made fun of me because my arms were so skinny. I felt that I was being rejected because of my skinny arms which then led me to feel shame.

A few weeks later on the last day of school, we were all ushered into the cafeteria where awards were presented to students who excelled in various areas such as being on the honor roll, getting straight A’s, and having perfect attendance. When the teachers presented the awards to the students, everyone in the room applauded for them. To my young mind, it appeared like these high-performing students received acceptance because of their accomplishments. At that moment, I decided to set out to win every school award imaginable in order to receive the same acceptance. By the time I finished 5th grade, I was earning every single one of those awards every single year. I got to stand up in front of every student in the entire school to accept my award and receive their solidary commendation.

It didn’t take long for this same mentality to carry over into everything I did. I strove to win every award imaginable so that I could experience what I felt was a sign of acceptance. Whatever I did, whether it was school work, sports, choir, or musicals, I quickly climbed to the top of the ladder and won nearly every award. And every time I walked up to the front of the room to receive my award, I soaked up the applause I received from all my classmates.

Unfortunately, awards are only handed out once a year. And although I found myself feeling accepted when I received awards, I still felt rejected and therefore lots of shame throughout the rest of the year. No matter how hard I tried or how many awards I received, I was never able to part with the daily shame I experienced. The constant shame I felt continued until Jesus became the King of my life. When this transition began to take place, everything began to change.

Jesus is God. Why is this important? Because that makes him the most important being in the entire world. God created and continues to sustain the universe. And he created every single person on earth. He’s kind of a big deal.

When I put myself and everyone else on earth up against God, I realize we all pale in comparison to him. In the grand scheme of things, we’re worthless compared to God. We’re just a bunch of messed up peons who are enslaved to sin. God has no reason to give us the time of day. Yet, God loves me so much that he humbled himself to become a human being who lived in this sinful world and died a death he didn’t deserve so that I could be set free from my captivity to sin.[2] This is the greatest act of acceptance anyone could ever demonstrate. The fact that I did absolutely nothing to earn it, yet he gave it to me freely, demonstrates the genuineness of it.

Jesus has set me free from the fear of rejection and the shame that comes with it![3]

Jesus Is Setting Me Free from My Addictions

Another freedom I’ve experienced in Jesus is being set free from addiction. Although I’ve never been addicted to some of the biggest culturally taboo addictions such as drugs, gambling, or pornography, I’ve been addicted to a number of other things including wealth, video games, and perfection.

Although I don’t have a doctorate in psychology, in my experiences dealing with personal addictions and in walking alongside others who have struggled with addictions, I’ve concluded that addictions, regardless pf type, are extremely similar in that every single one of them is completely enslaving. Anything can become an addiction. We can be addicted to work, sports, gossip, politics, sex, eating, cleaning, and even coupon clipping. It doesn’t take a chemical injection in order for something to become addicting.

The way all addictions start is by trying something for the first time. Maybe you got to play a video game at a friend’s house, try a new sport, or take a shot of heroin. As you tried those things for the first time, you realized that they felt pretty good. So you naturally decided to go back to them again and again and again. Before you know it, you find that your mind is constantly consumed with dreaming about the future experiences you’ll have with the object of your addiction. You’ll be counting down the minutes until you’ll be able to have it again. And you get to the place where you feel like you need to have it in order to be happy. This is what I mean by it being enslaving. The addiction ends up controlling you.

One of my addictions for many years was wealth. I’d often find my mind completely consumed with dreaming about becoming one of the wealthiest people in the world. When I had opportunities to earn some money, I’d save nearly every penny of it. By late elementary school, I had saved up enough to open my first Certificate of Deposit. In seventh grade, I saved up another pot of money which I invested in my first mutual fund. A year later, I saved up another pot of money and opened my first Roth IRA. I few years later, I did lots of research on stocks and began buying and selling individual stocks.

Money wasn’t the only part of wealth to which I was addicted. I was also addicted to the stuff I bought with my money. When I spent money on things, which was very rare, I was very selective about how I used it and was very protective of the things I bought. Although I dropped hundreds of dollars on Ty beanie babies, I did it as an investment because I was convinced they were going to increase in value over time. You guessed it: I never cut off their shiny, red, unbent tags because they were sure to decrease in value if I did that. When other people would ask to borrow my stuff, I’d say “No” because my experience had shown that they didn’t take as good of care of it as I did.

When Amy and I got married and were both working full-time jobs, I initially won the battle on how much money we spent. Basically, we only spent money on the necessities and didn’t splurge on anything. We had a tight, rigorous budget which I set for us and forced her to comply. I regularly got upset with her because she’d spend money going out to eat for lunch everyday rather than packing her lunch. During this time period, we filled our coffers with so much money that everyone was in awe of how much money we had.

Due to my love of wealth, I spent my childhood living in constant fear that either someone was going to break into our house and steal all my prized possessions or that our house was going to catch on fire. I regularly had nightmares about one or both of these events occurring. This same fear carried over into my adult life. When Amy and I bought a house, I invested in a top-notch security system to protect all my valuable stuff.

I did all these things because of my addiction to wealth. I was absolutely terrified of losing it because of the dependency I had on it. It was so enslaving that it caused unnecessary friction between Amy and me.

But Jesus decided to set me free from my addiction. He didn’t use a self-induced 12-step program for addiction recovery. He also didn’t teach me how to build up a better resistance to it. Rather, he replaced my desire for it with a desire for something so much more valuable than all the wealth in the entire world put together; he replaced it with a desire for him. He showed me, not just told me, how much more valuable he is than all the wealth in the world. He can satisfy me in a way that all the wealth in the world could never do. As a result, I’m no longer a slave to wealth and I no longer have a fear of losing my wealth. If a fire consumes it all or if a burglar breaks in and steals it all, so what? I trust that God is still going to take care of me.

In a similar way that Jesus broke my addiction to wealth, he has broken some of my other addictions and is in the process of breaking some other extremely stubborn addictions. Jesus is setting me free from my addictions!

Jesus Set Me Free from My Fear of Death

The number one fear I think most humans have is the fear of death. Even though I’ve always been a professing Christian, I still feared death. I feared everything about it from the act of dying to the unknown of what was going to happen after I died. I think every single one of us can relate to this one.

Can you even begin to list out the amount of time you spend planning and implementing preventative measures to ensure that you stay alive? I’m not suggesting that we stop wearing our seatbelts or attempt to walk across four lanes of traffic when the sign says “Don’t Walk,” but I am suggesting that we usually spend way too long and way too much money trying to keep ourselves alive. With all the latest technology in the medical field, we spend thousands of dollars to put loved ones on machines in order to keep them alive for a couple more days. We’ll go to virtually any and all lengths to keep ourselves from dying.

Similar to the other topics I’ve discussed in this article, the fear of dying can be enslaving. It can completely control our lives. Some people install five locks on every door, have an armed gun by them at all times, and almost never leave the house out of this fear. The person who does decide to break into that house isn’t going to fare well.

If you don’t believe in an afterlife or you believe that you won’t receive an afterlife of reward, then you have every reason to fear dying. Things don’t look very good for you. But for those who believe they have received life in Jesus, we have no reason whatsoever to fear dying. Jesus promised that all those who belong to him will inherit eternal life with him. Yet, some of us still struggle with this fear. I believe the reason we struggle with it is because we (1) don’t yet have a kingdom mentality, (2) don’t believe Jesus is really in control of our lives, and (3) don’t actually trust that Jesus has the power to do what’s best for his kingdom. We could try to brainwash ourselves into believing these three things, but it’s not going to change the way we operate unless it becomes a deep conviction that he places on our hearts.

Personally, I’ve experienced this change in my heart. I can remember the fear I experienced a few years ago when the thought crossed my mind that a terrorist could attack any public place at any time. But when that thought crosses my mind now, I no longer experience the fear of dying. When the realization hits me that I could get in a car accident and lose my life, I no longer experience fear. When I get on a roller coaster and feel like going over a hill the wrong way could cause me to fly out of my seat and die, I no longer experience fear. Why? Because he’s set me free from that fear. I can wake up every morning without the fear of dying that day. As long as I am here on earth, I will live for him. And the day he decides it’s time for me to be with him will be the best day of my life; I’ll finally get to see Jesus face to face.

Jesus has set me free from the fear of dying!

Do You Want to Be Set Free?

As can be seen from my life, I can personally attest to the fact that there is freedom found in Jesus. It’s a freedom that can’t be gained anywhere else. Not even the best mind games can get you there. You can try to talk yourself out of your fears, but they don’t magically go away. They may be masked for a while, but will inevitably resurface. I know because I’ve tried these tactics. They don’t work. It’s something which Jesus has to do.

Although you can’t earn this freedom, if you want Jesus to set you free, ask him every single day to do it. And ask him for the opportunity to catch a glimpse of the results. Additionally, I’d strongly encourage you to read the Bible because it paints a much more comprehensive picture than I can write in a couple short articles about what this freedom looks like. It shows you the character of God. It shows you how to follow him with everything you are. And it shows you the results you should expect to see as you experience the freeing work he’s doing in your life.

If you’d like to discuss this topic more, feel free to reach out to me via phone, email, social media, etc.

Can you relate with some of the ways in which I’ve been set free by Jesus? From what has he set you free? From what do you want to be set free?

[1] As a clarification, I’m not claiming that I no longer a sinner. I’m a sinner every single day. But sin no longer runs my life. Jesus does!
[2] See John 3:16 and Philippians 2:5-9.
[3] This isn’t to say that I no longer struggle with pleasing other people, but I’m no longer a slave to it like I was previously.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Celebrating Our Freedom

On July 4, 1776, the Declaration of Independence was adopted by the Second Continental Congress stating that the thirteen British colonies in North America declared themselves to be independent of British rule. For the next seven years, these colonies joining together to collectively fight against the British who sought to maintain their control over what became known as the United States of America. Through the valiant efforts of thousands of people, some of whom died in the process, the thirteen colonies won their freedom from British rule.

As great as the freedom is that we have in this country, we can experience an even greater freedom in Jesus. Freedom from what? As Americans, we’re not slaves to anyone, right? According to the Bible, we are all born into slavery.[1] It’s not the type of slavery we typically imagine because it’s not a type of slavery which is visible to the eye. It’s become so familiar to us that we don’t even recognize its existence. This slavery has taken our hearts and minds hostage. We are born as slaves to sin. And there’s nothing we can do to set ourselves free. We need a hero to come set us free.

How Did We Get Here?

According to the Bible, many years ago, God brought the earth and everything in it into existence. He created the earth, the sun, the moon, the stars, the water, the plants, and the animals. To top it all off he created humans, the only part of creation which is recorded to have been created in his image.[2]

God took the man, Adam, and the woman, Eve, whom he had created and placed them in a luscious garden called Eden. In this garden, they experienced complete freedom in him. They were slaves to no one except him.[3]

But then something happened which changed not only the freedom they experienced, but the freedom which was passed down to all of humanity. Adam and Eve sinned against God. This was a huge deal. Their one act of sin caused them to lose the freedom they found in God and become slaves of sin. As slaves of sin, they became obedient to sin and all its shortcomings, including the addition of a whole new set of fears they’d never experienced before such as shame and death. When they later had children, those children were also born into slavery. And since all of humanity is descended from these two humans, every single person on the earth is born a slave to sin.

How Can We Be Set Free?

If the story ended here, it’d be sort of a doom and gloom story. Not exactly something worth celebrating. But thankfully, the story doesn’t end here. Before Adam and Eve ever sinned, before they were created, and before the entire universe was created, God had already developed a plan to deal with this problem.

Sin isn’t something which God can magically overlook. He is completely holy. People who aren’t completely holy (sinful) can’t bear to be in his presence because they are unworthy and they fully recognize it. As an example, when one of the prophets of the Old Testament found himself in the presence of God in a vision, his first response was, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips…”[4] Immediately following this realization, he was cleansed from his sin, making it bearable for him to be in God’s presence. In the same way, in order for us to be in God’s presence, we have to be made holy which means we have to be set free from our slavery to sin. How does God make us holy?

Have you ever experienced financial debt? If you went to college, then you probably had student loans or if you own a house, then you probably have a mortgage. For the purposes of this example, imagine you’re in lots of debt. Imagine you have racked up a debt of $6,000,000,000 (6 billion dollars). Will you ever be able to pay off this debt? Probably not. If you think there’s the potential you could pay off this debt, then imagine you have a debt of $6,000,000,000,000 (6 trillion dollars). For the purposes of this illustration, you need to imagine you have a debt you can’t pay off. If your imaginary self feels hopelessly a slave to your creditor, then you’ve got the point.

Will your $6,000,000,000 debt merely disappear? No, it won’t. Someone has to pay for it. Maybe Bill Gates or Jeff Bezos would come along and pay off your debt. Wouldn’t that be nice! Then again, maybe your creditor will decide to forgive the debt. Regardless of who’s paying for it, someone has to pay for it. The debt doesn’t just magically disappear.

In the same way, sin doesn’t just magically disappear. It’s something we can’t repay and something which God doesn’t just wave his hand over and say “hocus pocus” to make it go away. Someone has to pay for it. How is this debt paid? Death.[5] All people die; that is a fact. Even though we have been trying to defeat death for many years, we’ve yet to conquer it because sin is still present. If sin were to vanish, then death would vanish as well.

This death is not only a death in this life, but an eternal death apart from God.[6] The problem we face is that every single human who has ever lived (except Jesus) is sinful, meaning that we’re all in the same boat. We’re not even able to pay off our own debt, let alone pay for the debt of another person. It’d be like every person on the planet owing a debt of 6 trillion dollars. Not even Jeff Bezos, currently the wealthiest man in the world, could pay off his own 6 trillion dollar debt, let alone pay the 6 trillion dollar debt of every single other person in the world.

But God, out of his love for both himself and humanity, developed a plan to pay for the debt owed by all his people. He chose to personally come to earth as a human being (Jesus), live a sinless life, and die in place of his people. Think of it like him making a trade; he traded his holy life to his people for their unholy lives and as a result, endured the punishment they deserved. It was through this act that he set his people free from their slavery to sin.

Looking Ahead

This may be the first time you’ve heard this story or it may be the thousandth time you’ve heard it. But what I find over and over again is that although many church-going people know this story like the back of our hands, they struggle to see how this story changes our lives. It’s one thing to say we’re free, but it’s another to know how our lives are transformed as a result of this freedom. What does it look like to wake up every morning having been set free from slavery to sin? I’ll be addressing this topic in my next article. Stay tuned…

[1] See John 8:33-47.
[2] See Genesis 1:26-27.
[3] Slavery to God is different than slavery to anyone or anything else. Slavery to God is freeing whereas slavery to anyone or anything else is like the slavery we usually picture.
[4] Isaiah 6:5.
[5] See Genesis 2:17 and Romans 6:23.
[6] I’m not claiming that peoples’ souls will cease to exist after they die on earth. The Bible speaks over and over again of eternal punishment and torment for those who die apart from God.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Coping with Change

If there’s one thing we can count on in life (other than death), it’s change. We experience change every second, every minute, and every hour of every day. In the few seconds it’s taken you to read the first couple sentences of this article, things have changed.

The truth is that we all struggle with change…and you know it better than anyone! Change has been known to cause an overwhelmingly high of amount of stress and anxiety. Maybe if we could eliminate change, we could also eliminate all stress and anxiety. Wouldn’t that be nice?

What changes are you facing right now? Are you getting married, changing jobs, moving, graduating, retiring, changing churches, facing the ailing health of a loved one, etc.? Chances are you’re probably struggling with at least some of the changes going on in your life right now.

Although this struggle is not unusual human behavior, I believe it’s possible for us to reach a place where much of the anxiety we currently experience when we face change disappears. Let’s dig deeper.

Why We Struggle with Change

In the midst of facing changes in your life, have you paused to consider why change is so hard? Is it because your past experiences show that changes make you less happy? Is it because the changes interrupt your comfortable life? Is it because you don’t know what to expect?

During the past couple years, I’ve spent a little time contemplating why change is hard for me.  I think all three of the examples I gave above are applicable for me in some way, but the underlying reason why I struggle so much with change is because it invades the controlled environment I’ve worked so hard to create. In other words, change is the arch nemesis of my security.

Intrinsically, I feel most secure when I’m in complete control of my environment. Being in complete control of my environment is achieved when I can (1) explain why things are the way they are, (2) predict the outcome of the events which occur in it, and (3) control the outcome of these events. Changes can assist me in accomplishing three objectives, have no impact on my ability to accomplish them, or inhibit me from accomplishing them. When changes occur which help me accomplish them, I easily embrace them. But on the other hand, when changes occur which prevent me from accomplishing them, I resist them.

Based on my experiences getting to know lots of other people, I’ve observed that most of you aren’t much different from me. Most people I know have the same desire to gain security by gaining control of their environments. They easily embrace changes which bring them more security and they resist changes which take away some of their security.

The biggest problem we all face is that most of the changes which occur in our lives make us feel less secure. That’s not to say that they actually make us less secure, but until we’ve experienced the end results, we may feel less secure. I’ll give a few examples. When the opposing candidate becomes president, we feel less secure and resist the change. When we grew up on hymns but our church decides to sing more contemporary songs and fewer hymns, we feel less secure and resist the change. When a family member we love passes away, we feel less secure and resist the change. In the end, these changes may actually be very good for our security, but when they are initially announced, we feel like they’re going to take away some of our security.

Change is inevitable. We may try to eliminate change, but ultimately, there’s nothing we can do to stop change. It’s part of life. But that doesn’t mean we have to live in constant anxiety every time we see or experience a change in our lives. How? What can be different? I think it starts with reevaluating the place(s) from which we derive our security.

Our Place of Security

In a previous article I wrote titled 5 Places We Search for Security, I claimed that many Americans search for security in money, material possessions, jobs, other people, and personal skill sets. If we want to ensure we get these things, we have to take some steps to take control of the environment around us. For example, if I found security in money and therefore wanted to become a millionaire, I’d almost surely fail to get there unless I made a concentrated effort to make more, save more, and spend less. Most likely, I wouldn’t randomly become a millionaire. The same could be said for anything in which we search security: We have to make a concentrated effort to get it. Tying this in to my discussion from a few paragraphs ago, if we hope to get what we want in order to feel secure, we have to take control our environments.

But the problem we run into over and over again is that there’s nothing we can do to take complete control of our environments. You can take Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace class which all but guarantees to get you out of debt, but that doesn’t mean you’ll succeed in getting out of debt, even if you follow every piece of his advice to a “T.” We may think we have the ability to control everything around us, but we don’t, no matter how much worldly power we possess.

For all of human history, we have recognized that there are things which are completely outside of our control. But for the most part, we’ve always believed that someone or something has control of them. In ancient history, most civilizations believed in a multitude of gods which each had individual control over particular things such as rain, fertility, and war. In the midst of these polytheistic civilizations, another civilization arose which believed in one God who had control over everything. This civilization documented the events which occurred throughout their history in a book called the Bible. Throughout the Bible, there are stories upon stories which demonstrate their God’s dominion not only over every aspect of life, but also over all the other apparent “gods” of the civilizations around them.

Based on extensive and thorough research, I’ve concluded that this God which is spoken of in the Bible is the one true deity who does, in fact, have control over everything in the entire universe. This could be good or bad. It would be bad if we knew that the character of this God was manipulative, evil, and unjust. But thankfully, that’s not the way he’s depicted in the Bible. The Bible depicts this God as being good, just, and loving. He works everything in the entire universe for both his glory and the good of all his people.[1]

If we truly believe something, then we’re naturally going to live in accordance with our belief. When we apply this principle to this situation, we see that if we truly trust in this God, then we will have absolutely no reason to be terrified or anxious about change. Why?

As I shared above, the Bible claims that God works all things for good for his people. What would be the best “good” we could have? To be completely secure/satisfied. This is ultimately what every single one of us longs for and the end to which we all do everything we do.[2] So if God works everything for good for his people, then that means every change we go through is going to somehow lead to a greater level of security. This security is not found in the things of this world, but is found in him. As Jesus, God’s Son, once said:
Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.[3]
When Jesus told us not to be anxious, he wasn’t telling us to trick our minds into not being anxious. Instead, he was saying that if we truly trust in God to take care of us, then we won’t have any reason to be anxious. He’s in complete control of everything, meaning that he not only is able to promise us security, but he’s able to come through on that promise! Why would be anxious about that?

But Change, Even Good Change, Can Still Be Hard

Even though we may know that God is in control and we may trust him wholeheartedly, change can still be hard. This is where I need to make a distinction between it being hard and resisting it. If we truly trust God, there’s no reason for us to find ourselves in a place where we’re resisting change. But we still may find ourselves in a place where we have a hard time with the change simply because it’s different.

For many years, when I observed change, all I could think about were the things I was losing. As an example, when I graduated from high school and went to college, I had a very hard time with the change because I knew I was going to grow apart from all my high school friends. But within a few months, I had made a whole new set of friends. I may have lost something, but I also gained something.

I think it’s important for us to observe both the gains and the losses when we experience change rather than just observing one or the other. When it comes to the losses, it’s quite okay to acknowledge that we’ll never again get to experience what we experienced before. It can be extremely therapeutic and beneficial to spend some time grieving over the losses. But I also think it’s just as important to begin looking ahead to the new experiences to come. Go ahead and celebrate the gain you anticipate receiving from the change. There’s probably some great stuff in the change to look forward to!

I hope this article has given you a new or rejuvenated perspective on coping with the inevitable changes in your life. What is one thing that stuck out to you? What’s one thing you’d add to what I’ve written?

[1] See Isaiah 48:9-11, 43:6-7, and Romans 8:28.
[2] I discussed this topic more in depth in a few previous articles I wrote: The Biggest Hindrance to Your Happiness, Pursuing Happiness vs. Pursuing God, and The Most Satisfying New Year’s Resolution.
[3] Matthew 6:31-33.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Exposing the Empty Promises of the Prosperity Gospel

Do you want to be satisfied? I’m not just talking about not being hungry or thirsty; I’m talking about being completely satisfied in every area of your life. I’m talking about the type of satisfaction everyone who has ever walked the face of the planet dreams of one day finding. It’s a satisfaction we experience when all of our needs are met and continue to be met.

For all of human history, people have believed that by living in obedience to a supreme being of some type (it may be one god or multiple gods), the supreme being will reward them by giving them things of this world which will satisfy them. A few examples of these rewards include health, wealth, and prosperity.

These same thoughts have infiltrated, at least to some degree, the theology of many 21st century American Christians. There are theological strands of all types floating around Christian circles which support the case for God rewarding people who obey him with tangible blessings which are intended to satisfy their longing souls such as health, wealth, and prosperity. So the question on the table is this: Does the Bible, the foundational truth of Christianity, actually support this theology?

Supporting Case for This Theology

Let’s take a look at the supporting biblical case for this theology. The first place we’ll look is in Deuteronomy 28. In this passage, God promised the Israelites blessings upon blessings if they obeyed him including things like health, wealth, and prosperity. Then he followed up by promising curses upon curses if they disobeyed him including the removal of health, wealth, and prosperity. By solely reading this chapter of the Bible, it would appear that health, wealth, and prosperity blessings will be poured out on everyone who lives in obedience to God’s commands.

Another Bible passage which is often used to support this theology is found in Luke 18. Near the end of this chapter, one of Jesus’s disciples asked him what he would receive in return for leaving seemingly everything to follow Jesus. Jesus’s response was that he would receive many times more of everything he gave up both in this age (earthly life) and in the age to come (afterlife). Once again, by solely reading this passage of the Bible, it would appear that health, wealth, and prosperity blessings will be poured out on people who live in obedience to God’s commands.

Lastly, I want to point us to a passage from 2 Corinthians 9 where it is written: “whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.”[1] If we look at the context in which this verse was written, we see that Paul, the writer of 2 Corinthians, is strongly encouraging the Corinthian church to collect a financial gift which he will deliver to the church in Jerusalem. At first glance, it would appear that Paul is sharing a formula which states that the more you give, the more you will receive. Once again, this passage appears to support the health, wealth, and prosperity theology.

Now that we’ve investigated some biblical passages which appear to support this theology, let’s take a look at what I believe to be the best counterargument to this claim.

Counterargument against This Theology

Of all the people in the Bible, which ones were probably the most obedient to God? My list would include Abraham, Job, Moses, David, Elijah, Elisha, John the Baptist, Jesus, Peter, and Paul. If obedience always leads to health, wealth, and prosperity, then we should expect to find that these guys were the healthiest, wealthiest, and most prosperous people living during their generations. Let’s see if they were.

Abraham lived a long life, had lots of livestock, had almost two handfuls of children, and had hundreds of servants. He was healthy, wealthy, and prosperous. Job lived a long life, had lots of livestock, had two handfuls of children, and had lots of servants.[2] He was healthy, wealthy, and prosperous. Moses lived a long life, but doesn’t appear to have had more wealth than any of the other Israelites.

David lived a relatively long life by reaching the age of 70, was the king of Israel, had lots of possessions, and had lots of servants, but he experienced lots of war with neighboring kingdoms and even within his own family. Elijah was a nomad who doesn’t appear to have accumulated lots of possessions. Elisha lived to an old age, but doesn’t appear to have accumulated much wealth. He even turned down an opportunity to receive wealth as payment once when he used his prophetic gift.

John the Baptist lived in the desert on a diet of locusts and honey, wore camel’s hair and a leather belt, and doesn’t appear to have accumulated any wealth. He also didn’t live a long life having died in his early thirties by having his head chopped off by the Palestinian ruler. Jesus was constantly on the road traveling from place to place, meaning that he didn’t have a house or material possessions. He died in his early to mid-thirties by crucifixion (one of the worst types of death imaginable). Peter appears to have given up his successful fishing business in order to follow Jesus, so he was unable to accumulate lots of wealth. He also faced constant persecution and was crucified when he was in his fifties. Lastly, Paul supported himself on his missionary journeys rather than fundraising, didn’t accumulate wealth, and was martyred in Rome when he was in his fifties.

All twelve of these guys lived fairly obedient lives, except Jesus. Jesus lived in full obedience to God whereas the other nine fell short of perfection. So if God’s intent was to bless those who live in obedience to him with health, wealth, and prosperity, then certainly Jesus should’ve been the healthiest, wealthiest, and most prosperous person in all of history. Yet, we read that he wasn’t. Actually, quite a few of these guys (and many others) who lived fairly obedient lives didn’t get a chance to experience health, wealth, and prosperity in this life.[3] Does that mean God failed to fulfill his promise? Or does it mean that his promises were intended to be interpreted differently? The writer of the book of Hebrews spoke to this point when he wrote:
And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect. Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.[4]
According to these verses, some of these guys didn’t receive what was promised because God provided them with something so much better. What could possibly be so much better than receiving health, wealth, and prosperity? The writer of Hebrews went on to tell us what could be so much better when he wrote that Jesus endured the cross for the joy that was set before him. Jesus’s act of obedience at that point in time was to endure the cross which was far from looking like health, wealth, and prosperity. It was going to kill him. Yet, he obeyed and went to the cross. Why? Because he knew the joy he would find by living in obedience to God was far better than the joy he’d find having more health, wealth, and prosperity.

What Is the Source of Jesus’s Joy?

As I stated near the beginning of this article, every single one of us desire to be completely satisfied. And we turn to numerous objects in order to find it. We find some satisfaction in food. We find some satisfaction in wealth. We find some satisfaction in accomplishments. We find some satisfaction in relationships. All these objects provide us with some sense of satisfaction, but only for a period of time. For example, I might eat a meal and be satisfied for a few hours, but then I get hungry again. The problem with all the things of this world is that none of them will keep us satisfied for the rest of our lives. Not even the greatest amount of health, wealth, and prosperity can keep us satisfied.

If the highest level of satisfaction we can achieve is to jump from one temporarily satisfying object or experience to another, then it would make sense for us to continue chasing after things like health, wealth, and prosperity. But the good news is that God promises us something different; he promises to satisfy us eternally. As the writer of Psalm 16 put it, “In your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”[5] This satisfaction was never intended to come from things he gives us such as health, wealth, and prosperity; it was intended to come directly from him. He is the object of our eternal satisfaction. He is the living water which quenches our thirst and the living bread which quenches our hunger.[6]

Thus, when we read Hebrews 11 and 12 and see that Jesus saw the joy set before him, what he saw was the joy which comes from knowing God and living in obedience to his commanded will. It’s when we joyfully live in obedience to God, both in our hearts and in our outward actions, that we have the opportunity to experience the satisfaction which comes from him. We may receive health, wealth, and prosperity in this life, but then again, we may not. But if we’re looking to God as our source of satisfaction rather than earthly things, then it won’t matter to us whether we’re better or worse, healthy or sick, and rich or poor. We’ll still be satisfied and still experience joy because it’s being derived from God and not from all that other stuff.


As I hope you can see, the Bible never promises that obedience to God will lead him to make us healthy, wealthy, and prosperous. That’s not to say that obedience doesn’t lead to a joyful and satisfying life. It just looks a lot different. The joy and satisfaction we receive when we live in obedience to God isn’t experienced by God giving us earthly things to satisfy us; it’s experienced as we gain more and more of him.

[1] 2 Corinthians 9:6.
[2] It was all taken away from him, but he eventually received back double of almost everything he lost.
[3] See Hebrews 11:36-40.
[4] Hebrews 11:39-12:2.
[5] Psalm 16:11.
[6] In John 4, Jesus, speaking in metaphorical terms, said that he is a type of living water which would quench our thirst. In John 6, Jesus again speaking in metaphorical terms, said that he is the living bread which would quench our hunger.

Monday, June 11, 2018

What Does It Means to Be Missional?

Three and a half years ago, I heard the word missional for the first time. Since that time, I’ve heard this word used hundreds of times in almost as many different contexts. Based on its large number of uses, it seems many of us have a pretty fuzzy understanding of what it means to be missional.

I’ve heard the word “missional” used by churches to label a category in which they place some of their activities or programs. For example, someone might say, “When we do such-and-such, we’re being missional.”

I’ve heard the word missional used in the context of it being a church model. When used in this context, the “missional church” is often contrasted with the “attractional church” as if they are two completely different church models which are diametrically opposed to one another.

I’ve also heard the word missional used to describe a way of life. When used in this context, being missional is understood as a way people live.

As a student of and practitioner in the missional movement, I’ve discovered that being missional was intended to be a way of life rather than a church model of a label to assign to certain church activities. Let’s dig deeper into this definition.

Defining Missional

Did you know that Jesus is on a mission? He didn’t create the entire earth and then abandon it to work out however it happens to work out; he is involved in every infinitesimal detail of everything that takes place on this planet because he has a sovereign, divine plan for every last bit of it. His mission is to bring glory to his name by raising every single one of his chosen people to life to be his disciples who are transformed into his image so that they will spend eternity united in marriage to him, their one and only king.[1] This concept forms the foundation of what it means to be missional.

Jesus could accomplish his mission all by himself. After all, God created the entire universe simply by speaking it into existence. He doesn’t need anyone or anything else to help him accomplish his mission. Yet, he’s invited his people to participate with him in his mission and he’s given them specific roles to play.[2] What an honor and a privilege it is to have the opportunity to participate with the God of the universe in accomplishing his mission, not because he needs us, but because he receives glory by allowing us to see his work being accomplished.

When Jesus talked about what it means to participate with him in his mission, he didn’t talk about it as if it was just one more thing to add to our busy schedules. Instead, he made it very clear that following him was a 24-7-365 thing.[3] He didn’t say, “For one hour a week, deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me.” Instead, he said, “During every minute of every single day, deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me.” Being missional is a way of life. Participating with Jesus in his mission is something which is intended to permeate every facet of our lives rather than simply being another small piece of the pie.

We’ve now arrived at a definition of missional. To be missional means to participate with Jesus in his mission every moment of every day.

Now that I’ve defined what it means to be missional, I want to bring this concept to life through a question and answer format.

Do I Have to Go Somewhere Specific in Order to Be Missional?

The short answer to this question is “No.” You can be missional wherever you are.

The Great Commission was a call to “Go,” not a call to stay. We’re certainly not called to live as hermits in the middle of the jungle. Instead, we’re called to go to where the people are.

We don’t have to go halfway around the world in order to be missional. Most of us can be missional right where we are while doing the activities we’re already doing. Some of you reading this article go to work on a daily basis. Some of you go to the grocery store regularly. Some of you go to the gym or participate in athletic events on a regular basis. Some of you attend church services weekly. While you’re in all four of these places, or any other places you go throughout the week, you probably have an opportunity to interact with lots of people. You have an opportunity to be missional in every single one of these places.

When you go wherever you go throughout the week, you’ll meet people who are experiencing Jesus’s work in their lives. They may not realize he’s at work, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that he is at work. How might Jesus be calling you to participate with him in his work in these peoples’ lives?

A lot of times the best clues into how Jesus is working can be found in observing the struggles people are facing. It seems we struggle when we lose something we value. As Jesus works in our lives, he seems to remove the things we value other than him (idols) and replaces them with him. What idols are being challenged in the midst of the struggles? Mining the depths of these struggles isn’t something we can realize in a five minute conversation. Rather, it’s something which can only be realized when we spend lots of time with people.

If you want to be missional, then you have to be willing to consistently interact with the same people over and over again. One-and-done events may be flashy and garner lots of participation, and although you can participate with Jesus in his mission with these types of events, on the whole, they fall short of the intent of being missional because you will probably never see the people again.

Is Missional Only about Reaching Non-Christians?

When I first started learning about being missional, I thought many of the missional experts were saying that being missional was isolated to participating with Jesus in his mission to reach non-Christians. This is a big misnomer.

Becoming a disciple of Jesus isn’t a one-time event; it’s a life-long process. As I shared earlier in this article, part of Jesus’s mission is to transform his people into his image. This doesn’t happen overnight. We spend our entire lives being transformed, and even when we reach the end of our lives, we’re still not completely transformed into the image of Jesus.

If part of Jesus’s mission is to transform his people into his image over the course of their lifetimes, then it makes sense that he would call his people to participate in that part of his mission too. Discipling Christians is just as missional as discipling non-Christians.

This also doesn’t mean Jesus only calls us to participate with him in his work to transform existing Christians; he also calls us to participate with him in his work to transform non-Christians. People don’t magically, out of the blue, decide one day to follow Jesus. Instead, Jesus has already been at work for years to prepare the soil of their hearts to receive the seed of the gospel when it gets planted.

Throughout our lives, we’ll probably be called to participate in Jesus’s work in the lives of Christians and non-Christians alike.

Is the Church Important to Being Missional?

The short answer is “Yes,” but I need to explain this further.

How do you define the word “church?” If the church is defined as “Jesus’s disciples gathered together to worship him,”[4] then the church is not only important, but is absolutely necessary to being missional. Jesus’s disciples not only need, but will earnestly desire to join together in worshiping him. Mind you that worship is not narrowly defined as gathering together in rows and singing songs about Jesus, but is more broadly defined as living our lives in submission to Jesus. Even by doing something as simple as getting together with another Christian for lunch, we can engage in Jesus worship together without ever singing a single note of a song.

If you define the church as an institution, building, or event on Sunday mornings, then the church, in this sense, is unnecessary to being missional. You don’t need to be a part of an institution or attend a service in a building every week in order to participate with Jesus in his work. By and large, Christians in America have decided to gather together to worship Jesus by organizing weekly events sponsored by an institution held in designated buildings, but that doesn’t mean this is the only way, nor even the “better” way, to gather together to worship Jesus. I’ve observed some great Jesus worship take place outside of institutions, church buildings, and church services by people who are living their lives both in submission to Jesus and fellowship with one another as a spiritual family. In countries where Christians are persecuted, this is the only way they can live. They can’t meet together in designated church buildings for public worship. Yet, they continue living their lives in submission to Jesus and in fellowship with one another.

That’s not to say you can’t be missional in the traditional church environments. Certainly you can. But what I’m getting at is that it’s not necessary to enter into this type of environment in order to participate with Jesus in his mission.

As a topic which I am extremely passionate about, I’d love to continue writing about it, but in the interest of your time, I’ll stop here for today. Hopefully this brief article has helped to clear up some of the fuzziness you may have had about what it means to be missional.

Before you go, I’d love to hear your feedback on this topic. Is this topic interesting? Would you like to hear more about it? Are there questions that came to mind as you were reading this article that I didn’t answer? Feel free to respond in the comments section below.

[1] This is a compilation of the following passages (and many more): Isaiah 43:7, 1 Corinthians 10:31, 1 Peter 4:11, Ephesians 1:11, Colossians 1:20, 2 Corinthians 5:19, Ephesians 2:1-9, 2 Corinthians 3:18, Romans 8:29, John 17:9-11, and Revelation 19:6-10.
[2] A couple of verses which affirm this point are John 6:37-44 and 1 Corinthians 3:6-7.
[3] “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” – Luke 9:23
[4] For a more in-depth explanation of this definition of the church, see my article entitled “Is the Church Dying?

Thursday, May 31, 2018

5 Signs of a True Friend

How many friends do you have on Facebook? Maybe a couple hundred. Maybe a thousand. How many true friends do you have? Maybe a few. Maybe one. Maybe none.

All of us desire to have deep, personal relationships with other people. To put it simply, most people want to have deep, meaningful friendships. But it seems most people rarely, if ever, find this type of friendship. Why? I wonder if we’re looking for our friends to have qualities which don’t translate well into deep relationships.

By no means do I claim to be an expert on the sociology of friendships. But I have gotten an opportunity to watch numerous friendships both thrive and fall apart. The ones which seem to thrive have quite a few things in common which are absent from the ones which fall apart. Based on these observations, I’ve compiled five signs of a person who is a true friend. As you’re reading these five signs, I encourage you to try to think of a few people in your life who embody these characteristics.

1. Someone Who Loves You Unconditionally

My experiences indicate that most people love and care for others on a conditional basis. As an obvious example, many sales people make you feel like they care about you when you seem interested in the product they’re selling, but if you’re no longer interested in their product, they don’t seem to want anything to do with you. Unfortunately, many people act the same way in their friendships. As long as they think they can get something out of you, they want to be your friend. But if they don’t think you have anything to offer them, then they want nothing to do with you.

A true friend is someone who loves you unconditionally. Maybe you’re in a spot where you don’t have anything left to give. A true friend is someone who continues to love you even though they’re not getting anything in return. Maybe you’re struggling to make an important decision. A true friend is someone who doesn’t tell you what to do, but comes alongside you to unbiasedly sort through the alternatives and allows you to make the decision. Maybe you decide to take one path but your friend has counseled you to take another. A true friend is someone who continues to love and support you even when they disagree with your decision.

Basically, a true friend doesn’t dispense or withhold their love and care for you based on your actions, beliefs, or decisions; they continue to love you regardless.

2. Someone Who Forgives Your Offenses

As much as we’d like to believe that a true friend is someone who will never hurt us, this thought is a complete fantasy. Although we may have some of the absolute best friends in the world, we’re going to experience hurt in our friendships.[1]

Forgiving our friends when they hurt us is extremely difficult. Maybe a friend said something mean to you. Maybe a friend shared a piece of confidential information about you with someone else. Or maybe a friend didn’t respond to your text message. Our natural response is to want to punish the person for their actions. When we forgive someone, we let go of the offense such that we no longer want to or feel like we need to punish them.

The sign of a true friend is demonstrated when someone forgives your offenses against him. It’s not necessarily that he forgets all about the offense, although that may happen over time, but when he forgives you, he chooses not to hold it against you.

3. Someone Who Answers Your Call at 3:00 AM

Many people will make themselves available for you when it’s convenient for them. But how many people will make themselves available when it’s extremely inconvenient for them?

At some point, we’ll all encounter at least a few situations where we need help at inconvenient times. Maybe we’ll get a nasty email or text from someone in the middle of the night and be so shaken up about it that we need to talk it out with someone. Who can we call? Maybe we’ll get in a car accident during the middle of the workday and need someone to pick us up from the hospital. Will one of your friends be willing to leave work in order to pick you up? Maybe our house will catch on fire and we need a place to stay for a few nights. Will one of our friends open up his home to us?

A true friend is someone who prioritizes you so much that he is willing to be inconvenienced in order to be there for you when you’re completely helpless.

4. Someone Who Is Honest with You

With so many opportunities for us to hide behind layers and layers of facades, it’s hard to find nitty gritty honesty. I think the number one reason friends aren’t honest with each other is because they’re concerned their honesty may cost them their friendship. This manifests itself both in their lack of honesty about themselves and lack of honesty about their friends.

Many people aren’t honest when sharing about themselves because they fear their friends will reject them based upon an inherited condition, decisions they’ve made, or struggles they’re facing. And many people don’t give their friends their honest opinions (when asked for) because they’re worried their friends will get offended or upset with them.

A true friend is someone who is both honest with you about himself and honest with you about yourself. Now I’ll be honest: I realize how deeply rejection hurts, but if a friend rejects you because of your honesty, that person wasn’t a true friend; stop wasting your time trying to build a friendship with someone who doesn’t want to be a true friend.

I want to clarify that when I talk about being honest, specifically when it comes to counseling a friend, I’m not talking about counseling with an attitude that has little to no concern about how the friend will respond. The attitude embodied by a true friend is one which recognizes the importance of being honest, but is also gentle and willing to walk alongside you to help you wrestle through your thoughts and feelings about it and, when you’re ready, work with you to develop a game plan for how you’re going to work through it.

5. Someone Who Is Trustworthy

The truth is that there are a lot of people in this world who, whether consciously or unconsciously, will throw you under the bus in order to get what they want. Something personal you share with another person could become public if put in the hands of the wrong people. This has the potential to completely destroy your reputation, career, and friendships.

A true friend is someone who is trustworthy. You will be able to trust this person to keep the information you share as confidential and not be concerned that it may show up all over the news.

As a clarification, it’s important to find the balance between our honesty and our friend’s trustworthiness. It wouldn’t make any sense for us to share every deep, dark, personal secret with someone we don’t trust. As you build trust with another person over time, you’ll probably share more and more with each other.

As you read this article, did anyone in your life stand out as a true friend? Are there other characteristics this person embodies which also make him or her a true friend? How can you demonstrate your appreciation to this person for being a true friend?

[1] Hurt is not solely a function of something our friends do; it also includes our expectations. We may expect our friends to be or do things that are completely unrealistic. Are our friends to blame for the hurt we experience from these unmet expectations? Hardly. Maybe they had something to do with it, but it’s not all on them.