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).”
Hey, if you’re looking for a great apostolic Christmas album, Check out A Story That Never Grows Old by Devin Cunningham. You’re welcome and Merry Christmas!
The burden of Truth is heavy. Sometimes it feels like too much to bear. The weight of knowledge is forever. It grips the heart with an icy stare.
Wondering soldiers know that home is illusive. They search for solace, yet it’s just not there. They look for hope in the strangest places. They search for kindness in angry faces.
The burden of Truth is an honor to carry. It hurts much more than we show or share. The cost of honor is expensive. It takes a toll yet most don’t care.
The dutiful soldier knows something of pain. A lesson that most have never retained. Opposition to Truth brings death to the soul. So, to the Truth we tenderly hold.
Dear one remember that life is a vapor. It’s not what we’re feeling that matters the most. For hearts are deceitful and often don’t know. It’s where we are going that matters the most.
What we touch today might be gone by tomorrow. Making the burden of Truth a blessing most hallowed. For what we can’t see will endure beyond sorrow. And, the depths of despair are blessedly shallow.
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?