Thursday, December 18, 2014

What exactly did you meme by that? Things Jesus didn’t (& wouldn't) say...

I love a good quote. Especially quotes about writing. One of my favorites is from Peter De Vries who said, “I love being a writer. What I can't stand is the paperwork.”

So true.

Another good one comes from Gene Fowler: “Writing is easy; all you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.”

Yes, writing can be sweet torture!

Witty, humorous, and inspirational quotes from well-known or barely-known people can be fun to share and hang on our cubicle walls.

A lot of people like to share favorite scripture passages.

Standing on the paper promises of God

When I was a kid, Promise Boxes were a big deal and the source of good quotes. Just about everyone I knew had at least one in their house.

Basically, a promise box was some sort of attractive container made of wood or plastic that held a few dozen slips of heavy paper about 1 inch by 3 inches. Some boxes were cleverly crafted in the shape of loaves of bread with the mini-cards in the top, offering “daily bread.”

Nicely printed on each mini-card would be a “promise” verse from the Bible. For example, verses such as these:
  • “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” - Romans 8:1, ESV
  • “For we walk by faith, not by sight.” - 2 Corinthians 5:7, ESV
  • “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” - Jeremiah 29:11, ESV
  • “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” - Romans 8:28, ESV
Promise box verses tend always to be positive, upbeat, and generally what would be called faith-affirming.

Don’t harsh my promise box

What you probably won’t find in a promise box are verses like these:
  • “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name's sake.” - Matthew 24:9, ESV
  • “And you will be hated by all for my name's sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” - Mark 13:13, ESV
  • “You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and some of you they will put to death. You will be hated by all for my name's sake.” - Luke 21:16-17, ESV
  • “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” - 2 Timothy 3:2, ESV
Ouch! Sometimes the truth hurts.

It’s this imbalance of scripture presented that cause some to look askance at promise boxes.  “Promise box faith” is not seen as particularly well-rounded or mature.

Depending on a promise box for your scripture in-take is like nibbling on snacks instead of eating full, well-rounded meals.

Promise boxing your way through life is as bad as trying to be healthy while eating only junk food.

In fact, the way some use their promise boxes can be akin to seeking wisdom from daily horoscopes or finding more than entertainment in a fortune cookie. If you’re wondering, these are not good things.

Meme me up, Scotty!

With the advent of social media, something new has come along that fills the same function of promise boxes. Today, we have memes!

Positive and happy sounding memes with backgrounds of kittens, flowers, and sunsets abound on Facebook, Instagram, Imgur, Twitter, and all over the Interwebs espousing meme faith.

The positive, inspirational, and uplifting quotations come from people with very diverse worldviews.

On the surface, they seem harmless. But, for people of faith who pledge allegiance to the inspired Word of God, many are far more troublesome than proof-texted verses from a promise box.

Why? Because many meme quotes, besides not being scripture, aren’t even scripturally defensible. They are empty words that can deceive (Ephesians 5:6).

For example, a popular meme passed around recently bore this quote: “Whatever makes you feel bad, leave it. Whatever makes you smile, keep it.”

Can you imagine Jesus saying something like this? Just look back up a few sentences to those examples of not-so-happy Bible verses. All of them contradict this meme quote.

What makes this even more egregious is the meme with this quote was passed around and applauded by a lot of believers.

Let’s look at a few more meme quotes up against scripture:
  • Meme says: “Go where you are celebrated, not where you are tolerated.”
    Bible says:
    “And he said to them, ‘Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.’” - Mark 16:15, ESV
  • Meme says: “All I want is for my children to be happy.”
    Bible says:
    “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.” - 3 John 1:4, ESV
  • Meme says: “You cannot hang out with negative people and expect to live a positive life.”
    Bible says:
    “The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.” - Matthew 11:19, ESV (Or, how about Jesus “hanging out” on the cross between two criminals and one being influenced positively into heaven described in Luke 23?)
You get the idea.

Eschewing memes for the solid food of truth

Just because something sounds good doesn’t mean it is good, or right. A critical aspect of the mature Christian life is the development of discernment. 

When it comes to memes and inspirational quotes:
  • We need to discern the truth and value of what’s shared with us: Allowing nice-sounding truisms that really aren’t truth to seep into our thinking can quietly undermine our faith like a growing cavity on an unbrushed tooth. In other words, it’s bad leaven. (Matthew 16:12)
  • We need to discern the impact of what we share with others: Sharing truisms that promote philosophies and worldviews counter to scripture calls our own faith into question, creates confusion, and casts doubt on the validity of the Gospel. In other words, we become the bad leaven. (1 Timothy 5:5-7)
Before buying into or sharing a meme quote, here are a couple of simple tests to help clarify its value:
  • Can you imagine Jesus saying it? If you can’t then you probably shouldn’t share it or dwell on it. (John 14:6)
  • Does it jibe with scriptural truth? If not, then sharing it could mean sharing a lie and we’re called to share truth! (Philippians 4:8)
Dr. John White wrote, “For the Christian the essence of honesty lies in not only being faithful to the truth but to the Truth.”

While memes can be fun and provide a quick hit of inspiration, anything that inspires us away from solid truth -- or the Truth (Jesus) -- is dangerous. There’s nothing trivial about flippantly sharing a cute meme that conveys something askew.

Eugene H. Peterson stated, “Good poetry survives not when it is pretty or beautiful or nice but when it is true: accurate and honest.”

The same could be said for good memes. And you can quote me on this.

Do you agree or disagree? What memes have you encountered that seemed a tad off? Is the content of a meme really all that important? Please share your thoughts in the comments!

Just for fun:


  1. This topic would be a good one for an adult Sunday School class.

    It is raining memes.


Like? Dislike? Agree? Disagree? Have something to add? Please share your thoughts on my post below. I want to know what you think. But be civil.