So my buddy shared a link on Facebook about some billboards – paid for by a group called American Atheists – that basically insult Jesus and Christianity. According to the article, the group was asked to take down their message after they and Adams Outdoor Advertising received an outpouring of “vitriol, threats, and hate speech” directed toward their staff.
All well and good, and it’s fair to question whether this outpouring of hate actually occurred, but I’ll assume that it did. I make that assumption because a large percentage of American Christians have demonstrated time and again that they can’t comprehend the meaning of this statement: We wrestle not against flesh and blood.
One of my buddy’s FB friends commented that he viewed these billboards as hate speech, and that those atheists were guilty of a hate crime… to which I replied that Jesus was more likely to give them (the atheists) something to eat than to press charges for a hate crime.
That simple statement resulted in an unleashing of vitriol against me by this person I don’t know. I was accused of putting words in Jesus’ mouth, being arrogant in my statement, and adopting “typical tactics." He went on to announce the coming judgment of Jesus on this type of thing (the billboards) and that there would be no “smarty pants gainsaying” after that. I presume he was referring back to my simple statement about Jesus.
This outpouring of negative passion did not offend me in the least, but it did reinforce my assertion that many Christians in America mistakenly believe that our enemies are the atheists, agnostics, and liberal professors, as if anyone who insults Jesus or Christianity is on God’s bad side and destined for hellfire (to the glee of Jesus and his followers).
So how did Jesus react to insults? Let’s take a look at Luke 9:51-56 (AMP):
51 Now when the time was almost come for Jesus to be received up [to heaven], He steadfastly and determinedly set His face to go to Jerusalem.
52 And He sent messengers before Him; and they reached and entered a Samaritan village to make [things] ready for Him;
53 But [the people] would not welcome or receive or accept Him, because His face was [set as if He was] going to Jerusalem.
54 And when His disciples James and John observed this, they said, Lord, do You wish us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, even as Elijah did?
55 But He turned and rebuked and severely censured them. He said, You do not know of what sort of spirit you are,
56 For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them [from the penalty of eternal death]. And they journeyed on to another village.
Here Jesus receives a major insult in the culture of his day – a refusal of hospitality. James and John suggest fiery judgment on the Samaritans, but Jesus rebukes them severely, reminding them that His mission is to save people from hell, not to harm or condemn them for their insults.
In other words, Jesus can take an insult. In fact, he has stated that “Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven” (Mt 12:32). Since His followers are not above their Master, we also should expect to be insulted, and we should receive those insults with the same benevolent attitude. Our passion is to be for the salvation of men and women, not their destruction. Our enemy is not the atheist. The atheist is to be pitied and prayed for.
Our true enemy is unseen and powerful, and as long as he can distract us into being outraged over “hate speech” directed against our faith, he will succeed in producing hearts in us that are hardened toward the unsaved. Fighting for our civil or constitutional rights is only okay up to the point where we become more outraged over “hate speech” than we are over the lost going to hell. At that point it’s time to get reacquainted with Jesus and his mission, which is also ours.
I grew up as part of a conservative Presbyterian Church (USA) congregation whose pastor identified himself as “thoroughly evangelical,” meaning that he held a high view of Scripture, believed that Jesus is the only way of salvation, and opposed any liberalization of Christian beliefs. In that church I received a good basic theological education, memorized many Scriptures, and became a decent Christian boy who didn’t drink, smoke, or swear.
In my young adult years I visited some non-denominational churches where I was exposed to other “forms” of Christianity including what is commonly referred to as Word of Faith (WOF) teaching. At one particular WOF church I heard some of the best, most practical sermons of my life including teachings on forgiveness, walking in love, keeping control of my tongue, being generous to others, and simply believing God’s Word as true. Here my relationship with God was transformed from mere theological knowledge to a living, vibrant daily walk of faith. It was life-changing.
So it pains me to see Word of Faith teachings and teachers so viciously attacked by others in mainstream Christianity, labeling the message as a false “prosperity gospel” or “health and wealth” or some other derogatory tag. WOF preachers are routinely denounced as heretics for certain statements they have made, or criticized for an overly lavish lifestyle. Familiar targets include Kenneth Copeland, Kenneth E. Hagin, Kenneth W. Hagin, Creflo Dollar, Joyce Meyer, and others.
Not all of the criticism is undeserved, but many WOF detractors focus on a few extreme teachings and personalities. I didn’t see much of that at the church (1,000 members) I attended. For that reason I’d like to share my views on the good and the bad of Word of Faith teaching and some of the more well-known WOF preachers. First:
What I Don’t Like:
1. I don’t like that some WOF preachers have made strange doctrinal statements from time to time. Sometimes I wonder “Where did that come from?” when I hear a strange statement about the origin of Satan, or what Jesus was doing in the heart of the earth, or the nature of Adam’s relationship to God. But then again, some mainstream preachers do the same on one subject or another. We all see through a glass darkly on some subjects… it doesn’t mean we’re wrong about everything.
2. I don’t like that some WOF preachers claim multiple visitations from Jesus or other supernatural revelation to back up their teaching. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen, but when someone constantly trumps every argument by saying they received this teaching directly from Jesus, one has to wonder.
3. I don’t like the overly lavish lifestyle being lived by some WOF preachers. Some cling to the idea that, as “King’s kids” we are entitled to literally live like royalty on earth. In my view, to life a life of luxury amidst a world of extreme poverty flies in the face of Jesus, who laid aside every luxury for the sake of serving and redeeming others. Having our needs met – even abundantly met – is one thing. Million dollar homes, luxury cars, and 300 pairs of shoes is consuming upon one’s own lusts, period.
What I Like:
1. I like that Word of Faith teaching encourages us to actually believe what Jesus said. When he said we can wither a fig tree, move a mountain, or receive whatever we ask for in prayer by believing and not doubting, he meant it. Peter walking on water is a prime example that – when we really believe – the impossible becomes possible, but when we doubt we begin to sink. Faith is believing and not doubting. Faith is knowing with certainty in the heart. It’s not intellectual… it is a heart/spirit issue.
2. Along with that, I like that Word of Faith teaching affirms that all things are possible to him who believes… nothing is impossible with God… that God is, and always has been, a God of miracles. He is a God of power – not just affirming in a theological sense that God is omnipotent – but affirming according to Scripture that God is both able and willing to respond to faith in a supernatural way.
3. I like that Word of Faith teaching encourages us to speak in line with God’s Word; to speak words of faith and affirmation rather than doubt and negativity. The power of our words is repeatedly emphasized in Scripture, and Jesus tells us that our mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart. Speaking words of fear and doubt indicates a bad heart condition. We ought to renew our minds on Scripture and constantly affirm the truth of Scripture. That’s how real faith (heart faith) is produced.
4. When it comes to money, the WOF teachings I received placed emphasis on 2 Corinthians chapter 9, where Paul directly addresses the issue of money and giving. Paul states that we are blessed in order to be a blessing, and that if we give generously to the kingdom of God (not necessarily one particular church) God will replenish our supply so that we can continue to be generous. We sow generously / we reap generously – all for the purpose of blessing others. It was also taught that if we are indeed putting God first in life, our needs will be supplied. At times we may have more or less, but we will always have enough.
5. Lastly, I like that Word of Faith teaches that God’s will is often knowable if we only believe what the Scriptures say. Tradition tells us that God has a mysterious “master plan” and we can never really know his will, so we always have to pray “if it be your will.” However, real faith is only possible where God’s will is known, therefore God’s will must be knowable. In many cases we can discern God’s will by looking at the words and actions of Jesus, who is the very image of God: “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father… I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me.” From that basic premise we can know God’s will regarding a number of disputed issues, including God’s willingness to heal the sick.
Despite some things I don’t like concerning some Word of Faith preachers, I can say that my relationship with God went from years of lukewarm/powerless to passionate & vital by the teaching of God’s Word at a Word of Faith church.
What have you heard about Word of faith teaching? Have you ever attended a Word of Faith church?
This is my friend Jim. He’s a natural (drug-free) bodybuilder, and under the auspices of the World Natural Bodybuilding Federation (wnbf) Jim has won multiple competitions including the Pro America, Universe, and World Championships. He’s also a successful gym manager, personal trainer, seminar speaker, and freelance diet and fitness coach. And Jim is a Christian.
I admit that at times I question whether certain occupations are compatible with Christianity. I mean, can you be a Christian swimsuit model or fashion designer or puppy-mill operator? More and more I think the answer is yes, you can – okay, maybe not that last one.
Bodybuilding itself is a sport with many negative associations. Pride, narcissism, and sexual immorality seem to abound, not to mention drug use. Gyms often double as hook-up joints, and what about all those people posing and flexing in their G-strings? Well… here’s the thing: Those people – by the thousands – need Christ. Right now they’re dead and they don’t even know it. Who’s going to point the way for them?
When I first met Jim he was taking a break from bodybuilding until he could discern God’s will… even he wondered if the sport was compatible with Christianity. But over time Jim became convinced that God was indeed leading him toward a bodybuilding career, and since embarking on that path he has experienced phenomenal success.
Just think for a minute what it takes to influence people for Christ within the bodybuilding culture – You’ve got to be successful to be respected; you’ve got to be humble around prideful people; you’ve got to be faithful to resist the many temptations. And you need the grace to impart Christian truth in an atmosphere that’s essentially closed off to any kind of traditional Christian “witnessing.” Jim is all of that and more, uniquely gifted by God to penetrate that particular realm of spiritual darkness.
Jim’s overall goal has been to promote a healthy, drug-free lifestyle, and to encourage people away from drugs and other harmful shortcuts to bodybuilding success. As he gets to know individuals, opportunities may arise to speak of deeper things as well.
Some Christians insist that military service or law enforcement or politics or certain other occupations are inconsistent with faithful Christian living, but God places people wherever they are needed. Bringing light to the darkness sometimes requires that we live and work in dark places, and God is big enough to guide and preserve those servants who are willing to go there.
In Jim’s case, bodybuilding is definitely compatible with Christ. So when you hear that so-and-so the actor/rock star/politician/bartender is a Christian, try to turn off the cynicism and, instead, pray for that person to be useful and faithful where God has put them. Lord knows they are needed.
Last Fall I began the process of de-rusting my car. I sanded and applied the rust-converter before chilly weather prevented me from finishing the job. But now Spring has sprung and I felt inspired to get busy and get 'er done, so here is the final result –
I was talking with someone the other day about how a man’s appearance changes when he loses his hair. For some men it really makes a dramatic difference, and it can change the way people perceive him also, especially people who don’t know him well. The same thing can happen when someone gains (or loses) weight.
I once met up with two former school teachers (married) who had lost a lot of weight since my school days. They told me that when they were heavy, clothing store clerks tended to ignore them, but after they slimmed down the same people approached them right away to offer assistance.
If the physical change is perceived as negative, it can result in people viewing themselves in an increasingly negative light, not to mention how others view or treat them. Fortunately, I took my own “transformation” in good humor (okay, it took some adjusting).
High school classmates might remember me with straight, blond hair. After graduation it was eight years of long and curly. Then it was straighter and shorter for a while, then shorter still, then a little fuzzy, then…wash and wax!