Why Most ‘Blessing-Plans’ Don’t and Won’t Work!

Do you know of anybody who is always in the ‘blessing-line’ at church or at the conference? It seems like they are always seeking, but they are never able to find! They are always asking, but they are never able to really get an answer. The preacher or speaker tells them the reason their ‘breakthrough’ hasn’t happen is because, either they don’t have enough faith or it’s just simply not their time to be blessed! Consequently, just like the man in the Bible at the pool, they are waiting for the right time! After a while, they try another church or another ministry; someone with a different blessing-plan. But, may I make a radical suggestion? I would like to suggest that most blessing-plans that are being advocated today are fundamentally flawed! They simply don’t work! Not only do they don’t work, they won’t (they will never) work and there are several reasons why!

First of all, in most blessing plans, the fundamental premise is that a person needs to be blessed because of some shortage, deficiency, or lack in their life. They need a blessing or they need to be blessed because they don’t have what they need, whether it is health, wealth, or whatever. This premise is flawed because it is a direct contradiction of Scripture and what the Bible teaches about the nature of God!

The Bible teaches that we (especially believers) already have everything we need! David said in Psalm 23:1: “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.” (KJV) The Christian Standard Bible renders it: “The LORD is my shepherd; I have what I need.” The New English Translation and the New International Version say: “The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing.” Psalm 34:10 says: “The young lions do lack and suffer hunger; But they who seek the LORD shall not be in want of any good thing.” Psalm 84:11 says: “For the LORD God is our sun and our shield. He gives us grace and glory. The LORD will withhold no good thing from those who do what is right.” Therefore, to advocate the need to do something special, such as following a ‘blessing-plan’ in order to be blessed is a direct contradiction of the word of God! According to the aforementioned texts, the only biblical blessing plan is seeking the Lord and living according to His righteousness!

Another thing to consider are the words of Jesus. Jesus is recorded as saying in Matthew 6:26: “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” (ESV) How does God feed the birds? By pre-programming them with all the instinctive instructions and abilities they need for their survival. The point is this; If God has pre-engineered birds to be successful, how much more has God pre-engineered us for our success? Birds don’t die from strokes and heart attacks, brought on by stress; worrying about where their next worm is going to come from! Birds just fly around in their ‘bird-ness’ trusting their instinctive programming!

In looking at that same text, notice that Jesus referred to God as; “Your heavenly Father.” Now, if a good earthy father will take care of his children and family, how much more so will our Heavenly Father take care of us? Jesus said in verse 32 in regard to the things needed for life (food, clothing, shelter, etc.,) “Your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.” When I was a child, I never had to ask my father to do what any good father was supposed to do; take care of his family! Therefore, when we approach God to ask for what He has already promised to provide, we are actually implying we don’t trust him to be a good Father! We really don’t need to be blessed because, even more than animals with instincts, we have been pre-engineered for success and already equipped with the blessings we need and our Heavenly Father is indeed a ‘good’ father!

The Apostle Paul wrote in Ephesians 1:3: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,” (ESV) Most people overlooked this important verse because they don’t think Paul was saying anything important; they think he was just merely saying ‘hello!’ But look closely at what Paul said! Paul said that God ‘has blessed’ (not that God was going to bless or that God would bless) us with ‘every’ spiritual blessing in Christ Jesus. Now, the last time I checked, the word; ‘every’ means the same thing as the word; ‘all.’ If you were to ask me for something and I gave you ‘every’ or ‘all,’ then that means I have nothing left to give you! Most blessing plans don’t and won’t work because they imply that God has ‘more’ to give us, but God has already given us all! Now, I hear you! You’re saying; “Yes! But the text says every spiritual blessing, but I need a material blessing! I need a financial blessing!” What most people fail to understand is the fact that everything that is now material or physical existed in the spiritual first! Every thing that is now physical had its genesis or origin in the spiritual. In fact, it is the spiritual that produces the physical! For example: When does a house first exist? Most people would say; when the house is being built or is complete. But actually, the house first existed in the mind (the spirit) of the architect! The architect took what was in his mind (his spirit) and placed it on paper and it was transformed into a blueprint. Then, the builders took the blueprint and built the house according to the specifications of the blueprint. But think about it! They could not have built the house without the blueprint! There would not have been a blueprint without a concept or idea in the mind (spirit) of the architect! Therefore, the very first existence of the house was not while it was being built or when it was completed, it actually first came into existence in the mind of the architect! That’s a spiritual principle of how life works! In the beginning was the Word (the audible expression of the mind/spirit of God) and the Word was made flesh! Consequently, the real problem is not that people have a need to be blessed, the problem is that most people don’t know how to manifest the physical/material from the spiritual! They don’t know how to transfer the blessing that already exists in the spiritual into the physical where they can use it to benefit their lives! The problem is not that people need to be blessed, the problem is that people don’t know how to manifest the blessings they already have! I don’t want this post to be too long, so I will just briefly mention in addition, but not expound too much on 2 Peter 1:2-3 where, in his greeting, Peter says: “May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence.” (ESV) Notice again, the tense and the totality: His divine power ‘has granted’ to us ‘all things that pertain to life and godliness’ Yes! Again I say: Most blessing plans don’t and won’t work because they advocate asking God for the blessings that God has ‘already’ given! God cannot give what God has already given and you cannot ‘get’ what you already have!

Now, I just mentioned the problem is not with ‘getting blessed’ or ‘getting a blessing,’ the problem is that most people don’t know how to manifest their blessings. Well, Jesus shared how to manifest in Mark 11:22-24. Jesus said: “Have faith in God. Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” (ESV) How do you manifest or transfer from the spiritual to the physical? By using faith! You must believe you already have what you ask for! How do you respond when you have asked for something and you finally get it? You’re happy! You’re relieved! You’re satisfied! Jesus says, in order to manifest the blessings you already have, you must praise God, be happy, be relieved, be satisfied, even though you can’t put your hands on it! You’ve got to ‘act like’ you already have what you ask for and then you will have it! Now, how would you act if you already had your blessing? You certainly wouldn’t be in a blessing-line or participating in a blessing plan because that would be acknowledging that you don’t have what you have! Jesus said whatever you ask or desire, you’ve got to act like you already have it to manifest it because the truth of the matter is: you already have it, it just exist in spiritual form! It would be a good idea to read the background of this text, starting with Mark 11:12 to get the full picture! Jesus cursed a fig tree, but the effects of the curse were not seen until the next day. When did the tree die? The moment Jesus cursed it! However it took some time for the manifestation! It was in the morning when Jesus cursed the tree. They passed by that tree that evening and no one noticed any changes! It was not until the next morning, as they were passing it again, that the Bible says: “And Peter remembered and said to him, ‘Rabbi, look! The fig tree that you cursed has withered.” (ESV) The lesson: The spiritual cause was immediate, but the physical manifestation took time! We live in a microwave age where people are programmed for instant results. But just because the manifestation is not immediate, that doesn’t mean it didn’t happened! Just because you prayed for it this Sunday and you don’t see it next Sunday, that doesn’t mean your prayer didn’t work and you need to get in a blessing-line on the third Sunday after! Another example of delayed manifestation is found in Daniel 10:11-12 where we read: “Then he said to me, ‘Fear not, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart to understand and humbled yourself before your God, your words have been heard, and I have come because of your words. The prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days, but Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I was left there with the kings of Persia,” (ESV) Daniel had prayed for understanding about a certain matter and according to this text, the Lord answer Daniel when he prayed! However, because of interference from the enemy in the spiritual realm, the manifestation of the answer to Daniel’s prayer was delayed for three weeks!

And don’t ever think that just because something exists in spirit and cannot be seen with the physical eye that it is ‘less than real.’ Remember, everything that is now physical had its beginning in the spiritual! In fact, if the truth be told; the spiritual is actually ‘more real’ than the physical! The physical is actually just the residue or the final effects of the spiritual! Take a look around you! Everything that can be seen in the physical is actually in a state of decline, including your physical body! If you can see it, it’s on the way out! Speaking of the ‘reality’ of the spirit, did you know ‘the ultimate you’ is spirit? I’ve heard people say that they are not a spiritual person! What a ridiculous statement! The truth is: We are all spiritual, because at the core of our being; we are all spirits! Now if you say that spirits are not real, then you are actually saying that ‘you’ are not real! In addition to the pastoral ministry, I also work in the funeral industry. I have observed that when a person is dead, they don’t weigh any less than they did when they were alive! Yet, something that was once in them is no longer present! That something could not be seen, measured, touched or handled, it was spiritual, invisible, and immaterial, nevertheless was quite real because when it left, they died and all that remained was a body!

Another reason most blessing plans don’t work is because of the emphasis on ‘receiving’ from God! Aside from the fact that God can’t give what God has already given, the preoccupation with ‘receiving’ from God, usually is an indication of a primary concern with personal issues instead of a concern for others or the work of God. James wrote to his readers: “You ask and don’t receive because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures.” (James 4:2-3 CSB17) Say you want to be blessed? Well, why do you want to be blessed? Is it so that you can be more comfortable? Are you seeking more when you are not faithful with what you already have? It is a hard pill for many modern Christians to swallow, but God is more interested in developing our character than in making us comfortable! When God blessed Abraham, God didn’t bless Abraham just to bless Abraham! God blessed Abraham so that Abraham could be a blessing! What is your motivation? Why are you seeking to be blessed? Is it primarily for your own comfort or is it so you can be in a better position to serve the Lord? Is it so you can help others? Most blessing plans promoted today don’t and won’t work because they primarily promote selfish and lustful consumption!

This is even the case sometimes with how people approach the traditional and biblical concept of tithing! Look at what the Lord said to Israel through the Prophet Malachi: “Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the LORD of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it. And I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes, and he shall not destroy the fruits of your ground; neither shall your vine cast her fruit before the time in the field, saith the LORD of hosts.” (Malachi 3:10-11 KJV) Most preachers and tithers place emphasis on the latter part of the statement. In other words, they promote tithing and pay their tithes because they want the Lord to ‘open the windows of heaven to pour them out a blessing that there shall not be room enough to receive!’ They promote tithing and pay their tithes because they want the Lord to ‘rebuke the devourer for their sakes.’ But look at the text closely again! The Lord’s purpose for the paying of the tithe was so that there may be meat in His house! In other words, the main motivation for tithing should be so that the local house of God might be able and equipped to do the work of the work of the ministry of preaching, teaching and helping people! The tithe was not designed primarily to help the tither, but rather to support the house and work of God! The benefits the tither receives are by-products! Therefore, even tithing will not work as it should if the motivation is wrong!

Now, I know! Jesus said in Luke 6:38: “Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” (ESV) But notice the context! Jesus was not talking primarily about giving money! Notice what he says in verses 36-37: “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. ‘Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven.” Jesus’ point was: Whatever you give; mercy, judgement, condemnation, or forgiveness, it will be given back to you multiplied! Money was not the primary consideration. In fact, just before he said verses 36-37, he is recorded in verses 34-35 saying: “And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.” (ESV)  Now if Jesus said ‘lend, expecting nothing in return’ from those who you lend to, it stands to reason, the same principle applies to giving! You don’t give just ‘to’ get, but whatever you give, you will get!

Most blessing-plans also advocate ‘seeking God’s hand.’ But in the Bible, we are encouraged to ‘seek God’s face!’ In the Bible, we are instructed to seek, not what God can provide or give to us, but rather to seek God! Jesus said: “And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. (Matt. 6:27-33 ESV) Jesus was saying that we should not worry about obtaining the basic necessities of life, because to do so is to act like people who don’t know God and like orphans. Also, to worry and seek to be blessed in spite of the fact that God is our heavenly Father is to act like God is not our Father at the worst and to act like God is a bad Father who does not provide for His children at best! But if we make the Kingdom of God (the rule and authority of God) and His righteousness (right-standing and right-relationship) our priority and main pursuit, all the things we need will be added unto us automatically!

I conclude with what David said in Psalm 23:6: “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.” (ESV) What many modern Bible readers don’t realize is that the Hebrew word that is translated as the English word; ‘follow’ in that verse is actually a Hebrew verb that literally means; ‘to pursue or chase with the intent to overtake.’ David was not saying that goodness and mercy would passively follow him, like a little puppy dog following his master. No! David was saying goodness and mercy (the blessings of God) would chase, pursue, hunt him down, every day of his life, like a ferocious beast pursuing its prey! That’s why most to the blessing-plans don’t and won’t work! Instead of running after and seeking blessings, according to the Bible, blessings are to run after and seek us!

One last thing and I’m through! Many blessing-plans don’t and won’t work because they are actually designed to bless, not the person who follows the blessing-plan, but rather the person who promotes the blessing-plan! The prophet tells you to send an offering, a seed, and you will be blessed! You do it, but you’re still not blessed! He or she tells you the reason you are not blessed (which is a lie, because the Bible says that if you are in Christ, you are already blessed with every or all spiritual blessing!) is because you don’t have enough faith! Therefore, you must increase your faith by increasing the amount of your offering! (This is another lie because the Bible says that faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God! Therefore, if you want to increase your faith, you don’t have to increase your offering or enlarge your seed, you just need to increase your exposure to the word of God! Find and join a Bible-believing, Bible-preaching, and Bible-teaching church! And don’t just join and be a passive ‘bench-member, commit yourself to faithfully attend worship, Christian Education opportunities and become actively involved in ministry opportunities!). But, PLEASE! In that scenario, the only person who will ever be blessed is the prophet! Truth be told; many blessing-plans today are nothing more than clever religiously disguised con-games by ‘prophet-profiteers’ designed to swindle people out of their money by offering false unbiblical and ungodly hope!

Speaking Into the Atmosphere: An Abuse of Faith and Worship

There is a serious problem afoot in the church today: Theology, sermons, and teachings are being based on songs from the top gospel hit-list rather than from a correct exegesis and interpretation of the biblical text! People are by-and-large doctrinally deficient and grossly ignorant of what the Bible really says about faith and life! The old prophetic word is coming to fruition before our very eyes: The people of God are indeed perishing for the lack of knowledge!

At the time that I am writing this post, I am on the verge of completing forty-one (41) years in the preaching ministry! A lot has changed within the church in the neck of the woods where I labor. For instance; forty-one years ago (1978), there were no ‘Baptist Bishops!’ Forty-one years ago, there was no amour-bearer ministry! And forty-one years ago, there certainly was no pervasive practice of church-people, decreeing and declaring, speaking into the atmosphere or calling those things that be not as though they were! Yes! A lot has changed in the church in the last forty-one years!

Now, as I write this post, please know that it is not my intention to be judgmental or critical, but rather to express what I believe to be biblical truth. I do not profess to be perfect or without error, but I do believe what I am sharing in this post is the biblical truth, therefore, I echo the words attributed to the Apostle Paul in Philippians 3:15: “Let all who are spiritually mature agree on these things. If you disagree on some point, I believe God will make it plain to you.” (NLT)

I heard in a song some years ago and now I am beginning to consistently hear it in the preaching and teaching in many corners of the church; this notion of speaking into the atmosphere! It sounds ‘holy’ and ‘pious’ but is it biblical? Is this a practice endorsed or commended in the biblical text? I would suggest that it is not! Not only that, but I would also suggest that this practice is detrimental and constitutes an abuse of faith and worship! Let me show you what I am talking about:

First of all, while our words do have the power to change conditions around us (for instance, words can create tension, anger, relief, or laughter in our communication with people), the type of change that is suggested in speaking into the atmosphere in the worship experience is mystical and manipulative! It is an abuse of faith! For instance, when this ‘speaking into the atmosphere’ is suggested, there is no disclaimer given that mentions the condition of the speaker’s relationship with the Lord. In other words, if a person is not right in their relationship with the Lord, no matter how much they ‘speak into the atmosphere’ or even ‘pray the prayer of faith’ there will be no good results; they are wasting breath and time! When we are not in right-relationship with the Lord, it effects our communication with the Lord! Deitrick Haddon is mistaken: God doesn’t hear a sinner’s prayer without restrictions; the only prayer God hears from a sinner is the prayer of repentance! The Prophet Isaiah reported to the ancient Israelites: “Behold, the LORD’S hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear: But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear.” (Isaiah 59:1-2 KJV) King David said: “If I had not confessed the sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.” (Psalm 66:18 NLT)

This ideal of ‘speaking into the atmosphere’ has no biblical basis. In other words, there is no biblical example of such a practice! There is no record in the Bible of people ‘speaking into the atmosphere’ in the manner it is practiced today! In fact, in addressing the practice of publicly speaking in tongues, the Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthian church: “So now, brothers and sisters, if I come to you speaking in other tongues, how will I benefit you unless I speak to you with a revelation or knowledge or prophecy or teaching? Even lifeless instruments that produce sounds– whether flute or harp– if they don’t make a distinction in the notes, how will what is played on the flute or harp be recognized? In fact, if the bugle makes an unclear sound, who will prepare for battle? In the same way, unless you use your tongue for intelligible speech, how will what is spoken be known? For you will be speaking into the air.” (1 Corinthians 14:6-9 CSB) When Paul said, ‘you will be speaking into the air’ he meant publicly ‘speaking in tongues’ is useless without accompanying interpretation. That’s the closest the Bible gets to the practice of speaking into the air! And in that context, it was used as an example of a fruitless activity!

But not only does the practice of ‘speaking into the atmosphere’ have no biblical basis, it is a well-documented practice of ancient magic and New Age mysticism! I believe there are many church-people today, who believe more in magic than they do in God and this ‘speaking into the atmosphere’ is a prime example! But even more surprising than that practice is the pervasive erroneous belief that merely saying the phrase; “In the name of Jesus” makes a difference in faith, prayer, and practice! However, the difference is not in merely saying; “in the name of Jesus,” the difference is in actually functioning in the name of Jesus! To pray, preach, or do anything without a relationship with Jesus and think by merely saying; ‘in the name of Jesus’ after or as it is being done gives it validity is as much effectiveness as saying ‘open-says-a-me’ or ‘abbra-ca-dabra!’ ‘In the name of Jesus’ was never meant to be a catch-phrase or a chant-formula to tack on the end of our prayers or actions. In the name of Jesus means to act or function on Jesus’ behalf or in his stead! It is the somewhat like our power of attorney. The one who acts or functions in the name of Jesus is one who acts or function with the authority and in the same manner as Jesus himself would act or function! It was never meant to be a ‘catch-phrase’ or an endorsement formula to justify our actions and prayers!

Now, I’ve talked about speaking into the atmosphere as an abuse of faith, in addition, it is also an abuse of worship! Here’s the reason why! Most modern worshippers are completely ignorant of the true purpose of worship! The word ‘worship’ comes from the Old English; ‘worth-ship.’ Therefore real worship is not about the one who worships, but rather about the one who is worshipped! Real worship is not about what we get, but rather about what we give! In real worship, we ascribe to God His Worth! Therefore, the person who refuses to worship is, in essence, saying; “God is not worth it!”

The focus of real worship is God; not us! Therefore, when church-people fight about contemporary worship or traditional worship, the argument has more to do with cultural and personal preferences than biblical correctness! The bottom-line is both are vain and useless if the primary focus is on the worshipper instead of the Worshipped! And that’s my problem with this notion of ‘speaking into the atmosphere’ in the worship setting. It seems like an attempt to coerce the presence of God, which is in reality, not necessary because God is omnipresent; there is no place that God is not! In addition to that fact, God is within every believer in the Person of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, whenever and wherever believers congregate, there really is no need to invoke, invite, or summons the presence of the God who is already there! In addition to that, Jesus said: “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” (Matthew 18:20 KJV) Therefore, our worship should be a response to the Lord’s presence, not an attempt to ‘invite His presence!’

In thinking about the ideal of inviting His presence, it reminds me of what happened with the contest on Mt. Carmel:

“And Elijah came near to all the people and said, ‘How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.’ And the people did not answer him a word. Then Elijah said to the people, ‘I, even I only, am left a prophet of the LORD, but Baal’s prophets are 450 men. Let two bulls be given to us, and let them choose one bull for themselves and cut it in pieces and lay it on the wood, but put no fire to it. And I will prepare the other bull and lay it on the wood and put no fire to it. And you call upon the name of your god, and I will call upon the name of the LORD, and the God who answers by fire, he is God.’ And all the people answered, ‘It is well spoken.’ Then Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, ‘Choose for yourselves one bull and prepare it first, for you are many, and call upon the name of your god, but put no fire to it.’ And they took the bull that was given them, and they prepared it and called upon the name of Baal from morning until noon, saying, ‘O Baal, answer us!’ But there was no voice, and no one answered. And they limped around the altar that they had made. And at noon Elijah mocked them, saying, ‘Cry aloud, for he is a god. Either he is musing, or he is relieving himself, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.’ And they cried aloud and cut themselves after their custom with swords and lances, until the blood gushed out upon them. And as midday passed, they raved on until the time of the offering of the oblation, but there was no voice. No one answered; no one paid attention.” (1 Kings 18:21-29 ESV)

Therefore, my friends, in regard to ‘speaking into the atmosphere,’ such a practice has no biblical basis and is alarming similar to, if not the same as, ancient magical and modern New Age practices; both of which are contrary to real biblical faith! Be careful of how your theology is shaped and formed! Perhaps it is time for us to spend less time on Facebook and more time in The Book! It is well pass time for us to allow the Bible to inform our theology and singing instead of allowing popular Gospel music to inform our theology and practice!

Heaven Vs The Kingdom of Heaven/God

The average Christian today does not seem to realize it, but there is a fundamental difference between the concept of Heaven preached today and the Kingdom of Heaven or the Kingdom of God that Jesus, the Apostles, and the Early Church preached! The concept of Heaven, as it is presented in most Gospel messages today, is primary about a glorious place where believers go after death. It is presented as the ultimate and eternal reward of the righteous. Now, while that is indeed ‘good news,’ IT IS NOT the good news or the gospel that Jesus preached!

When we preached about Heaven, we’re talking about a place of reward in the future, but when Jesus preached about the Kingdom of Heaven or the Kingdom of God, he was primarily talking about a realm of existence or a way of life in the present! If we would carefully study the preaching and teachings of Jesus as they are related in the gospel accounts (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John), we might be shocked to discover that Jesus really didn’t say much about the ‘Heaven’ we preach so much about today! But rather, Jesus was obsessed and consumed with the message about the Kingdom of Heaven or the Kingdom of God!

We read of the inauguration of Jesus’ public ministry in Matthew 4:12-17: “Now when he heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew into Galilee. And leaving Nazareth he went and lived in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: ‘The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles–the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.’ From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matt. 4:12-17 ESV) Notice what the Bible says that Jesus began to preach: ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!’ Jesus didn’t preach: ‘Repent, so that you might go to Heaven when you die!’ No! He preached: Repent (the Greek word that is translated as ‘repent’ literally means; ‘to change one’s mind or to change the way one thinks!) for the Kingdom of Heaven (primarily, a reference not to the ‘place’ called Heaven, but rather to the rule or authority of Heaven/God) is at hand (near, present). Jesus was calling for his listeners to submit to the rule or the authority of Heaven/God in their lives! It was a call for them to change their thinking or their way of thinking (which would subsequently cause a change in their actions) in light of the presence of the Kingdom that was being manifested in his (Jesus’) life and ministry. The Kingdom of Heaven was at hand because it was present in the life and ministry of Jesus. The main message of Jesus was for his followers to submit to the rule and authority of God in and over their lives!

Now, if you were to look up the Greek word that is translated as ‘kingdom’ in the phrase; ‘kingdom of God’ or ‘kingdom of heaven’ in the Strong’s Dictionary, you would find the following: ‘royal power, kingship, dominion, rule 1a) not to be confused with an actual kingdom but rather the right or authority to rule over a kingdom 1b) of the royal power of Jesus as the triumphant Messiah.’ In the Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament based on Semantic Domains commonly known by biblical scholars and students as; Louw-Nida, we find this notation: ‘It is generally a serious mistake to translate the phrase ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ ‘the kingdom of God’ as referring to a particular area in which God rules. The meaning of this phrase in the NT involves not a particular place or special period of time but the fact of ruling. An expression such as ‘to enter the kingdom of God’ thus does not refer to ‘going to heaven’ but should be understood as ‘accepting God’s rule’ or ‘welcoming God to rule over.’ [Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996), 479.] As an aside, the term ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ is used in Matthew’s account whereas in parallel passages in Mark and Luke, we encounter the term; ‘Kingdom of God.’ This is because of Matthew’s Jewish tendency to avoid the direct use of the term ‘God.’ Hence the Kingdom of Heaven and the Kingdom of God are both references to the same concept.

But, not only was the message of the Kingdom of Heaven/God the message or the gospel that Jesus preached, it was the only message he commanded his disciples to preach! In Luke 9:1-2, we read: “Then he called his twelve disciples together, and gave them power and authority over all devils, and to cure diseases. And he sent them to preach the kingdom of God, and to heal the sick.” (KJV) When a would-be disciple wanted to delay following Jesus until after his father died, Jesus said to him: “Let the dead bury their dead: but go thou and preach the kingdom of God. (Lk. 9:60 KJV) Luke’s last record of the Apostle Paul at the end of the book of Acts says: “And Paul dwelt two whole years in his own hired house, and received all that came in unto him, Preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching those things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ, with all confidence, no man forbidding him.” (Acts 28:30-31 KJV)

Jesus said that we are to seek first the Kingdom of God (the rule and authority of God in and over our lives) and his righteousness (God’s way and God’s standards) and all these things (the things we need in life, that the world is so stressed over) will be added to us. The Kingdom of God is the answer to stress and anxiety! The Kingdom of God should be our first and ultimate priority and concern! It was for Jesus! So much so, that even after his resurrection, we read in Acts 1:3: “He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.” (Acts 1:3 ESV) His first words were about the Kingdom of God and his last words were about the Kingdom of God! If the Kingdom of God was of such importance to Jesus, then surely it should be of importance to us!

Personally, I think the church has missed it! We’ve been preaching the wrong message! We’ve been preaching about Heaven as a ‘place’ of rest AFTER death, when the message Jesus wanted and wants us to preach is about the Kingdom of God as the ‘power’ for life BEFORE death! In all of my years, I have discovered a fundamental truth that is often over-looked! There is one thing everyone must do before they die! They must live! The church has done a good job of preparing people for life after death, but it has traditionally and historically done a poor job of preparing people for life BEFORE death! We’ve gotten the ‘later’ aspect down pretty good, but the Kingdom of God is about NOW and LATER! When we get the ‘now’ right, the later will take care of itself!

I encourage you to do the research and read the Bible for yourself! If you would take off the lenses of religious traditions, you just might discover the Bible contains, not out of date principles for another world, but dynamic principles for living life on earth today! The message of Jesus has not changed! The need of mankind is still the same! The answer to the world’s stress and anxieties is still the same! It is the message of Jesus! It is the message Jesus commanded us to preach: “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven/God is at hand!” If we get the message of the Kingdom right and apply its principles and teachings in our daily lives, we will not only experience the eternal life that Jesus promised for us later, but we will also experience the abundant life that Jesus promised for us now!

Earning Wings?

As I write this, first of all, I don’t want to come across as being flippant, disrespectful, or insensitive to those who have died or to those they left behind. My aim is not to agitate but rather to educate. With that being said, let me get into what stimulated me to write this post.

I was perusing my Facebook page the other day when I ran across this post of someone commenting about a person who had recently died. I was particularly arrested by their suggestion that the person who had died had; ‘earned their wings!’ Now, this was not the first time I had seen that comment, for across the years, I had read it too many times for me to count! Perhaps, this time for me was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back! At any rate, I felt the need to write this post to address this erroneous idea.

There are basically three errors that are inherent in the notion that when a person dies they have ‘earned their wings.’ First of all, the idea of ‘earning’ is completely opposite of biblical teaching. The Bible teaches that salvation cannot be earned, but rather is the result of God’s unmerited divine favor, known as grace! The Apostle Paul wrote to the Ephesian church; “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” (Eph. 2:8-9 NKJ) Therefore, there is nothing we can ‘earn’ because everything we receive from God is by God’s grace! The Old Testament Prophet Isaiah wrote: “But we are all like an unclean thing, And all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags. .”  (Isa. 64:6 NKJ) [in the Hebrew text, ‘filthy rags’ is a reference to a woman’s menstrual cloth!] The best we have to offer in regard to earning merit with God is utterly repugnant!

Secondly, where did this idea that we will get ‘wings’ when we die come from? (I wrote about this false notion more extensively in another post: Forever Human). Perhaps it comes from a misunderstanding of a statement Jesus made to the Sadducees in regard to marriage after death. Jesus said: “For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels of God in heaven.” (Matt. 22:30 NKJ) Men will be ‘like angel’ in that there will be no marriages, not like angel as in being of the same class of being as angels. And where did we get the idea that angels have wings? The only biblical reference to angelic creatures having wings is in Isaiah 6. If you read carefully, you will note that these creatures were not ordinary angels, but are specifically named as: Serephim. There is no record in the Bible of ordinary angels having wings! In addition to that, a careful and correct reading of the Bible will reveal that the function of angels is to minister to the heirs of salvation. (Hebrews 1:13-14) Therefore, for humans to become angels at death is a demotion rather than a promotion! In God’s hierarchy, angels are beneath us, not above us!

Lastly, I also talked about this more extensively in another post (All Dogs ‘Don’t’ Go To Heaven), but it does not matter how much suffering a person went through on earth, that does not qualify them for Heaven! I know we would like to think that all of our loved-ones and friends are at peace in Heaven, but the biblical truth of the matter is all of them are not! Everybody who has died is not resting in peace! The only thing that qualifies a person for Heaven is a correct relationship with God through Jesus Christ!

I know we say things like this in an effort to comfort the bereaved, but I think it does more harm than good when the comfort is based on false hope! Therefore, as we seek to comfort those who are bereaved, let us be careful to give them real comfort from the Word of God and not false comfort from worldly ideas or Facebook theology!

Forever Human

It was a beautiful service, with multitudes of flowers and a massive gathering of family and friends. The casket was elaborate and no expense was spared in giving the dearly departed a grand send-off! I can’t tell you the number of times  I have personally observed such an occasion. But the thing that sticks with me long after such occasions more than the memory of the beautiful flowers or the elaborate casket, is the gross biblical ignorance displayed by Christian laymen and preachers at the funeral! The Apostle Paul wrote to the Thessalonians: “But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep. . . .” (1 Thessalonians 4:13 KJV) Yet, in spite of Paul’s writings and other passages in Scripture that provide insight into the state of the dearly departed, most people today are still ignorant of what the Bible says about death and the future eternal state of humanity!

You would think it was true according to what many, supposedly ‘spiritual people,’ say at funerals, but people don’t actually die because God wants or needs them in Heaven to enhance the ‘flowers of Heaven’ or to keep Him company! The Bible says; “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.” (Romans 5:12 ESV) Death occurs because of sin! Not necessarily because of the particular sins of the person who died, but rather because we live in a sinful fallen world! Jesus said: “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10 ESV) So often, when someone dies, we attribute the death to God. We say things like: “The Lord took him!” or “It was just God’s will!” or the classic: “We loved them, but God loved them best!” (The absurdity of that statement is that we are actually implying that God loved them so much that God killed them, which is utterly ridiculous!). But, as in the case of the parable of the enemy who sowed the tares among the wheat while men slept, the truth of the matter is that when it comes to death, the real cause is; ‘An enemy has done this!” (Matthew 13:28).

But let me get back to my main purpose for writing this post! I think one of the greatest fallacies perpetrated when someone dies and on funeral occasions is the notion that people somehow turn into angels when they die! This false notion is illustrated by a depiction of the deceased, floating in the clouds with angel-wings on their backs! But there are at least two things wrong with that picture! First of all, where did we get the notion that even real angels have wings? It is certainly NOT from the Bible! The only heavenly or spiritual beings portrayed in the Bible as having wings are the Cherubim and the Seraphim! The fact that these two beings are specifically designated and their specific function indicates they are not the same as angels! Whenever and wherever angels are encountered in the Bible, they are always depicted as looking like normal men! No wings! No halos! And definitely No harps!

Secondly, angels are depicted in the Bible as ‘messengers.’ In fact, both the Hebrew and Greek words that are translated as ‘angel’ in our English Bibles actually mean; ‘messenger.’ So, in a sense, the word ‘angel’ is not actually a designation of identity, but rather a designation of function! Just like, the term that we use for the person who delivers our mail doesn’t really say anything about who they are, it just tells what they do!  It is not their identity, it is their function!  As humans, we are the object of God’s love and the crown jewels of God’s created order. Therefore, for humans to turn into angels would actually be a ‘step-down’ not a step-up! Hush! I hear you! You are saying: “But what about Psalm 8:5, where the Bible says that man was created a little lower than the angels?” Well, the word that is translated as ‘angels’ in that verse is not the same Hebrew word that is translated as; ‘angel’ everywhere else in the Old Testament. In just about every other place in the Old Testament, where we see the word ‘angel’ or ‘angels’ in our English Bibles, the Hebrew word is ‘malek’ which means; messenger or representative. But in Psalm 8:5, the Hebrew word is ‘elohim’ which is actually the term used to refer to Yahweh God (the LORD God) or gods! Thus, what the Psalmist actually said was that man was made, not a little lower than ‘angels’ but rather a little lower than God! Therefore, for humans to become angels at death would be a demotion rather than a promotion! And think about it! If it was God’s intention for humans to become angels, why did God make them human? He could have made them angels in the first place! But God made angels to be angels forever and humans to be humans forever!

 We are forever human! In fact, the Bible states that the dearly-parted will one day come back to earth to reclaim their total humanity! (see1 Corinthians 15:13-29; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18) [I use the term; ‘total’ because, according to the Genesis account, man was created as a union of spirit and body. Therefore, absence of a body, makes the dearly departed somewhat incomplete and not their total selves!] That’s what the Resurrection is all about; to reunite the spirit/soul with the body! For if we read the Bible carefully, we will discover that the redeemed will not spent eternity in the Heavenly realm in a spiritually disembodied state as the dearly departed are now, but rather on the earth in glorified bodies! (see Revelation 21:1-5) Notice the wording of the Revelation text, particularly verse 3 where John says: And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. (Rev. 21:3 ESV) It is repeated three times in just one verse; the emphasis is not on man being with God, but rather John wants us to know the plan is for God to spend eternity with us! Why? Because that’s the way God made us! God did not create man to dwell in Heaven, God created man to dwell on the earth. When Adam communed with God, Adam didn’t go to Heaven to see God, but rather God came down to earth; to the garden to commune with Adam; the being God made to be forever human!