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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.

Conclusion


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.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Why We Need to Stop Planting Churches



When you see the title of this article, you may think I’m going to say that the church market is saturated and now we just need to figure out how to get more people in the pews. I’m actually not going there at all. In reality, if everyone in America wanted to attend a church service on Sunday mornings, there wouldn’t be enough seats for them all. Instead, I will be sharing the biblical foundation for disciple-making and how it applies in the lives of Jesus’s disciples.

The Great Commission


As Jesus was leaving this earth to return to his Father in heaven, he left his disciples with the following statement:
All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.[1]
Jesus’s command to his disciples was to make disciples of all nations. It wasn’t to evangelize all nations (that’s another discussion for another day). It wasn’t to plant churches in all nations. It was to make disciples of all nations.

In Western culture, we commonly associate making disciples with planting churches. We think that if we plant churches, we’ll make disciples. But the data overwhelmingly shows that planting churches doesn’t necessarily translate into making disciples.[2] As missional practitioner Mike Breen once wrote, “…if you make the church, you rarely get disciples.”[3]

It’s time we accept the fact that all of our church planting efforts aren’t doing much to help us make more disciples of Jesus.

But Paul Planted Churches, Didn’t He?


Before I continue unpacking the Great Commission, I want to address another question you may have. Many Christians, especially evangelicals, look to Paul the apostle as their inspiration for church planting. Paul was a common guy like you and me who had a miraculous encounter with Jesus and became not only one of his disciples, but the first great Christian missionary. He traveled throughout modern-day Turkey and southeast Europe making disciples.

One of the things many Christians don’t realize is that Paul never planted a church. He didn’t show up in a new city, set up a church service, and then invite everyone in town to attend it on Sunday mornings. Instead, he went to a variety of different places in each town he visited and shared the gospel message in a way that was relatable to his audience. Sometimes he had the chance to speak in front of a crowd of people and other times he talked with people one-on-one. But he certainly never established a 501c3 organization called a church, organized weekly gatherings on Sunday mornings, and invited everyone to come to them.

If you were to read the entire Bible from Genesis to Revelation, you would fail to find a command in scripture to plant churches. It doesn’t exist.

What Is the Alternative to Planting Churches?


What did Jesus command us to do? Make disciples. What did Paul do when he went from city to city spreading the gospel message? He made disciples. In light of these two biblical examples, what should we do? Make disciples.

So instead of planting churches, what would happen if we planted Jesus? In Matthew 13, Jesus told a parable about a sower who went out to scatter seeds. The sower is representative of Jesus’s disciples.[4] He has given them a role to play in his mission to scatter his seeds amongst every people group on earth.[5]

If we obey Jesus’s command to make disciples, then I’m convinced we’ll get the church. As Mike Breen also wrote, “If you make disciples, you always get the church.”[6] Why? Because the church isn’t a building, event, or organization; the church is simply this: Jesus’s disciples gathered together to worship him. And Jesus said he’s responsible to build his church.[7] If you’d like to read a more in-depth discussion on my definition of the church, I’d encourage you to check out my article titled “Is the Church Dying?

How Do We Plant Jesus?


The great part about our calling to plant Jesus is that it doesn’t take a four year seminary degree and thousands of dollars; anyone who is a disciple of Jesus can plant Jesus. The only prerequisite is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

If you’re good on the prerequisite, then you probably want to know what it looks like to plant Jesus. Does it mean standing up in front of hundreds of people to preach the gospel? Does it involve serving at the local soup kitchen? Does it mean writing blog posts and sharing them with all your Facebook friends? Any of those avenues could open up opportunities to plant Jesus, but planting Jesus isn’t limited to those avenues. You can plant Jesus wherever you are and whatever you’re doing. You can plant Jesus while working, playing sports, walking the dog, and going to the grocery store.

Planting Jesus is something which happens both through our words and our actions. As you’re looking for ways to plant Jesus, consider the following questions:


  1.       What is good news to the people around you? How is Jesus the good news they’ve been looking for?
  2.       What does Jesus’s kingdom look like? How can you show the people around you what Jesus’s kingdom looks like?

What now? GO PLANT JESUS!!!


Now that you know what you’ve been called to do, what are you going to do about it? How can you plant Jesus in the people around you every single day?



[1] Matthew 28:18-20.
[2] The REVEAL study, organized by Willow Creek Church and taken by 1,000 churches, demonstrated that their people were barely growing spiritually. More information on this study can be found in Greg Hawkins and Cally Parkinson, Move: What 1,000 Churches Reveal about Spiritual Growth (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011).
[3] Mike Breen and Steve Cockram, Building a Discipleship Culture: How to Release a Missional movement by Discipling People Like Jesus Did, 2nd ed. (Pawleys Island, SC: 3 Dimension Ministries, 2011), 11-12.
[4] “I planted, Apollos water, but God gave the growth.” – 1 Corinthians 3:6.
[5] The Greek word ethnos in the Great Commission was translated “nations” in English, but could also be translated as “people groups” or “people joined by practicing similar customs or common culture.” The point here is that Jesus intended for his seeds to be scattered to everyone everywhere on this earth. See “1484. Ethnos,” Helps Word Studies, 2011, accessed May 24, 2018, http://biblehub.com/greek/1484.htm.
[6] Breen and Cochram, Building a Discipleship Culture, 11-12.
[7] “I will build my church.” – Matthew 16:18.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Why Memes Can Be Dangerous



What is a meme? A meme is defined by Google as “an element of a culture or system of behavior that may be considered to be passed from one individual to another by nongenetic means, especially imitation.”[1] When I hear the word meme, I think of a picture with text written on it that someone posts on social media. But the definition of a meme is much broader than that. I’d consider short messages such as taglines, titles of newspaper articles, and short, inspirational quotes as memes. We’ve all seen plenty of memes.

Memes can be extremely beneficial because they are able to convey a message in a summarized, simple, brief, memorable format which can be easily transmitted from person to person. While these inherent qualities of a meme make them extremely beneficial, they also make them very dangerous. Let’s take a closer look.

A Real-Life Example


Have you ever had a disagreement with someone only to later realize that you were actually saying the same thing the whole time? I’ve seen this happen more times than I can count.

Recently, a friend asked me if I thought Jesus came to destroy religion. I responded by saying, “No, I don’t think Jesus came to destroy religion.” He then informed me that a Bible teacher who I greatly respect had made the statement that Jesus came to destroy religion, and then followed it up by saying, “So that means you disagree with so-and-so.” I could’ve responded a few different ways. One way could’ve been to argue my case for why Jesus didn’t come to destroy religion. Another way could’ve been to decide that my friend was right and I needed to rethink my perspective. And another way could’ve been to ask him for more clarification on his definition of “religion.” This turned out to be my response.

As our discussion continued, we discovered that our definitions of religion were different. My definition of religion was “the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power.”[2] His definition of religion was an “institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices.”[3] After hearing his definition, I was able to see why he had concluded that Jesus came to destroy religion. While on earth, Jesus combatted the institutionalized Jewish religious system which had created numerous extrabiblical commandments that they imposed on people within the institution. So yes, Jesus did destroy that type of religion. But he certainly didn’t come to destroy the belief in and worship of God. Quite the contrary.

What could’ve happened if I wouldn’t have entered into a deeper discussion with my friend on his meme and simply accepted it at face value? I easily could’ve drawn the conclusion that Jesus came to destroy God-worship.

This is why memes are so dangerous. Although it’s very easy to remember and pass along the simple statement, “Jesus came to destroy religion,” if I don’t understand the intended definitions of the words in this meme, I can easily misinterpret the intended message. The same could be said for any meme we stumble upon. It can become very easy for the intended messages of memes to be misinterpreted.

How Can This Realization Impact the Way We Live?


No matter what we do, we can’t get away from using memes. The title of this article and the subheadings in it are forms of memes. They give you a brief summary of the information contained in this article and are helpful for that reason. But if you simply read the title and subheadings, you may misinterpret what I’m trying to say when I say that memes can be dangerous. You may conclude that I’m totally against memes and want to rid the earth of them. But if you read this entire article, you’ll know that’s far from being my stance on memes.

I’ve developed three suggestions for changes we can make to minimize the danger of memes. First, we can make a sincere attempt to understand what the meme’s author is saying before accepting or rejecting it. I’ve stumbled upon countless memes which are very eye catching, but when I dig deeper into the author’s intent, I’ve discovered that they don’t mean what I thought they meant. For example, if you read the title of a news article, don’t assume you know how the article ends. Journalists are pretty smart. They want you to read their articles, so they’re going make the titles eye catching and not give away the conclusion so that you take the time to read them. I’ll admit it, I do the same thing. Personally, I don’t pass along memes unless I both understand the author’s intent and agree with it. It’s too risky to my credibility.

My second suggestion is that if you share a meme, be prepared to explain it. Those of you who are connected with me on social media probably know that I very rarely make one-liner posts. I’d probably get more engagement if I regularly posted one-liners, but posting one-liners doesn’t give me an opportunity to explain myself. It’d be very easy for someone to get offended by a misinterpretation of a one-liner and lose trust in me. Maybe someday I’ll decide to start posting more memes (without full-fledged articles), but for now, I think it’s too risky.

Lastly, I would encourage you to challenge your friends when they share a meme with you. Instead of firing back with “LMAO, OMG, or WRONG,” respond by entering into a discussion with them about your two interpretations of it. I think you’d find such a discussion to be quite fascinating as you attempt to understand each other’s interpretations of the meme’s simple statement.


What do you think? Do you think memes are beneficial? Do you think they can be dangerous? Can you think of a time when you and another person interpreted the same meme differently?


[1] “Meme,” Google Dictionary, accessed May 16, 2018, https://www.google.com/search?q=meme&rlz=1C1CHBF_enUS777US777&oq=meme&aqs=chrome.0.69i59j0l2j69i60j0l2.1350j0j7&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8.
[2] “Religion,” Google Dictionary, accessed May 16, 2018, https://www.google.com/search?rlz=1C1CHBF_enUS777US777&q=Dictionary#dobs=religion.
[3] “Religion,” Merriam-Webster Dictionary, accessed May 16, 2018, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/religion.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Why I Stopped Trying to Get to Heaven



Where will you go when you die? Will your spirit take a journey to some sort of afterlife or will your spirit simply cease to exist? The vast majority of people in this country believe that our spirits will continue to exist in an afterlife of some type.[1] The majority of people in this country also believe in the existence of a place of reward and a place of punishment.[2] So it seems reasonable that from time to time, we may ask how we might get to the place of reward, known by many who’ve grown up with some exposure to the church as heaven.

Unfortunately, the concept of “getting to heaven” has become a main staple in the evangelical church. Many evangelical Christians spend their entire lives believing and teaching that the goal of being a Christian is to get to heaven. They invest tons of money, time, and energy into achieving this objective. Is this really the biblical goal of Christianity? Or is the goal actually quite different than this? I invite you to take a look at the Bible with me to discover the intended life goal for the Christian.

Why the Goal Isn’t to Get to Heaven


I’ve heard it said before that heaven is absolutely amazing. When I get there, I’ll be given the keys to a huge mansion. My mansion will be loaded with all sorts of great stuff. The more good things I do in this life, the bigger and better my mansion and the stuff inside of it. Outside, my mansion will be surrounded by the most lusciously green grass I’ve ever seen. And whenever I want to go for an afternoon cruise, I can pull out my Lamborghini and drive it down the streets of gold. This is the reward for the Christian.

Whoa, whoa…time out. Let me ask a question here. Who is the central focus of this picture? Me. That’s who. It’s all about me. Who’s going to take care of my mansion? I hate cleaning, I hate painting, and I hate doing laundry. So if I have to do those things, then heaven really isn’t going to be as great as I imagined. Therefore, someone else must do those things for me. Who is it? Is it someone who absolutely loves to do those things? That person sounds like a servant. Why does that person have to spend eternity serving me rather than getting to enjoy a mansion of his own? Or how about my Lamborghini? Who’s going to fill it up with gas, wash it, and wax it so that it stays super shiny? I’m certainly not going to do those things. Or who’s going to go grocery shopping for me? I absolutely hate going to the grocery store. Do you see the practical problem with this picture? The entire focus is on me and my satisfaction. And in order for me to be satisfied, others have to be at my beck and call, meaning that they will be dissatisfied.

If you’ve read the Bible, then you know full well that this picture of heaven isn’t even remotely close to the Bible’s description of it. The only part that even resembles the biblical picture of heaven is that the streets will be made of gold. Even the mansion part, which was the way a few translators translated one verse of the Bible, probably isn’t accurate.

Actually, when we read the Bible, we don’t see much of a description of heaven at all. But one thing that is very clear to us about heaven is that God, seated on his throne, is the central focus of heaven and everyone in heaven is doing nothing but worshiping him day and night.[3] The reason this part is so well defined for us is because it’s the absolute most important aspect of being in heaven.

But most of us don’t like this description of heaven because it doesn’t make sense to us. Instead, most of us still dream that all our earthly stuff is going to satisfy our parched souls. Maybe if our houses are just a little bigger and our paycheck a bit fatter, then we might finally be satisfied. How long is it going to take for us to realize that a bigger house, fatter paycheck, more luxurious vehicle, and sexier spouse can’t satisfy our longing souls? Yet, we dream of heaven being nothing more than a better version of what we have on earth. If getting to this picture of heaven is the end of the road for us, then we’re screwed.

In the same way, there’s absolutely no way heaven, by itself, can satisfy us. Certainly being in a place called paradise would be satisfying for a while, but the “awe” factor would eventually end and we’d no longer be satisfied by it. It’d be like moving to an ocean-front property. At first, it would feel so satisfying to live next to the ocean. But over time, we’d get so used to it that we’d find ourselves feeling dissatisfied again.

If getting to heaven isn’t the goal, then what is the goal of the Christian’s earthly life? Let’s take a look.

What is the Goal of the Christian’s Earthly Life?


In his letter to the church in Philippi, Paul shared about his former life where he was focused on trying to get to heaven.[4] If a super-Christian was to write a similar letter today, it might read something like this:
I was born the son of a pastor, repented of my sins, accepted Jesus into my heart, was baptized into the church, read my Bible every day, attended church every Sunday, gave 10 percent of my income to my church, served as a ministry team leader, attended a weekly small group, served needy people in my city, went on a few mission trips to third-world countries, went to seminary, and became a missionary to an unreached people group in the 10/40 window.[5]
But immediately after sharing all his credentials, which by the way would’ve made him a great candidate to receive a huge mansion full of gold plated dinnerware, Paul made the following confession:
But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.[6]
Did you catch what Paul said in these verses? He realized none of his credentials would earn him a one-way ticket on the next train to heaven. Furthermore, he recognized the objective of the Christian was to gain Jesus. Let me say it again. Paul realized the objective of the Christian wasn’t to get to heaven, but rather, to gain Jesus. Jesus isn’t a means to an end; he is the end.

What Does It Mean to “Gain Jesus?”


According to the biblical writers, God doesn’t sit around watching everything unfold on earth. Instead, he is very invested and involved in his creation. He is a personal God, meaning that he has a personal relationship with his people. This is very different from the gods of many of the other religions throughout history which view their deities as being far from personal.

God is so invested in the relationship with his people that he is currently in the process of uniting all his people, the invisible church, to one another as one unit which will be wed to Jesus as his bride.[7] According to the Bible, when a man and a woman get married, they are no longer two but become one.[8] Therefore, God is going to unite his people to him.[9] This is absolutely amazing!

God is wholly and eternally satisfied. If we are going to be united to him for all of eternity, then we too will be completely satisfied. Our satisfaction won’t come from things he creates, but will come from him. He will be our source of eternal satisfaction![10]

How Do We Gain Jesus?


Gaining Jesus isn’t a one-time thing nor is it something we can fully accomplish here on earth. Nonetheless, it’s something we, as disciples of Jesus, strive towards every single day.

In the Bible, God said, “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.”[11] If we want to gain Jesus, then we need to embark on a journey of seeking him with all of our hearts.

One component of whole-heartedly seeking Jesus is to read the Bible every day because the Bible is God’s written Word to us. He communicates who he is and what he does. The more we read it, the more opportunity we have to learn about him. For further explanation on this topic, I’d encourage you to read my article entitled, “Why I Read the Bible Everyday.”

Another component of whole-heartedly seeking Jesus is to spend time in prayer. I’m not just talking about praying for other people; I’m also talking about quite a few other things like pouring out your heart to Jesus, meditating on the ways in which you see his presence and handiwork around you such as in nature and in the way he’s working in your life and in the lives of the people around you, requesting his strength to make it through the day, and requesting that he transform your heart to be more like his heart. Basically, spend time with God the same way you would spend time with a mentor you greatly respect. Talk to him as someone you trust completely, yet for whom you have the utmost level of respect. Since God is infinite and outside of time, you can talk with him all day every day and never be a burden.

How Do You Know You’re Gaining More of Jesus?


You’ll know by the fruit. What do I mean by that? The fruit I’m talking about isn’t evangelical fruit, but the fruit of the Spirit. Do you notice that you love God and others more? Do you experience more joy today than you did five years ago? Is your patience growing? Do you see more of God working in and around you than you did a few years ago? These are some of the signs that you’re gaining more of Jesus. You’re never going to gain all of him in this life, so don’t expect to attain that lofty goal. Nonetheless, strive to continue gaining more of him each and every day.[12]

If you’re struggling with feeling like you don’t want to worship Jesus, I have great news for you. As you continue gaining more of Jesus, you will want to worship him. It’s pretty similar to the way you cheer for your favorite athletic team. Do you want to cheer for your team? Of course you do. No one has to command you to cheer for them. That’s because you love your team. In the same way, as you continue to love Jesus more, you will want to cheer for (worship) him with everything that you are. The desire to freely worship Jesus is another sign that you are gaining more of him.


Why did I stop trying to get to heaven? Because I realized that it isn’t the goal of being Jesus’s disciple. The goal of being Jesus’s disciples is to gain Jesus. Getting to dwell in heaven is merely a byproduct of being Jesus’s disciple, not the central aim. Being a disciple of Jesus is about becoming his whole-hearted follower, not about getting a get-out-of-hell-free card. I encourage you to dig deeper into this topic in Philippians 3 and then spend some time in prayer asking God to allow you to gain more of Jesus.



[1] According to a survey conducted by Lifeway Research Group, 82 percent of young adults believe a person’s spirit will continue to exist in an afterlife. See Ed Stetzer, Richie Stanley, and Jason Hayes, Lost and Found: The Younger Unchurched and the Churches that Reach Them (Nashville: B&H, 2009), 41.
[2] According to the same survey, 77 percent of young adults believe in a place of reward and 60 percent believe in a place of punishment.
[3] See Revelation 4, 21, and 22.
[4] “Circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.” – Philippians 3:5-6.
[5] The 10/40 window is a region between 10 and 40 degrees latitude stretching from western Africa to eastern Asia. This region is home to some of the largest non-Christian populations in the world.
[6] Philippians 3:7-9 (emphasis mine).
[7] See Ephesians 5:22-33.
[8] “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” – Genesis 2:24.
[9] See John 17, especially 17:20-23.
[10] In the Gospel of John, Jesus said he was the living water and the bread of life (John 4 and 6) and if we wanted to have eternal life, we must eat his body and drink his blood. He wasn’t speaking of literally eating his body and drinking his blood, nor was he talking about partaking in communion once a week, but instead, he was talking about being satisfied in him.
[11] Jeremiah 29:13.
[12] “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.” – Philippians 3:12.