Teen Magazine Christianity

And he said, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.”

Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.

Luke 9:22-24

The invitation of the gospel is to come and die. It is to surrender our way of living so that we can enter into an eternal kind of living. The gospel declares that our sin was damaging enough that Jesus had to go to the cross to redeem what we had destroyed. The punishment that brought us peace was upon Him and by His wounds we were healed. Now, as those who have been made new, we are invited to a cross of our own.

This invitation seems to be missing in most church growth strategies that I read and listen to. There is a lot of advice going around about how to reach out to the next generation. There’s a lot of podcasts, blog posts, and YouTube seminars about how to get people to come to church in our post-Christian culture. The problem is that most of them sound like advice found in a teen magazine to insecure adolescents.

“7 Ways to Make People Like You.” “How to Capture His Attention in 10 Easy Steps.” “Get Popular By Using Social Media.” “How To Act Like A Brand Instead of A Human Being.” “Why You Have To Put Yourself Out There On A Personal Vlog to Make Friends.” “The 5 Best Make-Ups To Get People to Notice You.”

You get the idea. The advice to pastors these days sounds a lot like a teen magazine website’s advice to insecure girls who just want to be popular and liked by the boys. Much of it revolves around the idea that Gen Z lives an entirely online life, viewing themselves more like a brand than a person. Much of the advice is about how to capture their distracted and divided attention and get them to join the church.

What seems to be missing is the gospel. The gospel message is not, “You are the center of the universe. We will go out of our way to try to get you to subscribe to our YouTube channel because we desperately need you to like us.” The gospel message is, “Your life is broken. You broke it. Come and die. Come and give up that life if you really want to find abundant life. Jesus is the center of everything, not you. He is absolutely worth it!

In other words, being invited to be a follower of Jesus is the greatest honor of my life. It is a privilege to be a part of the Body of Christ, not a burden. Jesus is the most captivating person I’ve ever met. His love, kindness, and grace has completely transformed my life. Whatever He asks me to give up are only things that are destructive to me anyway.

The church is full of imperfect, sinful people all trying to follow Jesus together as a community. But we’re not there because people are awesome; we’re there because Jesus is awesome. And along the way we learn to love people even in their imperfections. We stop playing the victim as if we are the only one hurt in this world, and we realize that we’ve been doing the hurting as well. We live by grace, both for ourselves and for others.

I don’t come to church because they have the best marketing. I don’t come because I can be guaranteed that no one will offend or hurt me. I don’t come for their social media platform. I come because of Jesus. I experience His Presence in unique ways in Christian community that don’t happen anywhere else. In Christian community, the parts of me that are not like Jesus get exposed and dealt with so that I might be more like Him and less like my old self. I come to church to die, that I might truly live. That’s the invitation. I come to exalt Jesus, not my brand. He alone is worthy!

What follows is Jesus’s church growth message. We might call it, “The One Step Method of Killing Consumer Christianity.” Notice how Jesus doesn’t sound like an insecure teenager longing to be liked. Notice that He offers people so much more but many just weren’t ready for it:

I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which anyone may eat and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”

Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”

Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you…

Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? 

From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.

John 6:48-53, 61, 66

Instead of trying to make church more palatable to our human self-absorption, we need to invite people to more. The gospel invites us to so much more! There is an abundant life of freedom and power that awaits all who are willing to receive it. But we step into this new life on the other side of taking up our cross and following Jesus. We find full life only when we fully surrender to Jesus.

The church is not an insecure teenage girl desperately wanting to be liked. She is the beloved and cherished Bride of Christ, dressed in robes of righteousness, washed clean by the blood of the Lamb. It is an absolute honor to be counted as a part of her.

Tip of the Shovel

Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Matthew 20:25-28

I have found that in the Kingdom of God being the tip of the spear often means being the tip of the shovel.

In the Kingdom of God, the reward for faithfulness often comes in the form of more responsibility. If you see someone who is incredibly gifted in the Kingdom, it is often the case they they have sacrificed a tremendous amount for the Lord. They have humbled themselves in obedient surrender in ways that would seem like “too much” for us. For them, it simply flowed out of their intimacy with the Lord.

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you… Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.

James 4:7-8, 10

Traps and Questions

Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words. They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. “Teacher,” they said, “we know that you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are. Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not?”

Matthew 22:15-17

People who opposed Jesus intentionally tried to trap Him in His words. This is also a common strategy of the enemy for those who follow Jesus. The first attempt was by people with a combination of a religious spirit (Pharisees) and a political spirit (Herodians). The question was about politics. If Jesus rejected imperial taxes, He would gain favor with the general populace but could be condemned by Rome. If Jesus embraced imperial taxes, He would protect Himself from Roman imprisonment but would lose favor with the people.

Notice that they come with flattery. They are trying to get Jesus to overstep with His words and make an enemy of Rome. But Jesus sees through it all. He tells them to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s. Everyone was amazed by His answer. Not only did He not fall for the trap, but He challenged their own arrogance.

Christian, beware of political questions that are not coming from a place of interest but from a place of trying to trap you in your words and discredit you. In our post-Christian culture, we need to be wise. Jesus warned us saying, “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves“(Matthew 10:16).

Not only did the Pharisees and the Herodians try to trap Jesus with politics, but that same day the Sadducees tried to trap Jesus in His theology.

That same day the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him with a question. “Teacher,” they said, “Moses told us that if a man dies without having children, his brother must marry the widow and raise up offspring for him. Now there were seven brothers among us. The first one married and died, and since he had no children, he left his wife to his brother. The same thing happened to the second and third brother, right on down to the seventh. Finally, the woman died. Now then, at the resurrection, whose wife will she be of the seven, since all of them were married to her?”

Matthew 22:23-28

Notice here that the Sadducees have concocted an elaborate question about the obscure details of the resurrection, something they don’t even believe in. This is a strong indicator that the question is not coming from a place of curiosity but from a place of cynicism.

Imagine you visit an island in the Pacific that has unique volcanic sand that is black. Now imagine a friend, who doesn’t even believe that island exists, asks an elaborate scientific question trying to prove that black sand is a myth. It’s not worth having a long conversation about the scientific reality of black sand. Your friend doesn’t even believe the island is real in the first place. Notice how Jesus answers the Sadducees.

Jesus replied, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God. At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven.

Matthew 22:29-30

Jesus skips over the elaborate details of their question and gets right to the root of the problem. The question itself is in error. They are asking the wrong question because 1) they don’t know the scriptures, and 2) they haven’t experienced the power of God. Their interpretation and understanding of scripture is limited and skewed and their experience of God is lacking. These two things cause a person not just to have the wrong answers but to start with the wrong questions. They are not coming to Jesus teachable and curious. They are skeptical and arrogant and want to get Jesus in a theological bind.

Christian, beware of theological questions that are not coming from a place of learning and curiosity but from a place of trying to trap you theologically. In our post-Christian culture, we need to know the scriptures and the power of God. Experiencing the power of God is just as important as our study of scripture. Leonard Ravenhill once said, “A man with an experience of God is never at the mercy of a man with an argument.

We can argue all day about black sand, but I’ve actually been to the island. I’ve put my toes in the sand in question. I’ve gone swimming in the ocean and breathed in the fresh air of the island. We’re not talking about an idea. We’re talking about something I’ve experienced firsthand.

There’s no going back after we’ve experienced the power of God. I can’t unsee what I’ve seen. And knowing the scriptures helps us put our experiences of God into the larger context of the Kingdom of God and the story of God.

Spend time answering the questions of people who are genuinely curious, genuinely hungry to know God. This is the example that Jesus set. When people were trying to trap Him, He gave short answers and moved on, knowing their hearts were either hard or rocky and not ready for the seed of the word of God (read Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23).

“Can I take something?”

Yet I am always with you;
    you hold me by my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel,
    and afterward you will take me into glory.
Whom have I in heaven but you?
    And earth has nothing I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
    but God is the strength of my heart
    and my portion forever.

Psalm 73:23-26

I walked up to the bus stop, as I do most days, to pick up my two youngest children. I usually wait for five to ten minutes before seeing the elementary school bus pull up and drop off a bunch of kids. My middle son (9) and my daughter (6) got off the bus and ran over to me. I greeted them with a smile and a hug and asked them how their day was.

As they started to tell me all about their day I reminded them, as I usually do, that they can take off their masks. Usually, I ask them right away if I can help carry something in order to lighten their load. But this day I waited until there was an opening in the conversation.

Eventually, I turned to my six-year-old daughter. She had a mask in her left hand, her lunch in her right hand, a fleece on her back and a heavy backpack on her shoulders. I reached my left hand down and said, “Can I take something?”

Then my daughter did something that absolutely rocked my world for the rest of the walk home. She saw me reach my hand down. She put her lunch in her left hand with her mask, reached out with her right hand, and put her hand in mine.

I wasn’t ready for that.

When I reached down and asked if I could take something, I was thinking about her mask, or her lunch box, or her backpack. What I wasn’t ready for was her hand. Essentially, I asked, “Can I take something?” and she answered, without a word, “My hand.”

My little girl would rather walk home with her heavy backpack on her shoulders and her left hand stuffed with a mask and a lunch box if it meant she could hold my hand along the way.

A thousand thoughts ran through my mind. A hundred sermons were instantly written in my head. God spoke. This was a holy moment that had snuck up on me. My eyes started to well up with tears, and I had to fight them back just so she wouldn’t think something was wrong.

So profound.

So often I try to help people by lightening their load. But so often, what they really need is a hand to hold.

So often I ask God to help me by lightening my load. But so often, what He knows I really need is His hand to hold. By holding my hand God tells me, “I know you are strong enough to carry what you are carrying. I just want you to know that I am with you, I love you, and I’ll hold your hand through this.”

When God asks me, “Can I take something?” sometimes He’s asking if He can lighten my load. Sometimes He’s asking if I need to unload a heavy burden off of my back and give it to Him. But other times, He’s simply asking to take my hand. “Can I take something…your hand, perhaps? Your heart?

The Psalmist wrote, “you hold me by my right hand.” I think this is what he meant. God’s hand is what we need more than anything else, more than a lighter load, more than solutions to our problems. He is our portion. He is the strength of our heart forever.

Leadership Anointings

But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it…

So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

Ephesians 4:7, 11-13

As the church shifts into this new post-pandemic culture, I believe we must move from teaching to training. We must shift to become equipping centers. Each believer must be equipped to take the power of the gospel back into their own neighborhoods, workplaces, and spheres of influence.

In the above passage of scripture, Paul describes the leadership anointings that were given to the church in order to accomplish this kind of equipping and training. Each leadership anointing is a gift from Christ to empower the church.

Apostolic: this leadership anointing breaks new ground. It allows a person to push into enemy territory and take new ground for the Kingdom of God. It often leans into miracles, signs and wonders to do so. This anointing often receives God’s blueprints for the way things should be and God’s designs and strategies for moving things forward.

Prophetic: this leadership anointing sees what’s coming and is able to say it. It allows a person to have an intensified ability to hear from the Lord. It often leans into dreams, visions, and impressions from the Lord. This anointing can often expose the plan of the enemy before it happens and call people to repentance.

Evangelistic: this leadership anointing has a heart that burns for those who don’t yet know Christ. It allows a person to know how to articulate the gospel in a way that reaches through to people. It often leans into an emphasis on outreach, hospitality, and connection to the wider world. This anointing often comes with a boldness to proclaim the gospel and a focus on the person who is not yet a part of the church.

Pastoral: this leadership anointing cares for the hurting. It allows a person to sense other people’s wounds and have insight into how to bind up the brokenhearted. It often leans into counseling, listening, and care for the marginalized. This anointing often receives words of knowledge and words of wisdom about what is happening inside a person, their motivations and broken spots.

Teaching: this leadership anointing identifies truth from error. It allows a person to have insight into ideas and concepts and apply those truths to people in a practical way. It often leans into study, instruction, and training. This anointing often comes with the ability to break down difficult concepts into more easily understood truths. It also comes with a keen discernment for what is true and what is not.

I have found, in my own life and in the life of others, that leaders in business and in the church may operate out of one or more of these leadership anointings. I often find that people blend at least two of these together as they lead an organization. What Paul was telling the Ephesians is that the church needs all five leadership anointings in operation in order to fully equip the Body of Christ. A church becomes mature when all five are in full operation and are bringing their leadership anointings to bear in the equipping of the community.

These anointings are gifts from Christ to the church. They are His way of empowering leaders to build up the church so that we all can attain to the whole measure of fullness of Christ.

Do you see one or more of these anointings operating in your own life?

Staying in God’s Love

But you, dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.

Jude 1:20-21

The Bible instructs us to keep ourselves in God’s love. I picture God’s love as a waterfall that continues to be poured out, and our job is to stay under it.

But how do we keep ourselves in God’s love?

I believe there are two parts to remaining in God’s love that are necessary. One without the other won’t work. Like an epoxy glue, both of these parts must mix together to establish an unbreakable bond.

First, we must know God’s love. This is about trusting that God is love. We must believe that God’s love for us is not based on our performance or our worthiness but based on His own character. God loves because He is love. His love for us cannot be ruined by our sinful actions. Our sin is not stronger than His grace.

But I am like an olive tree
    flourishing in the house of God;
I trust in God’s unfailing love
    for ever and ever.

Psalm 52:6

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved…

C0lossians 3:12

Secondly, we must experience God’s love. It is not enough just to know that God loves us. We need to experience that love. Sometimes we can feel God’s love pouring out on us in private moments of prayer or in worship. Sometimes we experience it through His provision or His perfect timing. Other times we experience it through people who love us well. Experiencing God’s love can’t be a one time thing. It has to be a daily lifestyle of experiencing and receiving the love God has for us.

And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

Romans 5:5

If we know the love of God but don’t put ourselves in a place to experience His love, then our belief that we are loved will erode when the storms of life come. And if we only have experiences of the love of God without a foundational knowledge of His love rooted in His nature, then when the experiences stop the doubts will start.

Both knowledge and experience of God’s love are necessary to remain under that waterfall of His love that continually pours out. When we know we are loved by God and we experience His love for us, an unbreakable bond is established that can withstand whatever life throws at us.

Eyes on Jesus

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

Hebrews 12:1-3

There is something about returning our focus on Jesus that shifts our perspective. When we look at the problems we face, they seem to grow bigger. The longer we look at them the more insurmountable they can seem. Then, as our problems and conflicts seem to grow, our tendency to feel sorry for ourselves kicks in. The demonic spirit of self-pity comes to whisper believable lies into our ears.

Maybe you have experienced this downward cycle.

Yet, when we return our gaze to Jesus, everything begins to look different. When we look to Jesus we are reminded of His goodness and compassion. We are reminded of His love and power. We get away from self-pity and self-focus and remember that this life is about Him and not us. We consider Him instead of considering all of the obstacles and problems. We remember all that He endured and we stop feeling like a victim of our circumstances.

When my brother was in the hospital because of the tragic car accident that eventually took his life, I kept hearing the Lord tell me, “Eyes on Jesus, eyes on Jesus!” I imagine this is the same kind of thing a parent would say to their young child who was about to go into surgery. While the little boy would want to look at what the doctors were doing, the parent would be telling their son, “Look at me! Keep your eyes on me!”

When we keep our eyes on Jesus, our problems shrink down, our anxiety dissipates, our fears subside. Jesus is captivating, and even more so the longer we fix our eyes on Him. In Him is so much love and grace and kindness. We suddenly are able to love people and show grace in a way we previously couldn’t.

When we look at people, their imperfections and flaws start to grow big. We get irritated with every little thing they do. We want to address every little flaw and offense. But with our eyes on Jesus, we are able to overlook little flaws and offenses and focus on the issues the matter.

A person’s wisdom yields patience;
    it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense.

Proverbs 19:11

The writer of Hebrews tells us that if we “consider Him” instead of just considering ourselves and our situation then we will actually be able to run our race with perseverance. We’ll be able to “not grow weary and lose heart.” When we keep our motivation and purpose fixed on Jesus, it gives us a kind of enduring strength that won’t quit. Paul said it this way:

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.

Galatians 6:9

We sometimes think we need to focus on the problem to reap a harvest. But the counterintuitive truth of the Kingdom is that focusing our energy and affection on Jesus is what allows us to reap a harvest in due time. This is especially true in the church. Christians often spend a ton of time focusing on the church, sometimes to the point of losing our focus on Jesus.

If our focus is the church, we will find more and more reasons to get frustrated with the church. We will find every little flaw in the people of the church. We will be easily offended and irritated. We’ll discover that we become hyper-critical of the church. This will lead us to either leave the church or go on a performance-driven improvement plan for the church. Our focus is off.

When we keep our eyes on Jesus, we can love the church as the Bride of Christ. Jesus loves the church as a husband loves his bride. All change motivated by Jesus comes from a place of love, not performance-driven frustrations. When we focus on Jesus, we remember that the church is more than an organization or a business. We are a family on mission in the world. We are the hands and feet of Jesus in the world. With eyes on Jesus, we remember that we are an imperfect community that serves at the pleasure of the King.

So, where is your focus? Who or what are you fixing your eyes on?

Consider Him.

One Thing I Do Know

A second time they summoned the man who had been blind. “Give glory to God by telling the truth,” they said. “We know this man is a sinner.”

He replied, “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!”

John 9:24-25

Jesus spit on the ground, made mud, and put in on the blind man’s eyes. Then Jesus told him to go wash in the Pool of Siloam. The man went and washed and came home seeing. People were astonished. The man’s neighbors couldn’t believe it. His own parents couldn’t believe it. But the Pharisees had the hardest time believing it.

The man told the Pharisees his testimony about Jesus but they were sure Jesus was not from God. So they asked the parents to confirm the story. Still in unbelief, they asked the man to explain his healing again.

What I love about the man’s second response is that he confesses his own lack of theological acumen. He is not a scribe. He is not a scholar. He can’t break down Torah law like a professor. All he knows is his testimony. He was blind and now he can see. And this is the heart of every follower of Jesus.

This is also why I love praying for people and leaning into the supernatural gifts of the Spirit. You can find me most Wednesday mornings praying for someone in an extended prayer session of two to three hours. My prayer partner and I do a lot of listening to the Holy Spirit during these prayer sessions. We try to follow His lead. We engage in the gifts of discerning the spirits, healing, prophecy, impartation and the like. We see the power of God move as we pray. It is truly an amazing and humbling experience.

But the best part is yet to come. The best part is the testimony emails that we get a few days later. When the Presence of God comes in power, people are changed. People are set free from demonic oppression. People are healed in their soul. People are healed in their bodies. People reconnect with the love of the Father and are forever changed.

If you want to read some of these awesome testimonies, we’ve collected some of them here. We received a recent testimony from a person we prayed for. They had felt anger and bitterness in their chest for a long time. This person wrote to tell us that on their drive home from work two days after our prayer session they realized that feeling was gone. God had lifted it off their chest and it wasn’t there anymore. Instead, the Lord had filled them with peace. Upon realizing this, the person broke down and wept tears of joy for the first time in their life. They described this experience as “wild.”

This is why we do what we do. This is why gifts of the Spirit are so vital to the Church and shouldn’t be abandoned just because we’ve seen them used poorly in the past. They are tools that were given to the Church to bring life-change.

What people often need is not a theological explanation of Jesus. They need an encounter with Him. They need to feel His Presence and be changed by it. They may walk away not having all their theology worked out, but their testimony will be the same as the blind man who was healed. “Whether Jesus is _________ or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was hurting and broken but now I‘m healed!

In Need

When Jesus had finished saying these things, he left Galilee and went into the region of Judea to the other side of the Jordan. Large crowds followed him, and he healed them there.

Matthew 19:1-2

Everywhere Jesus went He healed. The Gospel writers record this truth in nearly every chapter of their writings. Jesus had large crowds following Him, listening to Him, and wanting to be physically healed. Healing was central to His mission to inaugurate the Kingdom of God on earth. I talk more about this here.

If you haven’t seen The Chosen, you need to. It is a multi-season show about Jesus and the disciples that is done extremely well. (You can watch it for free in the app.) In a recent episode of The Chosen (Episode 3, Season 2), Jesus is depicted as spending all day healing the sick as His disciples take shifts helping Him. Jesus’s mom, Mary, stops by and talks about His birth. She talks about how Jesus was crying and cold.

Jesus needed Mary.

We like to say things like, “God doesn’t need us,” but in the life of Jesus we see multiple occasions where He put Himself in a place of need. His birth was just the first. It is true that Jesus didn’t have to do the incarnation that way. He could have chosen a way that didn’t involve putting Himself in a place of need. But He didn’t. And since Jesus is the image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15), we get a sense that God the Father is okay with putting Himself in a position of dependence on others.

So it may be true that God doesn’t have to need us, but that must be held in tension with the reality that God wants to need us. Love chooses to be vulnerable even when it doesn’t have to be.

At the end of The Chosen episode mentioned earlier, Jesus comes into camp exhausted, sore, and dirty from a long day of healing others. He doesn’t say anything to the disciples except, “Good night.” The disciples had just been bickering and arguing and they are stunned and convicted by what they see in Jesus. Mary goes over to wash Jesus’s feet and help him get cleaned up before going to bed. Jesus gives her a kiss and says to her, “What would I do without you.”

And this is the point. Jesus would be fine without her but He chooses not to be. Jesus could have fed the 5000 by Himself but He turned to His disciples and said, “You give them something to eat” (Matthew 14:16). Jesus could have kept healing the sick and spreading the gospel on His own, but He chose to send out the 12 and give them His authority.

Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.

These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “… As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.”

Matthew 10:1, 5-8

The same is true for us. God doesn’t need us. But God chose to need us. God wants us. He chose to heal the sick, care for the poor, and spread the gospel through us. We are the now the hands and feet of Jesus in the world. It matters if we obey. It matters if we do what He did. It matters if we follow Him.

Where might God be choosing to depend on you?

The Gospel of Triangulation

Then the men stepped forward, seized Jesus and arrested him. With that, one of Jesus’ companions reached for his sword, drew it out and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear.

“Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?”

Matthew 26:50-54

This wasn’t the first time that Peter tried to rescue Jesus from the cross. The first time was with words instead of a sword. Jesus asked the disciples who people said that He was. Then Jesus asked them who they thought He was, and Peter correctly stated, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.” But when Jesus then went on to explain that He must suffer and be killed in Jerusalem, Peter said, “Never Lord…This shall never happen to you!” Famously, Jesus responds to Peter by saying, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns” (Matthew 16:13-23).

We can find ourselves making the same mistake as Peter, especially when we seek to help others. Jesus wasn’t just rejecting the temptation to abandon His mission for the sake of personal comfort. There is a human pattern that Jesus was rejecting. Jesus was refusing to be painted as the victim.

The unhealthy pattern that Jesus rejected (which often emerges in human relational dynamics) is called triangulation. This is where one person or group plays the victim, another person or group plays the bad guy, and the final piece of the triangle is the person or group playing the rescuer. We see this unhealthy pattern everywhere. We see it happen in marriages, in families, in organizations involved in social justice, and in politics.

Here’s how it works. Each player plays their role and uses that role to control one of the other players. The victim acts helpless and manipulates and guilts the rescuer into saving them from the bad guy. So the victim controls the rescuer. Indignant, the rescuer sets about to save the victim by controlling the bad guy. The bad guy, of course, is controlling the victim. You see this pattern all the time in human relationships.

Here’s what’s interesting. Not only is the victim controlling the rescuer, but the victim is also depending on the bad guy for their identity. Likewise, the bad guy is depending on the rescuer for their identity and the rescuer is depending on the victim for their identity. So everyone involved in the triangulation has unhealthy, codependent connections with the other players in this psychological game.

For instance, politicians make their party the victims, the other party the bad guys, and make themselves the rescuers. Social justice warriors make “those people” the bad guys, the group they want to rescue the victims, and themselves the rescuers. In unhealthy marriages, usually a pattern emerges where one person is the bad guy and another person is the perpetual victim. All they need now is a rescuer to sweep in and complete the triangulation. Once we are aware of this toxic pattern, we start to see it everywhere.

But Jesus rejected triangulation even when Peter kept offering it. Peter kept trying to paint Jesus as the victim, the chief priests and elders as the bad guys, and himself as the rescuer. It’s funny now to think of Peter trying to frame himself as Jesus’s rescuer. But this was part of satan’s temptation, both of Peter and of Jesus. This is partly why Jesus said to Peter, “Get behind me Satan!” Jesus could hear in Peter’s words the enemy’s offer of triangulation.

Jesus was not the victim. He could have called on His Father to send twelve legions of angels. Jesus, speaking about His own life, said, “No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord“(John 10:18). Jesus was not a victim.

Likewise, Peter was definitely not Jesus’s rescuer. And hanging from the cross, Jesus would say of the bad guys, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). Jesus rejected triangulation all the way around.

This may be hard for some to believe, but Jesus also did not intend to recreate a new triangulation where He is the rescuer, we are the victims, and sin or satan is the bad guy. This unhealthy pattern requires that everyone stay in their role and no one gets healthy. If Jesus came simply to be our rescuer, we would have to remain the victims or the bad guys. Some churches preach a gospel that sounds very similar to this. But Jesus came to do so much more than that!

A real hero is not someone who rescues but someone who empowers!

Jesus didn’t just want to rescue us from sin and death (which He did), He also rose from the grave to give us new life. He empowered us to have victory over sin and death in our new life with Him. This is why we were given the Holy Spirit to dwell within us. We were empowered to live victorious rather than as perpetual victims or perpetual bad guys.

This means we must take responsibility for our life, our decisions, and the consequences of our decisions. We must take responsibility for our sin, the boundaries that we set, and the health of our relationships. Before we make someone else a bad guy, we must forgive them, just as we have been forgiven, and release grace to them. Forgiveness keeps us from falling into the trap of triangulation.

When we seek to help people, we need to be mindful not to view ourselves as the rescuer. When we slip into the rescuer role, we inevitably force someone else to be either the bad guy or the victim. While our intensions are good, we are unwittingly perpetuating a toxic pattern.

Instead, imitating Jesus, we need to help people by empowering them, not rescuing them. Rescuing people communicates that they are incapable of being anything other than a victim of their own life. Instead, empowering people tells them that they are fully capable of solving their own problems and being responsible for their own life.

Have you fallen into the trap of triangulation? Jesus rejected this toxic pattern and it’s time we do the same.