Monday, June 7, 2010

Kill Your Jesus Talisman

I can win any slam dunk contest through him who gives me strength. If I will ask God for the ability to do so "in Jesus' name," of course.

When I was a kid I had a poster of Philippians 4:13 -- "I can do all things through him who strengthens me" -- with a photo of a guy dunking a basketball. You can bet I thought long and hard about how Jesus was gonna help me dunk on some fools.

Paul wrote the letter to the church at Philippi from jail. Chapter 4, verse 13 may sound like it needs to be slapped on whatever the Christian equivalent of a PowerBar is, but Paul was not talking about Jesus being our genie, but Jesus being our satisfaction in all situations, whether rich or poor, free or enslaved, healthy or sick, successful or getting dunked on. Wherever our promised trouble-full life finds us, we will persevere only in Christ.

Similarly, Jeremiah 29:11 is a great verse, but it's not an affirmation of the American dream. It's an affirmation of God's predestining purposes even when the American dream crashes down around us and we are crushed. You can put it on a coffee cup, I s'pose, but don't throw it away when you're on the streets and you need it to beg for change. The verse will still be true.

Jesus is no talisman. Crucify "Jesus as key to your personal achievement" and he will stay dead. But the real Jesus achieves a victory greater and far superior to any wish-dream of any man. He is life itself, and life eternal. Worship that Jesus.


rdsmith3 said...

Well my ESV translation does say that the Lord has plans for welfare for me -- isn't that in case the American dream crashes? ;-)

Jared said...

Well, if you wanna get technical, he was actually promising that to the Jerusalem exiles in Babylon. :-)

Philip said...

rdsmith3, not THAT kind of welfare, silly. :-)

This is an AWESOME POST!!!!!

Matt said...

Thanks for this short post . . . it was something I needed to hear today. God bless!

Jeremy said...

Jared, I was gonna say—he was promising that to the Jerusalem exiles in Babylon as a people. It's not even an individualized promise in the original context. And it's also quite locked in time:

"You exiles, I promise that, if you build houses, if you seek Babylon's peace and prosperity, if you find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, if you increase in number, etc., I will prosper you . . . 'cause I've got plans for you in this moment in time."

It certainly speaks to the character of God, but no matter how I slice it, it ain't a promise to me. It isn't even a promise to *us.*

Anonymous said...

I like your thoughts on Philippians 4:13--It makes more sense to me now. I wondered why I was never able to do "everything" like some talented people can do!

On Jeremiah 29:11 I feel God's love in that one. In the New Testament we are told in Luke 21:18 that during persecution not a hair on our head will perish. Jesus told us we would have trials and tribulations but to cheer up because He had overcome the world.

Jared said...

Jeremy, I agree that the Jerusalem people are the immediate referent, and we must begin our understanding of what the passage means there, but I disagree we must stop there.

We have to begin interpretation with "What does this mean?", not "What does this mean to me?", but this doesn't mean it means nothing to us. God does speak to *us* through the Scriptures, all of them.

Jeremiah 29:11 (and its context) does communicate the ways and means of God to us. He may not be saying to us the specific thing he's saying to them, but he is saying something applicable to us in what he's saying specifically to them.

kinleyw said...

I have thunk these same thoughts Jared. Good words for the day indeed.

Always bugs me when we skip to Jer 29:11, but don't read ver 10. "When 70 years are completed..." That's seventy years of bondage. First, all those people who first heard this promise were dead after 70 years. Second, it's also interesting that our life-span is around 70 years. Hmmm... could there be a parallel?

Also with the promise there is a command: "Then you call...come..and pray... You will seek me and find me." Reminds me of Jesus' words "Seek and you shall find"

May we seek God's face and find His narrow path. His main plan for our lives doesn't include winning the game, getting a nice house/car, or healthy/smart/athletic children.

limpdance said...

Some good writing here!

Memorable, true, loaded phrase:

"Wherever our promised trouble-full life finds us..."

Pete Scribner said...

Jared -

Thanks so much for the post. I'm a big sports fan, and have long been bothered by the (ab)use of Philippians 4:13 by (no doubt well-meaning) athletes.

When I see Tim Tebow with the verse emblazoned on his eye-black, that's all well and good. What I'd love to see though is its message being proclaimed by the guy who got hurt, lost his starting job and is now closing out his playing days on the bench as his team loses. Now that's a more powerful (and biblically faithful) message.

Colt McCoy came did a great job of doing this kind of thing that I referred to here:

Brian Roden said...


Thanks for posting this. Good to know others are tackling this as well.

Wenatchee the Hatchet said...

I had a friend cite Jer 29:11 and said that if it had no material meaning now it's just an empty promise and what good is it. For some reason he thought my linking to a joke over on Mockingbird of Christians being fed to lines with "God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life" suggested I didn't believe in God's promises. I tried explaining that God provides for our needs but he was unconvinced. I ended up feeling I had to make a point that we need food, shelter, clothing, and water but we don't need, for instance to be married or to have X job. God will provide for our needs so that we can see He is faithful but that doesn't mean He will underwrite whatever plans we want Him to underwrite. In some cases the sternest discipline God can give us is giving us exactly what we want (like when Israel asked for a king like all the other kings).

God's promises find their yes in Jesus but it's too tempting for a lot of us to cling to what we think the promises are that God is obliged to fulfill rather than see how they are fulfilled on our behalf by Christ. Just weeks ago I saw some family claiming aggressively that God would heal a relative of cancer who literally died of that cancer the next day. Folks were so busy claiming the so-called promises of physical healing I didn't really get to spend time with my dying relative. So for me Christians imposing their own agenda on God's promises in scripture to magically claim or get what they want has been personally offensive in previously unknown ways for me. I trust that the Lord is faithful but the Lord is faithful in ways that are mysterious and are not subject to manipulation.

Anonymous said...

At a lot of pre-marathon expos, I see a business (or ministry?) called "Team 413". They sell race singlets and t-shirts with Phil 4:13 printed on them.

Somehow the shirt bothered me. I never chatted with them about it, but I guess I assumed it was meant in that rah-rah, "talisman" kind of way--by Jesus' power, I can run a Boston-qualifying time.

But when I (too belatedly!) read Philipians 4, that helped a lot. Because it isn't saying "through Jesus, I can run a three-hour marathon". Instead it's saying something far bigger: When everything goes wrong, when my legs won't work past mile 18 and I stumble and walk and finish in six hours (or don't finish at all, and have to ride back to the finish line in the van)--I can still praise and glorify God, and be content. I can do that--through Christ who strengthens me.

Cassie's Blog said...

Shoutingboy, I am one of those Team 413 shirt wearing running folks. If you have a chance, you should read the founder's story. I can tell you it is not about running a 3 hour marathon. His is a story of overcoming health issues.

His blog is

I wear my shirt because it reminds me of Jesus' strength whether that means running a PR (personal record) or being a DNF (did not finish). Many folks that run by comment on the shirt because it means something to them, too.