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,
[2] “Religion,” Google Dictionary, accessed May 16, 2018,
[3] “Religion,” Merriam-Webster Dictionary, accessed May 16, 2018,

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.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Curing Boredom

When I was in middle school, I became addicted to a video game called Age of Empires. For those of you who have played this game, you know how awesome it is! For those of you who haven’t played it, the game allows up to 8 players who all represent different medieval empires to duke it out on a random map. Your job is to gather resources, build a town, create an army, and conquer the opposing players. The best part is that it has a multi-player feature which allows you and your friends to play together either as allies or as enemies. If you like strategy games, then you’d probably love this one.

As both a male (we males seem to love competition) and civil engineer, this game was perfect for me as it incorporated two of my favorite things: building things and competing against opposing players. Instead of paying attention in class, I would spend my school days daydreaming about this game. When I got home from school (before my parents got home), I would sit down at the computer and play a game before tackling my homework. There was no doubt in anyone’s mind that I was obsessed with and addicted to this game.

But there was one problem. I wasn’t very good at first. So I found some cheat codes online and regularly used them to give myself an unlimited number of resources. The best one was a code that created corvettes with missile launchers which I used to obliterate anyone and anything which stood in my way. After using these cheat codes all the time, I got kind of bored with the game. It wasn’t nearly as much fun anymore. It wasn’t until a couple years later that one of my friends unknowingly pinpointed the reason why I was bored with the game and helped me overcome my boredom. My addiction, which had been slowly dying, came right back as my excitement for the game was rejuvenated.

Curing My Boredom

Are you bored like I was? Maybe you’re not bored with a video game, but instead maybe you’re bored with something that seems to matter much more than a video game ever will. Maybe you’re bored with your classes. Maybe you’re bored with your job. Maybe you’re bored with your relationships and/or your marriage.

Have you ever paused to ask yourself why you’re bored? What conclusion did you draw?

As you’re developing an answer to that question, I think it would be helpful for me to define what I mean when I use the word “bored.” I think we commonly think of boredom as times when we aren’t busy. Non busy times are actually some of my best thinking times. I find that some of my best ideas come during times when I’m not busy and have the ability to truly focus on deep meditation rather than on my seemingly trivial laundry lists of tasks.

But that’s not the way I’m defining boredom in this article. When I say I was bored playing Age of Empires, I didn’t mean that I wasn’t busy. Certainly I was busy. The boredom I experienced was brought on by a lack of mental stimulation. The challenge and competitiveness of the game was totally lost. When I would start losing, I would whip out the corvettes and obliterate my opponents. They didn’t even stand a chance at defending against my heavy onslaught.

Early into high school, I found out that one of my friends also liked to play Age of Empires. So when we’d hang out, we’d spend the majority of our time playing that game. When he observed that I always wanted to play on Easy, he challenged me to crank up the difficulty level and stop using cheat codes. Do you know how hard this was for me? I had always been so focused on winning that I really didn’t care how I won or who I trampled over in the process of getting there; all I cared about was that I won. How was I supposed to win all the time if I was playing on Hard?

Nonetheless, I took his advice and turned up the difficulty level one notch. I forced myself to avoid using cheat codes and found that I lost a lot of games. But in the midst of being defeated, I began learning more and better strategies to win. I became what I’ll call “a student” of the game. As time went on, I got better and better to the point where I could defeat opponents on the hardest difficulty level almost every single time. And all the while, even in the midst of losing many games, I was being cured of my boredom.

The Life Lesson

What does playing a video game have to do with our lives? After all, a video game is nothing but a fantasy world we escape to for a little while before we have to reenter reality. Actually, I’m very thankful to my friend for encouraging me to crank up the difficulty level because of the life lesson I learned through those experiences.

As I shared in an article I published a few weeks ago titled, “5 Places We Search for Security,” it seems that security is the greatest longing of humanity. To be secure is to be comfortable. Who doesn’t want that?

I’m no different than anyone else; I long to reach a place where I feel super comfortable and therefore have no reason to be concerned about anything. My whole life I’ve been trying to reach this place of comfort. However, it’s fascinating that when I reached this place of comfort playing Age of Empires, a place where I didn’t ever have to worry about losing, I got bored. Was this experience isolated to merely playing a video game or was it a more wide-spread problem I was experiencing?

As I began evaluating other situations in my life, I realized I had similar experiences which went well beyond a simple video game; I was doing the exact same thing with everything in my life. I was regularly setting easy, attainable goals so that I was sure to accomplish them. I was hesitant to try new things like food, jobs, and sports because I wasn’t confident in my ability to succeed at them. My approach made my life pretty comfortable, but I was continuously bored. When I finally decided to force myself out of my comfort zone on a regular basis, I found life to be so much more enjoyable.

Understanding God

As a Christian who sought to reach a place of comfort, a tough challenge I faced was that I was worshiping a God who I didn’t fully understand. His character and actions didn’t fully make sense to me. I couldn’t explain everything in the Bible. Why does God choose to offer grace and forgiveness to some people but not others? Does it make God selfish if his intent is to bring glory to his name? Furthermore, I couldn’t predict God’s next move. Since these realizations made me feel uncomfortable, I decided to embark on a journey to comb the depths of the Bible in an effort to fully understand him.

As I encountered truth after truth about God that I couldn’t explain, I began to realize something: there’s no way I was ever going to understand him fully. I was never going to reach a spot where I would know everything I could possibly know about him. For obvious reasons, this realization was very discouraging and uncomfortable. But after I began to realize that if I ever reached this point with God then I would probably get bored with him, I found joy in not being able to fully wrap my arms around him. If the excitement I experience is found in the process of seeking, then I can certainly count on many years of amazing mind stimulation as I continue getting to know God. I’ll never get bored with him!

Final Thoughts

I hope you’re not bored, but if you are, I want you to know that there is hope of seeing a change, most of the time without changing your circumstances as much as changing your perspective on your circumstances. I share my introspection on this topic with you in hopes that it will encourage and challenge you to embark on a similar journey.

I would love to hear your thoughts. Do you think you might experience a similar connection between being comfortable and being bored?