COVID-19 (A Christian Manual for Navigating Uncertain Times)

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 make 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 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. That was 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 to 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 and keenly focused on God. When we run out of options and resources, 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.

Should Christians Dye Their Hair?

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.

Conclusion

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.

Relevant Links

TRUE COLORS: Hair Dye and the Hidden History of Postwar America by Malcolm Gladwell, The New Yorker

Are Hair Dyes Safe? by Ronnie Cohen, The Washington Post

Study links hair dye and hair straighteners to higher breast cancer risk, especially among black women by Scottie Andrew, CNN

Hair dye and chemical straightener use and breast cancer risk in large percentages of U.S. population of black and white women by Carolyn E. Eberle, Dale P. Sandler, Kyla W. Taylor, Alexandra J. White, International Journal of Cancer

Hair Dye: A History by Rebecca Guenard, The Atlantic

Concerns About Hair Dye, National Capital Poison Center

Do or Dye: Why women daren’t go grey (unless they’re very brave or very young) by Karen Kay, The Guardian

The Adversity Advantage

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.

Should Christians Celebrate Christmas?

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!

Kanye West Might Be Sincere (But Sincerity Alone Is Not Salvation)

If you’re a social media user it might feel like a non-stop Kanye West extravaganza has taken over your feed lately. The frenzy from all directions has been palpable. Many people in my inner circle didn’t even know who Kanye was until a few weeks ago. For me, his name was associated with lyrics and artists that I purposely avoided because of the vulgarity, sexuality, violence, and substance abuse they promoted.

This article is late in the making. Frankly, I just didn’t care about the Kanye kerfuffle until the noise escalated into a fever pitch. Beyond that, lots of people have already been contributing wise words to the ongoing (seemingly neverending) conversation. One of my favorite Apostolic bloggers, Search of Kings has a must-read article about the “Kanye Conversion”. Others have convincingly commented that Kanye’s sincerity might be less suspicious if he would remove all his old music from circulation. I’ve noticed several people expressing frustration at the Apostolic hype over Kanye’s new album Jesus Is King, by pointing out the lackluster support Apostolic artists typically receive. We Apostolics do tend to demean our own and glamorize (perhaps even idolize) artists who are distinctly non-apostolic.

Speaking of idols, the flip side of the coin is the ardent, almost breathless support many Christians have afforded Kanye’s new album. It reeks of an adolescent desire to finally be accepted by the “cool” kids. The internet is littered with comparisons of Kanye’s conversion to Saul’s transformation into Paul. Others dream of stadiums packed with people who would never listen to “Jesus” music being deeply impacted by Kanye’s newfound faith. Many elders felt this way about Elvis Presley in past decades. I still frequently hear people mention how sincere Elvis was about his Christian (perhaps even Apostolic) faith.

So, the speculation about Kanye’s sincerity has become a lightning rod of controversy. For what it’s worth, I think Kanye might be sincere. Admittedly, I don’t really know if he’s sincere or not. I struggle to know if people around me are sincere sometimes. I’ve never met Kanye and I doubt anyone reading this has either. Sincerity is a hard thing to judge in a short period of time. It’s even harder to judge from a distance. Even Paul had to undergo many years of scrutiny and training before he was fully accepted as a new creature in Christ Jesus. That’s one of the reasons Paul wrote to Timothy and said, “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15)”. Regardless, Kanye’s sincerity or lack thereof is a moot point. Why? Because sincerity is not salvation.

Yes, sincerity is a good thing. I like sincere people. Most of us are drawn instinctively to sincerity. In fact, sincerity is so compelling we often trust sincere people even when they are completely wrong. Sincerely incorrect people can unintentionally do great damage to their circle of influence in countless ways both big and small. For example, it took thousands of years for doctors to finally realize that bloodletting was actually more likely to kill than to cure patients (read this disturbing article, 7 Unusual Ancient Medical Technique). Last year statistics shockingly revealed that over 800,000 people died because of medical devices prescribed to them by very good and sincere doctors (read that article HERE). Lets not even start thinking about how many sincere judges and juries have sentenced innocent people to prison or death (How Many Innocent People Are Sentenced to Death? and A Leading Cause for Wrongful Convictions: Experts Overstating Forensic Results). Clearly, in certain situations, sincerity without correct information is extremely dangerous.

We easily understand that principle when it comes to the physical, but we’re a little fuzzy when it comes to spiritual things. We don’t just want doctors to be sincere, we want them to be sincere and correct at the same time. Frankly, the latter is far more important than the former. But when it comes to spiritual leaders and influencers we’re a little less cautious. Maybe its time to consider that we Christians are overly concerned with sincerity? Perhaps we’ve elevated sincerity above biblical sanctification? Is it possible many Apostolics, either consciously or subconsciously, equate sincerity with salvation? Do we believe that sincerity without biblical salvation can save us? If so, we are doomed to become just another variation of the Catholic church. The Catholic church now officially teaches that Muslims, Jews, and really any sincere person can be saved without converting to even the mushy Catholic perversion of the Gospel (Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 1260).

If the prescription for sin is the blood of Jesus it can only be accessed via the Gospel of Jesus Christ (John 14:6, 1 Timothy 2:5, Acts 4:12). At the heart of the Gospel is the teaching that we must undergo our own spiritual death, burial, and resurrection just as Jesus did physically (Romans 6:3-8Galatians 2:20Colossians 2:12-13). There is one recorded instance in the Bible where bystanders clearly asked a question about salvation (Acts 2:37). Peter gives the most concise biblical answer in the following verse and everyone in the early Church followed that apostolic foundation for salvation. The apostle Peter preached: “…repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost (Acts 2:38).” That precise formula is the only way to be birthed (John 3:31 Peter 1:23) into the Kingdom of God.

Essentially, repentance is our spiritual death (Galatians 5:24Romans 6:11Galatians 2:201 Peter 2:24Romans 6:6)baptism in Jesus’ name is our spiritual burial (Romans 6:3-4Colossians 2:12-13), and the infilling of the Holy Ghost is our spiritual resurrection (Romans 6:5Colossians 3:1Romans 8:8-14). Furthermore, the infilling of the Holy Ghost is first evidenced by supernaturally speaking in unknown (previously unlearned) tongues (languages) just as they did in the book of Acts (Mark 16:17Acts 2:4Acts 10:46Acts 19:6) and every time from then on. And, baptism is only salvific when done in the name of Jesus (Acts 4:12Colossians 3:17Acts 2:38Acts 22:16Galatians 3:27Acts 10:48Romans 6:3).

After we are obedient to the fullness of the Gospel all the old sinful things pass away and we become a new creation in Christ Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:17). We walk in agreement with the Spirit (Galatians 5:16). Meaning, God not only saves us from our past sin, but He also empowers us with His own Spirit to live righteously (2 Peter 1:3-4). The extra good news of the Gospel is that God doesn’t just save us and leave us the same: He saves us, changes us, dwells within us, and continues to strengthen us daily.

Having said all of that, I am far more concerned with Kanye’s salvation than I am his sincerity. I hope he’s sincere and that his sincerity leads him to salvation. Otherwise, his sincere religious error will probably do far more damage than good. Furthermore, any sincere, yet theologically incorrect preacher is more dangerous than any charlatan could ever hope to be. Charlatans are eventually exposed, but sincerely wrong people fight with misled convictions that are deeply influential to others.

Let me leave you with a passage of Scripture to ponder where Paul addresses the issue of zealousness for God without a proper understanding of God’s word. This passionate sincerity without knowledge will cause them to be lost unless they learn to walk obediently to God’s plan.

Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved. For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God (Romans 10:1-13).

Hey, if you’re looking for awesome Apostolic music check out Nathan + Rachel. You’re welcome!

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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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Context Is Everything: Where Two or Three Are Gathered Together… by Timothy Hadden

Context is everything: Where two or three are gathered together…

Brad (bltitus.com) and I have been discussing the possibility of incorporating a segment into the Podcast on Scriptures that are often used out of context. I don’t know of a preacher who isn’t guilty of that from time to time, including yours truly. With that in mind, I was elated and a little frustrated to find that my friend Pastor Timothy Hadden (www.antiochnorthwest.com) has already beat me to the punch. Full disclosure, I have never considered this passage in the way he breaks it down. It is well worth the read. And while you’re at it, check out his new commentary on the book of Exodus on Amazon.

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Don’t Settle for an iTunes Version of the Gospel

My kids inherited their daddy’s deep love for music. Unfortunately, they’re also picky and opinionated about the music we listen to on a regular basis (also something they inherited from me). My iron-fisted reign over the music played in the car is being overthrown a little more each day. Complicating things even further, my kids aren’t in total unity about which songs are “super great”. So, when they both really like a particular singer a little shred of heavenly peace fills our daily commutes.

Recently, we accidentally discovered Matthew West, a Christian solo artist. His lyrics are godly and the kids are wild about it. Julia loves Becoming Me and Talmadge thinks Amen is the anthem of the ages. After about a week straight of playing the “Anthem of the Ages” and the “Sweetest Song Ever Penned” I simply couldn’t take it anymore. It turns out, you can have too much of a good thing. So today, I gathered the kiddos around my outdated iPhone, fired up the iTunes store and started sifting through all the Matthew West songs available. Fifteen dollars bought us all a little much-needed peace and sanity.

For those that don’t know, when you’re searching for music on the iTunes store it allows you to listen to short clips of the songs before making a purchase. This had my kids up in arms. They reasoned that people can’t possibly decide if they like a song in just a few seconds. Which is kinda true. Their recommendation was to just buy every song, but Matthew West has a big musical portfolio and that was out of the question. So, we settled for doing our best to sort out which songs we truly enjoyed with limited information.

This whole process conjured up all kinds of happy memories from my childhood. Memories I happily shared with my kids. They were shocked to hear that in the good old days you couldn’t buy one song at a time and store them on your phone. They gasped at the concept of having to buy an entire CD and needed a detailed explanation of the word cassette tape. My eyes probably shined with joy telling stories of running into the Family Christian Store to buy the newest Steven Curtis Chapman album and listening to the entire thing from beginning to end. Not only would I listen to every word of every song, I’d open that slipcover and read all the lyrics, credits, and thank you’s too. Yep. Those are some of my favorite childhood memories.

Those days are long gone. The only album I’ve purchased in full in the last several years is this one – and you should too. In fact, people typically buy one song per album. Usually, it’s a song they heard on the radio and anyone with any musical taste knows the radio hit is rarely the best song on the album (told you I was musically opinionated). We miss so much great music in the age of iTunes, Spotify, Pandora, and whatever the other newfangled digital platform is ascending nowadays. We bypass wonderful songs because the little five-second clip doesn’t do it justice. We totally ignore songs because they’re not on the local Christian radio charts. Charts that increasingly seem to only have about five songs in rotation.

I may be pining for the old days now but in reality, I love the convenience of not carrying 300 CD’s around in my car. Also, it’s nice having all my music available at the touch of a button. Music is much cheaper when you aren’t forced to buy the entire album. In other words, there’s no going back now. And musically speaking, maybe that’s fine.

Every cultural revolution and technological advancement has unintended (or at least corresponding) sociological consequences. For example, many people approach the Bible like an iTunes playlist. They get little biblical snippets here and there, mostly from easily accessible digital sources. They’re familiar with the top ten Bible verses, but rarely know the context or framework of their favorite scriptures. Their theology and resulting understanding of the Gospel is based on sound clips and abbreviated versions that sound great but lack depth and richness. This is evidenced by nationwide lagging attendance during midweek Bible study services. And further demonstrated by Christians who lack transformation and basic biblical knowledge. For unbelievers, they see and hear the lack of mainstream Christianity’s depth and want nothing to do with that slick, naive, cheap, polished brand of empty believe-ism.

It’s not possible to pick and choose the “highlights” or the “best of” moments of the Bible and leave the rest out. Jesus put it this way: “Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word the proceeds out of the mouth of God (Matthew 4:4).” Many churches are filled with sincere unsaved people who have not truly obeyed God’s Word because they unwittingly settled for an iTunes version of the Gospel. And the world is full of people who have rejected the iTunes version of the Gospel because they easily recognized it as inconsistent, indefensible, and unsatisfying. You see, cheapening the Gospel doesn’t make it more palatable, it actually renders it worthless to the world. A little fly in the perfume gives the whole bottle a bad smell (Ecclesiastes 10:1).

The saving power of the Gospel is more than mental assent, a moment of sincere belief, or an ecstatic emotional experience. Simply stated, the Gospel is the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. Before you can even enter into the plan of salvation you must believe that God exists and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him (Hebrews 11:6). Many people believe in the idea of God but reject Jesus. But to embrace the Gospel we first must believe that Jesus Christ is both Lord and Savior (Acts 16:31, John 3:18, John 4:42).

At the heart of the Gospel is the teaching that we must undergo our own spiritual death, burial, and resurrection just as Jesus did physically (Romans 6:3-8, Galatians 2:20, Colossians 2:12-13). There is one recorded instance in the Bible where bystanders clearly asked a question about salvation (Acts 2:37). Peter gives the most concise biblical answer in the following verse and everyone in the early Church followed that apostolic foundation for salvation. The apostle Peter preached: “…repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost (Acts 2:38).” That precise formula is the only way to be birthed (John 3:3, 1 Peter 1:23) into the Kingdom of God.

Essentially, repentance is our spiritual death (Galatians 5:24, Romans 6:11, Galatians 2:20, 1 Peter 2:24, Romans 6:6), baptism in Jesus’ name is our spiritual burial (Romans 6:3-4, Colossians 2:12-13), and the infilling of the Holy Ghost is our spiritual resurrection (Romans 6:5, Colossians 3:1, Romans 8:8-14). Furthermore, the infilling of the Holy Ghost is first evidenced by supernaturally speaking in unknown (previously unlearned) tongues (languages) just as they did in the book of Acts (Mark 16:17, Acts 2:4, Acts 10:46, Acts 19:6) and every time from then on. And, baptism is only salvific when done in the name of Jesus (Acts 4:12, Colossians 3:17, Acts 2:38, Acts 22:16, Galatians 3:27, Acts 10:48, Romans 6:3).

After we are obedient to the fullness of the Gospel all the old sinful things pass away and we become a new creation in Christ Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:17). We walk in agreement with the Spirit (Galatians 5:16). Meaning, God not only saves us from our past sin, He empowers us with His own Spirit to live righteously (2 Peter 1:3-4). The extra good news of the Gospel is that God doesn’t just save us and leave us the same: He saves us, changes us, dwells within us, and continues to strengthen us daily. Now that’s really good news, and we’ve only scratched the surface of what it means to be transformed by the power of God.

I know that isn’t the slick version of the Gospel many people have seen on TV or heard on the radio. It doesn’t fit nicely on a bumper sticker. God didn’t design the Gospel to blend in with our overly commercialized culture. No. The Gospel is timeless, changeless, and sacred. Please don’t settle for an iTunes version of the Gospel that doesn’t save or satisfy.

Whataboutism (Why It’s Wrong)

Whataboutism is an old word gaining fresh attention largely because of the obnoxious world of politics. Don’t worry, this isn’t a political post. Whataboutism is basically a debate technique that deflects criticism by pointing out the wrongdoings (whether real or perceived) of others.

Oxford Dictionaries defines it as “the technique or practice of responding to an accusation or difficult question by making a counter-accusation or raising a different issue.”

Essentially, whataboutism uses misdirection in the form of a rhetorical question. My kids use whataboutism all the time. Recently, while scolding my daughter because her room was a disaster she responded by asking, “What about Bubs?” At that point, she was smirking at the profundity of her own argument. She continued with what she considered to be the knockout punch, “You haven’t told him to clean his room, and it’s messier than mine.” And presto, she felt vindicated. In her mind, she had accomplished two things: 1) unveiled hypocrisy by pointing out a lack of consistency and 2) justified her own wrong behavior by focusing on her brother’s wrong behavior. In doing so, she was trying to evade the question and shift the blame.

Every kid I’ve ever known skillfully employs the whataboutism technique. I certainly did (I can hear my mother shouting “Amen”). It’s a childish artful dodge. And yet, whataboutism has become the rhetorical loophole of choice for adults who don’t want to discuss the merits of biblical morality. Whataboutism is the favorite self-justification of the average backslider. They shout, “What about all the Christian hypocrites?” And my response to them is the same response I gave my nine-year-old daughter, “Someone else’s wrongdoing doesn’t make your wrongdoing ok.”

As I’ve said before, many Christians embraced gay marriage because they saw Christians committing adultery, divorcing, and fornicating. They said and still say regularly, “You’re against gay marriage, but what about that TV preacher who cheated on his wife?” Well, what about it? Two things can be true at once: 1) homosexuality is a sin and 2) Christians can be sinful hypocrites. But finger pointing doesn’t make my sin or your sin somehow magically acceptable.

There’s an interesting case of whataboutism in the Bible involving David and his oldest brother Eliab (1 Samuel 17:22-29). David had just arrived at the battlefield with food for his brothers only to find the entire army of Israel hiding from Goliath. David started asking around about the situation. He rightfully felt indignation that a pagan giant was being allowed to defy the armies of the living God. But when Eliab overheard David’s questions he grew angry. Probably because he was feeling a surge of guilty humiliation. “What are you doing around here anyway?” he demanded. And then he dropped the hammer, “What about those few sheep you’re supposed to be watching?” And there it is, whataboutism on full display. Eliab didn’t stop there, “I know your pride and deceit. You just want to see the battle” he sputtered at his little brother.

Eliab resorted to a defensive posture when faced with his naked cowardice by insinuating that David was equally imperfect. He projected his own reprehensible character flaws onto his brother. Thankfully, David didn’t let that stop him from doing the right thing. Whataboutism always carries a whiff of resentment with a dash of accusation. If there isn’t any actual hypocrisy for a whataboutist to exploit they’ll simply make something up.

The argumentative whataboutism spirit of Eliab is alive and well today. Christians must resist the pressure to succumb to this toxic brand of self-justification. Jesus addressed the natural human desire to justify our bad behavior with someone else’s bad behavior. He said:

“Ye have heard that it hath been said, thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you (Matthew 5:43-44).”

The message is clear, just because your enemy was hateful first doesn’t mean you get to be hateful too or excuse hatefulness in others. Jesus wasn’t a hypocrite either. He talked it and lived it. Speaking of Calvary, the Apostle Peter wrote:

“Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously: Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness… (1 Peter 2:23-24).”

Although unjustly judged, Jesus left his case in the hands of God who always judges fairly. The work of the cross gives us the opportunity to live unto righteousness. Christians are new creatures in Christ Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:17). That means we don’t get to play the whataboutism game. We don’t get to say, “They did it first!” In other words, we aren’t reactionary. We stand stationary on the Rock that is Christ Jesus.

Oh, and the next time someone starts pointing out all the imperfect Christians to excuse their sin; just point them towards Jesus.

“For He hath made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him (2 Corinthians 5:21).”

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