I’ve been thinking about what makes faith communities become “cultish”. There are toxic communities which inevitably form around a narcissistic leader and co-dependent followers. An experience of such a community may lead you to never want to take part in any kind of “community” ever again. However, I do believe that there can be healthy, life-giving, humble communities, made up of those whose hearts have been transformed by divine love. Let’s look at two major differences between the two types of communities.
Cultish = Controlling.
Cults lure members in, then they manipulate them while they are there, and shame them when they leave. Some leaders, don’t let their followers read “other” books or visit “other” groups. Some cults keep you so busy you have no time to think critically about what you are doing. Cult members get caught up in the tornado of the group mindsets. They decide for you, where you should or shouldn’t move to. Who you can and can’t be friends with. Have you ever had someone cut you off, because they joined a cult? Cult leaders slither their way into learning details about their members lives, for when you learn someone’s heart motivations, it is easier to control them. Cults are notorious for shaming and ostracizing those who leave.
Non-Cultish = Freedom.
God gave us a free-will. Manipulation is informing or mis-informing someone out of personal insecurity or lust. The remedy is love and truth. We ought to want what is best others. Cults slander those that would dilute their influence. We ought to do our best to communicate with integrity. We should never convert someone’s weaknesses into our personal gain. Ensure people that they are “in charge” of their own decisions, and encourage them to really pray and seek God and get counsel from others. Always love them even when you disagree. Let’s not ever shame anyone for leaving the group, always bless them. If you have nothing good to say, let’s stay silent.
Cultish = Authoritarian.
Cults usually have a leader who is the master manipulator. The person who controls others into getting what he or she wants. Their ego is usually fed by having dependents. And their ego is too big to “share the stage”. They need to be “the” voice, not “a” voice. If they do have lieutenants, they are usually weak-minded and cowardly individuals, or those brainwashed by religion to serve unconditionally. Cult leaders act like they are special and superior. God has anointed them. They dress, live, and drive the part. They make others believe they are a different class of human or “believer”. When we believe someone is that special, we allow their words to puppeteer us and we come under mind-control or a hypnosis, which can lead a psychosomatic healing and a generous financial gift.
Non-Cultish = Pluralistic.
While godly leadership can be a true blessing and usually a vision begins with one person who God impregnates (metaphorically speaking), it is healthy for there to be a company of decision makers and influencers.
Cults usually isolate — due to their pride— they do not join networks — where they can humbly learn from various others. They are “homo-sect-ual”. Cult leaders don’t have mentors. No one can tell them “no”. Cults have led themselves to believe that they are better than everyone else, so they become quite exclusive (and elitist). They see themselves as the remnant, while label others as apostate. They bash others to fortify their own identity.
Could it be that spiritual retardation leads to arrogance, while true spiritual maturity leads to compassion and humility — where we don’t see ourselves as a “higher class” of human, rather a beloved child of God, just like the next person?
I would love for you to contribute to this conversation. I feel I just had some starter points. You may not agree with these points, if not, I would love to hear your perspective. Do you have any stories of a cultish experience?
Your encouragement may make the difference between someone giving up or pressing on. When it comes to doing what God has called us to do, we need to press on. Quitting is not a good option. The world needs people who will step out to do what God has put on their hearts and to put themselves out there in efforts to make a positive difference in our world.
“But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called ‘today,’ so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.” (Hebrews 3:13)
Constant encouragement will keep the heart tender and responsive to God. Yet discouragement often leads to a hardening, deception, and sin, as we see in the Scripture above (when you study the inverse).
People who do not know how to plow through discouragement will find themselves: 1) Hardened. 2) Deceived. 3) Bound to sin.
When you are discouraged, you are like a boxer in the ring with broken arms—you cannot block or punch. You are basically a punching bag. This is why it is so important not to be discouraged and to always be encouraged, and not to discourage others but rather to encourage others.
Before we speak, we should ask ourselves, “Would this be encouraging?” If so, release it! Don’t worry about them getting a big head, because chances are, there are probably thousands of reasons for them to feel insecure and discouraged—they can use all the encouragement that they can get.
I think a lot of us are how Jeremiah was. When God tells us that He wants us to step into what He has for us, we feel quite unqualified.
“‘Ah, Lord GOD,’ I said, ‘I surely do not know how to speak, for I am only a child!’” (Jeremiah 1:6)
So look how God doesn’t discourage him and say, “Yeah, you aren’t cut out for it. You would totally fail. You are lame! I’m sorry I even asked — I mean what in the world was I thinking…your right, you aren’t even eloquent…”
Rather, we see how God encouraged him:
“But the LORD told me: ‘Do not say, ‘I am only a child.’ For to everyone I send you, you must go, and all that I command you, you must speak. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you,’ declares the LORD.” (Jeremiah 1:7-8)
Here is a beautiful template for how to encourage others.
MOVE SOMEONE GET PAST THEIR FEARS INTO THEIR CALLING AND POTENTIAL.
LET THEM KNOW THAT YOU HAVE THEIR BACK AND YOU WILL SUPPORT THEM.
I believe that is one of the most encouraging things we can do for someone else. Just encouraging them to not listen to their fears, and let them know that we are with them, that we have their back.
I remember reading a story about a young teenager and he was asked to pray in front of the whole church. He got so nervous he started praying somewhat heretical things. Not intentionally—he just froze.
He expected someone to come and sit him down and correct him out of his loose theology. Yet, an older man whom he respected just came over to him and put his arm around him and said, “Whatever you do to step out for God, just know, I got your back.”
That deeply encouraged the young man, and he eventually became a globally recognized speaker. And he still credits that older man for helping him to find the courage he needed to keep putting himself out there for God. We have no idea how far our little encouragement can go! Now, empty promises and flattery is not encouraging, but someone’s affectionate love and resilient commitment to you, is.
In college, I was on track to be a history teacher. As a teenager, I had big dreams to lead a ministry and make a huge impact. Yet by the time I was in college, those dreams had already been shattered. Discouragement took the wind out of me.
But whenever people would ask me to do something, like share a devotional or speak somewhere, I would say yes. During that time, two men really encouraged me to pursue vocational ministry. They saw something in me that I no longer saw in myself.
One of those men was one of the overseers of my university’s Mexico outreach that I had participated in. The other was a pastor, who eventually offered me a job. I am indebted to their encouragement. Not that being a history teacher is any bit inferior for someone else, but I believe their encouragement gave me the courage I needed to do what God had called me to do in the first place.
I wonder why we don’t encourage people as much as we can?
It’s free. It only takes a few seconds. Yet, why don’t we do it more?
Why did the writer of Hebrews need to remind them to encourage each other daily? I think it’s because it takes effort. It means you must take your focus off of yourself for a bit (which can’t be a bad thing, by the way). So we are distracted by self. Preoccupied, perhaps. Lazy, maybe?
Or, do we not want to see others thrive and succeed? Does someone else’s advancement make us feel “less than”?
The other day, my daughter was playing basketball with her cousin, who has a good five inches on my daughter. Her cousin was able to make a basket, while Eden could barely get the ball to touch the net. She tried and tried and then cried and cried.
I knew Eden did not yet have the strength to get the ball into the basket (even though it was drastically lowered from official height regulation). So the second her cousin made the basket, I knew Eden wouldn’t take it too well. I spent the next 10 minutes just trying to encourage Eden and explain that just because someone is good at something doesn’t mean you need to feel bad about yourself. I was sharing with her all the things she does well, and just encouraging her not to give up.
However, I wonder how we truly feel about someone else’s success—does it make us feel happy or shameful?
If we are still at the consciousness of a 5-year-old and we interpret someone’s win as our loss, we cannot be an encouraging person. We aren’t genuinely cheering people on; rather, we’re hoping they fail and fall.
I believe that your greatness ought to inspire me, not intimidate me. Your success can make me feel happy, not shameful. Therefore, I want to be someone who encourages you.
Now, correct me if I am wrong, but that cannot be the love that Jesus is calling His followers into. Love for others means you want the best for others! That makes us encouraging people, always. Love is the motivation for encouragement.
Where there is no love, kind flowery words are merely deception, hypocrisy, manipulation, flattery, and the strategies of a personal agenda. They are not encouragement. When those things are eventually exposed (and they usually are in time), it can be deeply discouraging.
Another possible reason we are not as encouraging as we can be, is that we don’t want to put ourselves out there.
What if we say or do something very kind and it is not well received? What if we are accused of being a flatterer? What if they think we have ulterior motives? What if they don’t respond or react, leaving us feeling rejected? What if they shoot it down, leaving us feeling, awkward? Yes, encouragement can be a tad risky. It takes courage to be encouraging.
The big question is, do we love people enough to take on these risks?
Also, we have to believe that the potential reward of someone else being encouraged through you is absolutely worth the risks of feeling dumb for a second. We may be helping them fulfill their divine calling! Let me put it like this: As you step out past your fears to encourage someone, you are helping someone else step out past their fears to be who they can potentially be! Let’s remember what one of the disciples of Jesus said, “perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18). May love prevail and fear be defeated.
Encouragement is my when my love dismantles your fears.
The insecure are too busy asking themselves, “What do they think about me?” That they don’t bother to ponder these questions, “Who can I encourage today? How can I encourage them?” When Paul wrote that “love is not self-seeking” (1 Corinthians 13:5) he was saying that people who love will have enough bandwidth to think through how they can encourage someone else.
With this heart God has given me, I want to love. With this mouth God has given me, I want to encourage. May love drive us to figure out how to get better at encouraging others. This world really needs it. Especially right now.
Who can you encourage today?
“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds,not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:24-25)
We ought to be busy trying to figure out how we can encourage others. What a healthy use of our minds.
We can easily get caught up into self-seeking thinking, and be trying to figure out how we can get something from someone, with our words. Aren’t you tired of people who wants something from you? They have a motive or an agenda. They want your money, your connections, your allegiance, or even trying to fish a compliment out of you.
However, true encouragers are not trying to get something from you, rather get something to you. They are not manipulative with their words. Manipulation comes from a selfish heart. Encouragement comes from a loving heart.
In this season, I’ve been thinking about the story of Jacob. I think a lot of us can relate to his story—what he faced, we are facing; what he went through, we are going through. What God brought him into, He is about to bring us into as well.
Jacob never had a good relationship with his brother, Esau. Esau was the older brother. The favored of the father. He was the obvious alpha.
Jacob wanted his dad to bless him, so he pretended to be Esau and got blessed. Jacob was not comfortable in his own skin—I mean, his name means “deceiver.”
When we don’t know who we are, we are trying to be someone else.
We want to be like someone who is accepted and affirmed because we want to be accepted. A lot of us can think of someone who we think is “acceptable,” and we try to be like him, her, or them.
Jacob was so deprived of affirmation that he was willing to lie to get it. He didn’t think he was blessed just for who he was. The story goes that Jacob stole the blessing that was to go to the older brother, and his old brother was very upset with him.
Fast forward a few years …
In Genesis 32, Jacob hears that his brother is coming toward him with 400 men. That sounds like someone is coming to rumble. Jacob is terrified. He’s not even a fighter. Scared for his life.
Are there some people you don’t want to see anymore? Because you are not exactly proud of how you dealt with them? Jacob did not want to see his brother and was not proud of stealing his brother’s blessing.
Jacob really believes his brother is going to kill him and his family. Jacob had two wives and a lot of kids, so he divided them up into two groups. If Esau attacks one group, the other group can be spared. He is scared for his life and expecting to lose what was important to him.
However, to his credit, when he was met with fear and anxiety, he withdrew and engaged God.
He could have just numbed out, but that doesn’t really change anything. He went to God and asked God to 1) save and deliver him, but also, 2) held on to the positive words that he believed were spoken to him.
“Save me, I pray, from the hand of my brother Esau, for I’m afraid he will come and kill all of us, including women and children. You said to me, ‘I will certainly prosper you and make your offspring as innumerable as the sand of the sea.’” So he spent the night there. (Genesis 32:11-12 TPT)
What do you believe God has spoke to you in the past?
That’s what we need to hold on to, in crisis. Because the crisis speaks. Anxiety screams. Yet, what did God say?
A scripture I have been holding on to is that when you have born fruit, you will be pruned for greater fruitfulness.
“He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.” (John 15:2 NIV)
I believe there has been good fruit in my walk with God, and therefore he will prune me and our ministry; however, it is ultimately for greater fruitfulness, not destruction.
Jacob was alone again as he sent away his wives and kids—sometimes the greatest breakthroughs happen when we are alone.
He found himself wrestling with someone in the dark. Wrestling in the dark is not fun. They are rolling around in the dirt. You don’t always know what is happening in the dark. For people who don’t fully accept themselves, being left alone is an internal wrestling match. Yet, in solitude, not in distraction, we will find God. Now, like Jacob, the first few hours may be restless. But if we stay with it, in quiet solitude, we will find God. When was the last time you wrestled in prayer, with distractions and deadness and emptiness … until you found God? In other words, when was the last time you got alone until you weren’t alone anymore?
It was close to daybreak, and Jacob realized that the one who came to wrestle with Him was God. And he asked God to bless him, and that he would not let go.
Here, God does a few things in him:
1. God popped Jacob’s hip so he couldn’t rely on his own strength and that he would walk with a limp (a brokenness and humility).
2. Before God blessed him, God wanted him to say his name. God didn’t want him to fake it, but more admit who he had been and how he had been. And God wouldn’t respond with rejection, rather acceptance and blessing. That is called grace.
3. After Jacob said his name, God replied “Not anymore,” (Genesis 32:28 TPT) and gave him a new name. God was saying, “I have a new name for you. I don’t see you as others do. What people have been calling you is not who you are. You are someone better. You are a prince with God.” A prince has authority and class. A prince doesn’t need to lie. A prince doesn’t need to strive. A prince just needs to be. Also, there were clear implication that God saw Jacob as an overcomer.
Jacob came out of that experience saying, “I have seen God face-to-face, and my life has been spared!” (Genesis 32:30)
When we have had a fresh encounter with God and His heart for us—how he sees us, what he says about us, how His perception of us is different from people’s opinions of us—we come out ready to face anything!
What’s more important than getting blessing and affirmation from others is getting it directly from God. When you get it from God, you can face anyone or anything.
Jacob ended up facing his brother, walking over with a limp. There was a beautiful reconciliation with his brother. Those who have really connected with God become peacemakers, rather than contentious.
When we seek God, He will do a work within us (as he did for Jacob) and He will go before us and work out all things together for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28).
Here are a few lessons we can learn from Jacob that will allow us to move from fearfulness to fearlessness:
1. He went back to what He believed God revealed to him before.
2. He took time to get alone with God and fought through the restless hours until he had his encounter.
3. He experienced God’s acceptance and affirmation and was finally able to see himself through His eyes.
That gave him the courage to face his greatest mistakes and biggest fears.
When we study the countries that we would call poverty stricken, it’s usually not because its citizens lack intelligence or the lack of natural resources in the land. I don’t believe God should be blamed, for He blessed the people with creative potential between their years and their land with wealth. Then what’s holding them back? It may be a poverty mentality.
That is why a handoutis not always the simple solution or the best answer. I once heard someone say that all the churches should just sell their buildings and give the money to feed starving children ham and cheese sandwiches. Let’s say we all did that, then in a few years after we run out of sandwiches, the impoverished nation is in the same condition and church real estate has become bars and condos.
In their book When Helping Hurts, the authors communicated that we Westerners often think of poverty as material lack; however, real poverty is a broken relationship with God, others, resources, and self. They were confirming that free handouts do not encourage entrepreneurship, stewardship, and does not break the poverty mentality.
The poverty mentality thinks like a pauper, rather than a prince or princess. A pauperis a very poor person who depends on charity. The pauper is not looking to give, he is looking to take. The pauper is not liking to produce, but to look for pity. The pauper is not looking to learn, he is looking to leech. The pauper is not looking for ministry, rather sympathy. On the other hand, a prince is a very wealthy person who has value, standards, power, and a future.
When you study the Scriptures, you discover that:
You have insane value.
You are called to excellent standards.
You have power beyond personal power.
You have a hope and glorious future.
When the Peter and John engaged the pauper by the gate who was begging, this is how they related to him:
“Then Peter said, ‘Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.’ Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong. He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God.” (Acts 3:6-8)
The reason they didn’t give him money was not because they didn’t have a way to get him money. We see that the church was already a center of generosity (as recorded in the Acts 2). Yet, what this man needed was more than a donation. He needed help changing his position and his disposition.
Now this was a great miracle, but let’s not miss the message behind the miracle. He changed his position from stagnant to movement; his disposition from a beggar to a worshipper.
Peter and John’s vision for this man was not that he just get some silver coins that would last him a week. Rather, they wanted him to see his life turned around. So now he could work instead of beg. He could be a giver not just a taker. He would be a praiser instead of complainer. Instead of seeking sympathy, he can be seeking to find his ministry!
Our goal shouldn’t just be to give people a handout. Our goal should be to see people delivered of the poverty mentality and poverty lifestyle.
Jesus said, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He hath anointed me to preach the Gospel to the poor … .” (Luke 4:18)
The gospel that Jesus preached was designed to attack and demolish the poverty mentality.
Myths are what enough people believe, but are not true. When we bust myths, we can save people from unnecessary fears and false hopes.
When I was a kid, some other kids told me one night about Bloody Mary—the mythical ghost who will visit you while are looking in the mirror if you whisper her name. One older kid said she even saw the Bloody Mary in the mirror recently! I couldn’t go look at a mirror or sleep. I never whispered her name, but I sure thought it, so I was afraid that that was enough to conjure the Bloody Mary. That myth needed to be busted! There are some money myths we believe that need to be busted so we can have less anxiety.
Myths can lead to false hope. I had a friend who loved his dog so much, he would let his dog lick him all over the face. He would never share a water bottle with any of us, but would make out with his dog. He kept saying that humans can’t get sick from dog saliva and how clean their mouths are. But I found an article that read, “Dog mouths are teeming with bacteria because they eat and lick all sorts of gross things like garbage, carcasses, and of course, poop. Since dogs don’t have hands with opposable thumbs and they walk on all fours, they use their face and mouth to do a lot of things we would use our hands to do. A dog’s mouth functions as its hands, its washcloth, its toilet paper and so on.” So him thinking that is perfectly sanitary to kiss his dog, is a myth, that’s false hope.
I think money myths are giving people unnecessary fears and false hopes. So we need to bust some of these myths.
Myth #1: Money = Happiness
The wealthiest cities in the world (New York, London, and Paris), have some of the most miserable people in the world. While cities that are less fancy and impressive have happier residents (Boulder, Colorado).
The countries with the fastest growing economies (including the U.S. and China) also have the highest rates of anxiety and depression.
The countries that aren’t known for their economic prowess, such as New Zealand and Canada, have the happiest citizens. (Source: Charles Richards, The Psychology of Wealth, p. 46)
The people who say “I will be happier when I am making more money” may be kidding themselves.
Let’s just say that they come into more external wealth, it may only accentuate their internal emptiness. What’s more important than external wealth is internal wealth. What’s more essential than a prosperous business is a prosperous soul.
Many people have forfeited their internal wealth in their chase after external wealth. Many people have relinquished a prosperous soul, as they gave all in pursuing a prosperous business.
Jesus warned us about this: “What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?” (Matthew 16:26)
Net worth is measured by pretax income and inheritances. However, net worth is not the same as life-satisfaction. There are other factors that make life fulfilling and the soul prosperous. Let’s start with the presence of God.
“in your presence there is fullness of joy…” (Psalm 16:11)
In truly knowing God there is joy, not in bigger salaries and more stuff. You may not inherit a million dollars today, but you can draw near to God today. Your salary may not double tomorrow, yet you can experience more of God’s Spirit tomorrow.
I see the presence of God to the human soul as water is to a fish. Take a fish out of water, slap a Rolex onto it, even put him in a Rolls Royce, and feed the fish filet mignon. If it is out of water, it’s going to be miserable and dying.
King David, who was perhaps the wealthiest man of his time, wrote,
“A single day in your courts is better than a thousand anywhere else! I would rather be a gatekeeper in the house of my God than live the good life in the homes of the wicked.” (Psalm 84:10)
He was saying that he would rather be relationally close to God than to be prospering apart from God.
Just to be clear, I’m not saying that poverty makes people happy either. I am merely busting the myth that money equals happiness.
Myth #2: Money = Self-Worth
Just because we grow our net worth doesn’t mean that we have improved our self-worth. I would like to suggest that what may be more important than our net worth is our self-worth.
“While money helps many things, it has little long-term impact on our self-worth.” (Charles Richards, The Psychology of Wealth, p. 78)
“Money tends not to solve personal problems; money solves money problems.” Szifra Birke, psychologist and wealth counselor
Amy Chua wrote a book called the Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother and take about the difference between Asian and American parenting styles.
She said that the stereotypical Asian parents link self-worth to a high level of personal achievement and recognition. The college you graduate from. The jobs you land. The money you make.
But the children feel the pressure from their parents to be excellent, yet when they don’t meet their parents’ standards, their sense of self- worth erodes. They believe that parental love is solely dependent on what they accomplish and the result is that they are “anxiety-ridden” adults who never feel good enough, no matter what they accomplish or how much money they eventually make.
While these parents pushed their kids to maximize their net worth, they put them at a disadvantage when it came to finding their self- worth.
While these Asian kids have strong desire to please their parents, they never feel their own worth. They usually end up doing something with their lives that their parents wanted, not what they truly wanted to do. Or, they feel like a complete disappointment because they couldn’t keep up with the other hard workers.
She contrasts this with American parenting styles, where the kids know that they are unconditionally loved and cared for, yet do not always have the discipline to accomplish goals that they are pursuing. So they underachieve.
They may have self-worth, but lack net worth. We should pursue the best of both worlds.
The advantage of the stereotypical Asian parent is that the kids have high goals and know that self-discipline is essential in order to create a prosperous life.
The advantage of American style parenting is that kids know their self- worth and have a sense of confidence. They can be more free to be creative and follow their hearts.
So the ideal parenting would be for their kids to know unconditional love, while giving them a strong sense of responsibility and encouraging self-discipline.
Goal setting and accomplishing should be promoted in the framework of being unconditionally loved.
So a healthy child knows they are unconditionally and inherently loved —and still working hard to achieve. They are being creative and productive. They know their value and are unleashing their potential.
This is how God parents us.
“But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.” (1 Corinthians 15:10)
Here we see that our self-worth comes from God’s grace toward us— not our bank accounts or portfolios or annual salaries. Yet we don’t just sit around and know we are loved. We also get to work hard and begin releasing our potential.
Myth #3: Money = Evil
“For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.” (1 Timothy 6:10)
In that letter from Apostle Paul to his young disciple Timothy, we don’t see that money is evil—rather, greed is evil. Greed is when money becomes the primary objective and highest priority of our lives. Greed is when we are willing to do anything for more stuff. Greed is also in buying things we can’t afford. Now, we must recognize that Paul did not say that money in itself is evil.
If money is evil, why is abundance and riches in heaven?
Why streets of gold, if gold is wicked? Why mansions if mansions are sinful? Heaven wouldn’t be described as a place of evils, toxins, and poisons, but a place where there is God’s goodness to be enjoyed.
In an excerpt from the 2003 Psychology Today article “Religion Impacts Size of Wallet,” Carlin Flora writes: “Lisa Keister, an associate professor of sociology at Ohio State University, analyzed longitudinal surveys of nearly 5,000 Americans. She found the median net worth of Jewish participants to be $150,890. Conservative Protestants— including Baptists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh-Day Adventists and Christian Scientists—were worth an average of $26,200. Catholics and mainstream Protestants—including Episcopalians, Methodists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Unitarians and others—fell in between at about $60,000.”
I have wondered why the conservative Christians are where they are, in that survey. While Jews believe that poverty is evil, in conservative Christianity there is this stigma that money is evil.
“Jewish people view wealth as a blessing and look down on poverty because it cannot help anyone.” (H.W. Charles, p. 5)
Conservative Christians can think wealthy people as greedy people. And they can be critical toward those who are rich. Poverty may even be a virtue to them.
This comes from Ancient Greek Philosophy that all physical matter is flawed and only the spirit world is perfect. This idea has been embedded into Christian doctrine.
“Many schools of Greek philosophy held a belief that all physical matter was flawed. Only that which was spirit could be perfect. Many concepts of Greek thinking were incorporated into Christian doctrine.” (HW Charles, p. 23)
Believing that everything in the physical realm is evil can lead to:
1. Being unmotivated in studying other subjects besides “spiritual ones.”
2. A big interest in studying theology but low interest in finance.
3. A view that being in the marketplace means you are a second-class citizen.
They might believe that real ministry is done by the preachers and in the church, so they do their work half-heartedly. This type of thinking could lead, say, a construction worker to think that the work he does isn’t significant. He’d rather be teaching the Bible full-time. But your workplace is your sanctuary, your work is your worship, your co- workers and clients are your mission field—glorify God where you are at.
Now, our Jewish friends have what we call the Old Testament. Conservative Christians can think that the Old Testament has expired and is now useless. We discard Scriptures about how the good man leaves an inheritance for his grandkids (Proverbs 13:22). How many of God’s servants were very materially blessed in Scripture and it is described that God blessed them?
Then, conservative Christians tend to think that Jesus was poor. Let’s investigate that in the next post.
In this post we will look into three reasons why money is a sensitive subject, especially when talked about in church.
1. We care about money.
72% of Americans have reported to having been stressed about their finances in the last month. We don’t stress about things we don’t care about. Truth is that we care about money more than we care to admit.
Money is not a stranger to us. It may be a bully. It may be a tyrant. It may be our infatuation. Yet, hopefully through this series, we will see money will go from our king to our servant, that we will master money, not be mastered by it.
2. Money has led to hurt feelings.
Someone would argue, “Money never hurt my feelings!”
Well, money issues are the leading cause of divorce. Maybe someone tricked you and ran off with your money, I’m sure that was wounding. Perhaps a business partner or a family member really took advantage of you. Or you were really generous with certain individuals, only to feel betrayed by them.
It can feel awkward when a friend of yours wants to borrow money? It makes you question if your “friend” was really just trying to get some green out of you all along and they saw you as an ATM. When you encounter people prioritizing money over their loved ones, it can also be really hurtful, making us feel quite devalued.
3. Money has been viewed as something nasty.
Some religious friends may feel that money is not a spiritual topic. They’d rather talk about holiness. Some good old-fashioned hellfire and brimstone! Or the depths of prayer and getting closer to God. They may argue, “Why should we talk about something so disgusting and temporal as money?”
Since the Bible has over 2,300 verses about money and possessions and how to manage them, there is a lot there to ignore.
We shouldn’t be afraid to talk about money because Jesus wasn’t. Jesus talked more about money than faith, prayer, and the afterlife. Most of Jesus’ parables were about money. I wonder why?
During his life, Kobe inspired many to be great players. In his death, Kobe is inspiring many to be great fathers.
Throughout his illustrious 20-year career in the NBA, Kobe was immensely popular and yet extremely polarizing. He had his good, bad, and ugly moments, while living in a fish bowl. Nevertheless, as his career came to an end, he was deeply respected by fans and foes alike—for being a fierce competitor and having a brilliant mind.
I can’t remember a celebrity death that has been this impactful, at least during my lifetime. I’ve been a Laker fan since 1991, so like many others my age, we grew up watching Kobe and wanting to play like Kobe.
There is a lot I can say about Kobe, from his work ethic and his resiliency. To even his leadership….
Today, I watched an interview he gave only a few years ago. He explained that he used to just yell at his teammates when they weren’t performing at their best. Then, he realized that the yelling wasn’t working. He discovered that they weren’t performing at their highest potential because they had to change their internal dialogue.
So Kobe said that he went from yelling to listening.
He said it was time consuming, yet he would have breakfast and lunch with his teammates to hear what’s going on in their lives and with their soul. Kobe would actively listen for their fears. He would then endeavor to dismantle those fears—for those fears were stifling their performance on the court. Kobe said that unless the current NBA stars learned to do that for their teammates, their teams won’t become championship teams.
What Kobe was most recognized for in the last few years (especially the last few months and days) was being a supportive and present father.
He wanted to be the best father he could possibly be—that was one reason he started traveling by helicopter—to make more time for the family. His final game in 2016 was celebrated with his wife and daughters, as the world looked on. We saw Kobe—the straight-out-of-high-school basketball phenom, evolve into Kobe—the family man. Recently, we would see Kobe at the Laker games with his daughter Gianna. Kobe was coaching his daughter’s team and they were en route to a tournament in Thousand Oaks when the tragedy occurred.
I know I’m just sharing stuff that we all heard and read over and over, the last few days. So, would you allow me to share something I feel in my heart?
Perhaps God is speaking through this tragedy and calling fathers back to their children and children back to their fathers (see Malachi 4:6).
Kobe was and still is a trendsetter and a culture shaper. Who else is known by their first name? What Kobe does is the new cool. That’s why he was paid millions for shooting a 30-second commercial or posing for a poster. For the countless men who never had a strong father figure in their lives, Kobe was someone that they may have looked up to. Even the toughest of guys respected him—because they saw the heart of a champion and a fearless competitor. Kobe was a key figure in Los Angeles—which may be the most influential place on planet Earth.
Kobe showed the world that being a present father was the coolest and manliest thing that any dude can be.
He died while coaching his daughter and supporting her dream. Perhaps God is speaking through this tragedy, calling dads to be present and encouraging. Sports analysts and his personal friends have publicly said that Kobe was more successful and fulfilled in his second career than his first one.
Maybe we need to be realizing that what’s more valuable than succeeding in our careers is succeeding in our families (especially for us driven folks). Most of us won’t be NBA champions or gold medalists. Yet, I do wonder if this tragedy is calling us dads to step up our game and be the best fathers we can possibly be. For that, my friends, will heal our world.
This blog is one of the ways I get to brag about my friends.
On Friday night I met with our San Pedro lead team. We had some good pizza, pasta, salad, and conversations. It was mentioned at that meeting that we should try to go out to bless our neighbors before the 4:30 p.m. worship service. Reason being—the sun would still be out and they wanted to invite our neighbors to worship with us at 4:30 p.m.
I thought it was a good idea and wanted to eventually make the adjustment, maybe in February, but they asked if we can make the adjustment right away. We contacted everyone on our e-mail list to let them know.
A team left at 3:30 p.m. to go and bless the neighbors. Some of them invited someone who was passed out drunk on the street corner to come join us for worship. He was a little droopy but stayed for the entire worship service. They also felt led to lay hands on a recovery home and just bless all those who were living there. Someone stuck his head out the window and said, “Look! They are praying for us! That’s awesome!” Our goal is to bring joy and peace to the city!
We met for worship at 4:30 p.m. and it was heavenly as always. There is something really special about being in a room with people who love God and are expressing their love all at the same time.
After the singing time, we asked if anyone who went out at 3:30 p.m. wanted to share a report of something cool that happened in the last hour. Tiffany was nominated by the others on the team: She got up and joyfully shared with us how she was way more blessed than anyone that they talked to. She deeply felt God’s love while walking the streets and conversing with broken people. Tiffany is a really sweet person and a super volunteer at our church. She was at church all morning and afternoon in Torrance and still made it to San Pedro in the late afternoon. She really has a beautiful heart and inspires me to love people.
Then she invited Peter to come and share something from their time on the streets. He told us about a lady he met who had kids in the foster system. As a father, it really broke his heart to see families separated like that. I’m sure this person who Peter engaged in conversation with felt deep compassion from Peter and felt the power of his prayers.
The evening service ended with Brit and Anthony (and their newborn, Sarah) leading us all into prayer for San Pedro. It was really a heartfelt time!
Well, maybe it was that 3:30 team that got the rest of our group all fired up, but for some reason about 25 of us decided to head back out to bless our neighbors even after our worship service. So they walked the streets. (I had my wife and daughter with me, so I was trying to be sensitive to them, since we were literally out doing ministry and leading meetings from 9 a.m. and now it was already 6 p.m., and my wife is very pregnant.)
Anyhow, while I was not able to go out, even though my heart wanted to, I know that our team made such a difference that night. I got text messages of all kinds of great stories! They ended up going to an area where many live in tents and led a worship service right there! They ran into the same lady Peter ran into, and as they just sang songs with her, they said that tears rolled down her face. This team was out there for almost two hours.
The next morning, I got another text from someone who was there for those two hours and he was sharing with me that he really saw how much people just need God’s love, and that we as a community need to continue to cultivate that love (individually and corporately), because that’s what this hurting world really needs. I can’t agree more.
People at Jesus Center are really catching God’s heart for San Pedro.
I’ve been teaching on how we need to continue to sow kindness. Kindness is more than being nice and polite, it’s being helpful and generous. It’s doing what you don’t have to do, just because you want to do it! Even though people may take advantage of kindhearted people from time to time, it’s still better to be kind than a jerk. We will have a better life and afterlife, a more prosperous soul, and better relationships when we choose to sow kindness. The Scriptures promise that those who sow kindness will reap a harvest of blessing! If you have been tempted lately to no longer be kind, I hope you reconsider. Kindness will always be rewarded! You don’t always reap where you sow, but you do reap what you sowed.
I have been asking God to make me an embodiment of His kindness. I have a ways to go. Yet, I believe that our church —Jesus Center — will be known for our kindness! Not just because we want to harvest blessings (even thought that’s guaranteed), but because we have become transformed by the heart of God.
It was our second week in San Pedro. Our group is swelling. Perhaps a dozen or two more people than the first Sunday.
My friend, Lainel, and the band led us in a time of singing and meditation. He’s got a tremendous gift in music and is great with people.
Then Brit, a San Pedro resident, mother of two, and a beloved part of our community, shared about how she and her husband, Anthony, have had so many dreams of God’s peace coming to San Pedro and how she was so excited that it was happening now. She was challenging people to “give it a year” and that we will see fruit. She wasn’t talking about strawberries and mangos, but that we would see changed lives and the atmosphere of the city looking more like heaven. She has a unique gift to inspire and motivate people.
I had an opportunity to share briefly from this Scripture that I can’t stop thinking about:
“Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” (Jeremiah 29:7)
When I did word studies, I discovered that “seek” was the Hebrew word—darash—which means to investigate, discuss, and care. So to apply Jeremiah 29:7, it means that we need to be “asking and brainstorming” how we can bring peace and prosperity to the city.
Peace and prosperity is the well-known Hebrew word shalom.
“Shalom speaks of wholeness, soundness, completeness, health, harmony, reconciliation, justice, and welfare—both personal and social.”
—Eldin Villafane, “Seek the Peace of the City.”
So all that is what we should be trying to figure out and be praying into. Yet, I think it can’t just end with meetings and prayer sessions; we need to actually take action and be consistent. The last few days, whenever I get around my friends, we find ourselves “darash-ing” or trying to ask the question how we can bring shalom to our region.
I’ve noticed that when churches don’t believe they can bring shalom to their region, they will become very indifferent and apathetic and just be on the defensive. When churches believe that we can bring shalom to our region, we will be energized by vision and prayer. Vision leads to prayer and prayer leads to more vision.
I felt the room was full of enthusiasm. I definitely wasn’t kicking a dead horse. The group that is growing in San Pedro is full of compassion and vision. I feel that’s exactly what we need to generate movement and momentum, people who are as excited and committed as you, joining forces. (By the way, some people are just excited, but not committed—you need excited and committed people). When I get around these people, I get energized, not drained. No one is complaining or criticizing; we are too busy dreaming and celebrating.
We took about 40 people out this time to give away wipes, dinners in a bag, and tissue boxes. The first person I met was named Bruno. He lives out of a tent. My friend Ben and I asked if we could pray for him. He wanted prayer for his daughter, who needs a heart transplant. Ben was praying for Bruno’s daughter with so much compassion because Ben has a daughter too. So while he was praying, I had this thought: “I think Bruno needs a healing too…specifically in his hip.” I’ve learned that when you can’t shake off a thought too easily, the Spirit may be saying something. So when Ben finished praying, I asked Bruno if he needed healing in his body, specifically in his hip. Bruno was surprised that it was called out before he could tell us. Then we prayed a quick, short prayer for healing. Bruno tested out the hip and found it was healed.
This was especially cool, because we meet on 430 W. 6th Street at 4:30 p.m. and my friend Anthony felt we needed to claim Acts 4:30.
“Stretch out your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” (Acts 4:30)
That’s what happened! It’s just the beginning.
Another highlight for me was seeing Carmen again. She uses a wheelchair and lives in a tent. We got to connect with her again and she remembered us! Thankfully she was getting better from her cold and she asked us, “Are you coming back next week?” We told her we would come back. She gave a big, warm smile.
When I talked to our Jesus Center community who also walked the streets with us, they said that was the question that was asked by many of our new friends: “Will you be back next week?”
We had many good conversations when we got back to our building. We shared the victories. We shared new ideas that can improve our efforts to bring shalom to the city!
Paul, our fearless outreach leader, shared with me that some of our new friends who live in the tents felt so much love through our community, their eyes were faucets. We are discovering that even more than food, they are desiring friendship.
Larson, a super-insightful young adult, shared with me that he felt that most of the people who were on the streets ended up their because of broken relationships. Maybe they were kicked out of their house after fighting with a parent. Maybe they were dumped by a girlfriend. Maybe their spouse left them, and they couldn’t cope with the rejection without substance abuse.
Something I know about our church is that we aren’t just handing out goods. We are extending friendship. I really believe that God can heal hearts and change lives through the vehicle of friendship.
Every week, I hope we can bring more and more SHALOM to San Pedro! On Sunday night, when I got home, I was texting with my friend Greg, who leads a really effective non-profit for youth. He regularly takes youth to do service projects. Greg shared how the givers always seem to receive way more than those who receive. I can say that it’s true for me. My heart is so full whenever I can be a blessing to others, especially the disadvantaged, with no strings attached.
Last thought: I feel that I am making a shift from being a feeder to a leader, a chef to a contractor. Let me explain. For the first six years of the church, I really wanted to feed the sheep well by being a good teacher. However, I am now realizing that the South Bay doesn’t need more teachers, but more leaders. People who will lead the church to action. I believe I was so focused on trying to be a good minister, yet the Spirit is now challenging me to be a mobilizer. I’m discovering that one of the best ways to keep the sheep healthy is to keep them moving, not just eating. And as we mobilize the church to care for the city, the church will experience more inner healing and restoration, and we will witness greater spiritual and numerical growth.
In 2013, I moved to the South Bay of L.A. It was an area that I felt called to serve. We came with a big dream and no guarantee of a paycheck. A few friends said they would come to help us. Some did. Some didn’t. Nevertheless, we had humble beginnings. Meg and I rented a room in North Redondo Beach to live out of. Someone recently told me that church planters have to be a bit naive or else no one would do it.
I’ve had my ups and downs throughout the last six or seven years—but I think I just had my favorite Sunday since moving to the South Bay.
Now, something about Jesus Center, the community I lead, is that we have moved around the South Bay. We probably used over 10 different buildings. We finally secured a more permanent home in 2017 in South Torrance, and that’s been wonderful. Jesus Center has grown into a multi-ethnic, multi-generational community, comprised of hundreds of people who live in the South Bay.
One of the areas in the South Bay that I’ve been infatuated with is downtown San Pedro. I found myself wanting to hang out there. A few years ago, a group of us were going down there every Friday evening and found the people to be very real, conversational, and open. It’s a beautiful port city that has millionaires and people experiencing homelessness, high achievers and those in recovery homes.
This year, I committed to giving my best in San Pedro—to serve the city and to grow a life-giving community there! I found a building I really wanted and we secured our spot. I have friends who are even more passionate about loving on San Pedro than I am. I expected them to be at our first gathering—and they were.
On Sunday, Jan. 5, 2020, at 4:30 p.m., we had our first Sunday Service, and about 50 people attended. It’s at 4:30 because we have two Sunday morning services in Torrance. I got to teach on mercy and justice in the morning—about how God backs those who are passionate about helping the disadvantaged.
Most of the 50 people who showed up in San Pedro are already part of our community. We had a time of singing, praying, sharing, eating, and then we took about 30 people down the street to share warm blankets with those experiencing homelessness. It was such a beautiful and fulfilling experience.
I study stats and try keep up with trends. I’ve read and witnessed that people are not coming to church services with the frequency of other eras and decades. I think one of the reasons is because this generation wants to DO something, not just HEAR something. It was so cool to merge worship and compassion. This is our game plan in San Pedro for 2020.
I couldn’t stop smiling. My friend Amy pointed that out.
My wife says I’m a visionary. So I don’t see with my natural eyes, but rather with the eyes of my imagination. I don’t see what is; I see what can be. I was so excited because I see healing and joy coming to the city of San Pedro. I see new outreaches being launched. I see hundreds of new people joining our community! I see us serving with excellence, passion, and compassion. I see all kinds of people joining forces to bless a city. Today, they are strangers. In a few months, they will be best friends. I have to work on enjoying the present, because I tend to live in the future.
So, I made some new friends on 1.5.20. People who want to help us serve the city and the disadvantaged. I also made some new friends who live in tents and are praying for jobs. We got to pray with them. I’ll check up on them next Sunday and continue to sow into the friendship.
Jesus Center is full of amazing people.
We filled our Compassion Wall at our Torrance campus with new socks, clean blankets, and tissue boxes. Then we loaded it all up in our cargo van and distributed the goods after our San Pedro Sunday Service. It was a Sunday Service, indeed, because we didn’t just worship—we serviced the city. That felt so good. I think maybe because it made God-within feel good.
I was so impressed watching my friends—Abe, Julie, Brian, Nick, and Esther—give the biggest hugs to people who haven’t had showers in quite sometime. They said prayers for them with such love and faith. Brian took off his own jacket and gave it to someone.
My friend Paul lives in San Pedro. He makes friends with everyone. Some of his friends live in tents too. They were the ones who took us down to meet their community, so we were especially well-received.
My other friend Kendrick bought a ton of food to feed everyone. He likes doing that, now. It’s a recent thing for him to be super generous. We had a number of families with young kids who also live in the streets come to hang and eat with us.
It was such a cool night—and it’s just the beginning. I can’t wait for the next Sunday, and I’m so glad we have 51 more this year.
“We owe it to others to work on our happiness.” – Dennis Prager.
In Chapter 1, Dennis Prager writes about how we owe it to our loved ones and world to be happy. People suffer around us when we are unhappy.
Prager believes that our happiness is a moral obligation, and we will embody more goodness when we are happy. He asks,
“Do you feel more positively disposed toward other people and do you want to treat other people better when you are happy or when you are unhappy?” – Dennis Prager
He writes about how a friend shared with him that “unhappy religious people reflect poorly on their religion and on their Creator.” He went on to say, “Unhappy religious people should therefore think about how important being happy is — if not for themselves, then for the sake of their religion. Unhappy, let alone angry, religious people provide more persuasive arguments for atheism and secularism than do all the arguments of atheists.” (Prager)
He went on to share that if we are religiously devoted yet unhappy, it could be that we are practicing our religion incorrectly or we are following correctly yet our religion steers us away from joy. I was reflecting upon my own religious life, and I can say both have been true.
In Chapter 2, Prager talks about how the easy way is often the wrong way. And it is easier to be unhappy. It’s the easy way out. “The thought occurred to me that being unhappy was easy — in fact, the easy way out — and that it took no courage, effort, or greatness to be unhappy.”
He basically talks about happiness as a muscle that needs to be worked and developed. It doesn’t come easy or effortlessly. While many believe that happiness is the result of good things happening in our lives and the good feelings it brings with it, Prager argues for the opposite: “Happiness is largely, through certainly not entirely, determined by us — through hard work (most particularly by controlling our nature) and through attaining wisdom (i.e., developing attitudes that enable us not to despair).”
He closes out this thought by saying that “Everything worthwhile in life is attained through hard work. Happiness is not an exception.”
In Chapter 3, Prager asks us to really ask ourselves “Will this make me happier or unhappier?” We may come up with quick pat answers — however we are encouraged to think deeper about this. We need to be aware of our own happiness feeders and unhappiness triggers.
So whether we are making a purchase or choosing a thought to dwell on, we need to ask ourselves if this is conducive to our happiness. And we are to think about what will make us happier in the long run, not just what we want to do in the moment.
He writes about how geniuses aren’t happier, it takes wisdom to understand happiness and self-discipline to abide in happiness.