Dear Preacher – They’re Rejecting Jesus, Not You

American preachers don’t receive much up-front, in-your-face rejection. Sure, the occasional person might get up and walk out during a sermon. People walk in and out so much during preaching these days it’s hard to know if they are upset or just running to the water fountain.

People who study these things are finding that if someone walks through the doors of your church they have already researched your beliefs online pretty thoroughly. Meaning, if they were really likely to be overtly offended they probably just wouldn’t attend in the first place.

While people may not be throwing rotten eggs at us, preachers do experience rejection in more indirect ways. The visitor who never returns. The saints who skip across town because we refuse to reinterpret the Bible for their favorite sin. The subtle crossed arms and slanted eyebrows that glare back at us while preaching a particularly convicting passage of Scripture. The tragic altar call where the sinner leans back rather than running to repent. Passive aggressive anonymous letters of disapproval.

Experienced preachers develop the ability to glance around a congregation and discern immediately who is rejecting and who is receiving the message God has given them for that service. That ability can become either a motivation, a distraction, or a discouragement. In worst case scenarios, one person rejecting the Word can mentally overshadow a room full of people who are receiving the Word with gladness.

Frankly, there are times after preaching that I leave incredibly discouraged because I couldn’t reach that one person. That preoccupation sometimes keeps me from rejoicing over other lives that were deeply touched by God.

I was discussing this weakness in my personality with a friend recently and he promptly dropped a little conviction grenade right into my psychological bunker. He said, “Ryan, don’t you hear the arrogance in your statement?” I was a little stunned and self-righteous until he repeated my words back verbatim, “…I leave incredibly discouraged because I couldn’t reach…” Then he paused and let the grenade explode, “Ryan you’re saying a lot of me’s and I’s, don’t you know that you just plant the seed and God gives the increase?”

How quickly preachers can forget that we are just the messengers. We aren’t the attraction. Sometimes we are a distraction, but we certainly are not the attraction. The Word is the seed and all we can do is cast the seed and pray that it takes root on good ground (Matthew 13:1-23). Often my discouragement is rooted in my own hubris rather than anything truly sincere. Don’t get me wrong, I want to preach as compellingly as possible. I want to be persuasive like the apostle Paul and passionate like the apostle Peter. But in the end, my abilities can’t save a single soul.

The apostle Paul taught that we are simply ambassadors of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20). We represent reconciliation between God and man (2 Corinthians 5:19). We speak on behalf of God. The message is not ours. The Gospel was not our idea. It’s not a commodity with a sales quota attached. When the Word is rejected they aren’t rejecting us they are rejecting Jesus.

Jesus knew that His ambassadors would be tempted to judge the success or failure of ministry by the metric of popularity. He knew that rejection would feel like a personal failure. He knew that we would struggle with our own unique blends of pride and insecurity. He knew that we would be prone to despiritualizing the Gospel and relegating it down to humanistic abilities. So, Jesus gathered the twelve disciples together and sat them down to tell them, and by extension us, when they reject you they are really rejecting Me. Look at this uncomfortable reminder from Jesus:

“Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you (Matthew 5:10-12).”

You can’t be truly Christlike unless you are willing to suffer rejection for His sake. In fact, if you haven’t been rejected or reviled in a while you’re probably not a true ambassador.

Please don’t take me out of context, I’m not advocating running around trying to prove how spiritual we are based on how many people reject the Gospel. But it is freeing to know that as ambassadors we can only proclaim what we have been given by our King to proclaim. If we are rejected it is for His sake, and we must shake the dust from our feet (Matthew 10:5-15) and keep preaching the Good News.

How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things (Romans 10:14-15)!”

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AVP #9 – “Dealing with the Unthinkable” with Pastor DeVon Mills

This week, Ryan and Brad tackle the sensitive issue of sexual harassment and abuse in the church, joined by pastor and counselor DeVon Mills. Rev. Mills pastors at the Pentecostals of Lawrenceville, and his practice is Thrive Counseling. In this episode, they discuss how to deal with sexual abuse in the church, what to expect […]

Top 10 Articles of 2017

It’s become a tradition of sorts to look back at the previous year’s ten most read articles. Last year was exciting for Apostolic Voice; I kept my vow to be more prolific (by a slim margin), our readership has expanded, and we launched the Apostolic Voice Podcast.

Since it’s the time of year for setting goals I’ll mention a few of mine regarding AV. I’ve heard your requests and I do plan to review more books this year. I’m currently finishing Whisper by Mark Batterson and the review is coming soon. I’ve also been humbled by all the requests to write a book. I plan to at least make a strong effort to do just that. I promise to say “um” less on the podcast. Similarly, I vow to never begin another podcast episode with the phrase, “the boys are back.” Ok, that’s not a firm promise, but I’ll try. Seriously though, I do plan to write more on the subjects of marriage, parenting, and family this year because so many of you have reached out wanting resources on those topics.

I truly appreciate your readership and your listenership. May God richly bless you in this new year. The articles are listed in descending order beginning with the tenth most read article and ending with the number one article of 2017.

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AVP #8 – The Screwtape Letters

In this episode, the guys (@ryfrenchy, @bltitus) sit down to discuss The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis. Topics that come up in conversation include atheism, church hopping, idolatry, the danger of demonic distractions, spiritual warfare, and much more. Remember, you can follow AVP on Twitter or Facebook. We always enjoy your feedback and suggestions. Also, […]

3 Keys to Overcoming Temptation

In a recent episode of the Apostolic Voice Podcast, we discussed the universal topic of temptation. I say, ‘universal’ because temptation is a reality in the daily lives of every single living human being. I say that often, and when I do someone inevitably gives me a defiant look as if to say, “Not me!” They’re not faking or lying, but they have fallen into a fallacious way of thinking about temptation.

People tend to think of temptation primarily in terms of things like sexual immorality, pornography, idolatry, addiction, or murder. You know, the ‘big time’ sins. Maybe those ‘big time’ sins aren’t your personalized, tailor-made, besetting temptations. Maybe you’re tempted by the more commonly accepted sins like envy, gossip, lying, greed, gluttony, or unforgiveness. In reality, sin is sin and the temptation to gossip can be just as strong as the temptation to commit adultery. We’re just conditioned to view our personal brand of temptation as more acceptable than someone else’s particular brand of temptation.

Honest, self-aware Christians know that we are prone to feeling the tug of all kinds of temptations. But that awareness is only helpful if we steady our resolve to resist sin’s siren song. It’s important to put on the whole armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-18), to understand how The Tempter operates, and to maintain the mindset of an overcomer.

1. Putting on The Whole Armor of God

Every piece of God-given armor is vitally important (Ephesians 6:10-18). You need it all. Obviously, faith is the shield that will protect you from onslaughts. Faith will sustain you in times of attack. Doubt and unbelief will leave you vulnerable to all kinds of scary demonic activity. But for the sake of this discussion, we’ll take a closer look at the only offensive weapon listed by the apostle Paul: the sword of the Spirit (Ephesians 6:17). Paul is careful to clarify that the sword of the Spirit is the Word of God.

“Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee” (Psalm 119:11).

It should go without saying, and yet so many people seem oblivious to the fact that you can’t resist sin if you don’t know what God considers to be sinful. It’s simply not possible to resist temptation if you don’t even know that you’re being tempted. Thankfully, God gave us the Bible so that we could hide it in our hearts and resist temptation. If you don’t know the Word even faith won’t save you from the enemy. You can’t resist an enemy that you don’t recognize and you can’t serve a God that you don’t know. 

“Hiding (keeping) God’s Word in our hearts is a deterrent to sin. This alone should inspire us to memorize Scripture. But memorization alone will not keep us from sin; we must also put God’s Word to work in our lives, making it a vital guide for everything we do.” (Life Application Study Bible, Accordance electronic edition (Carol Stream: Tyndale House Publishers, 2004), paragraph 6899)

Jesus powerfully exampled the offensive use of the sword of the Spirit while being tempted of the Devil in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11). To say that Jesus was hungry is probably a gross understatement because He had been fasting for forty days and forty nights (Matthew 4:2). This would be one of those rare instances where the word ‘starving’ is actually appropriate. The Tempter made his move at that exact moment and said, “If thou be the Son of God, command that these stone be made bread” (Matthew 4:3).

2. Understanding How The Tempter Works

We’ll circle back around to using the Word as a weapon against the Tempter and temptation in general, but first, let’s pause and consider when and where Satan strikes. Remember this little acronym H. I. T. Yes, it’s cheesy but it is helpful. Satan will HIT when you’re either 1) Hungry, 2) Isolated, 3) Tired or some combination of all three.

Hunger in the natural is simply a lack of food either by choice or deprivation. When we are deprived or weakened from hunger, whether it be lack of physical bread or spiritual nourishment, we are vulnerable to attack. 

Eve was isolated when the serpent slithered into her consciousness. Furthermore, she was standing next to the very tree which was forbidden. Her isolation might have been unavoidable but her location was avoidable. She positioned herself in a prime location for defeat.

Most affairs don’t start in the heat of passion and lust, they develop when two people carelessly position themselves little by little into situations where their hearts and desires are allowed to fester into something forbidden.

I could go on and on preaching about the dangers of isolation. Business trips are especially dangerous when friends and family are far away. Loneliness, isolation, lack of accountability, and then comes the inevitable temptation. David saw Bathsheba when he was isolated and it resulted in terrible failure (2 Samuel 11:1-2). Joseph was enticed by Potiphar’s wife while he was isolated in a foreign land far from his father’s loving influence (Genesis 39:7-11). However, Joseph had the good sense to run away (Genesis 39:11-12).

Social media, texting, and the internet, in general, has created a framework of virtual isolation even when in a crowded room. You can live an isolated double life on the internet and via text messaging that others can’t see or hear. It might seem harmless, but it’s a primer for a dramatic failure. You don’t even have to be physically isolated anymore, virtual isolation is just as damaging.    

Jesus was hungry, isolated, and tired while tempted in the wilderness. Physical exhaustion is difficult to separate from spiritual exhaustion because the human body and human spirit are so interconnected. We can’t completely avoid exhaustion but we should be wary of attack in those moments.

It should also be noted that Jesus went immediately from the triumphant waters of baptism into the wilderness of temptation (Matthew 3:13-17, Matthew 4:1). Experience teaches and Scripture confirms that great temptation follows inspirational spiritual manifestations. Juxtapose 1 Kings 18:37-39 with 1 Kings 19:1-4 and Joshua 6:20-27 with Joshua 7:1-7 for further evidence of this pattern. That’s why it is common to leave a powerful church service and step right into a wilderness of temptation. In fact, this is so predictable that I have come to expect and prepare for it.

Bottom line, some temptations are avoidable and some are not. Thankfully, temptation by itself is not a sin. Beyond that, all temptation can be resisted with the help of the Holy Ghost and a little old-fashioned common sense (1 Corinthians 10:12-14, Ephesians 6:17).

Understanding how, when, and where the Tempter strikes will give you the upper hand and insulate you from being taken off guard.

3. Maintaining the Mindset of an Overcomer

The mark of an apostolic believer is not a spirit of fearfulness. Rather, our apostolic identity is that of boldness, courage, power, love, and a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7, Romans 8:15, Ephesians 1:18-20, Ephesians 3:20, Galatians 5:22). If we reverence the Lord we do not need to fear anything the Devil throws in our pathway.

If you’re struggling internally please take time to read my article entitled 15 Ways to Win the Battle Within. Remember, all temptation is successfully resisted internally before it can be resisted externally. Overcomers decide to reject temptation long before temptation strikes. They don’t fear temptation because their resolve has already been set in stone internally with the help of the Holy Ghost (Luke 10:19-20, Luke 24:49, Mark 16:17).

Sometimes that mindset must be renewed and the Holy Spirit needs to be stirred up within our hearts afresh (2 Timothy 1:6-7). The apostle Paul recognized that need in the life of young Timothy. Paul’s response was to take apostolic authority and lay hands on Timothy in prayer, then gently rebuke him, and finally lovingly encourage him. There is a spiritual recalibration that only comes from genuine submission to apostolic authority. You can’t benefit from apostolic anointing without walking in apostolic submission. It might sound simple, but every believer should covet the laying on of hands, the gentle rebuke, and the loving encouragement of their pastor. And yet, most people only welcome loving encouragement while rejecting or avoiding the rest. 

An interesting contrast can be drawn between Timothy’s identity crisis and Jesus’ wilderness temptation. Before Satan presented Jesus with a temptation he questioned His identity by saying contemptuously, “…If thou be the Son of God…” (Matthew 4:3). Satan would love for you to question your identity in God, even if only for a moment, so you’ll feel unequipped to handle the forthcoming temptation.

Using the Word as a Weapon against Temptation

Even Jesus didn’t try to resist temptation without the Word. His response to every single temptation began with “It is written…” followed by a relevant biblical quotation (Matthew 4:4, Matthew 4:7, Matthew 4:10). Then and only then did the Devil leave (Matthew 4:11). There is no human substitute for the sword of the Spirit. Willpower is ultimately insufficient. The Devil will not flee if your sword isn’t sharp and ready.   

After the temptation angels came and ministered to Jesus (Matthew 4:11). Following every great wilderness temptation, there will be a season of great comforting (John 14:26, John 15:26, John 14:16-18, John 16:13, Romans 8:1). Cling to that when the valley seems dark and the road seems long. 

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AVP #7 – Overcoming Temptation

In this week’s episode, Brad tells a story, and Ryan weighs in with insights about how to overcome temptation. Follow the podcast on Facebook or Twitter, and share ideas for future topics or ask questions with #AskAVP. You can also follow Brad on his blog or Facebook, and Ryan at his blog and on Facebook.

AVP #5 – “Kicking the Devil in the Teeth” with Rev. Joe Campetella

This week, Ryan and Brad have a chat with author and evangelist Joe Campetella, where they discuss launching an effective campus ministry, soul-winning techniques, and altar working.

Rev. Campetella’s book, “Your Campus Revival,” is available through his website. You can also follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

Follow the podcast on Facebook or Twitter, and share ideas for future topics or ask questions with #AskAVP. You can also follow Brad on his blog or Facebook, and Ryan at his blog and on Facebook.

The Danger of Demonic Distractions

C.S. Lewis opens his classic work The Screwtape Letters with the tale of a fictitious demon named Screwtape detailing how he successfully kept “his patient (i.e. a mere human)” out of the clutches of “the Enemy (i.e. God)”. Screwtape is teaching an underling demon named Wormwood the art of keeping mankind distracted from the reality of God and that pesky thing called Truth. He cautions Wormwood away from arguing with his human “patient” because arguing promotes reasoning, and reasoning leads to logic, and logic ultimately leads to God. Screwtape slyly writes:

“By the very act of arguning, you awake the patient’s reason; and once it is awake, who can foresee the result? Even if a particular train of thought can be twisted so as to end in our favor, you will find that you have been strengthening in your patient the fatal habit of attending to universal issues and withdrawing his attention from the stream of immediate sense experiances. Your business is to fix his attention on the stream.”

Screwtape goes on to describe a scenario where one of his atheist patients once began seriously considering the reality of God while reading quietly in a museum. He gloatingly writes:

“Before I knew where I was I saw my twenty years’ work beginning to totter. If I had lost my head and begun to attempt a defence by argument I should have been undone. But I was not such a fool. I struck instantly at the part of the man which I had best under my control and suggested that it was just about time he had lunch.”

Lewis was creatively describing the satanic art of distraction, misdirection, and the subtle use of the mundane as a diversionary tactic. Lewis approached the issue from the standpoint of an atheist being demonically distracted from facing the reality of God. Likewise, I see this same demonic strategy being used against unwitting Christians with alarming frequency. Remember, Lewis wrote The Screwtape Letters in 1942, long before the advent of uber mundane distraction devices otherwise known as smartphones.

I realize that life is hectic, complicated, and a little overwhelming at times. It can be difficult to find time for prayer, busy church schedules, personal Bible study, devotions, and meditating on deep spiritual gems. In theory, most Christians genuinely want to grow deeper in their relationship with God. Yet, they get carried away by what Screwtape called, “the immediate stream of sense experiences”.

How many times have you been on the verge of bowing down to pray only to be interrupted by the ding, ding of an incoming text message? How many times have you looked over during a powerful sermon only to see your neighbor actively scrolling through their uber mundane distraction device otherwise known as a smartphone? How many times has something as trivial as eating dinner kept you from a church service?

I realize there are acceptable distractions; we have to work, we have to eat, we have to relax, and we have to sleep. But if you watch you will begin to notice little ordinary diversions that slip into your mind unexpectedly just as God is calling you to a moment of communion and Divine contemplation. Perhaps, these are not all demonically inspired as Lewis seems to suggest, however, they certainly impede our spiritual progress.

I’ve been picking on cell phones, probably because that’s my Achilles’ heel, but your Trojan horse (I might as well keep opening Pandora’s box of metaphors) might be something more like Edmund’s Turkish delight. For those who aren’t familiar with Lewis’ most commercially successful work, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Edmund is a young boy who happens across an evil White Witch in the mythical land of Narnia. She skillfully distracts him from her evil intentions with delicious morsels of Turkish delight.

That’s the thing about distractions; by themselves, they’re usually not all that sinister. There’s nothing inherently evil about Turkish delight. Although, I’ve tried it and it really is quite dreadful tasting. Regardless, cell phones aren’t evil. But if they keep us distracted from what Lewis called “the universal issues” they suddenly become nefarious. Your Turkish delight might be a job, a hobby, a relationship, video games (check out this disturbing article about male millennials and video games), sports, or whatever else casually draws your attention away from eternal Truths.

Even serving others can become a distraction if it’s not done properly. Luke 10:38-42 records the story of Jesus visiting Martha’s house. Naturally, He began teaching and instinctively Martha’s sister Mary abandoned her chores to sit at His feet. This placed the responsibility of providing a meal and making sure the house was in order solely on Martha’s shoulders. The ESV correctly states that Martha was “distracted with much serving” while Jesus was teaching. Evidently, a resentment towards Mary began to grow in Martha’s heart. She was working. She was serving. She was ministering to people’s needs while Mary was sitting at Jesus’ feet.

Finally, all that pent-up frustration was directed towards Jesus:

“Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? Bid her therefore that she help me (Luke 10:40).”

But Jesus gently admonished her saying:

“…Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her (Luke 10:41-42).”

Even our best intentions can become a distraction from the actual words of Jesus. Preachers can get so caught up in service they forget what really matters. Church singers and musicians can get so distracted ministering in music they become oblivious to the Word that is going forth. This is true in various different ways for all of us who are busy serving the Lord. So, the next time you find yourself being pulled away from the voice of the Lord, intentionally choose the good part, and don’t let anything take it away from you (Luke 10:42).

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Apostolic Voice Podcast, Episode 4 – I’m Very Proud of My Humility

The guys of AVP (@ryfrenchy, @bltitus) talk about the importance of genuine humility, how to avoid false humility, and give a checklist for identifying pride. Please consider giving us an over the top review in iTunes to help improve our rankings. As always, thanks for listening.

The Idolatry of the Future by Brad Titus

The Idolatry of the Future by Brad Titus

Brad Titus (AVP producer and fellow blogger at bltitus.com) has written a tremendous piece entitled The Idolatry of the Future. It’s a short read and I highly recommend you check it out.

Fair warning, in preparation for an upcoming AVP Podcast episode, Brad and I have been rereading The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis, so you’re probably going to be inundated with Screwtape Letter referances for the forseeable future.

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