An unseen microscopic viral enemy is bringing the world economy to its knees and taking lives. Whether you believe the worldwide response has been warranted or irresponsible the impact of COVID-19 is tangible and far reaching. Secular and religious organizations alike have been forced to make difficult choices in these uncertain times. Churches are closing their doors to corporate worship and frantically ramping up live stream capabilities. Even now, we just aren’t sure how long this threat will last.
Because this is all so unprecedented and strange (for modern times) there’s not many resources teaching us how to think or react to the events unfolding around us. Godly saints are especially vulnerable during this time of disconnection between one another and pastoral leadership. Opinions abound, but wisdom and common sense are precious, hard to find commodities. Consider this a starter manual for spiritually navigating these uncertain times. This beginner manual will certainly need to be updated and revised over time, and applied to new and changing situations. However, it’s at least a start as we all prayerfully wait on the Lord.
Gathering Still Matters!
While nobly attempting to remain boldly optimistic, many leaders and saints have overblown the impact of having virtual church. This sends mixed messages to people about the continued need for the Church to gather together for corporate worship on a regular basis. Just because we temporarily can’t have church, doesn’t mean we aren’t desperately in need of having church.
To clarify, I’m all for live streaming and getting the Gospel out with every high-tech or low-tech tool available. However, nothing can, should, or will replace the necessity of the assembling of the Church. Beyond that, live streaming isn’t some sparkling new thing that just materialized because of the Corona pandemic. It’s been around for a long time and it can be a great blessing in certain situations. But, it simply cannot compare to what happens when God’s people get together and unify in faith, fellowship, worship, praise, prayer, preaching, and power.
Yes. The Church is not a building. Yes. The Church should be the Church outside of the building. But everyone stuck at home, watching live streaming in their pajamas while eating Lucky Charms, isn’t exactly an epic unleashing of the Church. It’s great to be positive, but let’s not be silly and trivial about the importance of corporate worship.
Trust Your Pastor In Times of Crisis
I’ll echo what many wise folks have already voiced: Your pastor has never pastored in a pandemic before, and he wants what’s best for the church more than anyone else. Pastors are doing their absolute level best to love, protect, and care for their flocks during this crazy and confusing time. They have to answer to God for the decisions they make during this season. They don’t need Monday morning quarter backs criticizing their every decision.
It’s important to note that God may direct one pastor differently than another pastor. Every church has a different dynamic. If you’ve ever trusted your pastor, trust him during this time. If you’ve ever supported your pastor, support him during this time. Your support means more to him than you can imagine. Either you believe your pastor is a God-called under-shepherd over your life or you don’t. Times of crisis reveal the heart; take inventory of your heart in times of crisis.
Speaking of the Heart
If mass social distancing and quarantines have taught me anything, it’s that we have taken too many luxuries for granted. Other nations struggle with hunger, but we feel majorly distressed if we can’t find our favorite brand of coffee creamer. We are, without a doubt, a spoiled people. We are totally unfamiliar with genuine sacrifice or deprivation.
We take our freedoms for granted, including our religious liberties, because we have been too busy and distracted with luxuries. As a nation, we have trended towards less and less church gatherings, and many Christians casually skip church for silly non-essential reasons.
We Americans have made plenty of time for the internet, social media, Netflix, and sports; yet we struggle to find time for prayer and spiritual gatherings. This reveals an American heart problem. We are busy doing everything, except for the things that matter the most. Suddenly, when church buildings are temporarily closed our deep need for spiritual connectedness becomes crystal clear.
Many Christians are learning for the first time that sports are little more than a frivolous distraction from reality. We can and should spend more time with our families. Careers aren’t everything and economies and markets are fickle friends that will betray us without warning. Governments can’t save us or even really protect us from every threat. In other words, uncertain times clarify the things that truly matter in our lives. It gives us perspective. And, hopefully a fresh wellspring of gratitude for God and family is bursting into our national consciousness.
The things we care about most are far more fragile than we realize when the busyness of life jerks us from activity to activity. Maybe, just maybe, God is trying to slow us down long enough to remember to keep the main things the main thing. No. I don’t mean that God has sent a COVID-19 plague upon the world. However, I do believe God would have us learn lessons in our crisis moments.
Speaking of Crisis Moments
Many people’s finances are being adversely impacted by the quarantines. Jobs are disappearing at staggering rates. Others are enduring layoffs and having their hours slashed. Businesses and small business owners are going under while others are hanging by a thread. If you aren’t being financially effected, you probably know many people who are being effected right now.
With that said, churches still need supported so they can survive this crisis too. If you still have income (be grateful) and be sure to get your tithes to the storehouse of God. Don’t take a vacation from giving God what is already His. That’s a sure way to lose His blessings over your life.
I’ve heard many reports of churches that are unable to pay their regular bills. Newer churches, and smaller to midsize churches in large numbers are facing financial collapse if things don’t change soon. There’s no government bailout for churches. And the church shouldn’t need a government bailout anyway. Let’s just keep being the Church like they were in the book of Acts. If the Early Church could find a way to faithfully give (without the internet) in the middle of literal physical persecution, we can too.
We Always Do Better Under Pressure
God’s true Church has always thrived under pressure. In fact, we seem to spiritually flourish in tough times and become spiritually anemic in times of ease. This is certainly true of the original book of Acts Church, and we see that same phenomenon in the great revivals and spiritual awakenings throughout history. Tremendous apostolic outpourings of the Holy Ghost were poured out during the Great Depression. Those revivals continued to spread even during the first and second World Wars. History is replete with examples of powerful revivals in crisis seasons and spiritual decline in seasons of prosperity. Just look at the reports from economically depressed, and physically oppressed countries outside of the United States. They have constant miracles, church growth, signs, wonders, and spiritual hunger in those regions. Why? Because the Church thrives under pressure and persecution.
But why does the Church thrive under pressure? And, why does the Church seem to struggle with prosperity? I could get very preachy and talk about how the love of money is the root of all evil (1 Timothy 6:10), but it’s deeper than just loving money and stuff too much. That’s just part of the overall problem. I think (and I’m preaching too myself), in times of ease we lean to our own understanding (Proverbs 3:5-6) rather than leaning on the Lord. We rely on ourselves more and rely on God less. Essentially, we take God for granted without even meaning to do so. But times of crisis push us back into the arms of Christ. Pressure keeps us razor sharp, focused, and focused on God. We run out of options and resources and we come sheepishly back to our Creator for rescue. And, He rescues us because He loves us with a deep love.
This Will Pass
We’ll move from this valley to a mountaintop, and dip back into another valley. There’s a time and a season for everything under the sun (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8). Perhaps God will teach some of us how to cry out to Him in our distress and face our fears and faithlessness (Mark 4:37-41). Maybe God will show some of us that we can walk on water and overcome the impossible if we keep our eyes fixed on Him (Matthew 14:22-33). How wonderful would it be if the Church rediscovered the power and importance of prayer meetings like the book of Acts Church (Acts 2:1-2, Acts 4:23-24, Acts 12:5-12, Acts 16:25)? The Church can and will continue to turn the world upside down (Acts 17:6) in the midst of pressure. However, when the pressure passes, let’s keep the lessons and priorities we have learned close to heart.
I was honored to write the forward for the book Let’s Be Honest by my friend Jeremy Gove. Rest assured, this is not a trivial subject. In fact, honesty is likely one of the most overlooked and underemphasized aspects of holiness. Jeremy has done a masterful job of weaving the concepts of honesty, truth, righteousness, and holiness into a single tapestry that is comprehensible in a tangible way.
This book isn’t heavy-handed or condescending, but it is firm and gently convicting. The beginning of each chapter will capture your attention and keep you engaged. Jeremy has a unique capacity to render complicated subjects down into easily understood nuggets of knowledge. Making this book helpful and engrossing for practically every age group. Elders and youth alike will be edified by this work.
Jeremy is a talented and thoughtful writer. And, I consider him a spiritual thought leader. He works and ministers with excellence and pays close attention to detail. However, what makes him eminently qualified to produce a book on the topic of honesty is his own intrepid integrity. His own noble character gives him the credibility to create this needed resource.
So, read this with your family. Give it to your friends. Give copies to your leadership team. Utilize it in your small group. Walkthrough it in your student gatherings. And, don’t forget to let it speak to your heart too!
I realize many people have never even paused to consider the possibility that God might care about any aspect of our outward appearance. Others, understand that God does mandate a certain criteria of outward holiness disciplines. Most sincere Christians have some level of awareness that God requires us to be modest, maintain gender distinctions, and avoid vanity in our attire. Among apostolics, there are certainly some disagreements regarding how those standards should be applied orthopraxically, but they are generally acknowledged as orthodoxically sound beliefs.
Many generations ago, hair dying was frowned upon and often outright forbidden across denominational lines. There was an almost ecumenical Christian stance against the practice of changing hair color. As with many other standards, over time most denominations and religious affiliations softened or outright reversed their stance on the issue of hair dye.
I grew up in a holiness setting that strictly opposed the use of hair dye. I never had the slightest interest in dying my hair, and really didn’t think much about the issue at all (even though I grew up in the 90’s when guys were obsessed with bleaching their hair). I vaguely remember being mildly surprised as a teenager when I realized there’s no Bible verse that says, “Thou shalt not dye thy hair”. But even with my limited teenage intellect, I knew I didn’t need a “Thou-shalt-not” verse for everything. More often than not, Scripture gives us a principle or a fundamental truth that should be practically applied to every area of our lives. Biblical principles should shape a Christian’s worldview and lifestyle.
Historically, apostolics have contended that our doctrine (orthodoxy) comes before and informs our behavior (orthopraxy). There’s an old saying, “You get what you preach”. Oddly, for many years my denomination has stood against hair dye, yet I can’t remember ever hearing a single sermon about it. I can’t even remember a passing reference to it in a sermon. So, it’s no wonder that hair dying is becoming more and more common, and more and more controversial in holiness circles. In fact, this subject has become one of the most common questions I receive as a pastor and a blogger.
Regardless of your spiritual background or current view, please read with a prayerful and open mind to the Scriptures and principles presented below.
Scriptures Favorable View of Age and Gray Hair
“Thou shalt rise up before the hoary (gray) head, and honor the face of the old man, and fear thy God: I am the LORD (Leviticus 19:32).”
The entire book of Leviticus is a call for God’s people to be a holy (separated) people, because we serve a holy God (Leviticus 19:2). The word “holy” is used 152 times in Leviticus. And, while some of Leviticus is strictly ceremonial much of it is just as relevant to daily Christian life as the Ten Commandments. In fact, many of the instructions found in Leviticus give practical guidance for properly obeying the Ten Commandments. For example, Leviticus 19:32 incapsulates a pragmatic way to obey commands number five and ten; “Honor thy father and thy mother… that thy days may be prolonged… (Deuteronomy 5:16)” and “Thou shalt not covet… (Exodus 20:17)”. By respecting elders we automatically honor our aged parents. Interestingly, the fifth commandment is the only commandment with a blessing immediately attached. By respecting our parents (and elders) we access the blessing of prolonged life. If we honor age we will not be tempted to covet our neighbors youthfulness.
Leviticus 19:32 connects the fear (reverence) of the Lord with respect for elders. To despise eldership is to disrespect the “Ancient of Days (Daniel 7:9)”. The mandate to stand when an elder approaches as a gesture of respect is still acknowledged in some modern cultures. Tragically, we largely see this level of intentional outward respect being abandoned in American culture. Why? Because, like the ancient Greeks, American culture practically worships youth and beauty. Remember, it was the ancient Greeks who popularized the mythical “Fountain of Youth”. Alexander the Great searched in vain for that mysterious wellspring of eternal youthfulness. Most people spend an astronomical amount of time and money trying to conceal any outward indications of aging. Hair dye, make-up, Botox, liposuction, topical serums, and on and on… all promise to conceal a persons physical “flaws” and convolute their age. The billions of dollars happily paid for those products testify to the extreme vanity of our society.
When a person intentionally conceals their age they practice deception, reveal inward vanity, disrespect elders, and deprive younger generations of the ability to give that person the honor they deserve.
In one of Aesop’s fables, a man with black hair mixed with gray had two lovers, one old and one young. The old one wanted him to look old as well so she pulled out his black hair, while the young one wanted him to look youthful and pulled out his gray hair. As a result, he was left completely bald. Many humorous observations and morals have been attributed to this fable, but it certainly illustrates the societal pressure to resist aging. But age is relentless and it just can’t be denied in the end.
Biblically speaking, gray hair is an honored outward symbol of wisdom and maturity. Certain realms of wisdom can only be acquired by experience, and by enduring trials that strip away the immaturity and naivety of youth. Artificially changing that gray hair (the sign of old age and experience) is a denial of the primary process by which wisdom is obtained.
Furthermore, masking God-given gray hair includes a rejection of the responsibility that is required by age and wisdom. In other words, some people never grew in wisdom, therefore they want their appearance to match the level of their maturity. Since they refuse to stop acting young, they want their appearance to match how they behave. This is dishonesty to self. When they look in the mirror at their dyed hair, it makes them feel better. Why? Because they hide the truth from themselves. However, it actually has the reverse effect. Dyed hair typically makes its wearer look synthetic and even older than the age they are trying to deny.
“The hoary head is a crown of glory, if it be found in the way of righteousness (Proverbs 16:31).”
Gray hair, in the eyes of God, is a crown of glory. To be righteous and silver haired is a God given privilege. Just living long enough to acquire a single strand of gray hair is a blessing that should never be taken for granted.
The person who dyes their hair has chosen to please the eyes of men rather than the eyes of God. They disrespected their own dignity and tossed aside God’s blessing. Again, this reveals a heart of vanity and pride that has spurned honor and humility.
Why are these scriptures even in the Bible? If nothing else, it teaches us that God likes righteous people with gray hair. Of course, it means more than just that, however, even if that was all it revealed that should be enough to give us pause before changing our natural hair color. Even more simplistically, changing hair color is like telling God he didn’t do a good job.
What else is a crown of glory in scripture?
That’s an important question considering we know that gray hair is a crown of glory. Jesus Christ himself is a crown of glory for His people (Isaiah 28:5). Jesus Christ is a crown of glory to God (Isaiah 62:3). Remember, there was nothing about Jesus that was beautiful in the eyes of men (Isaiah 53:2). Yet, what was ugly in the eyes of men was beautiful to God.
It’s critically important to remember that God’s definition and standard of beauty is often counterintuitive to us because we live in a corrupted carnal world. God fearing people must always be wary of allowing the culture to dictate and define beauty for them. Here’s another verse that gives us insight into what God considers beautiful:
“The glory of young men is their strength: and the beauty of old men is the grey head (Proverbs 20:29).”
Once again, Scripture emphasizes God’s standard of beauty: Age and wisdom are desirable things that should clothe us with dignity. To reject that symbol is to reject God’s design for our lives.
“And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away (1 Peter 5:4).”
We receive a natural crown of glory (gray hair) through the process of old age and righteousness (Proverbs 16:31). We will receive a spiritual crown of glory when Jesus comes for His people. Righteous people with gray hair are a prophetic symbol of righteous people with their eternal crown. People who dye their hair break this symbolism in their attempt to deny reality.
Modern Promotion of Hair Dye
The New Yorker has a fascinating article by Malcolm Gladwell entitled, True Colors: Hair Dye and the Hidden History of Postwar America. It’s a lengthy read, but worth your time, if you care to understand the original psychological mindset behind hair dye. It’s no secret that the now, multi-billion-dollar hair dye industry, first blossomed by promoting the reimagining (or reinventing) of self. The psychology of hair dye for women emerged like a rebellious monster from postwar feminism. Hair dye has become synonymous with vanity, sinful lifestyle changes, sensuality, sexuality, and dissatisfaction with God’s original artistry.
Statistics indicate that a whopping 75% of American women dye their hair, while only about 11% of American men use hair dye. Those remarkable statistics give deep insights into the hyper sexualized and fantasy induced psyche of the average American woman. On average, women feel deeply dissatisfied with their natural appearance. That’s a genuine tragedy with dangerous implications. The unstoppable rise of social media has only added to this ongoing problem. It would be extremely difficult to deny that the drastic rise of female depression and suicide is directly linked to the unrealistic expectations of so-called beauty our culture places on women (and young girls too).
Hair dye is just one aspect of the overall pressure that women feel to cover their “flaws” or “enhance” their beauty. Of course, this is largely because men and the media have objectified women ad nauseam. Also, many women place these unreal expectations on other women as well. Society places overwhelming pressure on women to synthesize their appearance in the name of fashion and beauty. These standards of beauty are incompatible with God’s standards of holiness.
“O worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness… (Psalm 96:9)”.
Holiness is beautiful! God created every individual with unique beauty. To reject holiness and God’s artistry is an insult to God. Furthermore, men who do not view godly women as beautiful are carnal and corrupted by the cheap enticements of the world. Women who despise holiness are held captive by crushing societal peer pressure and/or their own inward vanity. It’s important to understand the duality of motives for synthesizing appearance; some women synthesize to fit in (peer pressure), while some synthesize to stand out (vanity). Both motives are highly problematic for differing reasons.
To be sure, men struggle in these areas as well. However, in the context of hair dye (and other body modifications) men feel less pressure and don’t battle these temptations nearly as often as women do. For men and women, God desires us to be free from the shackles of envy, pride, vanity, objectification, insecurity, shame, and worldly expectations.
“I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made… (Psalm 139:14)”.
“As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’ (1 Peter 1:14-16, ESV)”.
Practical Objections to Hair Dye
Hair dying is a chemical process. Almost all hair dye requires bleaching before color is added. Typically, ammonia is used which causes terrible (sometimes irreparable) damage to hair follicles. Ironically, many people who avoid chemicals in every other area of life, infuse their hair with harsh chemicals on a regular basis.
Now, because of vanity and/or peer pressure, many people have violated another area of holiness, the significance of hair as a spiritual covering (1 Corinthians 11:3-16). Damaging the hair, which is tremendously spiritually important to God, demonstrates a callousness towards God’s natural order. We would never risk damaging something so spiritually precious unless: One, we don’t have a true revelation of the spiritual significance of hair. Two, we are blinded by vanity (or worldly pressure) and don’t care about things that matter to God.
Furthermore, studies are indicating more and more frequently that hair dye is directly linked to cancer. Especially among women, which makes sense because women use hair dye far more exclusively than men. Most effective hair dyes contain carcinogens, which are known to be cancer causing. Increasingly, health experts are trying to steer women clear of hair dye. Notably, many doctors encourage pregnant women to discontinue the use of hair dye during pregnancy. The dangers of long term hair dye use are known, but mostly ignored by a culture obsessed with outward vanity.
The Biblical View of Vanity
The word vanity pops up a lot when talking about any form of outward holiness. Vanity is one of those catch all words that people throw around without fully understanding what it means. Biblically, it has a spectrum of meanings that can be used differently in a variety of situations. In essence, the Bible gives lots of instructions on how to think about ourselves inwardly, and that inward transformation will always be outwardly visible (clothing, body language, conversation, actions, ethics, morals, integrity, social interaction).
“Favor [is] deceitful, and beauty [is] vain: [but] a woman [that] feareth the LORD, she shall be praised (Proverbs 31:30)”.
Proverbs 31 gives the biblical template of a godly virtuous woman. In this God ordained description of ideal femininity the focus is not on outward vanities. Instead, the emphasis is placed on the condition of her heart and her relationship with God.
Here vanity means, empty pleasure; vain pursuit; idle show; unsubstantial activity. Vanity is ostentatious, arrogance, and outward showiness. Vanity is the inflation of the mind; empty pride, inspired by conceit and manifested by the flaunting of personal decorations. Vanity is haughty, gaudy, and relishes in drawing attention to self.
“For when they speak great swelling words of vanity, they allure through the lusts of the flesh, through much wantonness, those that were clean escaped from them who live in error (2 Peter 2:18).”
In the middle of Peter’s long rebuke and description of false prophets he mentions their “great swelling words of vanity”. False prophets use vain words to appeal to people’s baser instincts of carnal vanity. Vain words appeal to our lustful and vain sinful nature. This kind of preaching and thinking leads people back into the captivity of sin.
“And they rejected his statutes, and his covenant that he made with their fathers, and his testimonies which he testified against them; and they followed vanity, and became vain, and went after the heathen that were round about them, concerning whom the Lord had charged them, that they should not do like them (2 Kings 17:15).”
The Bible chronicles the frequent backsliding and restoration of the Israelites. The Israelites followed empty vain things and they became empty and vain. Empty vanity lays the groundwork for deeper and deeper sins. As they imitated the heathens around them they became more and more debauched in their thinking and actions. All of this started because they ignored the warnings of their elders and ancestors. Vain thinking always leads to sin and sorrow.
“Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory… (Philippians 2:3)”.
That word “vainglory” would probably be best translated in a modern context as “empty (or vain) conceit”. Hair dye falls into the category of empty conceit.
“And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Let us not be desirous of vain glory, provoking one another, envying one another (Galatians 5:24-26).”
Galatians chapter five lists the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23), which includes meekness, another word that is important for inward and outward holiness. Spirit filled believers are mandated to crucify the affections and lusts of the flesh. We are to walk in the Spirit rather than the desires of the flesh. Spirit led Christians do not desire “vain glory”. Meaning, they aren’t conceited, and because they aren’t conceited they aren’t envious of one another. By avoiding vanity Christians keep themselves from envy, and they don’t provoke others to envy them either.
Biblical Instruction Concerning Outward Adornment
“Likewise, I want women to adorn themselves modestly and appropriately and discreetly in proper clothing, not with [elaborately] braided hair and gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but instead adorned by good deeds [helping others], as is proper for women who profess to worship God (1 Timothy 2:9-10, Amplified),”
Here, in Paul’s first letter to Timothy he gives instructions for a godly woman’s outward appearance. There’s a lot to unpack in just those two verses, but for this study there are two relevant focuses: Discreet adornment and the forbidding of hair decorations (a woman’s glory). These principles should be taken into consideration when considering whether hair dye is an appropriate option in God’s eyes.
“Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious (1 Peter 3:3-4, ESV).”
Peter’s first epistle echoes Paul’s apostolic commands regarding a godly woman’s adorning. If nothing else, these passages remind us that apostolic women of faith should allow their beauty to radiate from within. Synthetic, vain, ostentatious outward attempts to change God-given beauty originates from a godless dissatisfaction with the original Creator’s design. True beauty comes from a godly spirit. Every attempt to cover the master strokes of our great Creator result in a shallowness that ultimately creates an inward emptiness.
In a nutshell, Christians should refrain from dying their hair because it violates several Scriptural principles. Hair dye is a rejection of God’s chosen symbol of righteousness, wisdom, dignity, and honor. Hair dye is an affront to God’s artistry and a rejection of His design. Hair dye endangers the health of a woman’s spiritual covering. Hair dye may very well endanger an individuals physical health. Hair dye is rooted in a history of rebellion and carnality. Hair dye is intrinsically vain. And, hair dye is not consistent with the godly outward adornment mandated in 1 Timothy 2:9-10 and 1 Peter 3:3-4
“Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black (Matthew 5:36)”
Obviously this verse is not dealing with the issue of dyeing the hair. However, it is a startling revelation of the absence of hair dye in Jewish culture. I find it unlikely that Jesus would ever have said this if it was common practice to dye the hair black. It seems consistent with Scripture that the apostles and prophets of old would firmly oppose the ostentatious use of hair dye. As modern apostolics, I believe we should lovingly oppose it as well.
Huge thanks to my dear friend, Pastor Joe Campetella, for contributing to this article. His research and spiritual insight was crucial to me during the process of writing and reflection.
I don’t like adversity! I like things to go as planned. I like all the ducks to be in nice neat little orderly rows. My heart sinks when adversity comes because my gut reaction is to assume that adversity is always a gigantic disadvantage. We don’t want to be the underdog or feel like we picked the short straw in life.
Sadly, by viewing adversity as a tremendous negative we often create self-fulfilling prophecies. We lose because we think we’re going to lose. We fail because we think adversaries have the advantage. In reality, the reverse is true. Adversity can be a tremendous advantage in life. I know it sounds crazy, but adversity can actually be the catalyst for your greatest achievements. Lots of anxiety can be avoided by simply recalibrating the way we think about, and react to, adversity.
Adversity serves to sharpen and reveal what was already inside of you in the first place. If you are faithless, adversity pushes that to the surface. If you are fearful, adversity pushes that to the surface. If you lack integrity, adversity reveals it.
If you are strong, adversity reveals strengths you didn’t even know you had. If you are anointed, adversity forces you to dig deep into wells you didn’t know existed. If you are prayerful, adversity takes you to places in prayer you did not know were possible. For example, Gideon didn’t know he was a mighty man of valor until adversity combined with the voice of God revealed what was already inside of him (Judges 6:12).
People don’t backslide because of adversity. They backslide because adversity revealed their heart. People aren’t anointed because of adversity. Adversity just reveals what was already on them.
In Malcolm Gladwell’s book David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants, Gladwell makes several observations about the biblical account of David’s victory over Goliath. He points out that most readers have understandably incorrect misconceptions about David’s underdog status in that conflict. Yes. Goliath was bigger, and stronger, and heavily armed with powerful conventional weapons. Certainly, Goliath was intimidating and imposing; he had the appearance of advantage. However, any modern battle strategist would tell you that being light, fast, mobile, and having a long-range weapon constitutes a distinct advantage over a big, slow, cumbersome opponent carrying a close range weapon. David was viewed as the underdog, but in a modern context he would likely be considered the favorite in that fight.
Gladwell misses a crucial point in his book, a point that makes all the difference. While it’s true that David might not have been quite the underdog most people considered him to be, he was only equipped for that victory because of the adversity God had allowed in his life while tending his father’s sheep. In other words, God was preparing him for victory with every season of difficulty he endured. Every adversity God allows you to endure prepares you for a greater victory in the future.
It’s hard in the difficult moments to see Goliath as anything but terrible adversity. But, adversity (Goliath) is really a God given opportunity. David only escaped the obscurity of tending sheep by successfully facing off against adversity. He was equipped for Goliath because of precious adversities (killing the lion and the bear). His life was forever changed for the good because of adversity. That trial wasn’t his last trial, but it was the trial that opened the door for continued opportunity and growth as a leader and a man of God.
If you’re facing giants, be encouraged, good things ultimately come from adversity if you depend on the Lord to give you victory.
Full disclosure, I’m not a Popeyes hater. And, at the risk of being burned as a heretic, I don’t think Chik-fil-a has the worlds best tasting chicken sandwich. I did the Popeyes verses Chik-fil-a sandwich challenge, and Popeyes tasted better by a wide margin. I’m probably risking my life making this admission because I pastor in the treasured heartland of Chic-fil-a headquarters. I live a stones throw away from the first CFA; right in the epicenter of the eat-more-chiken world headquarters. CFA is revered around here to say the least.
That said, I still choose to eat at CFA nine times out of ten. So, even though I typically prefer the food at Popeyes, I almost always go to CFA instead. I think the reason for that oddity contains a lesson that every church should notice. Don’t worry, I’m not going to give a cheesy lesson about God’s chicken or something like that. The reason I go to CFA over and over again is simple; the service and the experience.
Recently, I enjoyed a delicious meal at Popeyes. I mean, the food was really really good. But, I stood in line for twenty minutes to order. A very unpleasant cashier took my order without uttering one friendly word. After ordering, I waited another twenty minutes for the food. In the meantime, the restroom was so disgusting it made my eyes water. I had to clean my own table before eating. And, the greatest tragedy of all; the soda machine wasn’t working. A little detail I discovered after paying for a large beverage. My food was still delicious, but the service and the experience was terrible.
I wish that was an anomaly at Popeyes, but it’s not. While that was more extreme than usual, there’s almost always some variation of that scenario when I “attend” a Popeyes. Otherwise, I’d probably “attend” Popeyes over CFA nine times out of ten. In contrast, I can’t remember ever waiting for more than a few minutes for my food at CFA (even when the line was wrapped around the building). My family and I are always greeted with a smile and genuine friendliness. If they make a mistake (which is very rare), they go overboard to correct it. The dining areas and restrooms are always neat and clean. Without fail, a nice CFA person will stroll by and offer to get refills or extra condiments for the table. I’ve been to high-end fine dining establishments where their service didn’t rise to CFA’s level of customer kindness and consideration.
The lesson every church can learn from CFA is so simplistic it almost escapes us. The human experience is more important than flavor. Let me put it this way, fancy buildings and programs are great, but not if we forget how to treat people with common kindness and courtesy. It’s not enough for churches to offer lots of options and bold flavors if they can’t connect with people on the most basic human levels.
Your church doesn’t have to be the best at everything to make people want to come back over and over again. In fact, some churches get so caught up trying to be awesome at everything they wind up doing everything pretty poorly. At the heart of CFA’s success is their simplicity. They do four things really really well. One, they serve a small menu but it’s always fresh, consistent in quality, and in stock. Two, they are extremely friendly and welcoming in a sincere and honest way. Three, if they make a mistake they own it and fix it. Four, they are fast and organized so they can take care of you in a timely manner.
If every church borrowed this model they would see immediate growth results and visitor retention rates. Your church doesn’t have to offer a giant “menu” of programs. Find a streamlined “menu” that fits the needs of your community. Make sure your church menu is sustainable and always fresh and good quality. I didn’t say it had to be the best in the world, but it does need to be consistent and fresh (in the sense that it maintains enthusiasm, and doesn’t become stale, boring, or mediocre). It’s better for a church to do fewer things really well than to do tons of things poorly.
I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to simply smile and speak to people when they walk in the doors of your church. It’s not enough for the pastor alone to be friendly. The entire culture of the church must be intentionally and genuinely friendly. Many churches think they’re friendly when in reality they are mildly nice at best. Every single church could learn a lesson from the culture of kindness that CFA carefully cultivated and maintains. Many churches pray for revival, but kill every chance for growth with their inward cliquish behavior.
Every church makes mistakes, drops the ball, misses the mark, and gets the “order” wrong in some way or another. Churches are full of humans and humans make mistakes. When that happens (and it will), accept it and go the extra mile to make it right. Most people will forgive mistakes if they are acknowledged and corrected.
In a church setting we aren’t taking orders and trying to get people in and out in twenty minutes or less. However, we will repel visitors if we are disorganized and disrespectful of their time. When services start late or run over for no good reason we reek of disorganization. When people don’t know where to go or what to do next we make visitors incredibly uncomfortable. Of course, we never want to hinder the Spirit or prioritize organization over the flow of the Spirit. However, I believe that when churches are properly organized it creates an environment where the Spirit is not quenched by incompetence.
Over the years I’ve helped many churches that stood for truth and fervently preached sound doctrine, yet they could not keep guests coming back. It wasn’t because their doctrine was heretical, or their location, or an insufficient building. Rather, they struggled with some combination of all the areas mentioned above. As they addressed these issues intentionally they began to grow organically.
Nutshell: Streamline (do less things with excellence rather than many things with mediocrity), smile (be genuinely welcoming), admit mistakes (go overboard to make them right), and organize.
The apostolic Gospel works, but sometimes our Popeyes mentality sends people across town to a different location. I think we owe it to a lost world to run our churches with even more excellence than a fast food chain.
“Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might (Ecclesiastes 9:10)…”
If you’re looking at the recent past feeling like a loser because you just barely survived, take a moment to remember that there’s no such thing as revival without survival. In the end, suffering through seasons of survival are the greatest victories you will ever achieve. I know survival doesn’t feel glamorous. In fact, sometimes seasons of survival feel more like you’re sitting on death row waiting for your last meal. If you’re anything like me, seasons of survival force you to swallow that nasty pride and accept that others will criticize your inability to thrive. And to make it worse, social media often causes survivors to feel like the last people on earth who aren’t proudly standing on top of the world.
Asaph lamented that his feet almost slipped when he saw the the prosperity of the wicked (Psalm 73:2-3). He almost gave up, he almost fell backwards, he almost quit, but he went into the house of the Lord and remembered that temporary prosperity is a poor substitute for simply staying near God (Psalm 73:17-28). Staying near God is the key to survival in the worst of times. When you’re gut punched, and your whole world feels shaken, stay close to God. Stay in prayer. Stay in church. Stay submitted. Stay in the Word. Stay faithful.
Regardless of what life coaches, self-help gurus, and prosperity prophets teach; it’s ok to be in survival mode. The Bible is full of ordinary heroes who endured horrific hardships, but they survived their way into revival. The woman with the issue of blood had to crawl her way to revival (Mark 5:25-34). Noah spent over a year on a stinky ark surviving a world wide flood (Genesis 7:11-13, Genesis 8:14-20). Jonah survived a mess of his own making (Jonah 1:1-17). David spent eight long years surviving the murderous hatred of king Saul. Paul was shipwrecked, stoned (literally to death), beaten, imprisoned, and survived vicious attack after vicious attack. The list is almost endless, but they all had one thing in common; they simply endured without quitting or giving up. Once you quit, the possibility for revival goes to zero. That’s what the Bible means when it says, “…and having done all, to stand. Stand… (Ephesians 6:13-14)”. Sometimes just standing takes more courage than moving forward. Refusing to give up in the face of crushing defeat takes more courage than winning with ease. Paul couldn’t have known that revival was about to break out on the island of Malta while he was hanging onto broken pieces of a ship (Acts 27:44). He just held on until the Storm was over and faithed his way into unexpected revival.
There is a cycle of life that runs throughout the stories of the Bible. The same cycle plays out in our lives to today: surviving, reviving , thriving, and repeating the cycle again. We’re always in one stage of that cycle. There’s never a guarantee how long each stage of the cycle will last. Every mountain climber survived a valley. Everyone is either ascending or descending a mountain of victory. This is mildly depressing news for people thriving on mountain tops, but it’s wonderful news for people surviving valleys. Thankfully, every valley prepares us for the next valley, and every mountain gives us confidence that we can get to another mountain top.
So, here’s a little key to mentally surviving the valleys. It seems overly simplistic and trite. It might even sound like a silly platitude if you feel trapped in a dark unforgiving survival stage. But if you could somehow grab this concept and keep it close, it will pull you through terribly difficult times. And, if you stay faithful to God you will look back and find that what I am about to tell you is profoundly true. Are you ready for it? Here it is: Every valley is an opportunity for another victory. Let me say it this way: Every season of survival is another chance for fresh revival. You will be revived and you will thrive. And, then the process will be repeated until we reach our pinnacle destination; Heaven. In Heaven we will thrive forever in the eternal presence of the Lord.
Don’t ever allow anyone or anything to make you feel like a loser because you’re simply surviving. Survival is just the beginning of revival. When you’re surviving, you’re in the perfect position for God to work miracles on your behalf. Solomon wisely said, “Whatsoever your hand findeth to do; do it with all thy might… (Ecclesiastes 9:10)”. Keep doing everything within your power and strength to do. And, when you’ve reached your limit God will step in and pick up your slack. You’ll be hard pressed to find any instance in the Bible where God did something for someone that they could have done for themselves. You’ll be even harder pressed to find an instance where God did something for someone without requiring them to do something first. So, when you’re weak, barely surviving, at the end of your rope, and you literally have done everything can possibly do, and you’re standing at a Red Sea with no solutions; take heart, miraculous revival is right around the corner.
At the end of every year, I enjoy reviewing the most read posts of the past twelve months. I’ve included links to all ten of them below. Just click the pictures and it’ll take you to the articles. Interestingly, the top three haven’t changed in several years. I haven’t written much new content in 2019 (I plan to change that in 2020). Oddly, this has still been an exciting year for Apostolic Voice; we leaped over the million click mark, gained a tremendous number of new readers, and made progress on relaunching the podcast. I deeply appreciate your confidence and support. Thank you for allowing my writings into your life. God bless you all, and may 2020 be your best year yet. If you’re new to the Apostolic Voice family, welcome and I hope you find something helpful, inspiring, or at least mildly interesting.
The irony of the Christmas debate never ceases to amaze me. On the one hand, secular culture really tries hard to take Christ out of Christmas. To them, Christmas is just another holiday. On the other hand, a very loud minority of Christians consider Christmas a pagan practice. The rest of us are uncomfortably sandwiched in between these two extremes.
Before the rise of social media these debates seemed a little more vague and obscure. Everyone pretty much just did their own thing and went on with their lives. But, social media definitely gets people from every side of the Christmas issue at one another’s throats. Lots of people feel the need to strongly state their opinions, and just about everyone else feels the need to be offended by everyone else’s opinion. Yeah, it’s about as crazy as it sounds.
Let me respond to the secular objections to Christmas first. They find offense at the elevation of one religion over others. And, in some cases, the elevation of any religion at all in the public domain. Their solution is to dechristianize the season and replace it with strictly secular terminology and traditions. Santa, elves, and reindeer fit nicely into this agenda because the childish make-believe parts of Christmas have no distinctly Judeo-Christian roots. When you peel back the layers you’ll find the secular motivation for attacking Christmas is mostly rooted in rabid christophobia (hatred of Christianity).
Without getting too far ahead of myself, this alone is a pretty compelling reason to celebrate Christmas louder and louder every year. If “pagans” consider Christmas too Christian for comfort than Christmas is clearly not a pagan holiday. On that note, Jesus said if you’re ashamed of me I’ll be ashamed of you (Mark 8:38). Christians should never shy away from any opportunity to talk about Jesus openly. Like it or not, America was founded on Judeo-Christian values. Sadly, I don’t really consider us a truly Christian nation any longer, however, we Christians have every right biblically and constitutionally to voice our faith loud and long.
I think capitulating to secularism would be a tragic mistake and offensive to the Lord. Of course, we should never be intentionally offensive or ugly, but just celebrating the birth of our risen Savior is well within our reasonable rights. If speaking the name of Jesus or talking about Emmanuel (God with us) publicly is offensive than we have an obligation to be offensive. If Christians become timid about a story as innocuous as the birth of the Messiah than we won’t have the courage to talk about His death and resurrection. Clearly, I have no sympathy for the secular objections to Christmas and you shouldn’t either.
Ok. Let’s shift gears and address the Christian objections to celebrating Christmas. Their concerns usually center around five different issues. One, we don’t actually know the date of Jesus’ birth. Two, the Bible doesn’t specifically instruct us to celebrate Jesus’ birth. Three, they argue that Christmas itself and the surrounding traditions are rooted in paganism. Four, a Scripture that appears to forbid Christmas trees. And five, the crass commercialism surrounding the Christmas season.
There are good and sincere people who make these objections compellingly. Others make ignorant claims that are more ludicrous and argumentative than necessary. I’ve certainly seen Christians from both sides of the issue display less than Christlike behavior when debating the points mentioned above. It’s mostly ugly, totally unnecessary, and destroys everyone’s credibility. Also, while I do believe that celebrating Christmas is a good thing (probably even a wonderful thing), I am painfully aware of how it feels to have deeply held counter-cultural convictions that others love to belittle. I have genuine sympathy for sincere Christians who simply can’t feel comfortable celebrating Christmas. Regardless, I do believe anti-Christmas convictions are not founded in solid facts. Nor do I think anti-Christmas convictions are worthy of imposing on fellow believers.
It’s true that we don’t actually know the exact date of Jesus’ birth. And, it’s highly unlikely that Jesus was born on December 25. It’s also true that Christians didn’t start celebrating Christmas until hundreds of years after the resurrection. And, my response basically boils down to a shrug of the shoulders. So what, I don’t need an exact date to celebrate and reflect on my Savior’s birth. It’s nice to have an agreed upon date so everyone can celebrate at the same time. It’s also worth remembering that early Christians were understandably busy avoiding martyrdom and being mutilated by lions. Furthermore, arguing that because early Christians didn’t celebrate Christmas means Christmas is somehow prohibited today is a pretty awkward theological and intellectual leap. Celebrating all things pertaining to Jesus seems like something every Christian should be excited about.
It’s true that the Bible never specifically commands us to celebrate the birth of Jesus. The word Christmas is not in the Bible. And again, my response is a fairly disinterested shrug of the shoulders. If the Bible prohibited celebrating the birth of Jesus, I would be all ears and fully on board with anti-Christmas sentiments. However, Scripture gives us important details surrounding the miraculous birth of the Messiah (Matthew 1:1-24, Matthew 2:1-23, Luke 1:26-66, Luke 2:1-40, John 1:1-16). In each of these passages angels and people celebrated the birth of Jesus. Many Old Testament prophecies revolved around Jesus’ birth (Genesis 22:18, Numbers 24:17, Isaiah 11:1, Jeremiah 23:5-6, 2 Samuel 7:12-14, Micah 5:2, Isaiah 7:14, Psalm 72:9-10, Jeremiah 31:15, Hosea 11:1, Isaiah 9:6-7). It’s safe to say there are many Scriptures affirming the celebration of Christ’s birth and none forbidding it.
Regarding the concern that Christmas is rooted in paganism, the evidence for such a claim is far from clear. The origins of so many modern traditions are unsubstantiated and often misinformed. Sources claiming Christmas’ pagan roots contradict one another and rarely have any reliable methods for verification (please don’t send me weird internet links… I’ve seen them all… sigh). While some minor Christmas traditions like holly were probably used in pagan rituals this doesn’t make Christmas evil by association. Many things were used in pagan rituals that we use on a daily basis. For example, oak trees were revered almost universally by pagans and yet Christians don’t refrain from using oak trees and oak wood in their homes and yards. Even the Nike logo was originally a pagan symbol. But the association has been changed and no longer has pagan connotations. Either way, a Christian concerned about pagan symbolism could still celebrate Christmas and simply refrain from the particular traditions they find worrisome. This concern doesn’t require throwing Christmas out completely.
The Christmas tree debate is probably the most common concern Christians wrestle with in their minds. It’s an extension of the pagan roots concern, but this concern should be taken a little more seriously because there are two Bible passages that can be distressing at first glance (Jeremiah 10:1-16, Isaiah 44:9-18). The most cited passage comes from Jeremiah chapter ten verses three and four:
“For the customs of the people are vain; for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the ax. They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not.”
When looking at the passage in context, it’s clear that Jeremiah is referring to craftsmen who cut down trees for the purpose of creating idols. The decorating referred to here is not the decoration of a tree, but the decoration of a carved idol. Even more specifically, Jeremiah is expressly forbidding falling down and worshipping hand made idols. This biblical command applies to everything other than God alone. Worshipping a tree or anything else would be idolatry of the worst kind. I’ve known people who worshipped trees, but they were not Christmas trees. Even so, I could understand someone feeling uncomfortable with a Christmas tree. However, simply avoid the tree and celebrate the Savior if your conscious demands it. If you’re uncomfortable with my quick explanation of Jeremiah 10:3-4, check out John Gill’s Exposition of the Bible on verse three HERE, and on verse four HERE.
The last objection that many Christians raise is reasonable and should be heeded. Christmas has been hijacked by secularism and crass commercialism. There is a sense in which Christmas can become about receiving and not giving. The pressure to buy irresponsibly can be overwhelming at Christmastime. All the reindeer and elves can crowd out the message of Christmas if we aren’t careful. All the decorating, cooking, buying, and wrapping can become a silly substitute for reverencing the miracle birth of Jesus. Christians should guard against this mindset, and strive to keep Jesus at the center of the season.
The benefits of Christmas, in my opinion, far outweigh any of the negatives. The world is almost universally exposed to the story of Jesus’ entrance into the world. That revelation alone leads to more and more questions about who Jesus is and what He did while He was here. This opens tremendous opportunities for Christians to share their faith and talk about Jesus openly. Christmas brings families together and connects thoughts of Jesus with happy family memories. Christmas brings out the selflessness in many people. Charitable giving goes up drastically during the Christmas season. Many hard hearts grow tender towards God as they consider the Christmas story. Churches fill up with people who usually would not make church a priority. This exposes people to godly environments that can implant a seed of God’s Word into their consciousness.
For oneness Pentecostals, Christmas is an awesome opportunity to expose others to the great revelation that Jesus was the mighty God in Christ. For example, does it really make sense that a separate deity would send a son (who is also a coequal deity) to die on his behalf? What kind of father would send his son to be tortured and killed on his behalf? No. Jesus was the Word incarnate (Colossians 1:15, John 1:1, John 1:14, Philippians 2:6-7, 1 Timothy 3:16). Christmas is an excellent time to emphasize that Emmanuel (Isaiah 7:14, Matthew 1:22-23) literally means “God with us”. Jesus was not one of three distinctly separate deities born of a virgin. He was Emmanuel in the flesh. He is referred to as the Son of God because He had no earthly father (Luke 1:35). I don’t usually like the New American Standard Version, but I think it gives the clearest translation and explanation for why Jesus is referred to as the Son of God in Luke 1:35:
“The angel answered and said to her, The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; AND FOR THAT REASON the holy Child shall be called the Son of God (emphasis is mine).”
Even the disciples seemed slightly confused about what this terminology meant. In John chapter fourteen Jesus was comforting them because He was leaving (John 14:1-6). He mentioned the mansions in the Father’s house and how no one could get to the Father but by Him. This caused Thomas to ask Jesus where He was going and how would they know the way (John 14:5)? Jesus’ most famous response is in verse six where He says “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life… (John 14:6)”. But, people often overlook John 14:7:
“If ye had known Me, ye should have known My Father also; and from henceforth ye know Him, and have seen Him.”
Jesus clarified that because you have known Me you know the Father and you have seen Him! Wow! That’s an epic revelation.
But Phillip was still struggling to catch Jesus’ implication so he asked Him to show them the Father (John 14:8). So, Jesus gave one of the clearest of all answers in Scripture about His deity in John 14:9-10:
“…Have I been so long a time with you, and yet hast thou not known Me, Philip? He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, ‘Show us the Father’? Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me?…”
Jesus made the messianic claim that He was literally God in human flesh. That is the quintessential message of the Christmas story; God came to dwell with us. I can’t see how that is anything other than wonderful to celebrate.
“For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government shall be upon His shoulder. And His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6).”
When modern ears hear words like “prophet” or “ prophecy” they typically invoke imagery of futuristic predictions or something sensationally mystical. Most people relegate the role of prophecy to the ancient scrolls of the Old Testament. And, prophecy does often involve a God given vision of the future. Furthermore, the prophetic role certainly seems more prominent in the Old Testament.
To understand the role of prophecy today we must begin by understanding the role of the ancient prophets. Otherwise, it’s like trying to understand algebra without a rudimentary knowledge of addition. It doesn’t take much casual browsing through Scripture to realize that prophets were intensely controversial, mostly misunderstood, extremely negative, and overwhelmingly politically incorrect.
Pre-Pentecost prophets were politically incorrect centuries before politically correct speech and behavior was embedded into mainstream culture. And, contrary to what most modern “prophets” peddle, their predictions of future events were rarely rosy. Their predictions were typically terror inducing warnings straight from the mind of God. Aside from eschatological prophets (like Daniel and Ezekiel), their warnings were anything but vague. Prophets were acutely aware of the looming death penalty if they lied or spoke out of turn (Deuteronomy 18:20-22). God despises false prophets who invoke His authority to speak lies or manipulate people to their own will (Jeremiah 23:9-40).
This was the backdrop which framed the mindset of true men of God. They feared the judgement of God and eschewed the opinions of men. To be sure, that nobility of heart and strength of moral character took a toll. Habakkuk felt abandoned by God (Habakkuk 1:2-11), Jeremiah mourned the prosperity of the wicked and felt the loneliness of being discounted (Jeremiah 12:1-4, Jeremiah 20:8), Elijah longed for death (1 Kings 19:4), Noah succumbed to strong drink after the fulfillment of his prophecy of worldwide judgement (9:21), Hosea was forced to marry an unloving prostitute (Hosea 1:2) and endure a lifetime of heartbreak.
Their difficulties and struggles don’t make the prophetic calling particularly compelling. Modern readers glamorize the prophetic life, but the reality described in Scripture is sacred, scary, and sacrosanct. To put it mildly, most people claiming the prophetic gifting have more in common with Balaam than Elisha.
To convolute the existing confusion surrounding prophecy, the definition itself is mostly misunderstood. Old Testament prophets did more than predict the future. They bubbled forth the Word of the Lord. They were God’s mouthpiece. They spoke what God spoke regardless of the personal repercussions. They taught, they reproved, they rebuked, they informed, they corrected, and they did all of this with long-suffering. In other words, they operated much like the preachers described in the book of Acts. That being said, in many ways all preachers carry the prophetic mantle.
The five-fold ministry (Ephesians 4:11-13) is mostly divided into distinctly separate categories by apostolic thinkers. Apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers are usually viewed as non-overlapping roles. Even those who theologically recognize the simplistic nature of this way of thinking revert back to it in practice. However, every New Testament preacher operates with a blending of the five-fold ministries. The prophetic mantle rests on the shoulders of every God-called preacher of the Gospel regardless of official title or position.
Modern preachers should be fountains that bubble forth the pure Word of God. They are keepers of the Word and carriers of the cross. They are the original truth to power brokers. Tweaking the Word for convenience is unacceptable in the eyes of God. Refusing to speak the full revelation of God’s Word is a perversion of the prophetic office. To pollute, dilute, or exclude any God-given words for profit is detestable and stirs the wrath of God.
I am genuinely concerned that many apostolic preachers are losing the courage to remain righteously counter-cultural and unavoidably politically incorrect. I say “unavoidably” because it’s not possible to be biblically correct and politically correct at the same time. Politically correct preachers are really just biblically incorrect preachers.
I’d rather eat glass than jump into impossible-to-resolve eschatological debates. And, there’s probably no stickier debate than the question of who the Two Witnesses are in Revelations chapter eleven (Revelation 11:3-12). However, it would be foolish to overlook the appearance of burlap-wearing, fire-breathing, element-controlling, loudly-testifying, plague-inducing, death-defying prophets roaming the streets in the last days. When God calls two witnesses to preach during apocalyptic times they will be eerily Old Testament in nature. And yet, more often than not, New Testament preachers seem frightfully out of step with the biblical prophetic legacy.
Every self-aware preacher wrestles inwardly with the tension that exists between their human desire to be excepted by men and their calling to be godly counter-cultural mouthpieces. Some bow, some bend, some break, and some refuse to surrender their will to anyone but God’s. No one really desires to be politically incorrect, but it’s the nature of the calling. The truth (especially God’s Truth) is rarely mainstream, annoyingly inconvenient, and stubbornly unchanging. The world desperately needs courageous modern godly mouthpieces that will speak the truth in an age of timidity.
I’ve noticed six growing tensions developing in the hearts of ministers in my lifetime. Every politically incorrect prophet must win these battles that rage within their own hearts, and resist the pressure to become just another name on the long list of false prophets. This is a genuine life and death, Heaven verses Hell battle between good and evil. Not only does their eternity hang in the balance, the souls of their followers do as well. Many have lost their stomach for the fight, others are just learning the importance of the struggle, and yet a powerful remnant of true prophetic men of God are stepping to the forefront of spiritual warfare.
Truth vs. Timidity
Post modernism has been eroding the perceived value of truth for at least sixty years. Just calling a biological man a man is considered borderline hate speech in our stupefied society. Peddlers of confusion malign and attack simple voices of reason. Spiritual truths are betrayed, minimized, and shunned by purveyors of moral ambiguity. Preachers are portrayed in pop culture as buffoonish curmudgeons or wild eyed lunatics. Sometimes, godly truth tellers are physically punished or stripped of their comforts.
In America, they are silently bullied and quietly derided (at least publicly) in an attempt to intimidate or embarrass them into submission. More and more, western preachers feel the urge to be timid about truth. They fear preaching controversial topics and eventually avoid speaking of the things God cares about altogether. But true men of God choose to shake off the shackles of timidity and speak the truth with boldness (Acts 28:32, Proverbs 28:1, Acts 4:13, Acts 4:31, Ephesians 6:19).
Clarity vs. Confusion
God is not the author of confusion (1 Corinthians 14:33). True prophets clarify. False prophets confuse and convolute. Genuine preachers aren’t vague, cryptic, or overly speculative in their preaching. If a prophetic preacher generates more confusion than revelation he’s more than likely a false prophet.
Conviction vs. Compromise
Have you ever noticed how excruciatingly uncomfortable the Last Supper must have been for the disciples? Judas was on the verge of betraying Jesus, and Jesus was painfully aware of that impending “kiss” of death. Judas was probably acting super strange. Jesus was always perfectly willing to make people squirm. So, naturally, He decided to mention a betrayer was in the room. That little grenade caused a lot of commotion.
As if that wasn’t enough drama for one night, Jesus took the opportunity to warn the disciples about all kinds of discouraging things (John 16:1-4). He told them they would be kicked out of synagogues and become societal outcasts. He even told them they would be killed by people who thought they were doing the work of God. Surely the disciples were thinking this is the kind of stuff we should have been told a long time ago. And, Jesus perceptively addressed those thoughts by assuring them that even though He was leaving in the flesh, He would remain with them in the Spirit (John 16:5-7).
During this revelatory conversation about the coming of the Holy Ghost, Jesus laid out a description of what the role of the Spirit would be on the earth (John 16:8-11). Jesus didn’t mince words, He said the Holy Spirit will convict people of their sin, reveal their need for righteousness, and warn them of the coming judgement. Notably, conviction is one of the primary roles of the Holy Ghost.
Conviction. Sin. Righteousness. Judgement. All of these are becoming taboo topics. But if these topics are the primary issues the Holy Spirit was sent to address than preachers who refuse to handle them are not Spirit filled. Compromising eventually places preachers in the position of actively resisting the work of the Spirit. Essentially, they become an enemy of God.
As people search for “safe” spaces and Truth is viewed more and more as confrontational hate speech, preachers are placed in a precarious situation. The temptation is to avoid conviction and replace it with an ooey gooey, warm and fuzzy brand of non-intrusive, conversational preaching. Please understand, there’s rarely a need to be intentionally offensive or off putting, but God’s Word usually offends carnal sensitivities. Conviction isn’t comfortable but it’s irreplaceable and completely necessary. In fact, preaching conviction is a huge part of the prophetic job description. Prophets who never preach conviction of sin into the hearts of their flock are not prophets at all.
Faith vs. Fear
The spirit of antichrist doesn’t care if prophets speak the truth as long as they whisper it in fear and cower in the corner. Fear is normal and often justified, but true prophets overcome their fears with faith. They preach fearful things, but they temper it with faith that encourages and edifies. They preach doom and coming judgment, but they also preach that faith will bring us into an eternal relationship with God that is blissful beyond comprehension. Faith and fear are not compatible. One eventually pushes the other out. True prophets allow faith to cast out their fears, and they inspire their followers to do the same.
Reverence vs. Irreverence
There is a growing sense of irreverence towards spiritual things even among “religious” people. I believe this is reflected in a myriad of ways including how people dress for church (check out Should We Still Dress Our Best For Church?).
Ancient prophets brimmed with righteous reverence for the things of God. They demanded the same from those listening to their divinely inspired words. Modern Christianity must overcome the growing tension between reverence and irreverence in our culture. God will not accept irreverent sacrifices in His name.
British theologian Thomas Smail gives an interesting warning in his book The Forgotten Father:
“Abba is not Hebrew, the language of liturgy, but Aramaic, the language of home and everyday life… We need to be wary of the suggestion… that the correct translation of Abba is ‘Daddy.’ Abba is the intimate word of a family circle where that obedient reverence was at the heart of the relationship, whereas Daddy is the familiar word of a family circle from which all thoughts of reverence and obedience have largely disappeared… The best English translation of Abba is simply ‘Dear Father.”
I think Smail was attempting to strike the delicate, yet hard to achieve balance, between reverencing God and simultaneously feeling closely connected to God. In the apostolic movement, many have over-corrected away from highly liturgical denominations (like Catholics, Methodists, and Presbyterians) whose reverence is more like a cold indifference, into a mushy “God is my best buddy” mindset. Not only does this endanger reverence, it breeds lots of unintended theological fallacies as well.
Power vs. Prosperity
Perhaps, the worst degrading of prophecy has come from the proponents of prosperity theology. Basically, the “God will double your money if you send me a thousand dollars right now” crowd. These charlatans either genuinely or disingenuously believe that wealth, health, and fame are the measures of spiritual success.
But, ancient biblical prophets were far more concerned with spiritual power than earthly power. They called down fire from heaven while barely having enough food to eat or a place to live. If prosperity theology is correct, the ancient prophets were wildly out of the will of God.
Most people reading this have long ago rejected prosperity theology, however, there is a lingering (unspoken) assumption that struggling preachers are somehow out of God’s favor. This is a subtle trick of the enemy. It’s just another way to shame godly preachers into conforming to the will of the carnal majority.
The real measuring stick of apostolic authority isn’t bank accounts. Rather, it’s the manifested power of God. Interestingly, as materialism grows, manifestations of the Spirit decline. Men of God should seek the power of God not positions or materialistic prosperity. I’m all for the blessings of God, but never at the expense of the power of God.
The household of God is built on the blood-soaked foundation of the apostles and prophets (Ephesians 2:20). Jesus is the chief cornerstone of that unshakable foundation. Next time you read through the Gospels, pay attention to how astonishingly politically incorrect Jesus was in word and deed. He wasn’t trying to be odd or quirky. It wasn’t a gimmick or a facade that Jesus put on for attention. He just spoke the truth even when it was unwanted.
God is calling a fresh generation of preachers who are willing to be completely unashamed of the Word of God. They will preach without thought for their own safety or societal security. They will leave their comfort zones and abandon the shackles that carnal culture wraps around their minds. They will seek to grow the Kingdom of God and not their ministry. They will value Truth above tolerance, and wisdom above worldliness. The spiritual revolution is already beginning; which side of it will you be on?