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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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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How to Help Broken Prodigals

We recently launched our very first episode of Apostolic Voice The Podcast titled The Broken Prodigal. Brad Titus, AVP’s producer gave an unvarnished testimony about his prodigal journeys – yes, more than one journey – home. It really is a gripping story that I believe everyone should hear and share with a friend. I really wanted to address the issue of backsliding because every Apostolic has backslidden family members, friends, or acquaintances who they care for deeply. Helping them can seem like a daunting task. Sometimes, if we’re being honest, we simply quit hoping they will ever come back. My conversation with Brad solidified several things to consider while trying to help the prodigals we know and love.

  1. There are at least five stages in the process of a returning prodigal. One, The Leaving Stage is often completed with a flourish and a demand (Luke 15:12-13). It’s tempting for the brothers and sisters to take this personally (Luke 15:28-29), but this stage is actually a rebellion against God. Two, The Riotous Living Stage where the prodigal’s inheritance is energetically squandered (Luke 15:13). To onlookers, this season appears fun and carefree and the prodigal’s return seems highly unlikely. Three, The Crisis Stage where all the consequences of the previous stages start piling on (Luke 15:14-16). Four, The Broken Stage where the prodigal hits rock bottom (Luke 15:16). This is the stage where prodigals seriously consider going back home (Luke 15:17-18). Five, The Decision Stage where the prodigal decides to go home with humility and contrition (Luke 15:18-19).
  2. Most prodigals need to complete the process of becoming broken before they will remember the bread from their father’s house (Luke 15:16-18). As difficult as it may be, sometimes you do have to give prodigals space. Chasing them down the road as they’re leaving rarely makes a difference.
  3. However, you should be loving them and waiting for them with open arms and a hopeful heart (Luke 15:20).
  4. Don’t compromise for the sake of the relationship. In other words, don’t follow them in their rebellion or do anything that could appear like an endorsement of their lifestyle.
  5. Two things can be true at once, you can disapprove of someone’s lifestyle, and love them at the same time. Jesus demonstrated this in the ultimate fashion in that while we were yet sinners He died for us (Romans 5:8).
  6. It is imperative that we join the celebration when prodigals make their way home. That sounds easy, but prodigals often burn bridges when they leave. They genuinely hurt the people they leave behind. For those of us that have stayed and worked in the House of God, it might seem unfair when a returning prodigal receives the royal treatment. Swallow that resentment, forgive, and celebrate.
  7. Let’s talk about the nitty-gritty for just a moment. We all know backsliders who come home a few times a year and cry and speak in tongues but never stick around. It really can be disheartening watching that cycle of failure. But there is a common thread that I’ve noticed among those cyclical prodigals. They feel sorry for themselves rather than feeling godly sorrow over their actions (2 Corinthians 7:10). They subtly blame others for their failures and bad decisions. They shift blame faster than a trial lawyer. But truly broken prodigals accept accountability for their actions. They feel genuine godly sorrow over their failures. And they decided to come home even if it meant spending the rest of their lives as a “lesser brother” (Luke 15:18-19). Thankfully, God doesn’t brand us a backslider for life (Luke 15:32). And that’s good or the apostle Peter would not have been able to preach on the Day of Pentecost and usher in the outpouring of the Holy Ghost upon the early Church (Acts 2).
  8. So many of you have corresponded after the first episode of AVP with heartbreaking stories about prodigals you love dearly. Please, keep the home fires burning for them. Don’t lose heart or give up hope. Love them no matter how difficult they might make it.

Podcast Questions Answered: For those who have asked about the format, AVP will be a weekly program. At this point, we plan to release a new episode each Thursday morning. We have interviewed several special guests (Evangelist Joe Campetella author of Your Campus Revival, Pastor Steven Showalter author of Escaping Fantasyland and recording artist Devin Cunningham). AVP is available on iTunes and Overcast just search for Apostolic Voice The Podcast. And finally, the recording quality has dramatically improved with each episode as we’ve worked out bugs and upgraded equipment. We are learning and growing as we go. Thanks for taking the journey with us.

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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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8 Preacher Traps – That Can Develop Over Time

I’m a fierce advocate of preachers and preaching. I’ve written in defense of preachers on numerous occasions here, here, and here. That doesn’t mean I view preachers as superhuman or little deities, however, God clearly ordained the foolishness of preaching as the mechanism for reaching the world with the Gospel (1 Corinthians 1:18-21, Acts 17:18, Mark 16:15). Preaching is also Divinely designed to preserve, encourage, strengthen, equip, and correct the Church (1 Corinthians 15:2, 1 Peter 1:25, 1 Timothy 4:13, 2 Timothy 3:16). Bottom line, preaching is really, really, really vital for the overall health of the Church and the advancement of the Gospel. It only makes sense that Satan would set traps for preachers faster than a poacher on a wildlife preservation.

Without descending into a pit of needless negativity, I can safely assume everyone reading this post has witnessed at least one sincere preacher turn, shall we say… less than sincere. With very few exceptions, preachers do not begin ministering with nefarious intentions. For the most part, preachers make tremendous sacrifices to enter the ministry. Preacher problems develop over time as they fall into traps either because of carelessness or unresolved character flaws the enemy cleverly exploits.

My motivation for writing isn’t to berate the fallen, there’s plenty of preacher bashing going on without me jumping unceremoniously into the ring. Instead, I’m writing with the earnest hearted preacher in mind. Additionally, I’m writing for those who may have stepped a toe across a line, yet still have the capacity to feel a surge of conscience. One thing is for certain if you labor in ministry long enough you will be forced to navigate around or fight your way out of a preacher trap. I’ve identified eight common traps in the hopes of building awareness, fortifications, and wisdom.

1. Success & popularity. Most preachers have tons of incredibly humbling moments in their early days of ministry. To this day, my brother has a “blackmail tape” containing one of the first sermons I ever preached. I sounded like a scared parrot that only knew four words. After those four words, everything else was just squawking and weird chirping sounds. It was horrible. God bless that precious congregation and Pastor James Fielder for loving me enough to be encouraging despite that pathetic, although sincere attempt to preach.

Yep. Early days of ministry are filled with epic fails, empty blusters, false starts, zealous stumbles, learning curves, knowledge gaps, unrestrained enthusiasm, and embarrassing awkwardness. Some endure that maturation process longer than others, but over time the resilient step into a season of ministerial success. Now, measuring ministerial success can be tricky because it really has nothing to do with money, fame, large congregations, or popularity. God defines success differently than most people define success, but that’s another post for another day. Regardless, even achieving a godly standard of success can suck the humility right out of a sincere heart. Once that humility is gone, all kinds of nasty things compete to fill the void.

Success is not the problem. Success is a good thing. Responding correctly to success is the key. Most people spend a lot of time figuring out how to deal with failure, but very little time preparing their heart to handle success and popularity.

2. Talent. The moment a preacher realizes he is talented enough to move a crowd without relying on the anointing his foot is poised above a preacher killing landmine. Lawyers, politicians, comedians, actors, false prophets, and motivational speakers move crowds emotionally every single day without the help of the anointing. Having talent is great, terrific even, but it is the anointing that breaks the yoke (Isaiah 10:27).

I firmly believe that preachers should work to develop strong communication skills. I believe preachers have an obligation to work as hard as they can to communicate biblical truths effectively and with as much excellence as possible. This is partially what the Apostle Paul was alluding to when he admonished Timothy, “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).” But all the talent, work, study, and charisma in the world is no substitute for prayer, fasting, and humble reliance upon the Lord.

Every talented preacher should remember the warning of the ever-somber prophet Jeremiah: Cursed is that man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength (Jeremiah 17:5-9). Learning how to move a crowd emotionally is a cheap substitute for the genuine power and demonstration of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:4-5).

3. Loving preaching more than people. This is one of the most common traps to ensnare preachers. It shames me to admit that I’ve had to fight my way out of this trap a time or two. This one takes a lot of self-introspection to detect.

Upon reflection, I’ve pinpointed a few things about my preaching while wriggling out of that devious little trap. One, I preached way longer than needed to communicate what God laid on my heart. Two, I chased a lot of rabbit trails that interested me but were of little help or value to the hearers. Three, I resisted the Spirit when it prompted me to deviate from my prepared notes. Four, I rebuked out of personal anger rather than true righteous indignation. Five, I spent less time weeping over the lost and broken than concocting just the right wording for each sermon point. Six, in the preparation process I resisted the directing of the Spirit opting instead to build my favorite soap box or pursue topics that were intellectually stimulating to me personally. Seven, I was more passionate about winning arguments than winning hearts. Eight, I preached condescendingly, smugly, and arrogantly.

To be clear, preaching cannot and should not be solely directed towards the “felt” needs of a congregation. Neither should preaching be spineless, compromising, or afraid of necessary confrontation. Nothing mentioned here should leave the impression that preachers should be push-overs, milquetoasts, or overly obsessive about offending the hearers. But the fact remains a preacher’s motives matter. Preachers should always stand behind the sacred desk driven by love for God, God’s Word, God’s Church, and lost people.

4. Forgetting the main mission. As I mentioned earlier, preaching has many noble purposes, but none more vital than the propagation of the Gospel (Matthew 28:19-20, 2 Timothy 4:17, 2 Corinthians 10:14, Acts 8:12-17). Preaching can quickly devolve into mere motivational jargon if it isn’t Christocentric. During the endless quest to remain relevant, creative, interesting, inspiring, and fresh some preachers lose sight of the Great Commission and ultimately fail their mission.

5. Valuing crowd size above the spiritual growth of the congregation. I’ve written a good bit on church growth here, here, here, and here. No preacher in their right mind wants seats to be empty while the Word is being preached. Every empty seat represents a soul that needs God. Regardless, God never called preachers to build large congregations. Rather, we are called to plant the seed; God alone gives the Harvest (Matthew 9:38). Every preacher reading this knows that is the case, but it doesn’t stop us from feeling like failures when church attendance dips or doesn’t grow at the pace we had envisioned. All of that is normal and acceptable to a certain degree, yet very dangerous if we begin to value large crowds above the actual spiritual health of the people.

Obviously, just gathering large groups of people together every Sunday isn’t the ultimate spiritual objective. Otherwise, the NFL would be one of the most spiritual organizations in America. When preachers become inordinately focused on crowd size instead of spiritual maturation they will suffer depression, discouragement, insecurity, jealousy, and struggle with the temptation to become people pleasers rather than God pleasers. Which leads nicely to the next trap.

6. Willingness to sacrifice scriptural integrity for any reason at all. There are many reasons a preacher might be tempted to compromise biblical truths. Some compromise due to the illusion of assured numerical growth, desired popularity, personal carnality, outside pressure, peer pressure, spiritual battle fatigue, greed, or any number of other factors. Regardless, failing to preach the whole Truth and nothing but the Truth is a gross betrayal of God’s calling and of the trust placed in us by others.

7. Burnout. Unresolved physical, emotional, and spiritual exhaustion can result in burnout and burnout produces bitterness. For every preacher with a golf course “ministry” reputation, there are ten others burning the candle at both ends. As I’ve written before, ministry is incredibly demanding. Burnout usually manifests itself as depression or anxiety or both. The tragedy of the burnout trap is that it takes advantage of a preacher’s good intentions. We want to be all things, to all people, all the time. It’s just not humanly possible.

8. Ministering to others while neglecting family. I understand that a preacher’s family must be willing to make sacrifices for the sake of ministry. I get that. Been there. Done that. Still doing that. But a preacher’s first ministerial obligation is to his family (Genesis 18:19, 1 Samuel 3:13, 1 Timothy 3:1-12, Titus 1:6). Many dynamic ministries have been rendered powerless because their family fell apart. They were so busy ministering to others they lost sight of their primary responsibility.

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How to Seek God’s Will (For Any Situation)

Christians can and should seek the will of God, especially for big life decisions (Matthew 6:10, Ephesians 5:15-20, Hebrews 10:36, Judges 6:36-40). Sometimes though, I think we make the whole process far too mystical and mysterious. We make it harder than it needs to be. After all, God wants us to know his will.

The Bible contains 1,189 chapters full of guidance and direction for our lives. I’ve noticed that people who struggle the most to find God’s will spend the least amount of time in his Word. Don’t beg for God’s voice if you haven’t studied his Word, but I digress.

Below are a few quick and practical tips that will help you learn how to distinguish God’s will for any situation.

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Study to show yourself approved (2 Timothy 2:15). I’ve already jumped the gun on this point, probably because it is the most important point. There’s a lot of big life decisions that you won’t agonize over if you already know God’s Word.

Paul continues that thought by saying we must, “rightly divide the Word of truth.” A lifestyle of studying and understanding the Bible will put you miles ahead of others when it comes to quickly knowing God’s will for any given situation.

God will never contradict his Word. You are not the exception to the rule. You are not the one person who can do what God told everyone else not to do. God’s word is settled (Psalm 119:89). If you feel like God is telling you to do something that contradicts the Bible you need to see a doctor because the voice you’re hearing isn’t God’s voice. I’m kidding. Well, maybe a little serious. But mostly kidding.   


God’s will never removes you from apostolic authority, submission, or headship (Romans 13:2-7, Ephesians 5:21-22, 1 Peter 5:5, Hebrews 13:7, Titus 3:1). Period. Even pastors need a pastor. Even Elisha needed an Elijah. Like it or not, God has always had a chain of command and you are always out of God’s will when you break it.

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It is always God’s will for you to be faithful, therefore, anything that impedes faithfulness is most likely not his will for your life (Revelation 2:10, 1 Corinthians 4:1-2, 1 Corinthians 15:58, Psalm 31:23, Matthew 25:21, Psalm 101:6). God wants you to be faithful to the Church, your family, your faith, and his Word. God wants you to be faithful in your marriage and to your children. Anything that hinders faithfulness to those things is very dangerous.

Let’s talk real life for just a moment – if you’re trying to decide if it’s God’s will for you to take a job that will cause you to miss church all the time it’s probably not his will. If you’re wondering if you should go to college in a city where there is no strong apostolic church you should know it’s probably not God’s will. If you’re thinking about doing something that takes you away from your family on a regular and unhealthy basis it’s probably not God’s will. If you’re thinking about dating or marrying someone who isn’t totally committed to God and his Word just know it’s not God’s will.

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Seek counsel from your pastor BEFORE making a major life decision. Do not wait until you’ve already decided to seek pastoral counsel. It’s not really counseling if you’ve already decided. I specifically mentioned your pastor because he is your spiritual under-shepherd. Your pastor is the watchman on the wall. Other saints may have good intentions and even good advice, but they are not your pastor. If your pastor’s voice doesn’t matter to you than you are already out of God’s will.

Be prayerful, be purposeful, and be praiseful (1 John 5:14, James 5:16). The very nature of prayer draws us close to God. It brings us into communion and relationship with the Lord. Without prayer, you will never hear God’s voice. Purposeful and praiseful prayers are the keys that unlock the rare mysteries of God’s perfect will for specific situations.

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Remember, decisions have long lasting consequences. Consider the past, present, and the future. Know that instant gratification is not always the right choice.

Lot was correct in perceiving that he needed to separate from Abraham. But he pitched his tents towards the well-watered plains of Sodom (Genesis 13:12), and just a few verses later he was living right in the middle of Sodom. Clearly, this was a decision that placed him squarely out of God’s plan for his life. He made life decisions that caused him to trend in the wrong direction.

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15 Ways to Win the Battle Within

I’m a statistics kinda guy, but I know from the glazed looks people give me when I bring them up that most people aren’t like me. So, rather than bore you with the minutia of details, let’s just say folks are battling depression on an epic scale.

Certainly, temptation, in general, is an ever-present problem, and even Christians seem to be struggling with feelings of despair. Not to mention other emotional issues like fear, anger, bitterness, unforgiveness, lust (including pornography), greed, envy, jealousy, and the list goes on. And those are just the natural issues that human beings face; demonic attacks are prevalent as well. Sadly, many people don’t even realize they’re entangled in a spiritual battle.

These problems begin in the mind. Every sin starts with a thought, and if that thought is not dealt with properly it will produce a sinful action or reaction. The battle for peace is fought in the mind. The battle for joy is fought in the mind. The battle for purity is fought in the mind. Satan engages your mind first because what you think about the most is what you will eventually act upon. If you engage your mind with darkness you will be drawn towards darkness. If you engage your mind with righteousness you will be drawn towards righteousness (Philippians 4:8).

That’s what Paul meant when he said, “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind… (Romans 12:2)”. Again, in Ephesians 4:22-24 Paul refers to the battle of the mind in relation to holiness and overcoming the old “sinful” way of life. The old mind produces the old sins, but a renewed mind produces holiness. In verse 25, Paul illustrates the first fruit of that new mind is truthfulness with our neighbors. The state of our mind informs the status of our actions. In other words, garbage in garbage out and vice versa.

My personality is very susceptible to depression. That’s not easy to say because many Christians are so used to emotionally faking it that they think they’re making it. They’re kicking the emotional can down the road until the inevitable day of reckoning.

Hands down, the number one question posed to me when counseling: How can I win the battle that’s raging in my mind (or some variation of that)? The answer is not a simple one. Most people want a silver bullet that makes all the struggles go away immediately. To be sure, there are powerful offensive weapons, but none of them are lasting without a strong defensive shield. You can rebuke the Devil, but he’ll just come back around if you leave your defenses vulnerable.

Below is a list of fifteen things that will truly guard our minds. Fifteen powerful defensive shields. If you’re looking for a shorter Twitter-friendly list just know, there are no shortcuts to safety.

1. Get some rest (Psalm 4:8). Have you ever been so tired you just didn’t care about anything anymore? Exhaustion has a way of draining us physically and emotionally. There are times it simply can’t be avoided, but there are also times where we simply haven’t made rest a priority.

2. Help somebody (Hebrews 13:16). We should help others because it’s the right thing to do. But there are benefits attached to helping others. It takes our minds off us and our problems. Helping others forces us out of selfish habits and self-destructive thoughts. It’s amazing how quickly our attitude can change when we empty ourselves out in the service of others.

3. Only listen to Christian music. Fill your mind with godly music that is uplifting. Yep, and the more it talks about Jesus the better. Listen to it a lot.

There’s literally nothing that has more ability to impact your mind and mood than music. Everything about music is designed to lower your guard and capture your attention. When you fill your mind with sinful lyrics you’ve opened yourself up to spiritual attack. You’d be hard-pressed to find a popular secular song that doesn’t glorify either casual sex, cursing, violence, drinking, drugs, cheating, lying, greed, lust, godlessness, hopelessness, despair, or divorce. That list could be a lot longer, but you get the idea.

By listening to that kind of music you are literally handing your mind over to the enemy. If it walks like the world and talks like the world it probably is the world. Oh, and if you’re in the world your prayers lose their power: The prayers of a righteous man avail much (James 5:16).

By the way, everything listed above applies to all your entertainment choices. Everything from books, magazines, movies, television, internet, games, and more. Surely, you can’t be entertained by filth and wonder why you long for filth. Surely, you can’t watch horror and wonder why you battle anxiety. Surely, you can’t watch (and laugh at) immorality and wonder why you’re full of lust. Clean it up, throw stuff out, make a covenant with your eyes and ears. Take Philippians 4:8 seriously and you’ll be surprised how quickly your mind will be renewed.

Everything else on this list of defenses will be weakened if you constantly subject your eyes and ears to worldly entertainment.

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4. Spend time daily reading the Bible. If you need direction, search the Scriptures. If you need encouragement, search the Scriptures. You need the Word daily. Why would you leave your greatest resource untouched?

The word is a lamp unto our feet (Psalm 119:105), which means it protects us from painfully stumbling and falling. But it’s also a sword (Ephesians 6:17), meaning it is our greatest offensive weapon against the enemy. When Satan tempted Jesus in the wilderness his strongest offense and defense was the Word (Luke 4:1-13). If you know what is written you will know how to confidentially respond to temptation.

5. Pray, really pray (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Sincerely, pray and ask God for strength. Pray until the Holy Ghost falls. Pray when you don’t feel like praying. That’s usually when you need to pray the most. Pray for the Lord’s will (Luke 22:42, Matthew 6:9-13). Pray your way through the Psalms.

It’s good to get alone with God in a private place, but some of my best prayer meetings happened in my car driving down the road. That’s what it means to pray without ceasing, being ready to pray at a moment’s notice.

Don’t just pray when you need something, pray because you want to be close to God. Put some praise in your prayers. Talk to God about your hopes and dreams, doubts and fears, pains and triumphs, and all the in between stuff too. We’ve all known people who only called when they needed something. Don’t be that way with God. Be that person who maintains the relationship in the good times and the bad.

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6. Make sure you’re being obedient to the Bible in your personal life (even when no one is looking). Disobedience invites the demonic (1 Samuel 13:14). Even worse, disobedience stirs God’s wrath (Ephesians 5:6). Disobedient Christians are miserable because they are fighting the demonic and suffering the Lord’s wrath at the same time.

Disobedience produces guilt, condemnation, pain, and spiritual resistance. The pain that we suffer while in disobedience is intended to draw us back to repentance. Much like the prodigal son who needed a pig pen before he realized he needed to go back home. If you’re living in disobedience, things will get progressively worse until you repent and make things right with God.

7. Spend time talking with godly, Holy Ghost filled people who will encourage you not discourage you (Proverbs 13:20-25). Choose your inner circle wisely. Those closest to you will impact your attitude and your mind the most. Your closest friendships should not be with unwise or ungodly people. Be kind to everyone, but your deep friendships should be with Holy Ghost filled encouragers who aren’t afraid to tell you the truth even when it hurts.

8. Avoid people, places, and things that will trigger a spiritual attack, temptation, or depression (when possible). Eve would have been far less likely to eat the fruit if she hadn’t been near the fruit. The serpent didn’t show up until she showed up where she shouldn’t have been. Don’t set yourself up for failure by hanging around people and places that pull your mind in dangerous directions.

There are some things that aren’t sinful by themselves but they have emotional connections in your mind that trigger unhealthy thoughts. Avoid those things. For example, I have a friend who was addicted to heroin before he received the Holy Ghost. Every time he shot up he would listen to instrumental jazz music and wait for the drugs to take over. Whenever he hears jazz music all kinds of negative emotions come crashing down on him. Obviously, if possible, he avoids jazz. That’s called wisdom.

9. Get to church as soon as possible and grab the altar until God touches you (Psalm 84:3, Psalm 92:13). There’s a reason that we are instructed not to forsake the gathering together of godly people (Hebrews 10:25). It’s a blessing for our own benefit (Mark 2:27).

Even the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13) is written in the plural, not the singular: Give us this day our daily bread. We thrive as a community of believers. We were not made to walk alone. Faith feeds faith. Worship breeds worship. Joy is contagious. When we are weak we need the strength of fellow believers, and when we are strong weak believers need our encouragement.

There is safety in numbers. The Bible refers to Satan as a lion looking for a person to devour (1 Peter 5:8). Lions are known for stalking very large prey. They follow a herd and wait for one member of the herd to lag behind or become separated from the others. That’s when the lion pounces. A herd can defend itself from the lion’s attack, but a single animal becomes an easy victim.

Years of ministry has taught me that many people avoid church when they are struggling to win the battle for their mind. That’s literally the worst thing a person can do in that situation. If you have to take a boat, train, plane, or walk in the rain: do what you have to do to get to church.

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10. Worship the Lord all the time even when you’re alone (Psalm 34:1). This one might sound silly at first, but you should spontaneously worship the Lord throughout your day. If you love and appreciate the Lord, you won’t wait until Sunday to tell him.

11. Add fasting to your prayers. In Matthew 17:14-21 a father brought his demon-possessed son to Jesus for deliverance. The King James Version refers to the son as a “lunatic” inferring that the possession and oppression were so strong it had literally destroyed the boy’s mind. The father had already taken his son to the disciples but they had been unable to cast the demon out of him. Of course, Jesus cast the devil out immediately leaving the disciples wondering why they had been powerless. In verse 19 Jesus rebukes them for their unbelief (lack of faith), and in verse 21 he reveals the reason for their unbelief; lack of prayer combined with fasting. This demon was so strong that it required prayer and fasting to overpower it.

There are situations, attacks, oppressions, and spirits that require prayer and fasting to overcome. Fasting brings our mind and body into subjection. It cultivates spiritual awareness and sensitivity. Our mind is sharpened and our spirit is quickened when fasting. And yet, this is the most underutilized tool in most people’s spiritual belt.

12. Keep a prayer journal. For me personally, this has been one of the most helpful things I have ever done. I write thoughts, prayer requests, questions, goals, hopes, dreams, study findings, and testimonies. The Bible speaks of overcoming by the word of testimony (Revelation 12:11). We humans have a bad habit of fixating on what we need God to do and forgetting what he has already done. This forgetfulness leads to anxiety. Remembering what God has done builds faith.

13. Study a specific subject in the Bible. This is different than just daily Bible reading. Find a subject that you don’t fully understand dig deeply until you understand it inside and out. Knowledge is power in the Spirit (Proverbs 24:5). Satan operates best in confusion.

14. Stay busy. Boredom is the Devils playground (1 Timothy 5:13).

15. Listen to a lot of good anointed Apostolic preaching. I highly recommend downloading the Holy Ghost Radio app and the Revival Radio app. They’re free and they’re awesome. Also, you can catch my church Podcast here or on iTunes here.

FINAL THOUGHT: The Devil attacks people’s minds immediately after powerful spiritual events. It was right after Jesus’ baptism that he was carried into the wilderness and tempted by the Devil (Matthew 4:1-11). There are countless other biblical examples, but if you know this to be the case you can be prepared and respond appropriately.

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Weekly Ramblings (Critics, Free Speech, Gluten & Earth Day)

Ramble alert! Consider yourself forewarned, this is going to be a little scattered and verbose.

If you’re a regular reader, you know that my posts usually have a clear and central theme. I typically only write about a subject that I have thought through thoroughly, and that meticulousness keeps me from being prolific. Time constraints simply don’t allow me to produce interesting articles on a daily or even weekly basis. Furthermore, as the readership has grown, the critics and detractors have increased as well. Don’t get me wrong, support is strong and I’m truly grateful for the unexpected connections this blog has cultivated. I only mention the critics because they challenge me to be very sure of something before I hit publish and send another article into cyberspace.

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In a way, the critics serve as an inspiration to be especially well prepared to explain my opinions and theological views. I much prefer preaching over writing, and pre-Apostolic Voice I would have assumed that preaching invites more criticism than writing ever could. Interestingly, the reverse seems to be true. I’ve introspected about this reality and landed on the theory that preaching is intellectual and emotional, while theologically driven opinion piece writing is almost entirely detached and cerebral.

To illustrate the difference between preaching and writing, try to remember the exact wording of the last sermon you heard. It’s really hard, isn’t it? That doesn’t mean you weren’t touched by it, you could likely explain what the theme of the sermon was or describe how it impacted you in some way or another. But the exact phrasing is probably fuzzy. Also, we don’t stop preachers’ mid-sermon and ask them to repeat something we missed, or ask them what they were really trying to say if it was a little unclear. But with writing, we can read it over again, ask a question (in a blog fueled by social media), and even challenge a point. I think that’s a good thing if it’s done with mutual respect. In best case scenarios, that kind of interaction generates healthy discussion. However, it does cause me to weigh every word written with great circumspection.

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All of that to say (I warned you this would be wordy), that’s my main excuse for not writing more often. Well, that and being busier than a tax preparer in April. Nevertheless, many extremely kind people have asked me to pick up the pace and post more often. With great hesitancy, I’ve decided to begin posting a weekly article of random thoughts, comments, inspirations, and semi-chaotic opinions. I should qualify by saying, I’ll give it a try and see how it goes. So, let’s go!

The recent Berkeley debacles have forced most well-informed people to solidify their opinions about free speech in America. Christians really have an obligation to take notice, whether you like the people involved or not. In my opinion, we’re only a hop, skip, and a jump away from violent protestors trying to silence churches that aren’t “PC” enough. Free speech must be free whether we agree or disagree. I don’t like what a lot of people are saying, but I believe in (and would defend) their right to say it.

I’m predicting that freedom of speech will become increasingly controversial and contested. Secularism doesn’t care if you label yourself a Christian if you stay silent about cultural hot button issues like abortion, sexual immorality, and other prevalent sins. Remember, preaching is the mechanism that God ordained for the advancement of the Gospel. Freedom of speech is an important liberty that intertwines solidly with freedom of religion; the unraveling of one weakens the other.

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My beautiful wife is severely allergic to gluten. She literally can’t eat it. Period. If you don’t know what gluten is, it’s basically the substance that makes everything yummy.

For years we didn’t know what was causing her to have so many health issues. It was such a huge relief to finally figure out that it was a food allergy. It’s nothing short of impressive the way she has been able to cut vast categories of food out of her life. To be fair, for her the repercussions just aren’t worth the instant gratification of a glutinous Krispy Kreme donut (or two, or a dozen, or whatever). Although, if I was allergic to gluten I’d probably die in a blaze of gluten fueled glory.

Because of her allergy, I really try (often unsuccessfully) not to eat things around her that she loves but can’t eat. At the very least, I try not to be totally in her face about it. Also, my name is Ryan and I’m a donut addict and I have the empty Krispy Kreme box to prove it. In the effort to reconcile my efforts to be sensitive to her allergy, and my need to eat donuts, I’ve become a sneaky donut eater. The struggle is real.

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Remarkably, I really wasn’t all that wild about baked goods until the moment they started to seem forbidden. And therein lies a profound insight into the human condition. We have this innate pull towards things that seem forbidden. Especially if the perceived rewards are immediate and the consequences seem far removed (or uncertain). For my wife, the consequences are almost immediate if she consumes even one donut, but for me, the consequences creep in gradually (almost imperceptibly).

Ironically, this human psychological conundrum can be traced all the way back to the Garden of Eden when Eve ate the fruit and didn’t keel over dead. The serpent seemed vindicated momentarily because death was not instantaneous. But the process of physical death was activated by sin and spiritual death was triggered the moment she swallowed that forbidden bite.

Admittedly, this empty box of Krispy Kreme donuts is undoubtedly inspiring this little guilt-ridden rant. But when it comes to spiritual things, we would all do well to remember that just because consequences are mercifully delayed doesn’t mean they aren’t looming undetected (Galatians 6:7-8).

Another Earth Day has come and gone. This is me reminding you that the earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof is his (Psalm 24:1).

Also, don’t you think it’s interesting how secularism always has a generic substitute for biblical things? Skeptics love to mock Christians for preaching apocalyptic theologies about the impending end of the world, but we’re all supposed to take baseless, apocalyptic, unproven, calamitous theories about global warming seriously. Here are two good related articles from National Review: Bill Nye’s View of Humanity Is Repulsive, Science vs. Science. WARNING, that second article quotes actress Rachel Bloom and she is vulgar, but such is the state of “mainstream” science today.

Oh, and the earth isn’t your mother (thanks for that witty insight Andrew Grant).

I’ll leave you with a relevant Earth Day passage of Scripture:

The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork. Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge. There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard. Their line is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them hath he set a tabernacle for the sun, which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, and rejoiceth as a strong man to run a race. His going forth is from the end of the heaven, and his circuit unto the ends of it: and there is nothing hid from the heat thereof (Psalm 19:1-6).”

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The Walking Dead (The Church and the Zombie Culture) by Nathan French

The Walking Dead is far from the only provocative show out there, but with so many Christians talking about it, I feel a responsibility to address it. The Walking Dead symbolizes entertainment today. Am I the only one who has noticed all the MA (Mature ratings) on everything? The sad truth is, the “MATURE” rating sells in our culture, and that’s why we see so much of it now.

Congratulations! If you’re alive, you’re a part of the Zombie Culture. Ironic, isn’t it? Full disclosure, I’ve never seen the show. I made a personal decision not to watch it. Even so, it’s impossible to escape the impact it makes all around us. This article is intended to point out the desensitization of what our culture deems “acceptable” for viewing in their home.

Here are three sad reasons why The Walking Dead is so popular today.

  1. PEOPLE LONG TO KNOW MORE ABOUT THE AFTERLIFE

Eternity is a scary thing. The Word of God addresses eternity over and over again. We have the answer! You must be “Born Again” to enter into the Kingdom of God (John 3:3). Satan loves the Zombie Culture because it takes eternity out of the picture, and gives the subtle impression that we STAY here after we die. The Zombie culture takes the reality of Heaven and Hell out of the picture entirely. The truth about death is found in the Word of God.

1 Thessalonians 4:16 – For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first:

  1. VIOLENCE

You don’t have to watch The Walking Dead to know it’s VIOLENT. Extremely violent entertainment used to be considered a “cult following”. Not anymore, my friends. The Walking Dead has over 20 Million devout followers. We live in a crazy world filled with mass shootings, terrorism, and bomb threats every other week. Violent TV contributes greatly to this. Studies and criminal testimonies show that the culprits usually have one thing in common, they got involved in pornographic and violent entertainment.

What you watch affects you! Period. You can kick and scream and say it isn’t so but it doesn’t change reality. It is impossible scientifically for your brain to shut out what you put in front of your eyes. Yet, our culture is drawn to violence for entertainment purposes. This is also why you will notice the MARVEL franchise starting to make R-rated movies. The “R” rating used to hurt revenue, now they are the “number 1” selling movies in the franchise. Violence sells.

  1. ADDICTION

Hollywood is smart. They know how to maneuver around the human conscience. People say, “Season 7 was too much for me, but I’m 6 seasons in. I can’t stop now or I’ve wasted my time! I’ll never know what happened if I stop watching!”

Entertainment is addicting, and it’s hard to stop once you’ve invested your time into it. Usually, the first season of a show will stay tame enough to keep its audience. It’s not until later seasons that writers and director get brave. You control what you watch, not anyone else. If what you’re watching is not pleasing to God, only you have the power to stop it.

So, I leave you with this thought. The CULTURE shouldn’t influence the CHURCH, the CHURCH should influence the culture. Just because culture deems certain entertainment acceptable, doesn’t mean the Church should start digesting it. If your phone was mirrored to the world, would you be ashamed by your entertainment choices? Only you can decide what you allow into your home. Our churches will begin looking like “The Walking Dead” if we don’t clean up our entertainment choices.

If this article stepped on your toes, look down and make sure your feet are planted in the right place. Better yet, move your feet and walk away from The Walking Dead.

Psalm 101:3 – I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes…

A day or so before Nathan approached me with the concept of writing about The Walking Dead, my 7-year-old son asked me if dead people could really eat living people alive. After much questioning, I found out that several of his classmates watch The Walking Dead with their parents, and talk about it at school. These are 7-YEAR-OLD KIDS! You also need to understand, I spend a small fortune to send my kids to an extremely conservative Christian school. And yet, the pervasiveness of a gruesome horror show still permeates the environment despite concerned teachers. Obviously, Christian parents are not only ingesting gratuitous violence themselves (not to mention nudity, sex, and cursing), but they are callously exposing their small children as well. There is simply no redeeming quality in this kind of behavior.

Nathan and I have already braced ourselves for the inevitable pushback from the desensitized Christian zombified masses who will find this whole discussion offensive and out-of-bounds. I look forward to reading their indefensible defenses, their unjustifiable justifications, and their objectionable objections. Just to make sure no one can accuse me of obfuscation; you should absolutely run away from The Walking Dead. 

~Ryan French 

 

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Nathan French

Advice to Millennials

In dealing with and hoping to advise our fellow millennial citizens who range from eighteen to thirty-four years old there are some questions in my mind. Who would you listen to if advice were given? I can answer the question in part, you would probably not listen to your parents, nor would you listen to any older person and very possibly you would not listen to a minister. So, the question is, who could arrest your attention for possible enlightenment? Your peers would probably agree with all that you are now thinking. That is the option you would give your professor, the chance to open your thinking. But he or she would only reiterate what you have already been taught. Or maybe you would thumb through the latest list of movies on the subject in question. I hope you don’t mind my pointing out the fictional aspect of that option.

Well, it’s all complicated but you have more responsibility than you might think. So, I ask you to shake your head and think out of the millennial box.  I am not suggesting or asking that you must dress differently or change your hair style. I am only asking that you stretch your mind. Let me say, that by you doing this it will not help me at all, but there is a chance it might benefit you. If you would like to be different than your generation, try this ever so often. Stretching your mind will be a sure way of finding uniqueness since probably not many around you will be so daring. Don’t worry, you could not be an older person if you tried, nor will you ever be thirteen again. So, you must be yourself not a cookie cutter version of all around you. When you think out of the box, you realize no one could push God on you that is impossible. When you understand this, you will be thinking beyond the crowd. It is not possible for preachers to force this upon you. Reading the Bible cannot be forced upon you. Church attendance cannot be forced upon you.

Let me share a secret with you – your children will think you are nuts because what you think about life will be antiquated in 25 years, just like the car you now drive. Your thinking is headed for moth balls. It is on its’ way to becoming obsolete. As a millennial, you might have put God and the church aside which is your prerogative. But please allow me to say before you pull your thinking back into a narrow box, you are taking a lot on yourself. You can’t hug yourself to your own heart. You will find that you alone are just not enough. So, you can’t take anyone else’s idea about a lot of things including God because that is not something others can (or should be allowed to) decide for you. When you fight for your rights remember that others also have theirs. I am not stupid enough to think I can unmillennialize you but we all should realize that we need thinking that will last a lifetime.

Rev. O.C. Marler wears more hats than I can list in this one little bio spot. He is a highly sought after speaker, preacher, and teacher who is known for his powerfully engaging communication style (you can listen here). He currently travels the country preaching with his beloved wife Joan. They are both prolific writers of western and mystery genra fiction. Everyone should own a copy of O.C. Marler’s best selling book Doctrine Does Matter, which is a wonderfully readable explanation of how to be saved. On a personal note, Rev. Marler is a lifelong friend and mentor to me. During my Indiana Bible College years his classes left a lasting impact on my life. His advice, wise counsel, and example are invaluable to me. His ministry has shaped and influenced thousands of millennials throughout the United States.

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A Oneness Pentecostal – Making A Difference by Ellington Haywood Ellis

I was pleasantly surprised to see an article in The Huffington Post by Ellington Haywood Ellis entitled A Oneness Pentecostal – Making A DifferenceI hope you will read the article for yourself. Ellis claims a direct correlation between the dynamic Oneness Pentecostal movement in Ethiopia and subsequent economic growth. Interestingly, Ellis mentions that the Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Hailemariam Desalegn, is a Oneness Pentecostal believer.

On a personal note, Ellis cites my father’s tremendous book at about the halfway point of the article. As many of you know, my father, Dr. Talmadge L. French is one of the premier scholars and historians within the Oneness Pentecostal movement. Here’s the quote:

“…the Oneness Pentecostal movement centered on a charismatic Leader, Garfield Thomas Haywood. According to Talmadge L. French in his book, “Early Interracial Oneness Pentecostalism (2014), the African American Leader, Garfield T. Haywood was its primary architect and figures most prominently into the movements history, not only as one of its leading proponents, but as its central interracial voice, as well as its most renowned leader.”

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3 Revival Killers

The Christmas season is upon us with all the hustle and bustle that it brings. The busyness of the season can distract us from the important work of the Church that Jesus came to establish in the first place. From the moment that Jesus was born the institutions of this world have been trying to snuff Him and the message that He brings out. But the message of Jesus is not a candle in the wind it is a raging fire that no human can destroy. When they couldn’t kill his message they settled for killing Him instead. Unwittingly, they had fulfilled the ancient prophecies and made the Gospel complete by enabling a powerful resurrection.

The forces of darkness are still intent upon killing the work of the Gospel at every opportunity and will use whatever means necessary to do so. It is the high calling of the Church to protect, preserve, and promote the Gospel, especially during the Christmas season when commercialism seeks to compete with the true reason for the season. And so rather than be distracted, we must keep revival ever at the forefront of our thinking.

People who’ve experienced real revival know that revival is hard work. I had a wonderful godly man confide in me one time that he felt guilty because he didn’t really want to see his church grow. I asked him why and he said, “Because I have lived through one revival and it wore me out.” I knew what he was trying to say. If you visit the birthing wing on a busy day at any hospital, you’ll see a perfect illustration of revival. A church goes through the process of pregnancy, and the pain of labor, and finally gives birth to spiritual babies in the Lord. All those babies need constant care and constant attention or they’ll perish. Let me share with you three things will kill revival just as surely as Herod tried to kill baby Jesus.

  1. CONFLICT & COMPETITION

Technically these are two things, however, usually conflict within the Church is directly related to competition. That’s why Scripture instructs us to prefer our brethren over ourselves (Romans 12:10). Pride, self-promotion, a heart that is easily and quickly offended, and competition will destroy the work of revival and hinder the flow of the Spirit. Refuse to participate or fall into the trap of these revival killers.

  1. COMPLACENCY

Complacency is the state of being satisfied with how things are and lacking any desire to make them better. In a spiritual sense, there are varying degrees of complacency, but the bottom line is that the Church is mandated to be constantly reaching, reaping, preaching, and growing. We can be satisfied with nothing less. Laziness, selfishness, self-righteousness, lack of passion, lack of compassion, and small-mindedness are all contributors to the dangerous prevalence of spiritual complacency.

  1. COMPROMISE

There is an overwhelming trend towards diluting the Gospel placing a stranglehold on churches around the world. Tragically, when you dilute the Gospel it ceases to be the Gospel. Cafeteria Christianity does not save, it does not deliver, and although it will initially attract crowds it ultimately fails to sustain. Easy believe-ism does not endure when the rubber meets the road. Those unwilling to buy the truth and sell it not (Proverbs 23:23) will abandon the cross like a child discarding a broken toy on Christmas night.

 

Should We Still Dress Our Best for Church?

I’m a millennial and I still think it’s best to wear our best to church. Recently my brother (Jonathan) and his wife (Vera) launched an online tie store called French Thread (shameless plug). Their company is awesome and it’s a great conversation starter. In particular, the issue of the so-called church “dress wars” comes up from time to time. No, I don’t think a suit will save you or jeans will jinx you; I just think God’s house deserves our respect. I can hear the groans from latte sipping, skinny jean, cashmere wearing liberals now… and yes, I know the Church is made up of people, not buildings. In fact, I’ll take you all the way down that road; our bodies are literally temples of the Holy Ghost (1 Corinthians 6:19). Meaning, it matters how we dress, speak, talk, eat, live, and on and on. And not just at church, but every day. Our bodies represent Jesus. His holiness, His majesty, and His royalty dwell within us. I want to represent the Holy Spirit to the best of my ability (whatever that may be).

Having said that, the church house is a building specifically designated and dedicated to worshipping a God that is awesome beyond our wildest imaginations. His presence is everywhere, but a church is dedicated to worship and the Word. When functioning properly, a church is a collection of unified, Spirit-filled, enthusiastic individuals who show up to lift up the name of Jesus. They come to learn, grow, praise, and experience the presence of God in a way that only collective worship allows. The singing is sacred, the preaching is powerful, the prayer is purposeful, and the atmosphere is faithful. A gathering of the Church in any place or building on the Lord’s Day (Acts 20:7, 1 Corinthians 16:1-2, Psalms 118:22-26) is a convocation of holy people worshipping a holy God (i.e. a holy convocation). Basically, church is a big deal, God is the biggest deal, and because worship is not a casual thing we should not dress informally. I dress up for church for the same reasons I dress up for weddings; it’s a sacred time and I want to honor it.

Psychologists know that how we dress impacts our mindset greatly (here, here, here, and here). Schools have found that uniforms foster a focused classroom. Conversely, anything goes dress codes promote lazy, casual, and disrespectful demeanors (here, here). Studies of businesses show that productivity dramatically decreases on casual Fridays (here, here). We all instinctively know this to be true deep down. There’s a reason we buy special clothes for vacation; certain types of clothing make us feel more relaxed (you can always spot a tourist). It’s not a coincidence that people dress a certain way to go clubbing or hit the bars, they have a certain goal and a certain mindset and they dress accordingly. There’s a reason why politicians, lawyers, business professionals, newsmen, doctors, pilots, military personnel, pastors (at least historically), and even late night comedians mostly wear dress clothes while representing their endeavors. They are showing respect for their profession, themselves, and others. They exude confidence, competence, focus, command, and elicit trust.

I know there’s a certain charm to feeling the liberty to wear jeans and T-shirts to church (or whatever). It’s easy, casual, convenient, and relaxing. And therein, lies the problem; church is not designed to be easy, casual, convenient, or relaxing. Yikes! I know how politically incorrect that statement sounds, but nevertheless it’s true.

Church is meant to be exciting, exhilarating, exalting, and life changing. If you think that sounds sillier than passing up a Krispy Kreme when the “hot” sign is on, it’s because you haven’t experienced the moving of the Spirit in a tangible way (at least not recently). Like it or not, preaching is not inherently designed by God to only be positive and encouraging K-Love radio, sometimes it’s for correction, conviction, instruction, and rebuke (1 Timothy 5:20, 2 Timothy 4:2, 2 Timothy 3:16-17, Luke 17:3-4, Mark 16:14). I don’t want my pastor looking like he’s about go camping for the same reasons I don’t want my lawyer looking like he’s about to go play video games in his Mom’s basement; it reeks of immaturity, incompetence, indifference, and frivolity. None of those images inspire confidence, gravitas, or respect. Furthermore, church is a sacred time where we come into direct contact with Divine anointing, revelation, illumination, salvation, sanctification, and the list could go on for miles. Bottom line, it’s not casual.

Let me address objections that I often hear from the promoters of super casual church attire. It usually goes something like this “Isn’t it a waste of money to buy dress clothes?” It’s normally followed up with “Couldn’t that money be better spent another way?” Typically, a caustic accusation of vanity is leveled as well. First, those statements are eerily like the arguments that Judas employed against Mary for breaking her alabaster box over the feet of Jesus (John 12:3-8). An argument that Jesus promptly rejected (I wouldn’t call Judas a great role model). Second, dressing in a respectful, dignified way doesn’t necessarily have to be expensive. Third, I recently performed a wedding alongside a pastor who was adamantly against wearing a suit and tie to church. Ironically, he spent a lot of time bragging about his $300 name brand jeans and his $400 distressed leather boots. I don’t necessarily care what he paid for what, but obviously hip “casual” clothes can be just as expensive and vain as a suit and tie.

If you walk away from this article assuming I think a tie has some salvific value you’d be dead wrong. Neither do I expect guests to change their wardrobe before they walk through the doors of the church house! Also, I fully acknowledge that if people aren’t careful, “dressing up” can devolve into vanity and showiness! I do think, however, that as we mature spiritually our level of reverence towards the things of God should grow exponentially (1 Timothy 3:14-15, 1 Peter 2:5). As that happens, we should begin to dress reverently for church (Hebrews 12:28).

This excerpt from an article by CNN writer John Blake offers a further perspective:

The reasons why people stopped dressing up could fill a book. Yet Fulwiler offers one explanation that’s seldom mentioned – lack of gratitude.

Fulwiler’s revelation came one day as she watched scruffily dressed people board a plane. She flashed back to a black-and-white photo she had seen of her grandparents boarding a plane in the 1940s. Most of the passengers were dressed in suits and ties and dresses because air travel was such a privilege at the time.

“We dress up for what we’re grateful for,” she says. “We’re such a wealthy, spoiled culture that we feel like we have a right to fly on airplanes,” says Fulwiler, author of “Something Other than God,” which details her journey from atheism to Christianity.

Church is like air travel now – it’s no longer a big deal because people have lost their sense of awe before God, Fulwiler says.

Yet some of these same people who say it doesn’t matter how you dress for church would change their tune if they were invited to another event, Fulwiler says.

“If you had the opportunity to meet the Queen of England, you wouldn’t show up in at Windsor Castle wearing jeans and a T-shirt,” she says.

Shouldn’t people have that same reverential attitude when they show up at church to meet God, some ask? After all, doesn’t your dress reveal the importance you attach to an occasion?”

The real underlying question here is “should you choose to approach church casually or reverently”? Before you decide, ask yourself if it would be disrespectful to show up to a wedding in flip-flops and a T-shirt? Take that thought a little further, if you were the bride how would you dress? Certainly, as the bride of Christ, we should be reverent in our dress code as we gather to worship our Groom. Saints of old viewed it symbolically as a foretaste of the Great Marriage Supper of the Lamb (Revelations 19:6-9). Dressing “up” was a symbol of their profound respect for the things of God. I think they were right.

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Related Articles: The Difference Between Praise & Worship, 6 Descriptors of Genuine Worship, Don’t Play Past the Bike (Common Sense Theology), 9 Signs of a Prideful Heart, You Might Be a Carnal Christian If…, Right, Righteous & Self-Righteous Judgements (Knowing the Difference), If We Are What We Post (What Are We Saying)?, Is Technology Killing Theology?, A Pattern of Persecution (What Does Hollywood Have In Common With ISIS)?

 

9 Signs of a Prideful Heart

God resists the proud (James 4:6), which is bad news for a church if it is full of pride. Spiritually dry and deadlocked churches are usually filled with pride. They’re spiritually stuck because God is literally resisting their efforts. What they’re doing might seem good on the surface but their motivations are displeasing to God.

Scripture is very clear about proper motivations; God doesn’t just care what we do, He cares how and why we do it. For example, God doesn’t just want us to give, He wants us to give cheerfully (2 Corinthians 9:7). Jesus warned against displaying our righteousness just to be seen and admired by others, there’s no reward for that kind of conceited righteousness (Matthew 6:1). Paul even warned that preaching the Gospel must be done for the right reasons (1 Thessalonians 2:4). In a staggering display of immaturity, the disciples asked Jesus to decide who was the greatest in the kingdom; Jesus took it as an opportunity to teach them that without childlike humility they would never see the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 18:1-35).

In a generation obsessed with talent competitions and spotlights, it’s no surprise that the thirst for attention has crept into the Church. It’s evidenced in pulpits and in pews. It’s on full display if you know the signs. There are certain “tells” or “giveaways” so to speak. There really is no way to overemphasize the importance of guarding our churches against being infected with prideful leaders. Even more importantly, we should carefully monitor our own motivations and quickly adjust when and where needed. Below are nine sure signs of a prideful heart. I use this list to check my own motives and the motives of those seeking position or platform in my local church. Many of these principles are universal and can be translated into any paradigm or organization.  

  1. They want to SING but they don’t want to SERVE.

  2. They want to PREACH but they don’t want to PRAISE.

  3. They want to LEAD but they don’t like LEADERSHIP.

  4. They want to TAKE but they don’t want to GIVE.

  5. They want RESPECT but they don’t show RESPECT.

  6. They want the SPOTLIGHT but they resent SACRIFICE.

  7. They like PUBLIC EMOTIONS but they dislike PRIVATE DEVOTIONS.

  8. They are SELFISH rather than SELFLESS.

  9. They produce FOLLOWERS rather than DISCIPLES of Jesus.

Now read this list again, but this time replace “they” with “I” and be brutally honest with yourself.

Related articles: Overcoming Ministerial Insecurity, Ministerial Discouragment (And How To Handle It), You Cannot Be A Church Leader If… (Part 1), 5 Tips For Introverted Leaders, 5 Ministry Pitfalls, The Case For Yearly Preaching Plans, 14 Ways You Can Support Your Pastor, Clothed In Humility, Right, Righteous & Self-Righteous Judgements (Knowing The Difference), If We Are What We Post (What Are We Saying)?, You Might Be A Carnal Christian If…, Consistency (16 Keys To Great Leadership), Living Selflessly In A Selfie World

5 Areas Where Godly Fathers Should Shine

With Father’s Day quickly approaching I have taken time to pause and consider the importance of fatherhood.  No one could ever deny the irreplaceable role that mother’s play in the lives of children, but in a culture where fathers are increasingly absent, minimized, and criticized it would do us well to consider a few areas where godly fathers should shine.

  1. Dads must cherish their wives (Colossians 3:19, Ephesians 5:25).

Our children are watching and taking notes on how we fathers treat their mothers.  Sons will emulate us and daughters often derive their self-perceptions by watching how you value the most important woman in your life. 

  1. Dads must spend time with their children (Ephesians 6:1-4).

There is no substitute for time spent with our children.  We forfeit influence in our children’s lives when we fail to spend time with them.  Make memories and teach life lessons while you can because if you don’t someone else (who likely doesn’t share your values) will.

  1. Dads must raise their children to serve the Lord (Proverbs 22:6, Deuteronomy 6:1-9).

It’s alarming how many Christian parents I’ve heard saying things like, “I don’t want to force my beliefs on my children.”  Be assured that every other religious and cultural force is working overtime to capture the hearts and minds of your children.  Scripture is clear in telling us that godly parents are mandated to raise their children to serve the Lord.  As a shining example for all future father’s Joshua famously declared, “…as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord (Joshua 24:15).”  A further point in this subject needs to be stressed because it is vital to the spiritual success of our children; the Christian faith must be taught and taught well.  A “just do as I say and be quiet” parenting style will alienate our children and push them away from God, which leads nicely to point number four.

  1. Dads must be patient teachers (Ephesians 6:4, 2 Timothy 3:14-15).

Children are going to make mistakes and mess up and they will require godly patience from their fathers if they are going to flourish.  Remember, the greatest lesson that we ever teach our children will be the daily example that we set and not the words that we say.

  1. Dads must be fair disciplinarians (Proverbs 13:24; 23:13-14).

Fathers who fail to lovingly and fairly discipline their children will live to regret the outcome.  To be a thoughtful and fair disciplinarian takes time, energy, and self-control.  Take caution not to discipline in anger but rather discipline in love.

Church Growth (Practical and Spiritual Insights) – Part 2

If you missed part one, just click the picture below.

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Take the pulse of your congregation to determine if they want to grow and reach the lost. Most churches that aren’t growing simply don’t want to grow. Perhaps the pastor wants it to grow but the saints don’t share the vision or feel the burden. There are numerous reasons that churches don’t want to grow; laziness, complacency, fear of losing position or control, anti-social tendencies, fear of change, less access to the pastor, and more. Getting a true sense of whether or not the church is sharing in the burden to reach the lost is paramount. If the church doesn’t share in the burden all efforts will be sabotaged and in vain.

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Have big events. There are built in big events that happen naturally in every church paradigm. Easter and Christmas are perfect examples, although more could certainly be identified. Let’s break it down this way, if you divide the calendar year into quarters you should be hosting at least one big event per quarter. That’s a minimum of four big church events a year. Find events that mobilize and energize your congregation. This creates a buy-in that produces the kind of excitement that propels saints to invite people to something that they are passionate about.

The key to doing this well is choosing the right kind of events that generate excitement in your local church and community. Also, if you do too many big events you will likely burn out your members (these things take lots of work) and you will choose quantity over quality. If you do too few big events, you will lose momentum (and spiritual momentum is very important).

I’m not referring to simply bringing in a guest speaker (although that certainly can play a large role in the process); I am talking about doing things on a fairly large scale that generate excitement and garner the attention of your community. It’s very difficult to tell you what that should be in your local setting. It should be something for which you can create quality mailers to help promote the event. Getting something in the hands of church members that they can easily give to people is key.

A few ideas: back to school giveaways, revivals, fall festivals, concerts, dramas, conferences, kid’s programs, banquets, lady’s events, men’s outings, youth activities, anything involving good food, church anniversary celebrations, and on and on. Creativity, understanding of your local culture, awareness of your church’s strengths and weaknesses, and strong sensitivity to the Spirit is essential to identifying what big events will be best for your church. After committing to a big event, plan, plan, plan, plan, and plan some more. Invite, invite, invite, and invite some more. If nothing else, Easter and Christmas should be seasons where you go all out.

Make the altar call a part of the service. Once again, this point is all about a shift in mindset. When a minister gives the invitation to gather around the altar this is not the end of the service but rather the beginning of the altar service. This is the culmination of everything that has taken place so far in the service. This is where the saints rededicate, sinners find salvation, and prodigals rejoice in their restoration. Yes. I realize that God can move anywhere and at any time, but the altar service is a faith charged atmosphere that must be taken seriously. Empty altars result in empty pews. Quiet altars equal a church in need of revival. Remind the church over and over again that the end of the sermon is the beginning of something powerful not just the stepping stone to grabbing a bite to eat.

Be multicultural. I have briefly written about the concerns of racial tensions here. Just let me say, Heaven will not be white, black, brown, or yellow. It will be filled with people from every nation, tribe, and tongue (Revelation 7:9). Heaven isn’t going to be one big southern gospel singing-along or even a black gospel convocation. Nope. It will be multicultural and the Church should be a natural reflection of that diversity. If your community just happens to be predominately one culture fine, but if not, your church should be welcoming and inclusive to every ethnicity. If that bothers you, you’ll really dislike Heaven (if you make it).

Respect, honor, and support the ministry (Romans 12:10, Hebrews 13:7, 17, 24, 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13, 1 Corinthians 9:7-11, Matthew 10:40, Galatians 6:6). We live in a culture of dishonor and that bleeds its way into the Church. It subtly impacts the way we view, treat, and interact with ministry. Churches that refuse to properly honor, respect and provide for ministry to the best of their ability are by default dishonoring God. We know that the office of pastor is an under-shepherd (Jeremiah 3:15) to the Great Shepherd (John 10:11). Therefore, churches that refuse to give honor to that which God honors are in a precarious place, to say the least. Obviously, pastors are not called to “lord” over the flock (1 Peter 5:2-3), but they are worthy of the honor due a God-ordained office. If they lead well, they are worthy of double honor (1 Timothy 5:17-18).     

It would be foolish to assume that honoring the ministry has little to do with church growth. Having a biblical view of ministry unleashes anointing, unshackles the pastorate, fosters unity, develops trust, invites the favor of the Lord, demonstrates integrity to the community, and is absolutely apostolic. Giving honor is not about stroking ego’s or flattery, it should not be perfunctory, nor should it originate from a place of pride. Rather, honor should radiate from our relationship with God to the spiritual authority that He has placed over us. Show me a church that hesitates to honor ministry and I’ll show you a dying church. Having said that, I know that all pastors are not honorable. I’ve written about that subject here. But godly ministry is always worthy of high honor.

Covet the gifts of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 14:39, 1 Corinthians 12:31). The Berean Study Bible says to “…eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy (1 Corinthians 14:1)”. A quick study of Scripture makes it clear that we should genuinely desire and anticipate the operation of spiritual gifts in our church services and beyond. There is no substitute for the work of the Spirit in our churches. We can only do so much with our own ingenuity, programming, and preplanning. All our efforts are in vain without the Spirit.

Combat carnality. I’ve outlined some snapshots of what a carnal Christian looks like here. As my dad often says, “You won’t win the world golfing, playing video games, and watching television.” That’s not to say that golfing is wrong or inherently sinful, the larger point is that it’s about priorities. Churches that develop a top down lust for pleasure and entertainment grow stale and lukewarm. They lose their sense of urgency and grow powerless. Like Esau, they sell their birthright for immediate gratification. To be clear, I’m not against relaxing and setting aside time for fun, but when the quest for fun overwhelms the work of the Kingdom there is a fundamental problem that must be addressed.

Call people to repentance over and over and over again. This is not just for the unchurched, even the Church needs to be continually called back to a place of repentance. 2 Chronicles 7:14 is the quintessential verse quoted to call people to prayer, but many fail to notice that God is speaking directly to His people in this passage. Notice, the language “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways…”. These are commands that we usually direct towards the unchurched, but God makes it clear that repentance must begin within His own family. Churches have a way of passive-aggressively superimposing convicting sermons and calls to repentance upon unbelievers. Church growth will always be out of reach until a local congregation humbles itself through prayer and repentance.

Have good church. Every service matters. Every altar call matters. Every song matters. Every sermon matters. Every lesson matters. Every note played matters. Every iota of praise lifted towards Heaven matters. Make every service count. Make every moment count. Refuse to phone it in or go through the motions. Of course, some services will be more memorable and impacting than others, but every service matters. Pour passion, energy, and resources into every service.

The Church is not a building. Announce that loud and long. A church house is simply a gathering place for the church. The church is a collection of believers who are striving to walk with Christ and grow in spiritual maturity. View the physical building as nothing more than a resource. This simple shift in focus can mean the difference between treating people correctly or incorrectly. For example, if preserving a building is more important than treating people correctly the building has become an idol. People are the church the building is an instrument designed to help people. Sadly, we sometimes place more emphasis on our place of worship than the people who make it a place of worship.

Lead people don’t beat people. Leadership can be incredibly frustrating and exasperation leads to ministerial burnout. People will disappoint, fall down, rebel, attack, and cause incredible amounts of unnecessary pain. This can be mega taxing on the pastor and every other minister working within the church. The temptation can be to verbally beat people into submission. Although, there is a time and place for godly correction a sustained culture of negativity from pastoral leadership becomes toxic over time. In the end, people will not respond to being constantly berated regardless of how deserving of said “chewing out” they might be. Lead people with love and by example. Harsh correction should be the exception, not the rule.

Take care of your building. I know buildings are expensive and keeping them nice can be a real financial strain, but there is simply no excuse for trash and bad odors in a place of worship. It subliminally signals to visitors that a church just doesn’t care so why should they? However, beautiful buildings do not guarantee growth and growth does not guarantee beautiful buildings. And while I whole heartedly believe that you can grow anywhere with the help of the Lord, we must be good stewards of whatever place of worship the Lord has provided for us.

Refuse to be swayed by every wind of criticism but don’t dismiss criticism off hand. Every church leader from pastors to Sunday School teachers know the painful sting of criticism. Oddly, it tends to be worship leaders and soundmen who suffer the most brutal assaults and opinionated rampages. Sometimes it’s outright criticism or it might be of the passive aggressive “people have been saying” variety. No matter “how” or “who” it’s coming from criticism hurts. It’s almost paradoxical but there are two extreme responses to criticism that are counterproductive. On the one hand, some leaders are swayed and gyrated by every wind of criticism rendering them completely incapable of leadership. On the other hand, some leaders inoculate themselves from criticism so carefully that they never accept constructive criticism. There is healthy disagreement and there is unhealthy disagreement. The ability to discern the difference is a vital component of leadership and church growth.

Foster a prodigal welcoming environment. Yes. It’s biblical. When prodigals come home it should be a celebration. not a time for telling them how bad they messed up. You might be surprised by how many churches get a bad attitude towards prodigals. Don’t be like the angry brother, be like the celebrating father.

Grassroots word of mouth is still paramount. This goes hand in hand with our previously stated goal of emphasizing a lifestyle of evangelism. There is simply no substitute for personally inviting people to church. If everyone in your church would invite as many people to church on a weekly basis as possible the results would be staggering. Studies suggest that the average church member rarely invites anyone to be their guest at church. Out of all the expensive outreach pushes that we have ever done the most impactful has been simply printing up business card sized invitations and making them easily available to our church members. We ask our members to take two and invite two on a weekly basis. Invite friends, family, and co-workers because they are the most likely to accept. But don’t stop there, invite the waiter, the girl ringing up your groceries, the family in the doctor’s office, and everyone else that you possibly can. This takes intentionality and a change of mindset. Talk about it all the time. Keep the cards out front where people can pick them up on their way in and out of the church. Make it really convenient for your church members to get their hands on those invitation cards. Take away all their excuses. Talk to them about how to invite people. Give them encouragement, tips, and pointers. This sounds too simple but it is extremely powerful.

Connect with evangelists who are anointed and gifted harvesters. There’s not much commentary needed here, but I can tell you that a pastor can preach an evangelistic sermon one week with little response. The evangelist can come the next week and preach the same message and the Holy Ghost will fall like rain. It does not mean that the pastor is not anointed. It means that God anoints people in different ways for different seasons of ministry.

Don’t major in minor doctrines. I’m amazed by pastors who spend large amounts of time teaching and preaching candy stick doctrines that have almost no practical application or spiritual benefit. I’m not necessarily talking about false doctrine, but who really cares if the final trumpet will be one long blast or an upbeat medley. I’m sort of joking, but you get my drift. People won’t work all day, rush home to freshen up, and drag the kids to church over and over for midweek Bible study if they aren’t receiving teaching that is applicable to their lives. Right or wrong, they just won’t. I know of a church that ran a month long series discussing whether or not there are female angels. Not only is that kind of thing totally irrelevant, but it takes valuable time away from legitimate subjects that desperately need to be preached. Warning, this is going to sound harsh so if you’re really sensitive just skip down to the next point; preachers who regularly major in minor doctrines are either totally out of touch with the needs of their church, self-absorbed, or spiritually tone deaf. I know for myself, it’s often tempting to preach about obscure and unimportant things simply because it interests me. But that’s not my purpose or calling as a preacher, and it’s not yours either. If you really need to get it out of your system; write a book, or a blog, or talk it out with a peer but please don’t waste the church’s time.

Stop doing embarrassing things! Just stop it. I know embarrassing things are going to happen occasionally and that’s okay. But chronic public spectacles of awkwardness and blush-inducing moments are a sure growth killer. Some examples, it’s not really necessary to read out loud the prayer request for so and so’s bowel congestion, don’t make the congregation suffer through long rebukes couched as a testimony, and if the church isn’t equipped to play a video clip smoothly just don’t try to play a video clip (it goes back to a previous point that it’s better to do a few things well than to do a ton of things poorly). Some of you are reading this and it sounds petty or even elitist to your sensibilities, but I assure you that these types of things heaped together become a profound problem. A culture of embarrassing awkwardness will weigh heavily upon a congregation and repulse guests. It rests fully on the ministries shoulders to eliminate as many of these situations as possible. Once again, embarrassing things are going to happen from time to time, I am referring to frequent issues that are left unrestricted or even exacerbated by the leadership culture of a church.

Bonus thought: your church is not called to be an extension of a political party. Many years ago a pastor friend of mine endorsed and helped campaign for a local politician. He even had the official speak at his church. A few weeks later the news broke that the politician had been accepting bribes, visiting prostitutes, and selling drugs out of his campaign office. Bottom line, politicians are not the remedy for societies woes; Jesus is the answer to our local and national problems. When communities have apostolic revival they will naturally elect solid leaders. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t vote or have strong opinions, but don’t intentionally turn your church into a political battleground.

Related articles: Church Growth (Practical and Spiritual Insights) – Part 1Is Technology Killing Theology, 5 Mistakes Every Worship Leader Makes, 3 Revival Killers, Fire Then Rain, Evangelism By Fire, The Development of Vision – Part 1

The Development of Vision – Part 2

The Threefold Cord of Development

In the last post, a foundation was laid to emphasize principle aspects of developing vision. That vision, obtained at the heights of the mountain, must be brought into the valley where life is lived. One of the greatest failures of attempted visionaries is the attempt to cast vision from the tops of mountains. Why? Because nobody lives on the mountain. Flags are planted on mountains but tents are pitched in the valley. One of the greatest examples in scripture that captures this top-down approach to vision development is found in the narrative of Moses and the Tabernacle. In fact, there are three primary elements revealed in this narrative that, if present in a local church, will translate to success! I call this the “Threefold Cord of Development.”

Cord #1: The Visionary 

Seldom has anyone considered the awesome responsibility that was given to Moses while he stood in communion with God at the top of Mount Sinai. Consider with me the obstacles of Moses. First, Moses had to somehow transition the vision he received vertically (mountain) to the horizontal (valley). Somehow he had to take what no one in the valley had seen or heard and compress it into a vision the people would understand and promote. Every leader reading this recognizes what a challenge this can be.

Secondly, Moses had to convince the people to join together in a unified effort to build the Tabernacle. While this may not seem difficult at first glance, one must remember that Moses’ congregation was one of the most negative, rebellious, and discontent groups of the entire Old Testament narrative!

Thirdly, and this takes the proverbial cake, God not only sought an offering from the people but He demanded that the people must have a true desire to give freely (Exodus 24:1). Consider with me the ramifications of this! God wasn’t going to accept an offering of obligation. In other words, God refused to allow His vision to be built upon compulsory and begrudging givers. Every leader reading this should grasp the enormity of Moses’ task! How many offerings have you seen turned away today because people felt “obligated” to give? Exactly! However, Moses casts the vision and the people give exactly the way God had desired, so much so, Moses is forced to tell the people, “enough!” How does this happen?

First, it is important to recognize that vision without a clear and easily posited purpose is destined for confusion and noncommittal response. Clarified purpose in vision is crucial because purpose always drives design. In turn, this drives commitment to a vision. When the Wright Brother’s set out to design a flying machine, they did not draft blueprints for something meant to traverse underwater. Their underlying purpose drove their design; they wanted to fly! Because of this, their designs were driven to facilitate that specific purpose. People are willing to invest in something that has purpose! It was this very thing that motivated the Israelites to respond the way they did when Moses (the visionary) presented the vertical vision on a horizontal level.

God never gave Moses the blueprint for the Tabernacle without an intended purpose. In the case of the Tabernacle, the intended purpose was that God would “dwell in the midst of His people.” Obviously, seeing the people’s activity in designing the golden calf, they desired a “God in the middle.” This purpose (God’s dwelling) was enough to motivate the people to buy into a vision they themselves had not heard or seen. The abstract vision that Moses had received at the top of the mountain became a recognized reality for the people because it tugged at a deep longing within their hearts.

This is seen again in the events of Nehemiah as he stood before the people and declared, “Ye see the distress that we are in, how Jerusalem lieth waste, and the gates thereof are burned with fire: come, and let us build up the wall of Jerusalem, that we be no more a reproach” (Nehemiah 2:17). As a visionary, Nehemiah put his finger on the pulse of the people and offered them a purpose to rebuild. Nehemiah tied two things together: 1) the hand of God was involved in the action of rebuilding and, 2) rebuilding would put a stop to the reproach they were living under. Instantly, due to a visionary that articulated a clear purpose, the people declared, “Let us rise up and build” (vs. 18).

In both instances of Moses and Nehemiah, vision grabbed the hearts of the people and stimulated internal desire which motivated them to action. They saw the extreme benefit of what the visionary was asking and, in turn, they were willing to give their time, treasure, and talent. Vision must have a visionary! It must have one that can articulate the possibilities of things caught at the heights of spiritual mountains. One that can unify, motivate, and inspire a group of people to invest in grand designs of spiritual origin! This is the first element vision must have; a visionary.

Cord #2: Vision Crafters

It is important to understand that a visionary leader is only as good as the team that assists in developing the vision. For a church, this is true among the departmental heads and figures of the church. God understood the dynamics of having men who could articulate the Divine blueprint by means of anointed craftsmanship. It was one thing to give Moses the design, but another to raise up men who could bring about the abstract vision into the present world of concrete reality. Bezaleel and Aholiab were such men. They were men that God filled with the “spirit of God, in wisdom, and in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship” (Exodus 3:3). They were given insight and spiritual direction to “devise cunning works, to work in gold, and in silver, and in brass, and in the cutting of stones, to set them, and in carving of timber, to work in all manner of workmanship…. that they may make all that I have commanded thee.” (vs. 4-5).

The word “make,” (vs.5) means to “fashion, shape, or squeeze.” It is a creative word (cf. Genesis 1:26; 2:18) that implies the action of bringing “thought” into tangible existence. Just as God fashioned man according to His own image so these men would fashion a Tabernacle after the pattern God had delivered to Moses. Every visionary must have spiritual, key-figures, that are anointed with wisdom, understanding, and knowledge to devise “cunning works.”

The Hebrew word for “cunning works” is used 56 times in the Old Testament, primarily as a word that connects to the idea of “thought.” Ultimately, when used in the context of fabrication, it signaled the ability of the workman to fabricate from imagination. Steven Covey once wrote that “all things are created twice.” First, there is the mental creation; the mental blueprint of design. Second, there is the physical creation where the mental becomes the physical. Moses had men, led by the Spirit of God, that could bring the vision from mental thought to concrete reality.

A visionary must have men and women that are plugged into the spiritual current of Divine vision. Nothing can replace God-anointed individuals who support and establish the visions cast by a visionary. Nothing can replace men and women who, down to the smallest detail, fabricate the Divine purposes of God within a local assembly. This is one of the most crucial ministries in a church today. A visionary must have individuals that he can trust to get the job done without strife, deviation from the specifics of the blueprint, or personal ambitions of glory. I have preached across the nation that we need a revival of vision-crafters! We need men and women that will get into a place of prayer and “anticipate” the direction of the visionary! A visionary must have vision-crafters!

Cord #3: The Congregation

This leads us to the third, and often overlooked, element of vision development; the congregation. A visionary that casts vision and vision-crafters that bring vision into concrete reality are impotent without the congregation! Often times, when consulting the commandments of the Tabernacle, we fail to realize the importance of congregational support! Moses cast the vision and vision-crafters were present among the people to build, but the congregation was needed to provide the materials to bring the Divine blueprint into reality!

However, the congregation needs to understand their crucial, needed place within the threefold cord of development! Nothing arrests development more than a disconnected congregation! When God set about to implement the construction of the Tabernacle, He recognized that the foundation of success rested on congregational support! The materials that the vision-crafters would need to design the pattern cast by the visionary was in the hands of the congregation! This is how God develops vision! However, and this is crucial, purpose always comes with provision! Let me explain.

When God asked the Israelites for the materials to build the Tabernacle, He wasn’t asking for what He hadn’t already provided them. Where did the Israelites get the gold, silver, and materials? In fact, where did they get so much of the materials that Moses had to turn away their offerings? The answer is found in Egypt.

Exodus 3:21-22 (KJV)
21  And I will give this people favour in the sight of the Egyptians: and it shall come to pass, that, when ye go, ye shall not go empty: 22  But every woman shall borrow of her neighbour, and of her that sojourneth in her house, jewels of silver, and jewels of gold, and raiment: and ye shall put them upon your sons, and upon your daughters; and ye shall spoil the Egyptians.

When you begin to trace out the materials given to support the building of the Tabernacle you come to realize that God had made provision for every facet of the design. In fact, God had ensured that everyone would have something to give toward the building of the Tabernacle. The men, as Scripture reveals, above a certain age, gave a half-shekel of silver for ransom. That combined half-shekel of ransom served to cast the foundation sockets of the Tabernacle. The women and children, well they carried on themselves the gold, silver, jewels, and raiment they had taken from Egypt.

However, all provision comes with assignment. God provided but He had an intended purpose for the provision! Sadly, when you look at the events of the Golden Calf, God’s provision was assigned to a purpose that God had not designed. The golden earrings in the ears of the women, sons, and daughters, was broken off and cast into the forge of idolatry. Anything that is used outside and apart from intended purpose is called abuse!

The vision-crafters were assigned talents and abilities for the intended purpose of building the Tabernacle. The congregation was given provision for the intended purpose of supplying the materials the vision-crafters needed to build the Tabernacle. I have taught this concept throughout my travels and the one question I have asked is, “how many Golden Calves are we building?” In other words, are we being stewards of God’s provision and using provision as God intends? After receiving a monetary blessing, a job with more free time, or a myriad of other blessings, when is the last time we got down in prayer and asked God, “is there an intended purpose for these blessings?” In other words, maybe these blessings aren’t strictly for my own pleasure or enjoyment. Perhaps you are giving me more time to accomplish something you need done at the church? Perhaps you blessed me with this substantial bonus because you need me to help towards buying a church van?

I have said many times, and I will say it again: “God has the cattle on a thousand hills but He often asks me for my cow!” Why? The economy of God, within the threefold cord of development, involves an active participation of every member within! The visionary, the vision-crafters, and the congregation must act as a unified unit! If these three things can operate according to their intended purpose and the time, treasure, and talents God has provided are appropriately assigned then you have the resulting visitation of God’s manifested glory. As Moses stepped out of the door of the Tabernacle, built by the vision-crafters, and provided for by the congregation the glory of God fell. The threefold cord of development effectively moved God from the mountain and into the middle.

Timothy Hadden, happily married and the father of three young children, has spent the last six years traveling extensively, both in the United States and Internationally, as a sought after Apostolic evangelist. Many of his revivals, often spanning several months, focused on creating a spiritual environment that promoted a deep move of God thus enabling a spirit of revelation that further developed existing local ministries and empowered local church congregations to a greater dimension of Apostolic understanding and authority. The effects of these revivals are still being witnessed throughout many church congregations nationwide. Recently, having felt the call of God to leave the evangelistic field, he and his family have relocated to the Portland Oregon Metropolis where they are developing a church plant called Antioch Northwest. Already, less than two months on site, they are seeing unprecedented signs and miracles in one of the least churched cities in the Northwest. Currently, if he is not teaching Bible Studies, canvassing his city, investing in his family, or working on the demanding schedule of a church-planter, he is writing several books that he hopes to publish in the not-so-distant future. You can find more of his writings www.searchofkings.net or, for more information on the church-plant, visit www.antiochnorthwest.com.

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Related Articles: The Development of Vision – Part 1Consistency – 16 Keys To Great LeadershipOvercoming Ministerial Insecurity, Ministerial Discouragement (And How To Handle It), You Cannot Be A Church Leader If… (Part 1), You Cannot Be A Church Leader If… (Part 2), 5 Tips For Introverted Leaders, Ministry Pitfalls, The Case For Yearly Preaching Plans, 14 Ways You Can Support Your Pastor, Church Growth (Practical and Spiritual Insights) – Part 1, Church Growth (Practical and Spiritual Insights) – Part 2

 

The Development of Vision – Part 1

What is vision and how does one define such an abstract concept? Vision can speak of physical sight, divine premonitions, dreams, or abstract ideas and thoughts. Therefore, vision as a word can vacillate dependent upon its context and, for each user, can mean something completely different. For many, vision is merely a projected goal that serves to motivate either self or others. However, in the context of religious leadership, vision is often a dynamic projection of a seemingly unattainable possibility that challenges the status-quo.

Vision for the true spiritual leader, unlike the secular, is both horizontal and vertical. To best explain this, think of a ladder whose bottom feet are set upon the earth (horizontal) and whose top reach into the heavens (vertical). This best encapsulates vision as relates to the spiritual leader. Therefore, the success of the religious leader (the visionary) is the ability to connect the vertical to the horizontal. Think of vision as a seed. If vision is not cast into the soil of earthy ground, it can never take root and develop. Vision, by itself, is an unplanted seed whose germination depends upon its being sown in the fields of the horizontal. However, casting the seed of vertical vision into horizontal fields merely engages the process of germination. This is just the beginning.

Consider the human body. First, everything begins with conception and, from that point forward, the developmental stages of growth begin to occur. Vision is no different. First, vision must be conceived, yet too often, this is where failure occurs within the visionary process. Improper development of vision results in visionary stillbirth. Because of this, vision often remains static and results in an unchanging environment that returns to repeat an infinite cycle. Sadly, too many men desiring to act as visionaries do nothing more than proclaim the conception of vision as the actual breakthrough. Did breakthrough occur? No! To better illustrate this, there is a vast difference between promising technology and breakthrough technology. The former speaks of the potential of something in the future whereas the latter speaks of the actual realization of here and now results. Promising vision is a long way from the realization of vision but there is a bridge between the two called development.

When a child is conceived in the womb of the mother, conception is the initial stage and everything from that point forward leads toward the eventual breakthrough of a healthy child. The bridge between conception and breakthrough is development. The pregnancy itself is laborious, painful, and uncomfortable. Everything about the pregnancy and the anticipation of breakthrough demands changes in almost every area fathomable.  However, and this is crucial, breakthrough (birth) doesn’t end the narrative of development! Breakthrough is the beginning! Vision is no different!

Herein, in regards to vision, too many would excitedly pump their fists in the air and declare, “It’s happened!” The relief, after all those long weeks and months carrying around the weight of a developing vision, can become a lulling siren of complacency. Too many churches are stumbling over the headstones of infantile visions because they didn’t realize the work was just beginning. Let me make a statement, loud and clear: the devil has adopted way too many spiritual newborns that were left in the field due to the negligence of a mother (Ezekiel 16:4-5).

Newly birthed vision is exciting! It’s exciting to look around and see, touch, and partake in the labor of bringing the vision to realization. However, at this point, one should expect less sleep, less vacations, and less hobbies. The first moment that newly birthed vision is held in the arms of tangible realization the mindset of the church must go into a mother’s protective process. Ears must become attuned to the myriad of cries and eyes must watch for subtle signs of sickness or abnormalities that may arise. Call the visionary breakthrough revival, harvest, or a myriad of other religious pseudonyms; but I call it the beginning! Talk about having another baby (vision) only after you have secured the process of maturation in the current baby (vision)! Don’t develop malnourished visions!

Resources must be in place to ensure the proper development of the vision. This is why, all too often, long before the birth of a vision we put the proverbial cart before the horse! Many times, latching on to an Old Testament principle, we “build the extra room” but exhaust our resources so that we come up lacking the necessary staples of infancy development! A large room with a comfortable bed means nothing to a starving baby! Secure the horse before you buy the cart!

The strength of developing vision lies in its singularity. It is impossible to find a needle in a haystack…or is it? What if one were to take a very large magnet and place it alongside the haystack? Exactly! A concentrated, singular force would draw upon that needle, once deemed unfindable, and bring it to the surface!

This is why, when one gives birth to vision, peripheral issues seem to arise. The enemy recognizes that singular, committed focus on newly birthed vision is crucial! If the enemy can implement anything in our peripheral to break our alignment, he will succeed in potentially killing, stealing, or destroying what we have fought so hard to bring to breakthrough!

“No man”, Jesus declared, “having put his hand to the plough and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God!” In other words, don’t start the process without dedicating all of your time, treasure, and talent to the entire process! Consider what Jesus was saying! Those that aren’t committed to the entire process to ensure maximum development are not fit for the kingdom. Although the word in the Greek carries the connotation of not being “useful or prepared for” it literally means, “well-placed.” In other words, the man that doesn’t commit to the process of development with a singular, undivided focus is “out-of-place”! God doesn’t cut crooked paths, he straightens them!

Nothing stands out in Scripture more poignantly in regards to undeveloped vision than the condition of the house of God that Hosea confronted. “Is it time for you, O ye, to dwell in your ceiled houses, and this house lie waste? …. Consider your ways! Ye have sown much, and bring in little; ye eat, but ye have not enough; ye drink, but ye are not filled with drink, ye clothe you, but there is none warm; and he that earneth wages earneth wages to put it into a bag with holes.”

Note from Author

This concludes, in part, a greater portion of a larger treatise. Part two, which will serve as the conclusion of the matter, will deal with the three key things every church must have in order for vision to reach maturation. These three elements have served to turn the tide in many churches across the nation. In fact, if found in a local church, these three elements cannot lead to anything but success.

Timothy Hadden, happily married and the father of three young children, has spent the last six years traveling extensively, both in the United States and Internationally, as a sought after Apostolic evangelist. Many of his revivals, often spanning several months, focused on creating a spiritual environment that promoted a deep move of God thus enabling a spirit of revelation that further developed existing local ministries and empowered local church congregations to a greater dimension of Apostolic understanding and authority. The effects of these revivals are still being witnessed throughout many church congregations nationwide. Recently, having felt the call of God to leave the evangelistic field, he and his family have relocated to the Portland Oregon Metropolis where they are developing a church plant called Antioch Northwest. Already, less than two months on site, they are seeing unprecedented signs and miracles in one of the least churched cities in the Northwest. Currently, if he is not teaching Bible Studies, canvassing his city, investing in his family, or working on the demanding schedule of a church-planter, he is writing several books that he hopes to publish in the not-so-distant future. You can find more of his writings www.searchofkings.net or, for more information on the church-plant, visit www.antiochnorthwest.com.

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The Myth of Once Saved, Always Saved – Debunking False Doctrines

Debunking False Doctrines will be a reoccuring theme where we address well-known and widely-believed dangerous theologies.

There are few false doctrines more dangerous than the Calvinistic assertion of “eternal security” or “once saved, always saved.” This belief has become pervasive far beyond the reaches of theological academia and “once saved, always saved” is a popular mantra for the average “low information” Christian. It crosses denominational lines, bleeds between theological spectrums, and slips into everyday dogmas.

The doctrine of eternal security essentially states that once a person is saved nothing can cause them to be disfellowshipped from God. Without going too deep, it should be noted that there are numerous variations and machinations of this doctrine. In its most extreme form a person could theoretically be saved and go on to murder his wife while remaining “unconditionally” saved. Others would assert that if someone were to commit such a heinous act he was never “truly” saved in the first place.

Sadly, this perilous doctrine flatly contradicts Scripture and it is commonly used as a smokescreen to justify sinful lifestyles. In other words, “once saved, always saved” appeals to the most carnal leanings of our humanity. It gives false legitimacy for sin, false comfort to sinners, and builds a pseudo-biblical barrier between countless sinners and repentance.

It’s eerie how the Calvinistic notion of eternal security shares similarities with Satan’s seduction of Eve in the garden of Eden. The serpent assured Eve, “…Ye shall not surely die (Genesis 3:4).” The satanic implication being that Eve could live in disobedience without fear of Divine consequences. The doctrine of eternal security makes the same false claim and it originates from the same satanic source.

Here’s the primary passage of Scripture used to prop up the concept of O.S.A.S., “35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. 37 Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. 38 For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, 39 Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:35-39).”

First of all, this is a tremendously encouraging passage of Scripture, but it’s talking about God’s unconditional love, not unconditional salvation. With close examination, you’ll find that sin is not once mentioned in the context of this promise. As with other passages used to support O.S.A.S. (John 3:15, John 5:24, John 10:28, Romans 8:1, 1 Corinthians 10:13), the emphasis is always on external forces having no authority over your personal responsibilities towards God.

Let’s put it this way, nothing can force you to separate yourself from God except you. Satan can’t make you do it any more than he made Eve do it. Eve exercised her free will. Adam exercised his free will. And they both suffered the consequences of their actions. Furthermore, sin separates us from a right relationship with God but it does not remove us from the love of God. For example, “…God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).” Clearly, God loves us even while we are in sin, but to say that the cross made sin acceptable is to completely undermine the necessity of the cross in the first place. The phrasing “while we were yet sinners” shows Paul’s assumption that believers would naturally understand sinful lifestyles must be discarded after salvation. Furthermore, the apostle Peter calls us to follow in the footsteps of Jesus “Who did no sin (1 Peter 2:21-22).” A few verses down he underscores that Jesus “bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls (1 Peter 2:24-25).”

But we still haven’t sufficiently debunked the doctrine of eternal security. Few people would argue against the Scriptural emphasis on living above sin. Many would argue that righteous living is the best way but not a requirement for Heaven after obedience to the Gospel. So let’s take a look at several Scriptures that prove that it is possible to throw away our own salvation and trample upon the grace of God.

The parable of the sower gives us insight into the issue at hand. Jesus speaks of individuals who receive the Gospel immediately with joy but when affliction or persecution arises because of the Word they fall away (Mark 4:16, Luke 8:13).

Consider these self-explanatory Scriptures from the book of Hebrews:

For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame (Hebrews 6:4-6).”

For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries (Hebrews 10:26-27).”

“Now the just shall live by faith: but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him. But we are not of them who draw back unto perdition (destruction); but of them that believe to the saving of the soul (Hebrews 10:38-39).”

Additionally, Peter speaks plainly of people who return and are “overcome” by the “pollutions of the world” stating that it would be better if they had never known the “way of righteousness” in the first place (2 Peter 2:20-22). But the words of Jesus are the most potent, “Not everyone that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity (Matthew 7:21-23).”

We could go on and on demonstrating the Scriptural imperative that we must not depart from the faith post salvation or risk Divine judgement. I’ll leave you with a list of Scriptures that demonstrate that saved individuals must continue to “work out… salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12).”

Children of God Can:

  1. “Fall from grace” – Galatians 5:1-4,13
  1. “Be led away with error” – 2 Peter 3:17
  1. “Err from the truth” – James 5:19-20
  1. “Weak brother may perish” – 1 Corinthians 8:11
  1. “Fall into condemnation” – James 5:12
  1. “Be moved away from the hope” – Colossians 1:21-23
  1. “Deny the Lord who bought them” – 2 Peter 2:1
  1. “Depart from the living God” – Hebrews 3:12
  1. “Can be a castaway” – 1 Corinthians 9:27
  1. “Can become accursed children” – 2 Peter 2:14

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Guard Dog or God’s Chosen?

Today, I awoke in a frustrated state, as my dogs raised the alarm. Their urgent barks were interrupted momentarily by low guttural growls as they raced from window to door in agitation. The guard dogs were on the prowl, warning of imminent danger; or were they? Many argue a guard dog is the best alarm, money can buy, but I’m not so sure I agree.

You see, once I awoke enough to wipe the sleep from my eyes, I knew in my heart there was no true threat. I had seen it too many times, in mere seconds they would transform from frothing beasts to their normal sweet, amiable selves, clamoring for a belly rub. Dogs are unable to differentiate between a real threat (a thief) and the “evil” mail carrier. I have watched my own dogs sleep through a knock at the door, softly twitching their paws content in their dream state, just to attempt a death-defying leap through a glass window to defend the household from the “danger” imposed by the garbage truck. No matter, how we try to sugar-coat it, the reality remains, all dogs are in truth dumb, regardless of the tricks they know or their loyalty to their human family.

In today’s society, many have reduced themselves to nothing more than guard dogs. Some, like a dumb, lazy dog choose to sleep, unconcerned with the effects of today’s decisions on future generations. The pressure of political correctness has stifled free speech, sensitivity to “micro-aggressions” has overridden wisdom, demands for “trigger warnings” have made people fearful of open debate, and a political platform has displaced logic. Although, many champion an era of “new tolerance”, the current climate has, in fact, created one of the most philosophically intolerant time periods in human history. This intolerance automatically labels all truth claims as suspect and few are willing to take a counter-cultural stance. People willingly sacrifice the power of their voice, the essence of their humanity, and their spirituality for a comfortable, blissful sleep. While a moral revolution takes place, many bury their head in the sand and remain unmoved. They choose to navigate without a compass, set adrift, anchorless on the changing winds of popular opinion. The temptation to deny reality and cling to the mirage of a utopian dream beckons and those who surrender to its siren cry welcome the sleep of spiritual death.

Others epitomize the aggressive, guard dog on the prowl. They demand individuality at the expense of truth and are obsessed with the concept of non-conformity. Many ardently state their disillusionment with everything considered “too mainstream” and choose to draw lines of demarcation. This is most evident in the various ways our culture self-identifies across socio-economic, racial, ethnic, educational, philosophical, religious, sexual, and gender lines. Their attempts at originality are articulated via mass-produced bumper stickers, copy-cat tattoos, branded clothing, political flags, and mass-produced entertainment. The cries of this generation are unmistakable as they fight to protect the territory they’ve arbitrarily defined. Their area of marked defense is ever changing, shrinking and expanding as individual emotions shift, trends change, and public opinion polls swing. The guard dog mentality has created a self-absorbed culture of violence and discord, which has fractured society beyond human repair. After all, a “good” guard dog doesn’t sleep through a time of revolution, but stands, prepared to rip out the throat of anyone who crosses into its territory, whether friend or foe.

Though the church is immersed in this extreme culture, it is imperative, both ministers and saints recognize we cannot slumber and we cannot rage. There is simply too much at stake for God’s people to follow the lead of society. We cannot afford to simply “wing-it” and hope for the best. Our response must be determined, deliberate, and decisive. We are hopeless if we merely reflect the failed guard dog mentality of culture.

In the Old Testament, the prophet Isaiah, speaks of those God commissioned as watchmen. However, he does not commend them for a job well-done; in fact, he rebukes them as nothing more than “dumb dogs”. He indicts them as “blind” and “ignorant”. He suggests they value the comfort of sleep more than the safety of God’s people. (Isa. 56:10). When the Christian feels overwhelmed by the obstacles and wickedness of this world, slumber is a very real temptation. It is easy to ignore the signs of the times and the monumental shifts in culture. Often we see this evidenced in the following ways:

  1. Churches and saints who still operate according to a nineteen-fifties approach to ministry and daily living. They continue with business as usual and fight to maintain a cocoon of protection from all secular influence. They placidly sleep while the enemy prowls. Their unwillingness to acknowledge the effects of the post-modern worldview creates an entire generation unprepared to face the challenges and obstacles of the twenty-first century.
  2. Others embrace a neutral, permissive attitude in the name of love and tolerance. The assumption that compassion and a good example alone are enough to change hearts and lives, robs the church of any true growth. Dynamic oratory skills are not a replacement for solid Biblical teaching! When the priority is to avoid offense and confrontation, nothing is established as a moral or doctrinal absolute. Individuals abandon growth and embrace spiritual stagnation. Some even limit the spiritual development of children and new converts to prevent them from offending, by virtue of their walk.

However, simply closing our eyes to everything unpleasant does not lessen the impact society has on the minister, the church, or its saints. While we refuse to acknowledge the enemies’ approach, a generation is slaughtered mercilessly. The church must rise to the demands of the times to do anything less is sin. (Ja. 4:17) Furthermore, sleep is surrender and surrender is not an option!

The alternative is just as destructive. God forbid, the body of Christ adopts the same dog-eat-dog mentality modern society has perfected. The church confronted with the vehemence of culture cannot stoop to society’s methods of communication and unabashed, self-preservation. God never called His people to an attack dog mentality or a pit bull ministry. Doctrine and holiness is not the church’s squeaky toy to protect by tooth and claw. Truth should never be defended based on an intellectual decision or principle alone. The church functions at its best and doctrine is most effectively articulated when His people are sincerely in love with God and His Word.

Though secular society lives in the muddied waters of moral ambiguity, reliant on emotions alone to define their understanding, the church does not have to do the same. Thankfully, Scripture provides a lifeline! In fact, I would argue, God’s word speaks directly to our current situation. There is no excuse for a morally ambivalent church, just as there is no defense for a saint that doesn’t represent the Savior in word and deed. We must exemplify true Biblical Christianity in the way we live, minister, and lead. Our passion and love for the Creator is demonstrated through a loving, but honest approach to the sins of this world. So, in the midst of the extremes of a guard dog culture, God demands the church look to the timeless words of Scripture.

  1. First and foremost, we must learn what it truly means to be the church of the Living God. It is not merely a title we wear emblazoned on our shirts or a placard we hang behind the pulpit. The early church didn’t accidentally turn “the world upside down.” (Acts 17:6) Their level of effectiveness in evangelism was a direct result of the depth of their relationship. They didn’t reflect the world, but rather the God they served. Non-conformity is an illusion. Ultimately, how we spend our time and energy, where we set our affections, and what entertains us will define us. The choice is ours; will we conform to the broken, self-destructive worldview of the guard dog or the liberating image of our Creator and Redeemer? (Jn. 8:32; Ja. 1:23-25; Ro. 12:2) It is impossible for us, to know the mind and heart of God if we refuse to spend time getting to know Him through prayer, fasting and His word. When we learn to fully trust God He will shape and define us, so our character will mirror His. Philippians, chapter two explains that God, Himself “took upon him the form of a servant” (Ph. 2:6-11). In the face of such great condescension, we must not be offended when He asks us to humble ourselves for His service. After all, we must realize, before He called us to be saints or ministers; He called us to be His followers and servants and that call doesn’t change. The temptation to embrace an extreme mentality fades as we turn our eyes away from our own desires and the distractions of this life and focus our hearts and minds on Him alone.
  2. Secondly, we must learn the power of obedience. The guard dog is often difficult to control growling and snapping without regard for its master’s command. But,               Scripture tells us “obedience is better than sacrifice.” (I Sa. 15:22). Sacrifice is               required for the overcoming, Christian. However, our sacrifices are meaningless, unless they are accompanied by a willingness to obey the One we claim to worship. When we are in love with God, submitted to Him, and growing in our relationship with Him; obedience is a natural response. Holiness and right living, no longer feel like an imposition, because His spirit compels us to demonstrate our commitment to Him with our lives. In essence, we learn to walk in the spirit. (Ga. 5:16) If we hope to be God’s instruments for revival, we must learn to obey Him. He isn’t looking for an aggressive church straining at the leash and foaming at the mouth. His heart desires men and women, willing to submit to Him in obedience and allow Him to order their steps.
  3. The Bible is clear. When we recognize who God is, we are faced with the reality of our own inadequacies and must choose how to respond. John 9:38-40 gives us a perfect example of this concept in action. Jesus didn’t heal the spiritually blind of the Pharisees, because they refused to admit their weakness and continually claimed to see. The revelation of His infinite wisdom and omniscience, demands we willingly acknowledge the limitations of our own finite human understanding. The sooner we admit our human intellect is powerless in the face of pain and spiritual brokenness, the sooner we can communicate, in His strength to a world in need. There is no excuse for an ignorant church or saint and despite the claims of some, ignorance is never bliss! We need His wisdom and discernment. God knows the height and depth of our knowledge, it’s impossible for us to pull the wool over His eyes. This is why He promises that if we ask in faith for wisdom, He won’t chastise us, but will empower us. (Ja. 1:5-6) The wisdom that comes from above has the power to move us beyond complacency and emotionally charged responses. When we surrender our understanding at the feet of the all-knowing One, He enables us in the following ways:

a. To identify the enemy – There are true enemies and we mustn’t spend time attacking the proverbial windmill (ala Don Quixote) or fighting the wind (I Co. 9:26). We have to know who and what we fight against. Paul tells us in Ephesians 6:12, that our battle isn’t physical, but spiritual. Furthermore, he states “…the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty in God…” (II Co. 10:4-5) A spiritual battle requires a spiritual approach. When the disciples failed in healing a demon possessed child, Jesus told them “…this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting.” (Mt. 17:14-21). We must be sober, vigilant, and culturally informed. But, without prayerful surrender and putting “…on the whole armour of God…” we face the reality of defeat. (Eph. 6:10-18) His discernment grants us the ability to focus our time and energy in the right direction. Instead, of battling perceived enemies, we can preach timeless Apostolic truth, strike at the heart of the enemy, and teach our generation how to apply the principles of Scripture to their lives.

b. To distinguish the lines of battle – The war for the hearts and minds of an entire generation is ongoing and the fences we construct, should with each post hole dug mark the field of battle. Ultimately, if the sheepfold we build is too small, the sheep will feel trapped and fight to escape, but if it’s too large, the enemy can creep in unaware. The sheep’s safety is determined by their nearness to the shepherd and the shepherd protects the sheep by staying close to the Great Shepherd. Therefore, our positions on matters of morality, entertainment and holiness must not be based on an emotional response or an intellectual analysis. We must resist the urge for a knee jerk reaction to anything new or foreign but must rely on His wisdom to teach us where to draw the lines of battle, when to fight, and how to protect God’s people. (Jn. 10:1-18)

c. To sound the alarm – If we act within our own wisdom and sound the alarm without cause, we are no better than the little boy who cried wolf. We sacrifice the power of our witness, when we simply attack everything we don’t understand. But, when we submit to His wisdom our message will ring with prophetic timeliness and resound with the voice of eternity. The collective sound of the church will echo with the clarity of a trumpet, warning of danger and beckoning sinners to a place of repentance and refuge.

Although, at times the devices of the enemy may seem overwhelming, God does not excuse us from our responsibility to Him. Instead, He fully equips His people through initiating a relationship with us, teaching us the power of obedience, and imparting His wisdom. He gives us the power to not only endure times of change and unrest, but to thrive! The Apostle Peter defined us not as guard dogs, but as “…a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people…” So, it’s time we abandon slumber and rage and “…shew forth the praises…” of the One who called us “…out of darkness into his marvellous light;” (I Pt. 2:9)

Jennifer Mast is a graduate of Indiana Bible College and has worked full-time at IBC, since 2004, serving in various capacities. Currently, she is the registrar, as well as an instructor for the Biblical Studies Department. She teaches a number of courses including; Gospel of John, General Epistles, New Testament Greek, and Biblical Hebrew. In addition, she holds ministerial license with the United Pentecostal Church. She is a passionate preacher and teacher and has a burden to communicate His word to the world.

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Jennifer Mast

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Church Growth (Practical and Spiritual Insights) – Part 1

If you’re anything like me, you’re leery of church growth books and articles. I’ve read them by the dozens and most of them are either completely irrelevant for apostolic churches, full of platitudes, totally unrealistic, or so technical that you need a college degree just to wade through the formulas. It can be more discouraging than encouraging by the time you’re through. I’m writing this with that in mind.

I’ve hesitated to broach this topic for some time now because just writing about church growth can sound smug and braggadocios. I for one, do not claim to have all the answers or a magic formula that will fill every pew overnight. In fact, I don’t even think filling every empty seat overnight is truly healthy in most circumstances. If your leadership structure is too small to handle a sudden influx of hundreds of brand new spiritual babies you’ll see a lot of premature deaths. In my opinion, consistent gradual growth is the healthiest form of church growth. It gives the leadership and the congregation time to adjust when and where needed.

For the record, I don’t serve a mega church. But by the grace of God, Apostolic Tabernacle has grown in attendance by over 150% in 5 years. Our church has benefitted from a wonderful legacy and stellar stewardship from our Bishop. There was a tremendous small core of godly saints when we arrived. We’re also in a highly populated, although economically struggling, metropolitan county. In spite of those blessings, we’ve had plenty of setbacks and failures. We’ve tried things that flopped and we’ve made mistakes. We still have lots of room for improvement. That’s all part of the messiness of revival. I’m telling you this because there is no one size fits all path to church growth. Every city is different, every church is different, and every situation has nuances that must be identified before sustainable growth will take place.

Keep in mind, the average church loses about 10% of its membership on a yearly basis. Some of these are healthy losses like job transitions or college student move-aways, and some are due to spiritual backsliding and the church hoppers that we all know so well. This means that for a church to grow annually by 10% it actually needs to grow by 20%. As I’ve written in the past, Gideon had to lose some losers before the victory could be obtained. Not all losses are a bad thing, and not all gains are godly. So this article is about healthy church growth, not just temporary crowd generating activities.

After evangelizing for five years all over the US in churches of every shape and size; I’ve had the privilege of seeing almost every church paradigm imaginable. I’ve observed first-hand what to do and what not to do. Both have been instructive and helpful. I’ve tried to whittle these church growth insights down to universal truths that transcend into every apostolic church setting. Let’s get started.

You get what you preach. I love deep sermons that explore the rarely mined gems of Scripture, there’s definitely a time and place for that kind of preaching, but I’m amazed at how many churches think preaching the basics is boring. If you rarely preach the plan of salvation, you’ll rarely see people obey the plan of salvation. That goes for holiness too. If you want people to evangelize, talk about it. Talk about it a lot. I would suggest taking inventory of how often you are preaching core doctrinal subjects. Most are surprised at how rarely they actually tackle doctrinal fundamentals. Furthermore, I know the trend is to have less church, but less church means less opportunities to preach into different situations. I realize it varies from church to church, but for us, Sunday mornings tend to be evangelistic, Sunday nights are the best opportunity to preach specifically to the church, and midweek Bible Study is the time for digging deep and mining for those Scriptural gems. If the Bible tells us that people are saved by the “foolishness of preaching” (1 Corinthians 1:21) then shouldn’t we be preaching more not less? As churches have less and less church they also have less and less preaching, and sometimes almost zero teaching. Laying Scriptural admonishments aside, we live in a culture that demands options and opportunities. Shouldn’t we be giving people more service options and opportunities not less? Can you imagine a hospital only opening its doors once a week? If you rarely have church, you rarely have preaching, and for those who are trapped in the 24/7 work culture, missing their one-weekend service option can be spiritually devastating. On the opposite end of the spectrum are churches that never preach beyond the platitudes and always preach down to the lowest common denominator. They render all preaching down to spiritually anemic bullet points that leave people spiritually malnourished. There is a time for meat and a time for milk. 

And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching (Hebrews 10:24-25).

One man cannot do it all. Churches that think a lone pastor can and should do everything are destined for failure and pastors who think they can do it all are crazy. One person cannot be on call 24/7, preach and teach great new sermons, visit everyone, attend every event, be a financial guru, be a janitor, plan ahead, keep his family healthy (physically, spiritually, and emotionally), teach home Bible studies, cultivate relationships, manage day to day building operations, win souls, pray for the sick, maintain a personal prayer life, study, counsel with people (sometimes for hours on end), and mentor other leaders. It’s just not humanly possible or healthy. Even Jesus didn’t do all those things. Even Jesus had a leadership team of twelve. Even Jesus went away for days to pray and fast. So what’s the solution? Delegation.

Some things must be delegated to volunteers, and as soon as possible additional pastoral (and administrative) staff should be brought onto the team. Jesus demonstrated this process when he began sending his disciples out in pairs to preach and pray for the sick (Matthew 10:1-5). Quick thought, no matter how large the church, there’s never quite enough money in the budget for new ministerial assistants or support staff. Taking that leap of faith is vital. Most churches peak out because they max out their leadership’s capabilities. Ironically, one of the surest signs that a pastor is a great leader is if he can be gone for a week and everything still operates smoothly. Again, churches that refuse to add additional staff and train qualified volunteers always plateau. Period.

Many years ago Pastor Paul Mooney said something about church structure that shapes my thinking even to this day. He likened the average church leadership structure to a small table. He poured a bucket of sand onto the table and compared the sand to saints and church growth. The table easily contained the majority of the sand with only a few specks trickling off the edges. But as he continued to pour sand over the table eventually the majority of the sand began dramatically sliding off the sides onto the floor. His point was clear, the only way to sustain more growth is to build a bigger leadership table. None of this should be interpreted to mean that you should use sub-par leaders out of desperation. No. The only thing worse than maxed out leadership is toxic leadership on your ministerial or administrative team. Delegation is only effective when it is delegated to the right kind of leaders (read more on that subject here).

Be consistent. I’ve outlined the importance of consistency in leadership here. But beyond that, churches must be consistent as well. Remain consistent in the mission, purpose, culture, plan, and apostolic identity.

Insist on excellence. I’ll never understand why some churches develop the mindset that doing your best is carnal. You can’t just show up and wing it and expect God to bless your halfhearted efforts. Insist that your singers and musicians do their very best. Insist that your ministers give their very best in preparation and dedication. Insist that your teachers, greeters, and volunteers give their very best. Call people out of mediocrity. If you don’t take church seriously no one else will either. Practice, plan, prepare, and lovingly pressure people to be the best that they can be for the sake of the Kingdom. People who have grown complacent and comfortable with mediocrity will dislike you for a season until they see their own personal growth. Eventually, they will be glad that you insisted on excellence. No matter how small your congregation is you can call them to do their absolute best for the Lord.

This also means that not everyone who wants to do something should be allowed to do exactly what they want to do. For example, not everyone is musically gifted, which means that not everyone should be allowed in the music program. This can be awkward but it’s less awkward than having visitors flee from your off-key church services. Not everyone has the gift of teaching. Not everyone who wants to preach is called to preach. Not everyone who wants to decorate is gifted in decorating. The same goes for media, design, kid’s ministries, hospitality, and general leadership. Insisting on excellence means that sometimes you have to say no and redirect people towards their area of gifting. I know. I know. This is easier said than done. But it must be done or you will wallow in a sea of mediocrity that repels visitors and discourages your saints.

I’m not talking about absolute perfection. I’m talking about common sense policies. In the corporate world, they call this personnel placement. Meaning, you place people where they are best suited to be productive based on their talents. Knowing where you and others fit in the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:19-25) is a biblical imperative. Paul made it clear that the hand is not better than the foot, but the body will not function correctly if the foot is trying to operate in the same capacity as the hand. 

Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might… (Ecclesiastes 9:10).

And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, [do] all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him. And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men; (Colossians 3:17,23).

Love, equip, encourage, and care for people. People can tell if you genuinely love and care about them. There’s no replacement for this quality. Spiritual leaders who love the lost and the saints will equip them to withstand spiritual onslaughts, hardships, and teach them how to thrive spiritually. Love means more than smiling and having a good time. Real love tells the truth and confronts painful realities. If you’re struggling to truly love people, ask God to give you a new heart.

Expect a mess. In case you didn’t know, America is a post-Christian nation. Meaning that now more than ever, people are going to bring baggage with them into the church. Multiple broken marriages, addictions that you’ve never even heard of, tons of false doctrines, strange philosophies, and on and on and on. If that makes you wildly uncomfortable it’s time to reshape your perception of ministry. Imagine a hospital full of doctors and nurses that can’t stand the sight of blood; it definitely wouldn’t be a very effective environment. Churches that get all dizzy and faint-hearted at the sight of sinners have forgotten where they came from and their commission. They alienate the very people that Jesus has called them to reach. Squeamish churches will not grow. Churches that are condescending towards sinners will not grow. Churches that only welcome pristine people will never grow, nor are they godly. If it hadn’t been for a righteous man who was willing to pray for a hateful, messy, murderous, blind sinner named Saul there would be no Apostle Paul (Acts 9).

Additionally, conversion does not make all the baggage magically disappear. We reap what we sow (Galatians 6:7-8). Yes. God forgives. Yes. God removes eternal damnation after repentance, water baptism in Jesus’ name, and the infilling of the Holy Ghost (Acts 2:38). But a lifetime of sowing sinful seeds will produce a painful earthly harvest for some time. Thankfully, the Fruit of the Spirit and the sowing of spiritual seed will eventually replace bad harvests with good harvests. For example, God can deliver an alcoholic from addiction in a single instant, but that doesn’t mean the broken relationships the addiction caused will be mended overnight. New seeds will slowly be planted, growth will begin, and the Fruit of the Spirit will bring about the healing. Taking this hodgepodge of analogies one step further, Jesus referred to salvation as being born again (John 3:1-8). Peter continued the metaphor by referring to new Christians as infants (1 Peter 2:2). Birth is messy. Babies are messy. Even toddlers are messy. My mother would be quick to tell you (based on my teenage years) that teenagers can be the messiest of all. Growing churches love spiritual children enough to keep cleaning the mess and raising new believers into full maturity in Christ.

Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).

Protect the platform and the pulpit. The people on your platform and in your pulpit are a reflection of the values and culture of your church. Just because someone wants to preach doesn’t mean they should be allowed to preach. Just because they want to sing and can sing doesn’t mean they should sing if they don’t reflect the biblical values and culture of an apostolic church. Earlier we were talking about standards of excellence but now we are referring to spiritual protection. You can avoid a lot of spiritual heartaches and perceived inconsistencies by keeping your platform and your pulpit carefully guarded. This is easier said than done; do it anyway. Scripture repeatedly warns us that wolves will try to invade the church and cause division (Matthew 7:16, Matthew 10:16, Acts 20:29). Be careful and use discernment. Don’t give influence to people who could be spiritually harmful to the church.

Pray. Fast. Study. Rinse. Repeat. Make prayer a priority. Maintain corporate times of prayer and fasting. Equip and engage people to maintain personal Bible study habits. All leaders are readers. Study, study, study (2 Timothy 2:15).

Preach and teach with clarity and conviction. I’m noticing as I write these thoughts that much of my focus revolves around preaching. I make no apologies for that, preaching has always been central to apostolic revival. The New Testament Church was birthed around Peter’s sermon on the Day of Pentecost where the Holy Ghost was poured out (Acts 2). Using Peter’s sermon from Acts chapter two as an example, you’ll notice that he was completely confident in his delivery, he spoke from the head and the heart, and he spoke with clarity. In other words, he was clear and understandable. He didn’t leave any wiggle room for the hearers to squeeze in their own interpretation of what they needed to do to be saved. I hear far too much ambiguous preaching these days. Fuzzy preaching that sounds brilliant (or sometimes just incoherent) but makes it hard to pin the particulars down. This isn’t always intentional. Sometimes it comes from a desire to sound intellectual, or maybe it’s just poor communication skills, sometimes lack of preparation is the culprit, or possibly it stems from a subconscious fear of offending the hearers. In worst cases, it comes from internal doubts and disbelief. You don’t have to be a great orator. Passion, conviction, confidence, anointing, and clarity are far more valuable qualities than just being a wordsmith. Bottom line, clear preaching isn’t always the prettiest preaching but it produces apostolic results. Study thoroughly, know what you believe, say what you believe, believe what you say, and let God do the rest. Secondly, a clear distinction must be maintained between teaching and preaching. Many churches are seriously off balance in one direction or the other. They have tons of preaching and very little teaching or vice versa (this goes back to the problem of having less and less church). There really must be a balance between the two for healthy spiritual conversions and spiritual maturation to take place. Interestingly, most pastors struggle to accurately define the biblical differences between preaching and teaching. I’ve often heard people make the tongue-in-cheek statement that teaching is just preaching with less screaming. That’s funny but horribly inaccurate. Teaching should never be used as an excuse to be boring, uninspiring, or less anointed. Robert L. Waggoner gives one of the best differentiation between teaching and preaching that I have read. Waggoner writes:

“The primary meaning associated with the nature of preaching in the New Testament comes from the fact that the Greek word most frequently used to describe a preacher was that of a herald. A herald was one who announced a message, generally from the king or some other ruling authority, to those who had not heard it before. Preaching in New Testament times, therefore related primarily to announcing good news. In the New Testament, the content of that good news centered around the themes of Jesus Christ, the Word, the Gospel, and the Kingdom. On the other hand, the nature of teaching in New Testament times was primarily to explain ideas and their implications, and to exhort people to live by declared values. Whereas the message preached was the message announced, the message taught was the message explained, clarified, and applied, with exhortation to live by it. Whereas the message preached (announced) was primarily for the purpose of conversion, the message taught (explained, clarified, applied, with exhortation) was primarily for the purpose of building faith, Christian conviction and character. Essentially, preaching lays the foundation for teaching, just as an announcement lays the foundation for further comments. Both have the same message. Their points of emphasis differ. Whereas the content of preaching may be narrowly defined, the content of teaching is in broad terms.”

With this definition in mind, many churches lay a lot of good foundation with preaching but never adequately build upon it with solid teaching. This creates tons of spiritual babies that never survive into maturity. On the other hand, churches that are imbalanced on the teaching side of the equation are constantly trying to build structures on weak foundations.

Volunteers are valuable. As I mentioned earlier, there’s never going to be a big enough budget to hire the staff needed to fulfill all the needs of the church. Even large churches rely heavily on volunteers. Sunday school teachers, ushers, greeters, behind the scenes tech engineers, cleaning crews, board members, youth workers, bus drivers, outreach teams, hospitality teams, altar workers, and more are usually volunteers. They are the backbone of your church. Love, respect, appreciate, honor, lead, train, and equip them. Do not take them for granted.

Refuse to compromise on matters of biblical doctrine. Let me say that again for impact, refuse to compromise on matters of biblical doctrine. The idea that compromise always results in church growth is a huge myth that many have swallowed hook line and sinker. This often makes watering down the Word seem attractive even to preachers who actually believe in sound doctrine simply because they feel a desperation to grow. I’ve made this point in a previous article but it bears repeating, the average church (across all denominational lines) runs about 75. The vast majority of those churches consistently compromise (or likely never preached apostolic doctrine in the first place) without any numeric growth at all. Clearly, compromise and abandoning biblical foundations does not produce automatic numeric growth (even if it did it would not justify watering down the Gospel). When apostolic ministers accept that lie, whether publicly or secretly, they lead from a fixed position of insecurity. If you’re an apostolic church and you’re not growing it’s not because of your doctrine. There are probably many reasons you’re not growing, but standing for apostolic truth is not one of them.

Consider this, recent studies are showing that liberal mainline churches are in sharp decline while Pentecostal churches are still experiencing dramatic growth worldwide. This leaves researchers scratching their heads because we Pentecostals tend to be doctrinally dogmatic which is terribly politically incorrect. Biblically correct churches are outgrowing politically correct churches because they stand out as a beacon of light in a philosophically and doctrinally hazy world. To be clear, it would be better to preach the truth and stay small than to preach a lie and be damned. I would rather lead a small church to Heaven than lead a megachurch to Hell.

Know your limits. Even super-duper mega churches with deep pockets can’t do everything well. Find the things that your church is really good at (probably through a process of trial and error) and do them really well. It would be better to do a few things passionately and excellently than to do a hundred things badly. If your church isn’t exceptionally gifted in music don’t try to put on a music conference or a concert. That’s counterproductive. Find what you’re good at (and your church is good at something) and double down on it. Doing more stuff for the sake of doing more stuff is a terrible idea. Busyness for the sake of busyness is a recipe for burnout and church-wide depression. Oftentimes, less is more. Just because other churches are doing it doesn’t mean that you have to do it too. In fact, your focused efforts and unique abilities will set you apart in your community in a good way. By the way, the reason many church growth books are grossly unhelpful is because they want you to imitate every move of another numerically (although not necessarily spiritual) successful church. Unfortunately, your church may not be gifted or motivated in the same ways by the same things. You must identify your localized abilities and focus on them with laser-like intensity.

Trim the fat. Once you’ve found what your church is really good at and what it’s really bad at its time to trim the fat off the “sacred cows”. You’re going to be met with a lot of resistance at this point. You’re going to hear a lot of things like, “But that other Church does this and we should too” or “But we’ve always had this program” or “But everyone else is doing it this way or that way.” Stand firm, once you start doing things just to do things you will lose purpose, passion, and perspective. Cut out time-consuming, cumbersome, unproductive, expensive, and counterproductive programs as quickly as possible. To review, it’s better to be known for doing a few things really well than for doing tons of stuff really poorly.

Don’t be a seeker-friendly church. Be a God friendly church. Remember, God is the Lord of the harvest (Matthew 9:38), and He alone gives the increase (1 Corinthians 3:6-7). I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be friendly to seekers (you absolutely must be friendly), but the term “seeker friendly” has become synonymous with churches that try to create a generic and culturally acceptable worship environment. Again, if we use the book of Acts as our model, we find that the Church was anything but generic. The apostles spoke boldly into hostile and conflicting cultures with their primary concern being to please the Lord, not people. If God gives the true harvest than being a God-pleasing church should be our main concern. Churches that are more interested in pleasing people than God attract crowds and nothing more. Churches that are more concerned with crowds than the Gospel throw Super Bowl parties and churches that love the Gospel throw Holy Ghost parties. That’s a generalization, but the point is valid. A crowd does not make a church, but a book of Acts church will attract a crowd. When God starts moving, people in a cold world will be attracted to the warmth of the fire.

Promote praise and worship. I have explained the often overlooked differences between praise and worship here. God dwells among the praises of his people (Psalms 22:3). Praise sets the tone and the right atmosphere of faith for preaching to be most impactful. Praise drives away dark spirits (1 Samuel 16:23) and turns mourning into dancing (Psalms 30:11). Praise gets our flesh out of the way making room for the moving of the Holy Spirit. If you want revival you must promote and cultivate a worshipful church environment. Like it or not, you can gauge the spiritual temperature of a church by its praise and worship. Outward praise is not a replacement for spiritual depth, but you cannot claim to have spiritual depth without outward manifestations of praise. A church that refuses to be demonstrative in praise is in direct violation of countless passages of Scripture (Romans 15:11, Psalms 22:23, Psalms 33:1, Psalms 66:8, Psalms 67:3, Psalms 98:4, Psalms 100:4, Psalms 102:18).

Define revival. As Rev. Wayne Huntley often explains, many churches confuse revival with evangelism. The root word of revival is “revive” meaning to bring back to life or to infuse with fresh strength. You can’t revive something that has never been alive. Revival is for the saints and evangelism is for the world. A church that is not constantly being revived will not grow. A dead church cannot give birth. Having said that, evangelism is something altogether different. Evangelism reaches beyond the walls of the church house into the lives of those who are lost. The distinction between revival and evangelism is important because what revives the church does not always produce evangelism. Evangelism does little to no good without a revived (alive) church.

Revival and evangelism must be approached as two distinct processes that are connected but unique. Otherwise, a church will fall into the trap of having revival without evangelism or vice versa. I’ve preached in many churches over the years that settled for having terrific revival but never evangelizing. They needed to learn that being revived over and over again is not the same as reaching out to the lost.

Let me address an elephant in the room that is seldom mentioned; many churches love revival but they dislike evangelism. Sadly, many congregations grow very comfortable with their crowd of friends and they become content to just have good church and leave their community unchanged. This is a direct violation of the Church’s mandate to go and make disciples (Matthew 28:19). Every church needs to be taught that revival must overflow from our church services into spontaneous bursts of community evangelism, which leads nicely to the next point.

Live evangelism. Often, churches relegate evangelism to group events like door knocking. Don’t get me wrong, I’m 110% for door knocking and passing out flyers and water bottles at the park on a hot summer day. All great stuff, but if that’s the extent of your church’s outreach efforts your church is either dead or dying. Evangelism is a daily lifestyle, not a weekly or monthly program. Every growing church has one thing in common, saints who organically invite and encourage others to visit their church on a regular basis. This organic church-wide evangelism is not limited to friends and family members but includes strangers and acquaintances. Growing churches live evangelism as a constant lifestyle everywhere they go.

Have a long-term vision and short-term goals. I’ve laid out the case for yearly preaching plans here. My thinking has drastically evolved concerning church planning over the last several years. I used to disdain the idea of being overly planned because I felt that it hindered spontaneity and the flow of the Spirit. Nothing could be further from the truth. God honors planning. God knows the future and He can give us direction a year in advance just as easily as He can give us direction ten minutes in advance. Every church regardless of size should have an annual planning session mapping out a schedule for the upcoming year. That calendar should be neatly printed and made readily available to the entire church. This keeps ministries and activities from overlapping. It gives each ministry an opportunity to suggest strategies and develop a game plan. It promotes unity and creates general awareness. Obviously, there must be a level of flexibility throughout the year in scheduling and things will be tweaked and changed as needed, but every ministry and department will operate best within the structure of yearly preplanning.

Do not quench the Spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:19). That word quench in the Greek literally means to “extinguish” or “to go out”. In its normal context, the word was used to describe putting out sparks, fires, or flames. Many churches either intentionally or unintentionally quench the moving of the Spirit. If you read the context of the passage you will notice the next verse admonishes the church to “despise not prophesyings (1 Thessalonians 5:20)”. Spite towards spiritual things automatically hinders the Spirit. Churches that develop a top-down aversion to preaching, prophecy, the gifts of the Spirit, praise, prayer, and holiness are perverted vessels that put out revival fires. Some churches love prophecy but they despise praise. Some churches love preaching but they disdain the operation of the gifts of the Spirit. Some churches love outward holiness but they dislike the very sinners that the Church is mandated to reach. These imbalances hinder the Spirit and create dangerous droughts. Learning to be sensitive and responsive to the moving of the Spirit is paramount in terms of church growth. A spiritually tone-deaf pastor will stick to the program even when the Spirit is flowing in another direction. A spiritually insensitive preacher will miss windows of opportunity when and where the Spirit is trying to flow. While I affirm that we must do all things “…decently and in order (1 Corinthians 14:40)” it is always orderly to abstain from quenching the Spirit’s flow.

Deal with sin quickly, mercifully, and decisively (1 Corinthians 5:1-13, 2 Thessalonians 3:13-15, Galatians 6:1, James 5:19-20). Sadly, sin is going to infiltrate the lives of even the most trusted of saints from time to time. Even worse, it’s possible that trusted leaders in your church will fall into sin. It can be tempting to procrastinate addressing the issue at hand. Don’t do it. The festering will grow worse and leave a wake of destruction in its path. Make the necessary adjustments and corrections as quickly as possible. Take decisive and integrity-laden steps of action. And above all, be merciful and restoration-minded when and where possible. If you publicly oppose sin but privately tolerate sin among the core of your church or within the leadership structure over time the entire foundation of the local church will be weakened. If sin within a church is left unchecked for a long enough period of time it will replicate and spread like cancer until a church is no longer a church; just a collection of backslidden posers.

Have a guest follow-up ministry. As I peruse over what I’ve written so far, I’m realizing that the vast majority of these points are mindset oriented. They are mostly spiritual principles. But for those of you who are technique-minded, you will appreciate this point. Guest follow-up is a technical imperative for church growth. Yet, I am amazed by how many churches either have zero guest follow-up or very insufficient guest follow-up. To put things in perspective, if someone goes through all the trouble of getting ready and driving out to your church to visit they are the most likely converts in your proximity. I’ll double down on this point, if someone pointed a gun to your head (silly hypothetical) and forced you to choose between having a guest follow-up ministry or a neighborhood outreach ministry, you should choose guest follow-up. Studies have shown over and over again that a church is far more likely to get someone to come back than they are to convince someone to visit for the first time sight unseen. For the record, I absolutely believe that churches should be using every means of evangelism possible.

There are gobs of ideas out there about the best way to do a guest follow-up ministry. By the way, I prefer the word guest over visitor because the word visitor has a temporary connotation while the word guest is more welcoming and permanent sounding. Regardless, here are a few basics of guest follow-up. One, have some kind of welcoming area with a stationed greeter (preferably a very friendly and warm person) who is equipped with guest information cards. Two, the greeter’s goal is to make guests feel welcome, answer all of their questions, and acquire the guest’s contact information. Three, a letter from the pastor should be mailed or emailed to all guests within the following week. Four, a quick personal phone call or text (some people prefer this) from an actual human being should be initiated. Five, add them to a mailing list so they can be invited to all major events and activities throughout the year (unless they request to be removed from the mailing list). Those are the very basics. Many churches do personal visits. I did this in my early days of ministry but found that people were a little creeped out by having someone randomly show up at their house (maybe it was just me). Some churches with big budgets send a gift basket with all kinds of logo-covered goodies and edible treats. I think that’s great if you can afford it but unnecessary. However, I do suggest three things if your budget allows: 1) provide all your visitors with a very nice looking (professionally printed) brochure complete with information about beliefs, programs, media, service times, and ministries, 2) give away nice but inexpensive pens with the church logo and website emblazoned on it (people will use pens forever and it will serve as a gentle reminder of your church), 3) give away refrigerator magnets that contain your church contact info (people love fridge magnets and they will use them). This may seem like a lot of trouble but it will reap immeasurable benefits.

One last thought regarding this point (and this just might be the most helpful thought in this whole article), tell guests that you want them to become a part of your church. I mean, literally say those words to them out loud. Don’t just assume that they know how you feel because of your friendliness. Don’t say, “I really hope you visit again” as if they will always be an outsider trying to get into the club. Say, “I’m really hoping that you’ll make this your home church and become a part of what God is doing here”. One is exclusive and one is inclusive. Tell them they are wanted and mean it from the bottom of your heart.

Be a self-aware church. Over time it’s easy to lose perspective and awareness of how we are coming across to our guests and to our communities. Individuals can do it and churches can do it as well. For example, just because we think we are a friendly church (I’ve never been to a church that didn’t think it was crazy friendly) doesn’t mean that we are actually a friendly church. Be friendly, don’t just act friendly. Meaning, many churches become proficient at going through the motions of “friendliness” without truly having a caring or loving desire to know and help people, and they don’t have the self-awareness needed to even realize what has happened. But people can quickly spot all the things that we’ve gradually grown accustomed to in our comfortable surroundings.

In many ways, it’s similar to how I feel when people visit my home. My home doesn’t seem dirty, messy, or disorganized until guests show up, and then I start noticing every flaw and imperfection. The difference between church and our homes is that most folks rarely have guests in their homes, but we constantly have guests in our churches. Make a conscious effort to look at your church like you do your house when you know that company is coming. If nothing else, keep the platform and altar area clean, organized, clutter-free, and pleasant. Why? Because the platform and altar area is where people’s attention will be focused 99% of the time. Do your best to “awkward-proof” your platform as much as possible. Meaning, avoid tripping hazards, weird set-ups where singers are practically on top of ministers who are seated, chairs that make strange noises (funny story goes with this tip), busy seating arrangements that people have to weave around like a maze, bad lighting, exposed tangled wires, decorative arrangements that are easily bumped or fall with little provoking, and odd instrument and musician placements that conflict with the overall environment.

Being self-aware also means that we realize that unchurched people often don’t understand expressions and words that are common to us. No. I’m not one of those guys who wants to dumb down our preaching or secularize our expressions, but I do think we should pause often and explain to guests what we’re talking about. Yes, sir. That’s just common courtesy and good manners. We know exactly what we mean by God is going to “split the eastern sky wide open” but a guest just hears a weird, scary sounding phrase. Self-aware churches do a lot of patient explaining.

Along those same lines, if you announce that everyone who wants to be a part of “such and such” needs to talk to “so and so” without visibly showing them who “so and so” is, every one of your guests and newer saints is going to feel completely lost and excluded. Self-aware churches do lots of introducing people to people.

Utilize the power of social media and online presence. I’ve written many times about the dangers and pitfalls of social media (here, here, and here). However, it’s simply irresponsible when a church fails to harness this powerful outreach tool. Our church reaches over fifty thousand people each month via iTunes and podcast, and much more than that through our online presence. The vast majority of people in your community will check out your church online before making a decision to visit. Very few people show up without doing a little research these days. If possible, set up a podcast where people can listen to your lessons and sermons. Have a website, it doesn’t have to be state of the art but it needs to be updated (don’t have announcements posted for things that have already happened) and very informative. There’s no such thing as too much information. Tell them about your church, what to expect, what you believe, all about your vision, your ministries, your leadership (many church sites make it challenging to even figure out their pastor’s name), your service times, and your location. Link your site to various social media sites and utilize them to the best of your ability. Ideally, someone trustworthy and tech-savvy should be shepherding this ministry (and it is a ministry).

Don’t be ashamed of your apostolic identity (Romans 1:16, Luke 9:26). Hollywood isn’t ashamed of their spectacle. In fact, the world has never been prouder in spite of the chaos that it’s in. Do not be ashamed of the name of Jesus, holiness, Apostolic doctrine, the moving of the Spirit, exuberant praise, passionate preaching, or our Pentecostal heritage.

Beware of the Grasshopper Complex (Numbers 13:26-33). Remember the ten spies who gave an “evil report (Numbers 13:32)”? They said that they could not take the Promised Land. Mostly because they had spotted intimidating giants. They famously whined, “…we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in theirs (Numbers 13:33)”. They were suffering from an Inferiority Complex. They were so impressed and oppressed by the perceived strength of their enemy that they lost faith and paralysis took control. Many churches suffer from a Grasshopper Complex. They see thriving false churches, encroaching evil from every side, political pressure, cultural decay, obstacles that seem insurmountable, and they are frozen in fear. This is fundamentally a faith problem. Here’s the deal with giants; the bigger they are the easier it is to hit them with a slingshot. Okay. I know that sounds flippant and sometimes the battle is extremely intense. But in the end, we either trust God for the victory or we don’t.

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A Biblical Response to Racial Tensions

It’s no secret that our country is in a tremendous state of turmoil. America is in religious, political, economic, and moral upheaval. We seem more divided than ever by class, creed, color, and culture. This ought not to be so, but ignoring reality is not an option. Let’s narrow down that massive list of generalities to the subject of the escalating racial tensions that have dominated the news over the past few weeks.

First, all racism is rooted in hatred and hatred is a sin. John didn’t pull any punches when he said, “If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also (1 John 19:20-21).”

You cannot claim to love God and hate others at the same time. In another place, John equates the sin of hatred with the sin of murder (1 John 3:14-15). If you study the Bible and human nature you will quickly find that hatred and murder are just a few short steps apart from one another. Christians of all races absolutely must resist the pressure to be subdued by racism or hatred of any kind.

Satan knows that a house divided against itself cannot stand (Mark 3:25). He works feverishly to divide and conquer. The Church must recognize and rebuke Satan’s handy work wherever hatred manifested as racism raises its murderous head.

We should also know that this proliferation of racial division is a clear indication of the soon coming of the Lord. While speaking about the end of time, Jesus said in Mark 13:8, “…nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom”. Recently, my friend Reverend Victor Jackson articulated that the word nation mentioned here finds it’s root in the Greek word meaning race. Therefore, it is accurate to say that in the last days, races will rise up against races and kingdoms will rise up against kingdoms. The Church recognizes that this is the spirit of the antichrist at work. If the Church allows the spirit of division (a spirit that is antithetical to the Holy Spirit) into its ranks it will cease to be the Church.

I believe that racial injustice is more prevalent than many want to acknowledge, and less than some who peddle division would lead us to believe. The Church must stand against injustice for people of every color, race, and creed (Proverbs 21:15, Isaiah 1:17, Proverbs 24:24-25, Psalm 106:3, Proverbs 21:3, Deuteronomy 10:18, Deuteronomy 27:19). The Bible intertwines the unfailing love of God with justice (Psalm 33:5). In other words, love and justice are closely connected attributes of God. If we are reflectors of God’s image then we must love people and love justice.

Jesus took it a step further by commanding us to love our enemies (Matthew 5:44). This might not be very compelling had Jesus not obeyed his own command by forgiving the very people who put him on the cross (Luke 23:34).

As racial tensions hang over our nation like storm clouds we must remember one key Scripture: For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places (Ephesians 6:12).

And so, as the Church stands against injustice, racism from every direction, hatred, violence, and class warfare we must be ever mindful that the battle will be won with spiritual weapons. Bullets are not the answer. Hatred and violence only instigate more hatred and violence. The words of Dr. Martin Luther King are more relevant today than ever before:

Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.

It is imperative that the Church models to this world what racial unity looks like in word and deed. We must stand in solidarity against violence and hatred. For the record, I believe that the vast majority of police officers do their jobs with excellence and integrity (there are always exceptions to the rule). The apostle Paul clearly admonished believers to give honor and respect to governmental authority (Romans 13:1-7). As a Christian, I grieve over every senseless loss of God-given life. I rigorously oppose violence against black lives, blue lives, and white lives. I know it sounds silly and sappy but the words of an old children’s song we used to sing in Sunday School keep ringing in my ears, “Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight”.

We know that our weapons are not carnal but mighty through God, to the pulling down of strongholds (2 Corinthians 10:4). Therefore, prayer is a powerful force of good in the fight against evil. Prayer is not a waste of time. Prayer is not just something that we do to make ourselves feel better. Prayer is not just a platitude that we talk about. Therefore, pray we must. I’m imploring everyone who loves the Lord to join me in prayer for the healing of our nation. Join me in prayer for the families who have recently lost loved ones to what seem to be unjustified acts of police violence. Pray for the families of the Dallas police officers who tragically lost their lives because of an injustice that they did not commit. Pray that the cycle of hate and violence will stop. And if you really want to be like Jesus; pray for your enemies too (Matthew 5:44).

Related articles: 4 Reasons People Don’t Pray, Pray For Orlando (What The Christians Comminity And The Gay Community Have In Common), Right, Righteous & Self Righteous Judgements (Knowing The Difference), The Death of Harambe (How Moral Relitavism Has Made It Controversial), A Pattern of Persecution (What Does Hollywood Have In Common With ISIS?), Love Or Hate, The Words We Speak

Been Hurt By A Pastor? (8 Reasons You Should Stop Talking About It)

I’m a pastor and I’ve been hurt by pastors. In fact, my most painful experiences have come from individuals who should have been spiritual shepherds. I’ve counseled with enough people to know that I’m far from alone in that scenario. Thankfully, I’m a preacher’s kid with a father who’s the real deal. He believes what he preaches and lives it too. I’ve had that consistent role model to follow when other peers and leaders let me down in dramatic ways. For that, I’m truly grateful

Let me be clear, I’m not talking about petty grievances of the “they didn’t shake my hand” or “they didn’t appreciate my potential” variety. I’m talking about legitimate situations where a pastor (or minister) was blatantly, perhaps even chronically hurtful, sinful, or harmful. Neither, am I talking about leadership differences, stylistic clashes, or minor judgment lapses, I believe in pastoral authority and apostolic boldness. I am comfortable receiving rebuke and correction from a spiritual leader. Nor, am I easily offended or hard to please. I am not fazed by the reality that pastors are fallible and very human. As a preacher, I know my own shortcomings all too well, so it’s easy for me to cut the preacher some slack. Regardless, real spiritual abuse does occur; good people do bad things, bad people masquerade as good people (Jesus repeatedly warned us this would be common), and mistakes are made. When these things happen, it’s only natural to want to tell anyone and everyone who will listen. I know it’s tempting, but that’s exactly what you should NOT do.

I’m not advocating sticking your head in the sand. Seek godly counsel, deal with the problem, keep a good spirit, put it in the past, and keep it there. As Paul said, “…forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:13-14).” Have you been hurt, disenchanted, disappointed, or even harmed by a spiritual leader? If so, you’re in good company; Jesus was crucified because of the influence of religious leaders. And yet, it was Jesus who admonished us to forgive and move on (Matthew 5:44, Mark 11:25, Matthew 18:21-22). I’d like to address eight reasons why I think we should avoid reliving these experiences in our conversations.

  1. It will produce, maintain, and enhance a dangerous root of bitterness in your heart. Bitterness will destroy you and turn you into the very thing that hurt you in the first place. Hurt people really do hurt people.
  1. It plants unhealthy seeds of distrust in the hearts of the hearers. Quick analogy, I respect police officers very much. I believe that most police officers are honorable people. However, I’ve had an extremely bad encounter with a police officer who was supposed to serve and protect. I don’t dwell on that one experience because I want my children to respect police officers. Will there be a day when I explain to them that there are a few bad apples out there? Yes. But that will never be my primary focus in conversation because, in the grand scheme of things, I want my children to honor and respect those who serve them. When it comes to spiritual leaders, I am even more careful. I do not want my family, unbelievers, or fragile saints to live under the impression that MOST truth preaching pastors are bad because of a FEW bad truth preaching pastors.
  1. It’s not possible to move forward safely when you are constantly looking backward. As a kid, I had a weird habit of running while looking over my shoulder. Yeah, I ran into a lot of stuff and caused myself all kinds of unnecessary pain. When you constantly talk about past church hurt you destabilize your present and endanger your future.
  1. Often, and sometimes without realizing it, we talk about such things with a desire to cause harm to the perpetrator. Understandable as that may be, it goes against everything that Jesus teaches us about forgiveness and loving our enemies and those who spitefully use us. God does not give us the authority to exact our own brand of revenge, revenge is the Lord’s (Deuteronomy 32:35, Romans 12:19).
  1. Constant rehashing of pastoral failings can create a lingering distrust towards good spiritual leaders in your heart. In spite of human flaws, everyone needs a pastor. If you’re not careful, you’ll become so distrustful that you will never allow a godly preacher to have apostolic authority in your life. If that happens, the Devil will have accomplished what he set out to accomplish.
  1. My personal observations of people who dwell on ministerial failings are that it becomes their primary excuse in justifying their own bad decisions. They excuse their bad behavior because of the bad behavior of a finite human being. Remember, our relationship with God should not be destroyed because of a ministers wrongdoing. God does not cease to be good just because a man or woman has hurt us. Wrong does not become right just because someone else goes crazy. David exampled this beautifully in the Bible. King Saul was out to kill him, and when David had the chance to take Saul’s life, he refused to touch God’s anointed (1 Samuel 24:10). Notice, David didn’t let Saul kill him, he removed himself from the situation, but he did not exact revenge or sink to Saul’s level of bad behavior.
  1. It keeps the wounds fresh. There’s no hurt like spiritual hurt. It can be devastating and earth-shattering. Talking about it over and over again just keeps that pain from healing. Take it to the Lord in prayer, leave it on the altar, and let Jesus mend your broken heart.
  1. It can invite the judgment of God into your life. I know this one will rub some folks the wrong way. And I’ve wrestled with this concept myself. On the surface, it simply doesn’t seem fair that our improper reaction to someone else’s sin could bring judgment into our own lives. One of the strangest biblical accounts is the story of Noah becoming indecent and intoxicated shortly after surviving the great flood (Genesis 9:18-27). When Ham, his son, saw the situation he cavalierly talked about it with his brothers. The text indicates a demeanor of condescension and disrespect for a man who had found grace in the eyes of the Lord. Noah was a righteous man who was in a temporary state of terrible failure. When Noah’s other sons (Shem and Japheth) realized what was happening they took a garment and walked backward into their father’s tent to cover his nakedness. This was not denial; they weren’t avoiding the problem or living in La-La Land. But they had enough respect for their father’s godly history that they would not approach the situation lightly or contemptuously. Ham and his descendants labored under a God-given curse from that day forward. When dealing with the spiritual failings of a genuine man of God our demeanor matters.

Quick caveat, this article is not referring to false prophets, false teachers, or those who knowingly peddle false doctrine. Scripture clearly admonishes us to expose and rebuke them as needed (Galatians 1:6-9, Deuteronomy 13:1-4, Jeremiah 14:14-16, Titus 3:10-11, 2 Peter 3:15-18). Neither am I minimizing the pain that can come from a spiritual leaders failings. Many people, like David, have been wronged through no fault of their own. I also realize, that there are many people who incorrectly perceive wrongdoing because they are rebellious or unteachable. That’s another issue for another day. For the record, I do not endorse allowing a minister who is in sin to remain active in ministry.

 

God’s Secretaries (The Making Of The King James Bible) – Book Review

 

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If you weren’t convinced that the King James Version of the Bible is the best English translation available you will be after reading God’s Secretaries (The Making of the King James Bible) by Adam Nicolson. At the heart of the “translation-wars”, are the questions of faithfulness to the original documents, understanding of the original languages, and submission to original intent. These are vital questions, especially in light of more modern translations that cut entire scriptures and even chapters from the text. Nicolson does an admirable job of historically demonstrating the faithful mindset that permeated the translation of the world’s most popular Bible. In my opinion, this book is a must-read for anyone who loves the Bible and considers it to be inerrant.

Interestingly, Nicolson is not a preacher, theologian, hermeneutician, or even a student of ancient biblical language. Neither, does he seem to be overwhelmingly pious or religious. In a refreshing way, this adds weight to his conclusions. He seems to offer an unbiased accounting of the historical context without the agenda that would naturally infiltrate the average person who would be inclined to write on such a topic. He is a historian of sorts and a gifted writer. Nicolson is thoroughly British (the 5th baron of Cornock) giving him a fascinating perspective of Jacobean England and the political and religious ideologies that produced the King James Bible.

This is not a boring retelling of the minutia of academic processes that birthed the King James Bible. It is a vivid historical portrait of England beginning in 1602 a full two years before the commissioning of a new and better translation by King James. The book draws you into the tapestry of political intrigue, religious fervor (both sincere and insincere), and the turmoil of the setting that birthed a timeless Bible translation that exudes the majesty of God. You will see as is so often the case with God, that human frailty is no hindrance to the ultimate plan of God in preserving His sacred Word.

“One of the King James Bible’s most consistent driving forces is the idea of majesty. Its method and its voice are far more regal than demotic. Its archaic formulations, its consistent attention to a grand and heavily musical rhythm are the vehicles by which that majesty are infused into the body of the text. Its qualities are those of grace, stateliness, scale, power. There is no desire to please here; only the belief in the enormous and overwhelming Divine authority… The Translators of the Bible clearly believed that the majesty of their translation stemmed from its loyal belief in Divine authority (page 189) .”

Even in Jacobean England, there was great pressure to translate a Bible that condescended into common vernacular and easily accessible language construction. In other words, like today, there were strong influences that wanted to “dumb down” the vocabulary of Scripture. This reasoning was flatly rejected on every level. The overwhelming consensus being that God’s Word is not common, trivial, or mundane. The King James translators were set upon preserving the poetic intensity of Scripture, and portraying the royal language of Divine inspiration.

“The King James Bible is about more than mere sonority or the …heritage-appeal of antique vocabulary and grammar. The flattening of language is a flattening of meaning. Language which is not taut with a sense of its own significance, which is apologetic in its desire to be acceptable to a modern consciousness, language in other words which submits to its audience, rather than instructing, informing, moving, challenging and even entertaining them, is no longer a language which can carry the freight the Bible requires. It has in short, lost all authority. The language of the King James Bible is the language of …patriarchy, of instructed order, of richness as a form of beauty, of authority as a form of good; the New English Bible is motivated by the opposite, an anxiety not to bore or intimidate. It is driven, in other words, by a desire to please and, in that way, is a form of language which has died (pages 153-154).”

Although, as Nicolson, does not try to hide, there were differences and skirmishes between the translators and the overseers, they were all united in the firmly held belief that every word of Scripture is God-breathed. They revered every “jot” and every “tittle” as sacred. This informed every aspect of the translation process giving rise to the masterpiece that is the King James Bible.

“[The King James Bible translators believed] the words of the Bible were the foundation of all understanding, [and that] nothing could be more important than a text that was both accurate and intelligible. Precision in Bible scholarship and in translation was the foundation stone of the Reformation. High fidelity reproduction was a moral as well as technical quality and it was axiomatic that Translators and scholars could approach the text only in a mood of humility and service. ‘He who does not believe one part of it,’ Luther had said, ‘cannot believe any of it. (page 183)’”

Bible historian Gordon Campbell, one of the world’s leading authorities on the King James Bible, has observed:

“The population from which scholars can now be drawn is much larger than in the seventeenth century, but it would be difficult now to bring together a group of more than fifty scholars with the range of languages and knowledge of other disciplines that characterized the KJB Translators. (Bible – The Story of the King James Version 1611-2011)”

Most notable is Nicolson’s spotlighting of the translators secretaryship mindset during the translation process. Over 50 men worked tirelessly from 1604 until it’s publication in 1611 to produce a faithful translation. They did so in a selfless, egoless, and humble fashion which was a direct result of the political and religious atmosphere of the era. That is to say, that a culture which understood kingly royalty in the natural, although far from perfect, was able to capture the kingly majesty and sovereignty of God’s Word. They internalized as a moral code the command from Revelations 22:19 that not one word can be added or taken away from Scripture.

“Those who originally wrote the words of the Bible had been God’s secretaries, as loyal, as self suppressing, as utterly disposed to the uses of the Divine call… self-abnegation in the service of greatness was the ideal… Secretaryship is one of the great shaping forces behind the King James Bible. There is no authorship involved here. Authorship is egotistical, an assumption that you might have something new worth saying. You don’t. Every iota of the Bible counts but without it you count for nothing. The secretary knows that… he does not distort the source of his authority. A secretary, whether of God or of king, is in a position of dependent power. He has no authority independent of his master, but he executes that authority without hesitation or compromise. He is nothing without his master but everything through him. Loyalty is power and submission control. For this reason, biblical translation, like royal service, could only be utterly faithful. Without faithfulness, it became meaningless (page 184).”

Recently, the King James Bible has seen a resurgence of popularity as this article outlines The Most Popular and Fastest Growing Bible Translation Isn’t What You Think It Is. The Washington Post even noticed this trend in an article entitled The Most Popular Bible of the Year Is Probably Not What You Think It Is. Their basic premise is that people are losing confidence in modern translations. Here’s another great article that tries to make sense of this seemingly countercultural rejection of modern translations entitled 10 Reasons Why The KJV Is Still The Most Popular Version. In essence, the King James Bible encapsulates the authoritative sanctity of the Holy Bible. It remains true to the Divine intent and literalness of the original texts. It exemplifies respect for the grandeur of the Author. As our culture has digressed into absurdities like an emoji Bible (The Emoji Bible, Reviewed), the King James Bible stands out from the crowd with increasing gravitas. With all of the swirling debates and controversies, God’s Secretaries brings clarity of thought to the discussion.

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Related Articles: Is That Really You God? (10 Steps To Hearing God’s Voice – Book Review, Why We’re Not Emergent (By Two Guys Who Should Be) – Book Review, The Death Of Harambe (How Moral Reletavism Has Made It Controversial), Baptism “In Jesus’ Name” And The New Testament Greek, Is Technology Killing Theology?, Resist Irrelevant Relevance, Is Technology Hurting Our Worship?

 

Pray For Orlando (What The Christian Community And The Gay Community Have In Common)

The recent terrorist massacre at a gay club in Orlando is horrific, to say the least. My heart breaks for the victims and their loved ones. Every Christian of every denomination must stand in solidary condemnation towards this and every act of violence against any group of people. It is a quintessential biblical principle to be at peace with all men (Hebrews 12:14, Matthew 5:9, Matthew 26:52, Matthew 5:43, Romans 12:17). At the root of the Christian faith are the commandments to love, forgive, honor, respect, and live peaceably even with those with whom we disagree.

Disgustingly, tragedies like this usually become a political mud-slinging contest. Blame is spread like butter, nothing changes, no one finds peace, and history repeats itself. It is vitally necessary that Christianity as a whole demonstrates love and compassion to the world as it closely examines our reaction to this act of Islamic terror.

It’s important for us to help our communities understand that Christians can be opposed to sin and love sinners at the same time. Secular society genuinely struggles to understand this reality. For example, on numerous occasions, I have clearly articulated the biblical directives against sexual sin, which includes but is not limited to, homosexuality. I also stand against adultery, divorce, and premarital sex without hating the vast majority of people who have committed at least one of those sins.

The Gospel is for sinners and we are all born into sin and brokenness. If the Gospel was only for perfect people it would be irrelevant because there are no perfect people. Having said that, the Gospel does require us to follow God’s laws rather than our own. Much like the rich young ruler who came to Jesus and left despondent (Matthew 19:16-22), many people reject the Gospel because they value their lifestyle above following Jesus. Every one of us must submit ourselves to the Word of God or we will be lost. So, when I preach against homosexuality or any other sin, I do so because I love people enough to tell them the truth.

This is controversial because we live in a post-modern, post-Christian, morally relativistic society. Meaning, for the most part, people no longer believe in absolute truth, the inerrancy of the Bible, or the authority of God. This causes them to feel uncomfortable, defensive, and often hostile towards Christians. We Christians, in turn, become uncomfortable, defensive, and sometimes hostile as well. In many ways, modern Christians are struggling with how to appropriately react to the cultural shift away from biblical absolutes into full blown philosophical relativism. Christians often feel a sense of helplessness because we see the tragic fallout and the immediate and impending consequences of rejecting God. As a minister, I counsel with countless people who followed post-modern philosophies over the cliff and are struggling to put the pieces of their lives back together. Thankfully, Jesus is a mender of broken hearts, minds, and lives.

Warning someone that the wages of sin are death but the gift of God is eternal life (Romans 6:23) is the ultimate act of love. In fact, to not do so is just as reprehensible as watching a child run into oncoming traffic without crying out in warning. Ironically, noted entertainer and atheist Penn Jillette said it best:

“I’ve always said that I don’t respect people who don’t proselytize. I don’t respect that at all. If you believe that there’s a Heaven and a Hell, and people could be going to Hell or not getting eternal life, and you think that it’s not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward—and atheists who think people shouldn’t proselytize and who say just leave me alone and keep your religion to yourself—how much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize? How much do you have to hate somebody to believe everlasting life is possible and not tell them that? I mean, if I believed, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that a truck was coming at you, and you didn’t believe that truck was bearing down on you, there is a certain point where I tackle you. And this is more important than that.”

Underlying this entire tragedy is the simmering reality that all faiths and religions are NOT equal or peaceful. Furthermore, Christians and gays have a very troubling thing in common: both groups are hated and singled out by radical Islam for extermination. Gays, Christians, women, and children are systematically abused, slaughtered, and despised by Muslims around the world.

It is a fantasy to believe that Islam is a religion of peace. It is fundamentally a theocratic religion of violence. Islam’s holy book and holy prophet advocate, justify and require violence towards nonconformists. In other words, groups like ISIS have not hijacked a peaceful religion, they are complying with the original intent of their religious dogma. Thankfully, the majority of Muslims choose to ignore the violent fundamentals of their own religion’s doctrine.

Christians can and must compare and contrast the opposing views of their religion in word and deed. Christianity is not a religion of hatred. Regardless of how we are portrayed by the media and pundits, true Christianity does not advocate violence, retribution, or persecution of any kind. Consider Romans 12:21, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

Before sitting down to write this article I watched a video clip of a young gay man standing outside of the club in the early morning light just after the shooting. I’m not sure, but I think he witnessed the rampage, he was sobbing as he requested people everywhere to pray. He said (and I’m paraphrasing), “I’m not religious and I don’t even know who or what to pray to but we need something.” I desperately wanted to tell him that God has promised to be near to the broken-hearted and that he is able to save those with a crushed spirit (Psalm 34:18). So, today I am weeping with those who weep (Romans 12:15), and mourning with those who mourn. I denounce the wickedness that filled a young man’s heart with hatred and instigated an act of sheer terror. I am praying for peace. I am praying for the salvation of the lost. I am praying for my enemies. I am praying for my friends. I am praying for a messed up world full of confusion. I am praying for Orlando.

Related articles: The Death Of Harambe (How Moral Relativism Has Made It Controversial), A Pattern Of Persecution (What Does Hollywood Have In Common With ISIS?), Love Or Hate?Spiritual Stockholm Syndrome, The Words We Speak, Why Do So Many Christians Support Same-Sex Marriage?

Right, Righteous, and Self-Righteous Judgements (Knowing The Difference)

I’m ashamed to say that I was exposed in a moment of self-righteousness the other day. It was a moment of critical, mean-spiritedness over a situation that I knew little to nothing about. Ouch. It hurts to type those words. And then, as is often God’s way, I happened across two articles (here and here) that sent conviction running down my spine like an icy cold water challenge.

I frequently tell my church: Feeling conviction is not a bad thing. Uncomfortable? Yes. Fun? No. Necessary? Absolutely. The real danger isn’t feeling conviction but choosing to ignore conviction. Ignoring conviction for too long is essentially “quenching the Spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:19)” which leads to a hard and calloused heart, far removed from God. In fact, the ability to feel conviction is the hallmark of a true believer (consider King David’s confrontation with the prophet after his terrible sin with Bathsheba).

Let me clarify a few things right at the onset: I absolutely believe that a person must be confident and sure of their Christian faith. God, in no uncertain terms, has called believers to be holy (Ephesians 1:4, 1 Peter 1:15-16, 1 Peter 2:9) and righteous (1 John 2:29, 1 John 3:7, Matthew 5:20, Philippians 1:11). Furthermore, righteousness is not just a state of mind; it is manifested in lifestyle and actions. For example, Paul commands us to “Flee youthful lusts (action): but follow (another action) righteousness (2 Timothy 2:22)”. We can and must “…rightly divide (an action that demands an action) the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15)”, and “judge [with] righteous judgment (John 7:24)”. In other words, godly people have a right to discern right from wrong, righteousness from unrighteousness, good from evil, etc. To say otherwise is, well, unrighteous.

However, we all know immature Christians who use “judge not that ye be not judged (Matthew 7:1)” as a mantra to justify every sinful and sin accommodating action. It’s fairly safe to say that Matthew 7:1 has become modern Christianity’s favorite verse. The implication is simple, don’t tell me what to do because only God can do that. This drives sincere Christians crazy and gives others (sometimes unintentionally) a false sense of biblical authorization for all kinds of unrighteous behavior. Furthermore, the “only God can judge me” crowd should really let that thought sink in because God will judge our every action, that alone should cause us to carefully consider our lifestyles.

So, was Jesus really condoning bad behavior, spiritual timidity, or telling us that no one has a right to call a spade a spade? If that is the case, Jesus contradicted the entire Old Testament, every other relevant event of the New Testament, and his own actions to boot. Remember the overturned tables in the temple where Jesus made a righteous judgment saying “…ye have made it a den of thieves (Matthew 21:13)”?

Obviously, Jesus was not advocating turning a blind eye to sin or telling us that we cannot make spiritual judgment calls about ourselves and others. The verses immediately following bring clarity to the whole discussion: “For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye (Mathew 7:2-3)?”

The basic meaning here is that we are to judge ourselves before we judge others. There is an unrighteous and unholy brand of judgment that we can quickly allow to fester in our spirit that is harmful, hypocritical, and ungodly. If we condemn others for things that we are doing ourselves we bring condemnation upon ourselves (Romans 2:1-3). If we judge hastily, callously, contemptuously, carelessly, wrongfully, or prematurely we are guilty of judging with an unrighteous judgment. Those who judge others in such a way will be judged by God in that same way (Luke 6:36-38).

Here’s a difficult question that God often drops into my heart like an atomic bomb during prayer, “Do you want to be right for the sake of being right or for the sake of being righteous before Me?” Here’s another cringe-inducing thought; you can be right and unrighteous at the same time. In many ways, that is the very definition of being self-righteous. I want to be right for the sake of helping others and pleasing God not just to win arguments or rack up spiritual points. Yes, as a believer I have the right to make judgment calls, but I want to do so righteously for the right reasons with the right attitude. Sadly, I often fail. Thankfully, I have wonderful godly people surrounding me who make righteous judgments about my unrighteous judgments and aren’t afraid to tell me so.

Some introspective questions:

  • Do I enjoy it when others are harshly judged?
  • Do I enjoy arguing more than truly helping?
  • Am I quick to judgment without having all the relevant facts?
  • Do I elevate my opinions above the Bible?
  • Do I judge myself as harshly as I judge others?
  • Am I doing the same things that I criticize others for doing?
  • Do I pray for the judgment or for the conversion of sinners?
  • Am I willing to admit when I am wrong?
  • Do I make judgments from a place of humility or superiority?
  • Do I realize that all righteousness comes from God?
  • Do I care for sinners or callously condemn sinners?
  • Am I manufacturing self-righteousness or exampling godly righteousness?
  • Am I jumping to conclusions or executing godly discernment?
  • Do I judge from a place of knowledge or from a heart of wisdom?
  • Am I unwilling to make righteous judgments for fear of confrontation?
  • Am I justifying sin with my silence?
  • Does my unwillingness to righteously judge harm my witness?
  • Will I accept righteous judgment as easily as I dispense righteous judgment?
  • Do I exemplify godly mercy in my interactions with people?
  • Have I replaced mercy and grace with acceptance of sin?
  • Do I righteously judge sin or unrighteously justify sin in my own life and in the lives of others?

The Death of Harambe (How Moral Relativism Has Made It Controversial)

Update: since posting this article in June of last year the controversy surrounding the singular specialness of human life has continued to rage. For many, the odd angst surrounding the death of a gorilla was their first contact with this unique brand of secular madness. Wesley J. Smith of National Review fame recently published an article entitled Now It’s ‘Posthumanist Ethical Pluralism’ that deals with this issue. The article is exceptional. I hope you’ll take the time to read through it. Below is my favorite quote from the article:

“If human life doesn’t have the highest ultimate objective value simply and merely because it is human–an equal value to be distinguished from all other life forms on the planet–there is no way to philosophically defend universal human rights. Moreover, if we can’t distinguish between our inherent value and that of animals, we will not elevate their status to our level but diminish our own to theirs.”

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve heard about the death of Harambe the gorilla. In case, by some blessed miracle you’ve been able to escape the media madness surrounding this story, I’ll give you a quick summary. A small boy recently fell into the gorilla enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo; zoo officials, fearing for the child’s life, shot and killed the 450-pound gorilla and rescued the boy.

I’m not here to argue the merits of whether or not the parents were or were not at fault. Although, having two young children myself, I know just how quickly a child can slip from your sight and into danger. Neither do I have a solid opinion on whether or not the zoo was at fault for not securing the enclosure more adequately, what’s interesting to me is the bizarre social dilemma that has bubbled up to the surface because of this story. At the heart of the debate is a simple question: is a human life more valuable than an animal’s life (click here for a great article that details the ongoing debate)?

For most of my readership, this question is an absolute no brainer. Of course, a human child’s life is immensely more valuable than a gorilla’s life. But for many, this question is far from settled. We are trending on a societal trajectory that is going to wrestle with the question of the value of human life above animal life with increasing levels of intensity.

This should not be a surprise, it is, after all, the natural logical conclusion of a post-Christian, evolutionistic nation. If you reject a biblical worldview then you are left with a man-made, relativistic brand of morality. As my atheist friends would be quick to point out, it is possible to be an atheist and have morals. This is true. But their morality is subjective and open to interpretation, nuance, and circumstance.

For example, a moral relativist might say (and they often do) that war is immoral. But why? If there is no higher power who sets the standards of right and wrong than who gets to make the moral rules? Who gets to write the commandments that we all must follow? Without God, moral standards are chosen arbitrarily by those with the most power to impose their opinions. So, if human beings are just an accidental causation of a chemical reaction with no soul it’s only logical to wonder if we are really valuable at all? Why does any life have value for that matter?

Certainly, the slippery slope of evolutionary thought creates a moral conundrum; because if humans are just highly evolved animals what makes us better than lesser evolved animals? Without a higher authority, all actions are rendered nonmoral. Right and wrong, good and evil, etc. are completely idiosyncratic and without objective legitimacy.

Just to be clear, I really like animals. When Chip, my childhood dog died, I cried like a baby. I consider gorilla’s to be majestic and fascinating creatures, but they are creatures, not human beings. I think it’s tragic that circumstances caused Harambe to die. However, human life is immeasurably more valuable than animal life. The life of that one child is more valuable than every single animal in that zoo. Period.

My belief in the value of human life is deeply rooted in my biblical worldview. Human beings are created in the image of God and we are far more than flesh and blood. Our temporary bodies merely house our eternal souls. The soul is what separates us from the animals. God created animals and gave us dominion over them. Human versus animal equality should not enter into the picture at all.

But for those who have swallowed the theory of evolution and rejected the Bible, this question will continue to fester. As America becomes increasingly post-Christian, this debate will naturally rise to the forefront of the cultural conversation. This poses a tremendous opportunity for Christians because many who believe in evolution instinctively know that human life is superior to animal life. When they are forced to follow the logical conclusion of their belief system they find it hard to digest and repulsive to their sensibilities.

Even though we are living in a largely post-Christian culture there are still strong vestiges of biblical morality holding society together. In other words, many people have moral principles that are consistent with biblical principles rather than their underdeveloped post-modern beliefs. To clarify further, they still believe certain things that are consistent with biblical morality because they haven’t followed their own philosophies on down to their logical (or illogical) conclusions. Sometimes, helping to lead an intellectually honest and sincere person down their own philosophical sink hole shines a light on the real fallacies and dangers that lurk below.

In the meantime, if you don’t believe in God or the Bible you have no right to lecture me on morality of any kind. Your own belief system denies the reality of true morality and replaces it with social relativism. Social relativism is why the world has suffered genocide after genocide (including the mass genocide of unborn children) at the hands of godless governments. It also produces a growing segment of society that genuinely wonders if babies can be aborted (murdered) up to four months after birth, cheerfully sells aborted body parts over salad, and dryly kicks around the idea of population control because of an apocalyptic view of climate change (the secular version of the book of Revelations). When you lecture me (or anyone else) about morality you are playing God, and only the one true God gets to tell me what is moral and what is immoral.

Related articles: Is Faith Absurd?A Pattern Of Persecution (What Does Hollywood Have In Common With ISIS?), Why Do So Many Christians Support Same-Sex Marriage?Resist Irrelevant Relevance, 5 Key Subjects That We Must Address (If We Want To Retain Young Adults In Our Churches)

 

Is That Really You God? – 10 Steps To Hearing God’s Voice

IS THAT REALLY YOU GODOne of the most common questions that I receive is something along the lines of how can we hear the voice or God? Sometimes it’s phrased in the context of seeking after the will of God. Every sincere Christian has endured seasons where they desperately needed to hear God or know his will. Loren Cunningham’s book Is That Really You God? delves into this topic head first. I found the book helpful and insightful. Loren digs beyond platitudes and easy answers burrowing down into the meat of the question. Especially, interesting are her thoughts on learning to differentiate God’s voice from our own internal voices and the world’s external voices. She walks us through the transition of young Samuel mistaking the voice of Eli for the voice of God. She further illustrates the process of Samuel’s maturation process and spiritual development, noting that as Samuel matured he easily recognized the voice of God, and others heard the voice of God prophetically through him.

I have compiled a short voice over video documenting the main themes of the book along with a few thoughts of my own click here to watch 10 Steps To Hearing God’s Voice.

For further elaboration click here to listen to my full Bible study podcast entitled 10 Steps To Hearing God’s Voice or on iTunes here. I have included the lesson slides below.

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Baptism “In Jesus’ Name” And the New Testament Greek

I am excited to introduce you to the first contribution to Apostolic Voice by a noted theologian, Dr. Talmadge French. He is my father, pastor, mentor, and friend.

Preliminary Considerations for the Defense of Baptism In the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ

Postmodern tendencies away from distinctive doctrinal, and thus competitive, views in the arena of theological ideas must be confronted with a renaissance of fresh affirmation and defense of New Testament baptism rooted in the conviction that Scripture alone, and thus the Apostle’s doctrine, is the sole rule of faith. Oneness Pentecostals have been consistent and “thoroughgoing restorationists” in this regard, insisting that Apostolic practice be followed, regardless of later formulations.  Indeed, at times, the Oneness movement is caricatured for this as exclusivistic and sectarian, not so much for insisting upon the originality of the Jesus’ name form, but for the insistence that it matters.

Of course, the Oneness position on baptism, the contention that the name of Jesus in baptism fulfills the Lord’s commission, is also an emphatic substantiation of the doctrine of the absolute Oneness of God and Jesus’ full, unshared Deity. Evidence of the unwarranted alteration in the formula of baptism, in order to accommodate Triune distinctions, is further indication that original doctrinal positions were modified.

But, while such distinctions currently matter to Oneness Pentecostals, perhaps the greatest challenge of our times is the formidable task of transferring a sincere passion for the truth to the next generation of Apostolics. Amidst the prevailing “who cares?” cultural and religious mentality, with its dominance of relative thought and the equality of all belief(s), the Oneness movement must not fail to stir anew that intense love for the name which has been its most distinguishing, promising, and resolute characteristic.

New Testament Significance of the Name

The postmodern shift in theological ideology intensifies the issue over baptism in varied and subtle ways. Historically, for example, attempts have been championed to separate the use, or speaking, of the name, from the authority and person of the one named. Such a view is without biblical support and reflects a minimizing of the import of the recurrent New Testament form, and use, of the name. An alleged lack of precise baptismal form is sometimes said to substantiate an assumption that “the name of Jesus” was merely an idiomatic way of speaking of one’s person or authority.  But to indicate that form was an imprecise variable, and thus unimportant, or even nonexistent, shifts the debate considerably.

It is true that the erroneous assumption—that, as long as the one named is intended as the authority of an act, it makes little or no difference what one says—would necessarily apply also to the Triune form. The subtle and increasingly accepted implication is that either no formula whatsoever existed, or that there was no set formula that mattered. This goes far beyond the creedal debate as to which is original, but ignores as irrelevant, or eradicates, any Apostolic precedent and practice, the basis of the Oneness contention.

But it also ignores the historical reality. Rigorous exception should be made to the rejection of the significance of the New Testament use of the phrase “in the name” with reference to baptism and the working of miracles as unique to the name of Jesus and Christian practice. These are core, not peripheral, issues to Jesus’ name theology. As such, the Oneness position takes strong issue with the assertion that the expression “in the name” has no actual reference to a name, but only to an authority.

The overwhelming sense is that the New Testament church was very literally a people of the name, who used Jesus’ name uniquely, prominently, and powerfully, and of whom God said: “upon GREEK 1 whom my name is called.” The use of “this name” was a prominent aspect of their “doctrine.” The issue was a specific name, unapologetically and boldly preached, for which they “hazarded their lives,” and for which they rejoiced “that they were counted worthy to suffer.” To magnify His name was to magnify Jesus.

The emphasis on the name makes no sense, theologically or historically, apart from the corresponding use of the name Jesus itself. It is not as though you can disregard the use of the name in baptism or elsewhere, and maintain the theological cohesion of the Apostolic intention and truth. Nor is it hair-splitting to insist upon the distinctive Apostolic doctrine and practice and resistance to the casual dismissal of Apostolic precedence.  There is simply no legitimacy to the assumption that the Apostles needed to speak the name, baptize in the name, and suffer for the name, but that others are exempt, superior, and without need of the same necessity.

For example, the power of God was manifest in the actual words–“in the name of Jesus”—as they were spoken. They did not just act in Christ’s authority, for in what other authority would they be acting?  But they said:  Silver and gold have I none, but such as I have give I thee: in (Greek 2) the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk. And, note, that Greek 2is used, not imprecisely, but interchangeably here with “by GREEK 1what name” in Acts 4:7.  In awe and “joy” they recognized that “the devils are subject unto us through (Greek 2) Thy name,” for their understanding of its power came from the Lord Himself. “Ye shall be hated of all nations,” Jesus said, “for (Greek 3, because of) my name’s sake.”

The Hebraic Influence Upon the Greek

The Jewish emphasis upon the name of the Lord, with all of its ramifications and usage, anticipated the New Testament invocation of the name of Jesus characteristic of the Book of Acts and the early church.  Certainly the Hebraic reverence for the name exceeded mere reference to authority: “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord your God in vain” has to do with the use of the name, etc. Such an emphasis, upon the use of the name, is intensified in the dynamic of New Testament name theology.

Perhaps it was the theological move away from single formula baptism that hindered the recognition of the obvious—the Apostolic use of the name followed the familiar Hebraic pattern regarding the name of God. This Jewish Christian usage of the Greek, had a determinative effect upon the Greek, the forms, the cases, and the varied prepositions when used with Greek 4 (in the name), as well as the almost interchangeable use of Greek 5and Greek 6.

The New Testament Greek paralleled the Septuagint, which in turn reflected the HebrewGreek 7. Due to this influence, as Bauer notes regarding the use of Greek 2, for example, “no corresponding use has been found in secular Greek.” And note the use of Greek 6 in the dative, which represents a unique Greek usage, as Bauer suggests, a use “only of the name of Jesus.” That usage is the actual invoking of the name Jesus – “in the name.”

The Hebraic, Old Testament influence upon the important issue of the name is seen, not only with respect to “in the name of,” “naming,” etc., but in “calling upon the name” – Greek 8, or varied compounds. “Call” is used “Hebraistically… to call upon by pronouncing the name Jehovah.” In the LXX, it is “used very often for Greek 9.” The New Testament usage of the expression “calling on the name” is often an exact parallel to the Hebraic Old Testament sense of calling out the sacred name – “O, Lord my God.”

“And they stoned Stephen, calling upon (Greek 10) God, and saying, Lord Jesus,” Acts 7:59. To “call upon the name of the Lord” often meant to literally call, or speak, or say the name Yahweh, in spite of the fact that centuries later Jews came to regard the name as ineffable. For example, God “proclaimed the name of the Lord” by invoking it over Moses: “The Lord passed by him, and proclaimed, The Lord, The Lord God.” “Then called I upon the name of the Lord; O Lord, I beseech Thee.”

The Hebraic Influence in Key Elements Relative to Baptism

The Apostles’ use of “in the name,” with the varied prepositional constructions, reflects the signifying of the actual words and the name spoken in baptism. Thus, “in the name” signified the invoking of the name:

“in (Greek 6) the name of Jesus Christ” (Acts 2:38); “in (Greek 5) the name of the Lord Jesus (8:16); “in     (Greek 2) the name of the Lord” (10:48); “in (Greek 5) the name of the Lord Jesus” (19:5).

Whether in baptism or works of miraculous power, the recurrent use of “in the name” signified both the means by which they used the name, actual invocation, and the power and authority of the One named.

Greek 11…some influence: ‘while naming’ or ‘calling on my name’…. An additional factor, to a degree, may be… ‘with mention of the name’…. Greek 12 of God or Jesus means in the great majority of cases with mention of the name, while naming or calling on the name (LXX no corresponding use has been found in secular Gk.) … Greek 13, and the dat. …when someone’s name is mentioned or called upon, or mentioning someone’s name…. in the NT only of the name of Jesus.

Baptism “In The Name” and the Question of Formula

The Oneness contention is that New Testament baptism was administered exclusively in the name of Jesus—signifying the original and the fixed formula, and that any alteration in the Apostolic mode and form of baptism for any reason is unwarranted and without biblical justification. Quite telling is the fact that the common recurrence of the “in the name” is used with respect to baptism, but without a single reference substituting “in the authority of.”  This attests to the fact that “in the name of Jesus” signifies the words of the actual form (or formula) used in the waters of baptism, always and exclusively with reference to the singular name of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The history of creedal development also suggests the originality of the single-name form as over against the tripartite form. Of course, the use of “in the name” in Matthew 28:19 reflects the singular form, but not the later claim to the originality of repeating the Matthean words. Calvin’s claim that the tripartite form is original, rejecting the preponderance of single form passages, represents the classic belief in the superiority of a Triune form: I maintain that Peter is not speaking in this passage [Acts 2:38] of the form of baptism. . . It is not a fixed formula of baptism that is being dealt with here.

A discrepancy does not exist between the Matthean text and the preponderance of texts relative to the Jesus’ name formula or between Jesus and His Apostles (Mt 16:13-20; Jn 17:30; Acts 2:37, 4).  The Apostles, in full agreement, invoked the name in baptism intended by the Matthean phrase—by invoking the name Jesus. Signifying a single reference (Mt 28:19) as the solitary formula—on the basis of divine titles or a corroboration of Triune dogma—ignores the preponderance of texts evidencing the single form.

A Triune form was simply not in use in the early church. Any later development, the alteration of the baptismal practice of the Apostles, and the supplanting and excluding the Jesus’ name formula, constitute unwarranted violations of Apostolic authority and cannot stand on par with Scriptural baptism.

Historical Evidence for the Originality of the Jesus’ Name Formula

Indeed, strong evidence and wide support for the acknowledgement of the originality of Jesus’ name baptism include the exclusive reference to Jesus in the earliest creeds, or kerygma, as noted by historians such as C. H. Dodd, J. N. D. Kelly, and others. The earliest creeds were clearly non-Triune, such as Greek 14, “Jesus is Lord.”

It will be noticed that the confessions which crop up most frequently in the New Testament are the single-clause christological ones. On the basis of this it has been argued that the single-clause creeds represent the authentic faith of the primitive Church.

In 1520, Luther wrote: Others, again, pedantic triflers, condemn the use of the words, ‘I baptize you in the name of Jesus Christ’ —Although it is certain that the Apostles used this formula in baptizing.

This is precisely the crux of the matter: “It is certain that the Apostles used this formula.”  Why, then, any debate, why any other mode or formula? “There is little doubt,” writes Lars Hartman, “that baptism was practiced by the first Christians… given ‘into the name of Jesus… If this be so, then the combination of baptism and the formula just quoted brings us down to a very primitive phase of the life of the early church.”

And, in his A History of Christian Thought, Heich stated: While this perfectly Trinitarian faith may be taken as a matrix from which a recognized formula . . . eventually issued, it does not mean that baptism was being administered in the name of the triune God at that time.  At first baptism was in the name of Christ.

A Consideration of the Textual Construction of Some Key Passages (The Name Above Every Name:  Phil 2:9-10)

One of the most significant passages concerning the name is Philippians 2:9-10. Some, including my own Greek language degree advisor, Gerald Hawthorne, have taken issue with “Jesus” being the name “above every name,” due to the use of the genitive. “At (Greek 2) the name of Jesus” (2:10) renders Greek 15 as a typical possessive genitive, implying that Jesus possesses an exalted name, other than “Jesus” itself, most probably “lord”(Greek 16).

But the Hebraic influence prevailed, so that “in the name of,” without the need for a specific dative, borrowing from the Hebrew sense, carried the force of the Greek dative.  Therefore, Jesus is used in the identical construction Greek 17 in which the name of Yahweh, or Lord, often meant the name Yahweh itself. This is apparent, for example, in the matter of fact usage of the genitive with the names Jesus Greek 18, Lord Greek 19, and Christ Greek 20, with no possessive intent. This is the obvious understanding in the Acts accounts of the name Jesus. If the dative were required, as with “for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ (each genitive), the implication would be that He possessed yet another name than Jesus, Lord, or Christ—for which they hazarded their lives!

The exalted name is Jesus, and not His title Lord Greek 19 or Christ Greek 20.  “Lord” is Who He is, but Jesus is His name. His name was so exalted, honored, and specific, that it could even be referred to simply as “the name” or “that worthy name.”

The tremendous Oneness implications should be noted in the fact that every knee bows to the Lord (Yahweh, Isa 45:23) God Himself “at the name of Jesus,” which is “to the glory of” Greek 21 the Father. The theology of the name was in direct keeping with the Old Testament: “Bless the Lord, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless His holy name; O Lord our Lord, how excellent is Thy name in all the earth,” (Psalm 8:1; 103:1). And, indeed, the name upon the lips of the impassioned first church was not Buddha, nor Allah, nor any other name than—the name Jesus itself.

Salvation Is In The Name:  Ac 4:12; Eph 1:21; 1 Pet 3:20-21

The Acts account places enormous emphasis upon the saving implications of the name, using a rare triple negative for stress: “Neither Greek 22 is there salvation in any Greek 23.PNGother: for there is none Greek 24 other.” This is hardly soft-peddling their stress on Jesus’ name. Rather, it precludes any name or salvation apart from Jesus, for His name is “above” all, and “far above” “every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come.” The use of the neuter, Greek 23, emphasizes that reference is to the name itself, which is stressed twice, “none other name” Greek 25. And “whereby” Greek 26 shows the agency of the name, or ‘by which’ salvation “must” come    Greek 27. Literally, ‘by which it is necessary for us to be saved.”

Strong language indeed, especially when taken with the baptismal references in Acts and the stress, elsewhere, upon the essentiality of the water. Peter places such strong emphasis upon the saving aspect of baptism that he refers to the “water,” not the Ark, as the element by which “eight souls were saved.” And the Flood and baptism are not both figures or types, but only one is a “like figure” Greek 28, or, literally, ‘which is even a figure.’ Noah’s salvation prefigured the reality that “baptism doth also now save us.”

Remission Of Sins Is In The Name:  1 Pet 3:20-21; Ac 2:38; Jn 3:5

The parallel elsewhere concerning the washing, cleansing, and remitting elements of baptism is consistent with Peter’s parenthetical statement that baptism is not an outward “putting away of the filth of the flesh” (contrasted with the inward washing). Rather than outwardly removing Greek 29, or dirt, baptism affects the inward man, as the “answer of a good conscience toward God.” Literally, ‘a plea Greek 30 to God for a good conscience,’ with the objective genitive.

Baptism, therefore, is not merely some outward symbol, but is “for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38), and, thus, an integral element in the New Birth experience of salvation. The use of the Greek preposition conjoined with remission, Greek 31.PNG, is the strongest statement as to the efficacy of baptism in the name of Jesus. “For” (Greek 5), with its forward directional implications, such as ‘to, into, toward,’ means ‘in order to (access)’ remission (i.e. the blood was shed “for the remission of sins,” Mt 26:28).  But Greek 5 never means ‘because of’ remission already received.

Jesus stated: “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.”  And, “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven.” The lack of the article (or anarthrous use, Greek 32) with either “water” or “Spirit” is consistent with reference to one new birth, with related elements of water and Spirit. The typical manner of indicating separate items joined with Greek 33, that is, two separate, unrelated births, one flesh, and the other Spirit, would be articular.

Invoking the Name of Jesus In Baptism:  Ac 22:16 and Ja 2:7

Every significant element regarding the relationship of baptism and the name of Jesus are highlighted in Acts 22:16: “Why tarriest thou? Arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord.” Most significant is the use of Greek 34 in the specific aorist middle participle Greek 35: invoke, call upon, call by name, appeal to, etc. The use of the middle, rather than the usual passive, parallels the two prior middles, Greek 36 and Greek 37, both aorist middle imperatives. The middles stress here the subject’s participatory role: not ‘baptize yourself,’ or ‘wash your own sins away,’ but ‘get yourself baptized and have your sins washed away.’ Therefore, the participle follows similarly: ‘have the name called over yourself!” Powerful wording in any language.

Clearly, “calling on the name,” has reference to the actual name used in baptism, in parallel to calling and invoking the name of God in the Old Testament. The power of the name rests in the power of the One so named. James could simply refer to it as “that worthy name,” even as Paul knew his hearers would know Who was crucified for them, and, thus, in Whose name they were baptized. Interestingly, unbelievers even tried to imitate calling Greek 38 of “the name of the Lord Jesus” overGREEK 1people.

James’ reference to “that worthy name,” certainly, is with respect to the name of Jesus, honored and reverenced, as well as invoked in water baptism. “Do not they blaspheme that worthy name by the which ye are called?” Again, the use of Greek 39, call or invoke, in the aorist passive participle form,  signifies the naming or speaking the actual name. But James adds Greek 40, actually stressing the idea of the invoking as being over or upon someone.

The idea is weakened, and misses the point of the prepositional construction, if the supposition is that one is named ‘by’ the name ‘Christ,’ as when called a Christian. Not ‘by you,’ but ‘over or upon you.’ The name “by GREEK 1the which ye are called” (Ja 2:7) is, literally, “which has been called over you!” Of course, a Christianity which no longer invoked the name over believers, nor was attentive to the significance of the name of Jesus, especially regarding baptism, would have missed the significance of James’ statement as well.

Addendum

From “A Response to Ockham’s Razor With A Vengeance”

The Significance of ‘In the Name of Jesus’ As a Formula.  “Ockham’s Razor” indicts Oneness Pentecostals for accepting the formula for baptism ‘in the name of Jesus’ by con-tending that, undoubtedly, there is no formula for baptism, or at least not a fixed formula. In order to sustain this conclusion two crucial assertions are advanced: (1) the form ‘in the name’ does not represent an invoking of the name ‘Jesus’ and (2) the term ‘in the name’ is to be comprehended as merely idiomatic. The Greek text, it is asserted, validates both propositions.

First, the essence of the meaning of ‘formula’, if it can be applied to baptism (and in-deed it has been and is so applied), implies a fixity. That is to say, if baptism has a form, that essential form is therefore not open to alteration. And, scholarship concerning creedal development indicates, decidedly, that the form of baptism with reference to Jesus, ‘in the name of Jesus,’ came to be replaced by baptism in the name of the Trinity.

Therefore, it appears that the shift occurred toward a Trinitarian emphasis and away from the christological emphasis. The evidence of the patristics and the long history of Christianity itself reveal considerable development of dogma and creed. But what is fundamental here is the development of baptismal formulae, and especially the tripartite formula. Schlink suggests that the triune development was “an important supplement to the name of Jesus” and “this unfolding of the name of Jesus became all the more necessary with the more the Gospel advanced beyond Palestine to other areas where faith in the one God was unknown.”

“Most probably Baptism was originally performed upon (in) the name of Christ and this was later expanded, as in the expansion of the Christological confession into the tripartite creeds.” Bousset, in Kyrios Christos, and H. A. Wolfson, The Philosophy of the Church Fathers, state concurring conclusions, with Wolfson adding: “Undoubtedly then the baptismal formula originally consisted of one part and it gradually developed into its tripartite form.”

As to the question of the Greek text relevant to baptism ‘in the name’ and the invoking of the name Jesus, again, the issue is two-fold. First, does the use of ‘in the name’ in the baptism statements intend to represent instructions for the actual words that were to be called over the baptismal candidate? Or, does it represent only idiomatic phraseology referring to authority, a synecdoche simply meaning Jesus Himself ownership, and/or other linguistic meanings?

The idiomatic significance and connotation apropos to the understanding and translation of the text is very important, allowing insight into meanings and nuances intended by the original writer. And Oneness writers adequately take this into consideration, for a wealth of scholarship exists with respect to the Greek language, idiomatic aspects included. But idiomatic nuances with respect to the baptismal statements are neither sufficient explanations of the repeated use of the form ‘in the name,’ nor are they taken to represent the primary meaning of the use of ‘in the name’.

Idiomatic understanding of the phrase is inadequate to explain the total import of the baptism rite as described in the New Testament. Rather, the significant, primary under-standing of ‘in the name’ is that it represents the form of that which was spoken in the rite of baptism.  Such a conclusion is consistent with the witness of the New Testament.

This article originally appeared in the Journal of the Apostolic Theological Forum published by the Apostolic Theological Forum in 2006, click here if you would like to purchase the journal. The article in its original form contains a wealth of footnotes, far too complicated and numerous for this blog’s format. I am happy to pass those on to anyone who is interested. My father, Dr. Talmadge French, has also written a wonderfully helpful, best-selling, and concise tract on Jesus’ name baptism as well as several other great works. I have included a link for those here. Please note, if you Greek scholars find any discrepencies in the Greek text it is likely an error on my part, transitioning the text into this blog format was tedious to say the least.

A Pattern of Persecution (What Does Hollywood Have In Common With ISIS?)

It’s not unusual for politicians to let us down. In fact, I have come to expect the worst. When a politician actually does the right thing I am pleasantly surprised. I’m very rarely surprised. When governor Nathan Deal vetoed Georgia’s (my home state) religious liberty bill (HB 757) it was not a great shock to my system. It did, however, catch many of my fellow Georgians and the rest of the country off guard.

Governor Deal has, for the most part, been friendly to the faith community. The bill itself was fairly straightforward, basically protecting religious institutions from having to perform same-sex marriages. Nevertheless, the LGBT community portrayed the bill as hateful and discriminatory. It was not.

Just because you are opposed to same-sex marriage does not mean that you hate homosexuals. You can be strongly opposed to an action and not hate the person. For example, I oppose alcoholism but I don’t hate alcoholics. I also reserve the right to keep my church campus alcohol free. I reserve the right to keep weddings performed at my church campus free of alcohol. That stance does not make me (or anyone else) hateful.

Truthfully, the bill itself is not what concerns me, but the pattern of persecution that its denial represents is of great concern. In the days leading up to the veto, Georgia was browbeaten into submission. National media outlets launched threats like a bully on a school playground. The NFL threatened to remove Georgia from any possibility of hosting a Super Bowl. The Atlanta area, which has become the Hollywood of the south, was threatened by industry heavyweights like Disney and AMC with dire repercussions if the bill was signed into law. We will never know whether or not they would have made good on those threats. It’s highly unlikely that they would have thrown Georgia’s massive tax subsidies out the window. It was a political game of chicken and Deal lost.

It’s these kinds of nationally recognized situations that put the building anti-Christian venom fully on display for all to see. Honestly, HB 757 would also have protected the religious liberties of Muslims, but it was framed as a Christian hate bill. Can you even fathom the NFL, Disney, or AMC giving the slightest opposition to a bill that gave religious protection to the Muslim faith? It would never happen. Everyone from the president on down would be lecturing us about the need for tolerance towards the great religion of peace. And yet, when bombs go off in Europe, not one person wonders if it was a Christian extremist behind the violence (Check out this article by Matt Walsh entitled It’s Time To Stop Pretending All Religions Are Equal).

Why so much animosity towards Christians and so much tolerance towards Muslims? Why do the leftist, secularist, socialistic, and aristocratic stand in solidarity with a religion fraught with hatred and violence, while simultaneously opposing a religion of love and peace? Let’s break it down into a smaller question? What does much of the Hollywood elite have in common with ISIS? It’s not a shared love of bombs or beheadings. It’s not a mutual stance against homosexuality; Hollywood has singlehandedly popularized the LGBT lifestyle. It’s not the systematic abuse of woman; to its credit, even morally bankrupt Hollywood deplores the abuse of women. It’s certainly not a shared belief in modesty; just about any movie ever made makes that abundantly clear. I think the answer is relatively simple; the only common ground between Hollywood and Islam is their mutual hatred of Christianity. This makes them strange and unlikely bedfellows.

And yet, Christians aren’t faultless either. Many of the same evangelicals that boycotted Starbucks over a coffee cup watch every vile thing that Hollywood spews out. We make the stars rich and the industry execs richer. Hypocritical to say the least. But we’re not alone in our hypocrisy; Hollywood makes billions on movies filled with gun violence and then leads the charge against the second amendment. Outspoken stars like Liam Neeson walk around with armed body guards while arrogantly preaching that the rest of the world has no right to defend itself. Yes, there’s plenty of hypocrisy to go around.

So giant popular industries like the NFL, Disney, and AMC can hold religious liberty hostage with only the threat of taking their business and money elsewhere. This is dire news for the future of freedom. What would happen if Christians took their money elsewhere in protest? Why make stars of people who despise us? Why make the people who not only oppose us but loath us rich? But we won’t. We’ll take the beating until it’s too late, and then we’ll blame politicians, or the Devil, or some other boogieman. Call me crazy, but this is only the beginning of very dark days for people of the Christian faith. The world already turns a blind eye to the genocide of our brothers and sisters around the world. America remains the last bastion of freedom, but it will not remain so if we don’t stand up for truth and freedom right now. Just because governor Deal lost his courage doesn’t mean that we can’t find ours.

Let me give a few disclaimers in the hopes of blocking some of the hate mail at the pass. I fully realize that there are millions of perfectly peaceful Muslims. However, so-called “radical Muslims” have not perverted a peaceful religion. The Islamic faith is inherently violent, nihilistic, and theocratic. This is why peaceful Muslims are hated by Islamic fundamentalists. Islam is not just a religion it is a government. One of the great differences between Islam and Christianity is the mode of conversion. The Koran teaches conversion by any means necessary; the Bible teaches an evangelistic method of love. The Bible rejects the concept of forced conversion or servitude, the Koran does not. The Bible teaches followers of Christ to be at peace with unbelievers, the Koran does not. I highly recommend the book Killing Christians by Tom Doyle for further reading on the subject. I am also aware that not everyone in Hollywood hates Christianity. When referencing Hollywood I am referring to the entertainment industry as a whole, not just the physical location in California. It should not be shocking to anyone paying the slightest bit of attention that the majority of the entertainment industry has been increasingly hostile to Christianity and traditional American values almost from its inception. For those who need more proof, I recommend the classic book by Michael Medved called Hollywood vs. America. Finally, I realize that not all Christians (including this one) willingly ingest everything that the entertainment industry produces. Sadly, statistics tell us that the majority, however, do. To make matters worse, more than half of Christian men admit to watching pornography (and those are just the ones who admit it).





Is Technology Killing Theology?

This post will likely not go viral or attract more than a few clicks. There’s no hook. No catch. No gimmick to draw our overloaded minds into a brief moment of introspection. And therein lies a glimpse of our cultural dilemma. We have become shallow, narcissistic, and just plain bored.

We have more gadgets and gizmos than a Cold War spy, and yet we are listless. Yes. Technology has enabled us to spread the Gospel with the click of a mouse, and yet, who’s paying attention? The blessing is also a curse. The very instrument that can send truth around the globe in an instant has deadened our senses. We are reduced to Twitterbites, and soundbites, clever little memes, and silly little quotations. Those things are well and good. They have their place, but by themselves, they are empty and meaningless.

Like it or not, the Bible is a voluminous catalog of God’s very words. Simplify it as we might, it is not compatible with our national, self-inflicted, attention deficit disorder. We are all like kids in a candy store running from one jar of candy to another with zero tolerance for self-control. That might be fine for kids in a candy store, but it spells disaster when it comes to spiritual things.

Preachers can’t speak longer than 20 minutes before people start staring like freshly turned zombies. Teachers can’t expound the Word for more than a few minutes before eyes glaze over and fidgety hands reach for smartphones like withdrawing addicts. Everyone rushes from entertainment to entertainment, and from distraction to distraction. We can’t focus. We can’t think clearly. We can’t dig into the gems below the surface because we are riddled with restlessness.


We want the preacher to get to the point, but theology is not a sitcom; the plot doesn’t always work itself out in 20 minutes or less. We want our books to be thin because we don’t have time to read anything substantial (although our time spent on social media proves otherwise). We want the Cliff Notes version of the Bible. As the apostle Paul would probably say, “we want milk, not meat.”

It’s bad enough that our pews struggle with this modern problem, but our pulpits are struggling as well. I know this because I am the chief of sinners in this area. As I write, my cell phone rings, my iPad beeps, my laptop whirs, and my watch keeps the beat. I find myself giving in to the pressure to oversimplify weighty matters of theological discourse. I find myself avoiding important sermons that I know will induce unjustified boredom.


And our ministry model does little to resist this disturbing trend. We promote ministries like celebrities rather than by examining their depth of knowledge. We do little iron sharpening these days. We’re all so busy trying to get in the last word that we rarely listen. And we can only learn when we listen.

Young preachers spend more time crafting their image than working out their salvation with fear and trembling. Beware of an image-driven Gospel with no genuine apostolic authority.

This never-ending rant does contain a word of hope. God’s Spirit is still drawing the hearts and minds of people. I am convinced, that although the challenges are great, we can cut through the clutter and return to critical thinking and anointed preaching. There is little room for error or mediocrity. We are competing in a fast-paced marketing-saturated society. We must bring the Word to life with clarity and intensity. We must be creative yet systematic, fun but serious-minded (yes, it is compatible), humble yet dogmatic, deep yet understandable, and anointed yet approachable.

Bottom line, preachers, and teachers must work harder than ever before. Not only to engage easily distracted hearers but to guard themselves against the temptation to settle for MTV style theology. The Bible can’t be rushed, edited, manipulated, tamed, trimmed, or airbrushed. All the skinny jean wearing hipster preachers in the world can’t change Truth. Truth simply is, just as God simply is.

And so, as we mindlessly scroll our way around social media, let’s pause as often as possible to meditate on the deep things of God’s word. Let’s encourage our spiritual leaders to actually be spiritual and not cater to our carnal desire for less meat and more milk. Let’s push past the clutter and the buzzing and seek God for who He really is and not just what we want Him to be. Only then can we be impacted by the transforming Word of God. God’s Word has not changed, have we?

5 Mistakes Every Worship Leader Makes

All the earth shall worship thee, and shall sing unto thee; they shall sing to thy name. Selah (Psalm 66:4).

In my life, I have had the honor and opportunity to lead worship in many different settings. From Camp Meetings, Conferences, Youth Rallies, Campus Ministries, mid-week Bible Studies, and prayer meetings, to church on Sundays. I’ve seen and experienced a lot. To all my worship leader friends out there, don’t be discouraged. God is using you to make a difference in the lives of His people. We know what it feels like to miss the key change and feel foolish, give the wrong sign and be embarrassed, or sing your heart out and feel like everyone is just watching you for mere entertainment purposes. In the midst of the chaos, feelings of inadequacy, and time management, I want to remind you that what you do is Biblical, and is making a world of difference in your church and in your district.

And when he had consulted with the people, he appointed singers unto the LORD, and that should praise the beauty of holiness, as they went out before the army… (2 Chronicles 20:21).

When the armies raged against King Jehoshaphat, the Bible says he only did one thing. If you were to listen it would not sound like what you would expect it to sound like. You would not hear the sharpening of spears, the building of shields, or the wielding of swords, you would only hear appointed singers stepping out in front of an army of thousands determined to destroy them.

And when they began to sing and to praise, the LORD set ambushments against the children of Ammon, Moab, and mount Seir, which were come against Judah; and they were smitten (2 Chronicles 20:22).

Never forget the importance of your appointed music ministry. God intends to use your WORSHIP to turn the armies of the enemy against one another. God will fight our battles for us!

I would like to quickly mention five mistakes every worship leader makes. How do I know? I know because I’ve made every single one of these mistakes at some point in my music ministry. Here we go!

  1. THE PRESSURE MISTAKE

Don’t put so much pressure on yourself! It is common for a passionate and good-hearted worship leader to feel like the buck stops with them. They feel like a failure if people refuse to enter into the presence of God. Guess what? The buck doesn’t stop with you. Whatever the sword called “PRAISE” can’t cut through will be pierced by an even sharper two-edged sword, the Word of God! Don’t be so hard on yourself!

  1. THE HINDERANCE MISTAKE

…he causeth his wind to blow, and the waters flow (Psalm 147:18).

Praise, Worship, and the Word have a way of melting the hardest of hearts. When the winds of the Spirit begin to blow you have to be prayed up, and ready to flow. Let’s face it, if you’re a Pentecostal church, things probably won’t go as planned. Beware of sticking to the “Order of Service”. There are times when the Holy Ghost wants to take over, and the worship leader can determine the life or death of that service. Are you HELPING the flow or HINDERING it?

  1. THE ARROGANCE MISTAKE

Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall (Proverbs 16:18).

At some point, you had a great worship service and somebody made your day with compliments, but believe me, there’s nothing worse than an arrogant Worship Leader. Arrogance cannot lead anyone into the presence of God. Don’t make this mistake, you’ll be humbled very soon if you do… trust me.

  1. THE LONE RANGER MISTAKE

Being out front all the time can make you feel secluded and isolated. Don’t separate yourself from your praise team/musicians/choir! You need them and they need you. We’re leading people into worship TOGETHER! I have no desire to go into battle by myself, do you?

  1. THE “EVERYTHING OR NOTHING” MISTAKE

Some worship leaders like slow songs. Some like fast songs. I have often seen what I call “Everything or nothing” worship leaders. These types of Worship Leaders think if every song isn’t a shout down, red-faced, stomp the devil, worship service that they didn’t actually have church that day. Some are reversed and feel every service should be a Kari Jobe, cry your eyes out, fall on your face worship session. ALL these things are necessary, but let us not forget human nature and moderation. If God wants the Worship service to go a certain way, get out of the way, and let God have His way. Plan for everything, but just because EVERYTHING didn’t happen, doesn’t mean NOTHING happened. God works in many ways on the hearts of His people through WORSHIP.

What would you add to this list?

NATHAN 1
Nathan French

This guest article was contributed by my brother Nathan French who serves as music minister and youth pastor at Apostolic Tabernacle on the south side of Atlanta. His ministry is dynamic and in constant demand. Check out Nathan’s other other articles Do You Believe Your Youth Group Will Stay In The Church? and 7 Ways To Help Your Youth Group Backslide.

 

 

 

 

 

 

You Cannot Be A Church Leader If… (Part 2)

This is an extension of my recent post You Cannot Be A Church Leader If. The interest was strong and the feedback intense so today I’m adding a few to the list.

12. You cannot be a church leader if you do not have a burden.

The apostle Paul described his burden for the salvation of his fellow Jews as a bitter sorrow and an unending grief. Jesus described a burden so strong that the parabolic shepherd left the ninety-nine to find that one lost sheep. A burden goes beyond love, a burden goes beyond concern, it is a deep driving force that propels an individual into action on behalf of the lost. It is manifested in a myriad of ways, which ultimately bears the fruit of saving lost sheep. It should be noted that all Christians are mandated to carry a burden on some level. A burden is not a calling, but it is necessary for a calling.

13. You cannot be a pastor without a Divine calling.

This point is specific to preaching and pastoral ministries. Having said that, I know many people who were called to teach Sunday School, drive a church bus, do community outreach, clean the church, or visit the sick. But all of those things can and should be done without a Divine calling if necessary. Preaching and pastoral ministry, however, is Divinely ordained and Divinely called. This article doesn’t have the space to lay the necessary theological framework for each point, but this is clearly illustrated in the ministries of Moses, Abraham, Noah, Samuel, each of the Apostles including Paul, and Timothy. Jonah is particularly interesting because he had a Divine calling, yet he lacked a burden. He was called first and God went to great lengths to take him to his field of evangelism.

14. You cannot be a church leader without wisdom.

Many people have knowledge but lack wisdom. Knowledge is information, wisdom is knowing what to do with that information. Leadership without wisdom eventually burns the leader and the followers out. Couple points: Good intentions do not equal wisdom, talent does not equal wisdom, age does not equal wisdom, charisma does not equal wisdom, personality does not equal wisdom, and enthusiasm does not equal wisdom. The higher you go in church leadership the more critical wisdom becomes.

15. You cannot be a church leader without vision.

“Where there is no vision, the people perish… (Proverbs 29:18).” That word vision comes from the Hebrew word “chazown” meaning dream, revelation, oracle, or sight. This Scripture is often misrepresented, but I think the meaning is complex. Leadership requires revelation from God, which brings dreams for the future, and insight into what is necessary to move forward in God’s plan.

16. You cannot be a church leader without faith.

“Without faith, it is impossible to please God… (Hebrews 11:6).” I think that pretty much says it all.

17. You cannot be a church leader without anointing.

Jesus said, “The Spirit of the Lord [is] upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor… (Luke 4:18).” I know this is an oversimplification, but if Jesus needed an anointing to preach you need one too. I think this is mandatory for pastoral and preaching ministries, and it certainly should be coveted in all other areas of church ministry as well. In a certain sense, the differences between Divine anointing and Divine calling are almost imperceptible. When David was anointed by the prophet Samuel the oil was literally poured over his head. It was highly visible for all present. Spiritual anointing seems intangible in theory, but you know it when you see it. You can feel it. Anointing brings down giants, lack of anointing cowers in hiding when adversity comes. It is palpable when God has covered a person. Anointing produces illumination, revelation, Divine inspiration, Divine operation, the gifts of the Spirit, and other tangible spiritual results. Anointing is not merely theatrics. Anointing is not good oratory or even capable leadership skills. It does not come from man, training, or education. Anointing comes only from God. God can anoint a fisherman or a theologian, a lifetime saint or a once vile sinner, or whomever He chooses. Although, God does give confirmation of anointing through godly pastoral authority. David didn’t anoint himself and proclaim himself the heir to the throne; he needed a Samuel to place God’s stamp of approval on his life first.

18. You cannot be a church leader without a time of proving and learning.

Paul admonished Timothy to study to show himself approved unto God (2 Timothy 2:15). Notice, when you are training you are not seeking earthly approval but God’s approval. Ministerial training was never intended to be a political process or a popularity contest. The desire for church leadership must be birthed out of a desire to please the Lord. Abraham was 75 years old when God called him and Samuel was only about 12 years old when God called him. Sometimes the training and proving periods are long and tedious. Whichever the case, patience and a right spirit are required or you will miss God’s will. That’s basically what happened to Judas. I believe Judas thought he could force Jesus’ hand. Instead, he destroyed his life and his potential ministry.

19. You cannot be a church leader without the blessing of a pastor and the covering of a local church.

Paul never embarked on a missionary journey without the unification of apostolic ministry and the covering (blessing) of a local church. This goes back to my point in part one of this post regarding submission to spiritual authority. God does not bless the maverick mentality. God blesses and operates via unification and through the mechanisms of authority. I’ve seen people run from church to church looking for someone to validate their personal ministry, eventually they find someone willing to give them a pedestal of some kind or another. But this is not the apostolic way, nor does God bless it. Those kinds of dissidents beget more dissidents and undermine their own ministry. It’s hard to inspire loyalty when you birth your “ministry” in disloyalty. I’ve seen this process run the spectrum from pastor, to preacher, to teacher, to evangelist, to musician, to singer, to youth leader, and on and on.

20. You cannot be a church leader without the ability to lead.

This one is going to rub some people the wrong way, but I know many good people who desired to be in leadership who lacked the ability to lead people. They eventually end up leading themselves and growing embittered. They drifted from the true “calling” that God had placed on their lives because they desired promotion. If you have a genuine calling (as we’ve already discussed) promotion will come without self-promotion. I often fear that in our rush to start new churches we push individuals into positions they are not qualified for or called into. One caveat, I do believe that if God truly calls he does qualify. However, many inadvertently substitute their own desires for a genuine Divine calling. They go to their pastor seeking approval with no desire for actual counsel. Using the apostle Paul’s analogy of the Church being like a body fitly joined together it is imperative that the shoulder work in conjunction with the neck, and the neck in conjunction with the head, and so on. When a hand, for example, tries to be a leg spiritual imbalance ensues. To be clear, many begin this journey with the best of intentions. However, good intentions alone are no substitute for God’s will.

21. You cannot be a church leader if you do not maintain a high standard of holiness.

20 For when ye were the servants of sin, ye were free from righteousness. 21 What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed? for the end of those things is death. 22 But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life (Romans 6:20-22).

True servants of God always produce the fruits of holiness in their inward and outward lives. The apostle James tells us that not many should become teachers because teachers will be judged more strictly by God (James 3:1). What a sobering thought. That’s why spiritual leadership is not to be taken lightly. Experience has taught me that followers will always follow at least a step or two behind the leader. Spiritual leaders should be so far ahead of the danger zone that when their followers lag behind they are still safe (i.e. saved). When spiritual leaders traverse in the gray areas their followers fall into oblivion. Servants of God are to be modest, sober, diligent, upright, moral, biblically sound, and trustworthy. Some of this is becoming redundant but it bears repeating because of its importance.

What would you add to this list?

 

 

You Cannot Be A Church Leader If… (Part 1)

I am regularly asked questions about how to become either a leader within the church or the pastor of a church. This post is designed as the starting point for answering those questions. This is by no means an exhaustive list and it applies to lay ministries and pastoral ministries. I have chosen not to focus on the important aspects of having a divine calling in this post (maybe another time).

So here are a few prerequisites for church leadership that are a combination of common sense and basic biblical guidelines. Many people disqualify themselves from any possibility of church leadership (or they start and fizzle out) because they fail to maintain these standards.

1. You cannot be a church leader if you consistently miss services.

Aside from the spiritual implications, this is a practical guideline as well. You can’t contribute if you’re not there. You can’t encourage and inspire faithfulness in others if you’re not faithful. Try telling your job, or a team membership that you want to lead without being consistently present. It doesn’t work. Not only is it a spiritual concern it’s a dependability problem.

2. You cannot be a church leader if you’re consistently late.

This is closely related to the above point. For the record, everyone is late from time to time, but I’m referring to a consistent pattern of lateness. Again, this is a dependability factor. If no one ever knows when you’re going to show up you are unreliable, and that applies to every facet of your life.

3. You cannot be a church leader if you are rebellious towards spiritual authority.

To have authority, you must be under authority. If you want respect you must model how to give respect. And I mean genuine respect, many give lip service to respectfulness in public and display their true rebelliousness in private conversations. Many people fake respect but demonstrate rebellion through passive aggressive actions. They do not realize how transparent their heart really appears to godly leadership. When you undermine the authority over you then you undermine your own authority as well. Give the kind of loyalty that you would expect from others. Remember, there is a key difference between obedience and submission; obedience will often do the right thing with a wrong spirit, submission is obedience with a right spirit.

4. You cannot be in church leadership if you are in sin.

The blind cannot lead the blind. All the talent in the world is no substitute for righteousness when it comes to the Kingdom of God.

5. You cannot be in church leadership if you have a “me first” mentality.

The Church, like all organized institutions, functions on the power of unity. Church leadership requires a “team” mentality, not a “me” mentality.

6. You cannot be in church leadership if you are unwilling to make sacrifices.

Here’s where most people fall off the wagon. Church leadership requires sacrifice as all truly spiritual things do. It requires sacrifices of time, energy, finance, and resources. For example (and this also falls under the heading of sin), you are automatically disqualified from church leadership if you refuse to give tithes and offerings.

7. You cannot be in church leadership if you are easily offended, easily angered, and cling to grudges.

You might think leadership brings accolades and honor, but for every kind word received you’ll receive at least as much criticism and cynicism. Leadership comes with as much resistance as it does assistance. You will have to rise above negativity, critique, ungratefulness, hostility, apathy, complacency, disloyalty, and sometimes outright attack. Mostly this will come from expected places but the most hurtful will be from Christians who ought to know better.

8. You cannot be in church leadership if you do not love God and people.

Love God first and ask him to help you truly love people. If you do not truly love people the point made in the above post will burn you out faster than a firecracker on the Fourth of July. Also, if you lead out of any motivation other than godly love you are leading out of selfish and carnal motivations. That always ends badly.

9. You cannot be in church leadership if you lack personal spiritual discipline.

You wouldn’t want an overweight guy teaching you how to lose weight. You wouldn’t want a weak guy teaching you how to get strong. And you wouldn’t want someone who doesn’t pray teaching you how to pray. Prayer, fasting, Bible reading, Bible study, evangelism, and faithfulness are mandatory prerequisites for church leadership.

10. You cannot be in church leadership if your personal life is in shambles.

This one might sound harsh, but it is a biblical principle and a common sense principle as well. Bottom line, if you can’t manage your own business you shouldn’t be trying to manage other people’s business, and certainly not God’s business. This includes your family, your finances, your emotions, your spirituality, etc.

11. You cannot be in church leadership without integrity.

This final point is technically covered under the point about sin, but I think this one deserves a deeper look. Integrity, honesty, and core convictions are essential to godly leadership. Without them, your leadership will ring hollow and your influence will run shallow.

Click here to read part 2 of You Cannot Be In Church Leadership If…

Similar articles: Overcoming Ministerial Insecurity, Ministerial Discouragement (And How To Handle It), An Echo Experience, 5 Tips For Introverted Leaders, Ministry Pitfalls, 14 Ways You Can Support Your Pastor

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It’s Time For A Resolution

Tis the season of New Year’s resolutions where we analyze and annotate our plans for self-betterment in the fresh year. Honestly, we break most resolutions and barely feel a twinge of regret. My 2015 goal of giving up Coke Cola lasted a miserable three days before ending with a delicious carbonated fizz. Regardless, resolutions are noble and worthy of careful consideration. With that in mind, allow me to recommend that you add the most important resolution possible to your list. I would like to encourage you to be more faithful in church attendance and participation in 2016 than you have ever been before. No matter how active or inactive you have been previously, take it up a notch or two in 2016. I promise that you will see blessings because of it. God honors faithfulness (2 Timothy 2:13, Matthew 24:45-47). Period.

We cannot expect God to bless our homes if we will not make His house a priority. Every other area of your spiritual and even physical life will be strengthened by becoming more faithful to the house of God. If in the past, you have only attended the Sunday morning service make an effort to attend the Sunday evening service as well (if your church still has one). Midweek Bible studies are a completely different format than Sunday services and they give an opportunity to learn, stretch, grow, understand, and discover things that are simply not possible in the Sunday format. Why am I asking for this intensified commitment? Because you get what you put in. You’ll only grow in God as you begin to stretch yourself. If you listen carefully, you’ll hear the Spirit calling you to go deeper in your commitment to the Lord’s house.

We are biblically mandated to assemble together as often as possible (Hebrews 10:25, Matthew 18:20, Colossians 3:16, Acts 2:42, Ephesians 4:12, Romans 10:17, Luke 4:16, Matthew 6:33, Hebrews 3:13), especially as the Lord’s return grows eminent. God instituted the Church for our benefit, not as a burden but as a strengthening mechanism for our souls. The closer you draw to the Church the stronger you will become, and the inverse is also true.

This resolution goes beyond merely showing up and filling a pew. I’m suggesting that as you grow in faithfulness you prayerfully find areas of ministry that you can be a part of. You cannot be used if you are not present. You cannot be used if you are not committed or growing spiritually, but as you grow you will become an integral part of the work of the Kingdom. This is a privilege that will bring anointing, blessings, and enormous amounts of satisfaction into your life. Ask the Lord (and work with the ministry) to match your unique talents to the needs of the Church. Old-timers used to call it “putting your hand to the plow.” And that is exactly what God wants from you in 2016.

Jesus said, “…the harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few (Matthew 9:37).” God isn’t in need of a harvest, it’s already there; He’s looking for faithful workers who will immerse themselves in spiritual field work.

I know that we will leave many resolutions unfulfilled in the coming year. We may not lose that five pounds, or learn that second language, fix that old car, go back to school, give up soda, or eat less sugar; but we absolutely must become more faithful to Church than we have ever been before. And as we give of our time let’s not forget that 10% of our income belongs to God as well. Freewill offerings too (Malachi 3:8-12, Proverbs 3:9, 2 Corinthians 9:7, Leviticus 27:30-34, Ezra 7:16, Genesis 14:19-20, Genesis 28:20-22, Numbers 18:21-26, Deuteronomy 12:5-6, 2 Chronicles 31:4-5, Nehemiah 10:35-37).

For further study on giving check out this article 20 Bible Verses About Tithing.

Related Articles: Spiritual Resolutions for a New Year, 7 Types of Church Services, 14 Ways You Can Support Your Pastor, You Might Be A Carnal Christian If…, 7 Things That Make Us Weary In Well Doing, Praising the Lord In All Things, The Number One Reason Small Churches Stay Small, Should We Still Dress Our Best for Church?, 3 Simple Steps to Deeper Bible Study, 4 Reasons People Don’t Pray, 9 Signs of a Prideful Heart

 

Fire Then Rain

For me personally there is probably no passage of Scripture that has given more inspiration to me than the epic story of Elijah calling down fire from Heaven on Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18:36-39). It’s inspirational on many levels because it shows how one person of faith can change the course of a nation. It shows that we are not alone even when we think that we’re alone. It shows that God works all things together for good to those that love and trust Him. It shows that evil does not have to prevail. It shows that you don’t have to be in the majority to win if God is on your side. It demonstrates that God is all powerful and willing to reveal His glory when the time is right. And beyond all of that it’s just an awesome story. Who among us would not want to witness God putting the skeptics to shame with an outpouring of fire? In fact, it’s easy to get so focused on the falling fire that we forget they still needed rain even after they experienced the fire.

Elijah lived and prophesied in dark days. King Ahab and Queen Jezebel had ushered in an era of idolatry. It seemed that everyone was a backslider in Elijah’s early years of ministry. Jezebel was a murderous queen who introduced Israel to a brand of sensual religious paganism. Evil was rampant in the kingdom. The culture buckled under the pressure of compromise and lasciviousness. Good and decent people were forced into hiding, godly people became the outcasts of their society simply because they would not conform to popular culture. Babies and children were the most vulnerable in the culture that Jezebel shaped because they were offered as living sacrifices to the pagan god known as Baal. If all of this sounds familiar it’s probably because I could just as easily be describing today’s culture where good is called evil and evil is called good, where righteousness is considered stupid and sensuality is the norm, where false religion is prevalent but true religion is scarce, where compromise is cool and steadfastness is underrated, and over 55 million defenseless babies have been murdered since Roe vs. Wade (watch this powerful pro-life video if you dare). It is the single most atrocious genocide in the history of mankind, and yet they sip their wine and eat their salads completely undisturbed. What have we become as a nation? What will we become without revival? How much longer will God allow mercy to hold back the hand judgment? And yet, as bad as things are now it was just as bad in Elijah’s day.

In a moment of exasperation, Elijah prayed for God to withhold the rain and for three and a half years not one drop of rain fell to the ground. It was a brutal famine. People were desperate for life-giving rain. They were perishing slowly but surely. Yet, Elijah remained sensitive to the voice of the Lord and he realized that there needed to be an outpouring of fire before there could be an outpouring of rain. The fire represented death the rain represented life; Elijah understood that you can’t have new life until you put the old life to death. This generation will not have an outpouring of rain until we first have an outpouring of fire.

And so I echo the words of Elijah, “How long halt ye between two opinions? If the Lord be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him (1 Kings 18:21).” You can’t serve God and the world at the same time. You can’t gain new life and keep your old life at the same time. If we ever want to see a deluge of the Holy Ghost than we must first experience the purging of the falling fire. But Ryan you’re stuck in the Old Testament. Let me take you to the New Testament:

1 And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.2 And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.3 And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them.4 And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance (Acts 2:1-4).

So how do you get the fire to fall? First, you’ve got to get yourself to an altar. Second, you’ve got to be willing to sacrifice. Third, you’ve got to pray and then pray some more. And then just step back and watch God do His thing! We would have more rain if we would be willing to experience the fire. There are too many Christians who want rain, but they don’t want fire because fire takes sacrifice. Fire takes consecration. Fire takes perseverance. Fire takes dedication. Fire takes courage. Fire takes prayer and more prayer. Fire takes confrontation. Fire will not fall if we’re just doing business as usual. Fire will not fall if we’re just going through the motions. Fire will not fall while the altar is in disrepair. But there is a spiritual famine in our society today that is so prevalent that it cannot be ignored any longer. And if the Church will not call down the fire the rain will not fall.

The Holy Spirit is powerful and it moves in mysterious ways. Anyone who tells you they fully understand every interworking of the Holy Ghost is either a liar or extremely foolish. But I can tell you that the Holy Spirit manifests itself in many different ways. It convicts us and yet it saves us to the uttermost. It brings joy and consternation. It reveals our weakness and empowers us at the same time. Sometimes it falls like a gentle shower and sometimes it burns like a holy flame. It heals and it makes whole. It breaks us and reshapes us. It molds us and makes us better than we were before. It fills us and surrounds us, and it goes before us. When the Holy Ghost falls like rain it brings growth just like physical rain brings growth to the natural world. In the natural rain brings strength, refreshing, and cleansing and so it is in the Spirit as well. Our culture desperately needs the Spirit to fall like rain. But remember, the way God operates is fire first, then rain. When the Holy Ghost falls like fire it purifies.

For He is like a refiner’s fire, and like fullers’ soap: And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness (Malachi 3:2-3).

You can’t get to the rain until you go through the purification process. However, you can’t offer a bull as Elijah did on Mount Caramel. No. We must present ourselves to God on the altar of sacrifice. When we give ourselves wholly and completely to Him the Holy Ghost will fall like a refiner’s fire.

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service (Romans 12:1).

And it came to pass in the mean while, that the heaven was black with clouds and wind, and there was a great rain… (1 Kings 18:45).




4 Reasons People Don’t Pray

For well-intentioned Christians, it becomes almost second nature to respond to situations with the little phrase, “We’ll be praying for you.” But are we? Please understand that I’m not trying to be snarky or hurtful, but I am concerned. In some cases, I’m afraid the well-meaning “we’ll be praying” has become little more than a platitude. Of course, there are exceptions to this concern. Thankfully, there is a long list of people in my life who hold my hands up in prayer. They are at the forefront of spiritual warfare. They have prevented untold hosts of attacks with their prayer lives, and they have stood firmly in the gap while others fell asleep in the garden of Gethsemane. Those individuals are the stopgap between life and death, Heaven and Hell, revival and stagnation. Without such people, the Church would be rendered spiritually anemic.

For some, however, the phrase “we’ll be praying (or another variation of the same meaning)” has become a declaration of concern rather than a declaration of actual intent. Genuine concern is not the same as genuine prayer. Concern is only valuable if it leads to an action. And the most valuable action that can be birthed from genuine concern is prayer.

Here are a few convicting questions regarding prayer that we should ask ourselves regularly. Do I talk about prayer more than I actually pray? Do I understand that genuine concern leads to genuine prayer? Do I believe that prayer works? Am I spiritually lazy? Or worse, am I complacent? Here are a few reasons that people do not move beyond concern and into actual prayer.

They do not understand how to pray. Even the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray (Luke 11:1). Prayer goes beyond merely caring. In fact, Jesus instructed us to pray for people that we don’t particularly like or care about (Luke 6:28). Powerful prayer is not casual or flippant. Prayer is most effective when we are in the Spirit (Colossians 4:2-4). Effective prayer requires faith (James 5:15). Prayer must be done often (1 Thessalonians 5:17). In short, the more you pray the closer to God you become, therefore, your prayers become increasingly powerful.

They intended to pray but became distracted or busy. This is one of the great difficulties of modern Christianity. Most of us truly mean well. We intended to follow through, but we’re all going a million miles an hour. Our lives are so filled with stuff, and we’re so overrun with demands that we simply fail to keep the important things as the top priority. But remember, good intentions alone do not help anybody.

They are only superficially concerned. Let’s face it, sometimes we are less concerned than we want to appear. There are two dangers lurking here. One, we should not make shallow promises to save face. Two, we should care more than we do. We should ask God to give us a tender heart towards the plight of others. Also, be careful that you are not using the promise to pray as an excuse to do nothing else. What if the Good Samaritan had only promised to pray for the beaten man rather than binding up his wounds? We instinctively know that this would have been immoral and yet we often use the promise to pray as a cop out. Sometimes we have to pray and physically help others at the same time.

Spiritual & physical exhaustion. I call this the Gethsemane Syndrome. Many of us have prayed so much and cared so much that we are physically and spiritually exhausted. When the disciples were with Jesus in the garden just before Calvary they were sincere but they were exhausted. Mercifully, if we wait upon the Lord he will renew our strength (Isaiah 40:32). Satan knows that you are weakened even further when you leave the presence of the Lord. The antidote for exhaustion is to enter deeper into the presence of the Lord.



An Echo Experience

“This charge I commit unto thee, son Timothy, according to the prophecies which went before on thee, that thou by them mightest war a good warfare; holding faith, and a good conscience; which some having put away concerning faith have made shipwreck:” (I Timothy 1:18-19)

Today, we live in the world of the MP3. Gone are the days of 8-tracks, audio cassettes, and hand-held radios. When it comes to music, our response tends to be, “there’s an app for that.” The Walkman has gone the way of the dinosaur and CDs will be there soon, if not already. But before the medium completely disappears, there’s an awesome lesson we can learn from the humble compact disc.

It’s interesting that in the music recording industry there are 2 primary options for burning a CD. The first is duplication. When a CD is duplicated, it contains the songs that are saved onto it. Put it into a player and it will play. But at a later time, if another album comes out or if the CD is needed for another purpose, with the touch of a few buttons and the right software, it can easily be over-written. That’s duplication.

The other method is called replication. And, here’s the difference: When a CD is replicated, the data, the music, the message, whatever it is…is “burned” so deeply into the CD that it becomes a permanent part of its identity. At that moment, the entire identity of that element has changed. You can try to reburn it and rebrand it a million times, but the result will always be the same. The outcome will stand. Truth be told, it’s more likely that the CD will give out, wear down, break apart, and effectively die before even considering taking on a new message.

In the above verses, Paul is instructing Timothy, his mentee, his protégé, his son in the Lord. Timothy is young. He’s effective. He’s a hard worker and is steadfast. And even then, knowing how faithful Timothy has been and how faithful Timothy will be, Paul encourages him to hold fast.

Hold. Fast.

In fact, the word Paul uses for “holding” is the Greek word “echo.” It means “to have; to own; to possess; to hold to one’s self; to adhere or cling to; to be closely joined.” It’s tied to the idea of never letting go, but it goes beyond that. It’s also understood that holding—echo—is the idea of identifying with something so closely that it becomes a part of you. It’s the moment something is burned into your being. It’s the moment where the element changes and replication takes place.

As youth workers and youth leaders, I hope and I pray that we have an Echo Experience when it comes to truth. I hope that in our hearts of hearts, we’re replicating truth and not just duplicating it. I also hope that we aren’t just replicating truth in our own lives, but in the lives of the young people we work with as well. I know that’s a concept that’s been coming up again and again in my personal prayer time: “Lord, let our young people have an Echo Experience, let them fall in love with this truth, and let it become a part of them.”

I don’t want this truth, this Apostolic Identity, to just be written over when something new comes down the pike. But instead, let it be replicated. Let it go forward. Let it be passed on. Don’t let the message stop with our fathers, the Paul’s in our lives, or with us. Because this truth is more than a list of core doctrines and ideas. It’s more than a deeper understanding of Scripture. It’s more than a vision, purpose, or mission statement. It’s an identity…one that’s meant to be passed on.

I’m thankful for this precious truth and I love this life-changing message. As we lead, let us remember that youth group isn’t meant to be the holding tank or awkward waiting period between Sunday School and regular church. It’s the place where foundations are laid, where decisions are made, and ministries are born. It’s the place where one of our tasks, second only to presenting the gospel, is to encourage our young people to fall in love with this truth and to create an atmosphere for an Echo Experience; to see this truth, this message, this identity, not just duplicated, but replicated in their lives.

GOVE

Jeremy Gove

Husband of Sarah. GDYD Section One Youth Director. Writer. Teacher. Preacher. IT Admin. Graphic Designer…at the end of the day: Nothing outside of my Savior.

Jeremy Gove is an ordained minister with the United Pentecostal Church International and the Section One Youth Director for the Georgia District. Prior to 2014, Jeremy served as the Assistant Pastor at Midtown Tabernacle in Middletown, Delaware. He accepted the position in 2008, the same year he graduated from the University of Delaware with a B.S. in Management Information Systems. As a fan of Jewish culture, Jeremy became involved in the Jewish Studies program at UD, taking various courses in Jewish theology, philosophy, and ideology. He ultimately became one of the first business students to hold a minor in that field of study. Jeremy was first licensed with the United Pentecostal Church International in 2008, ordained in 2011, and officially installed in 2012. In September of 2014, Jeremy moved to Claxton, Georgia and married Sarah, the editor of the local paper and love of his life, shortly after.

Professionally, Jeremy works as the Information Systems Administrator for Evans County, Georgia and freelances as a graphic designer and brand consultant. He also preaches, teaches, heads up HYPHEN (college and career), and handles A/V and several aspects of promotion at his home church, Truth Tabernacle, in Blackshear, GA; his wife, Sarah, also serves on youth staff and is the Minister of Music at Truth. Jeremy is a gifted speaker who teaches with passion and with the goal of applying the Bible’s truths and concepts to everyday life. When not teaching, studying, designing, or doing “church work,” you can usually find Jeremy sitting down with a good book or spending time with his family.

www.jeremygove.com

Paths of Righteousness (Psalms 23:3)

He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake (Psalm 23:3).

The 23rd Psalm is beautiful and arguably the most recited passage of Scripture. I have found that most people focus primarily on verses one and two, but verse three is filled with a wealth of powerful truths. So let’s dig in.

HE RESTORES MY SOUL (What Does That Mean?) I always thought it meant that God strengthens us when we are weak (and that’s exactly how some people translate this phrase), but the meaning goes much deeper than just a physical strengthening. It literally means that God will bring our soul back from its wanderings or wrongdoings. Nothing is more ready to wander astray than sheep, and nothing has more trouble finding its way back than sheep. All we like sheep have gone astrayand we are always vulnerable to failure and backsliding; we are prone to leaving the right way, the way of truth, and the way of duty, and detouring onto the familiar, brightly lit paths of unrighteousness. That’s exactly what Jesus meant when He said, “Wide is the way the leads to destruction, but narrow is the way that leads to life (Matthew 7:13-14).” It’s easy to get off course. It’s easy to get lost.  It’s easy to get on the busy highway that leads to destruction and just follow the traffic. It’s easy to let the Devil take the wheel. And in those moments remember that God is merciful. He is a God of restoration. Cry out to Jesus, and He will find you even when you have abandoned Him.

When God restores our souls, He shows us our errors, He brings us to repentance, He calls us back to our duty, He forgives, He forgets; and if he did not do so, we would wander endlessly and we would be undone. The Bible indicates that God can heal our backsliding (Jeremiah 3:22). That word “healing” is interesting because it signifies that God views backsliding like a disease that needs immediate care. We can take our weakness, our doubt, our unbelief, our failure, and our sin to the Lord. And just as surely as God can open blinded eyes he can heal a hardened heart.  Just as surely as God can heal the lame, he can mend a wounded soul. He can and will heal our backsliding if we turn to Him.

HE LEADS Once God restores us He will be our leader. In fact, he will demand to be our leader. Sometimes we try to lead God. We try to manipulate God’s will to fit our desires, but all of those efforts end in pain. God is all-powerful; we cannot share in His Lordship. We could end a lot of difficult lessons right now by simply allowing God to lead us in all things. That means God leads our finances, our time, our entertainment, our appearance, our conversations, our futures, our relationships, our families; everything.

HE LEADS US IN PATHS OF RIGHTEOUSNESS (What are paths of righteousness?) Paths indicate well-walked trails that others have blazed. It’s a trail that goes off the paved roads, well worn by travelers who created natural paths through difficult terrains.  In the prophet Jeremiah’s days, Israel rejected the Lord’s ways and began following whatever roads looked good to them. Look at the command that God gave to the people in Jeremiah 6:16.

Thus saith the Lord: “Stand ye in the highways and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way; and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls. But they said, ‘We will not walk therein.

They willingly disobeyed the Word of the Lord and invited judgment into their lives. Let’s not make the same mistake. Remeber, “In the way of righteousness is life; and in the pathway thereof there is no death (Proverbs 12:28)”.

FOR HIS NAME’S SAKE He restores and he leads us into righteousness because it brings honor to His name. That’s not to say that He doesn’t do so out of love for us because He certainly does. But just like a parent experiences dishonor when a child refuses to be obedient, God is dishonored by our tantrums. When we enter back into covenant with God it restores honor to us and Him.



Love or Hate?

Stop and think, does what you say some come from a place of love or hate? If love then great. If hate, stop and pray. Pray for your inward state. Because without grace this life is a waste. If you offend from a place of grace than you’ve stated your case in a godly way. But if hate is hidden behind fake grace you lose faith. And worse your neighbors lose faith in the words you say. Regardless of whether you’re right or wrong; no one wants to hear an angry song played out of key with broken strings. That’s what hate sounds like; out of sync. The beat, the rhyme, the melody all collide, it shrieks. Loud and shrill it rolls off your tongue, like honey filled with glass, it cuts deep. So be careful not only of the words you speak but of the heart that beats. Say hard truths, that’s ok, but always with love and not with hate.

The Upside Of Loneliness

Loneliness is like a healing stream it hurts until you hear the music sing, and it reveals all your inward things. It stings in the silence of the night when you find out that your heart’s not right. And you hold on tight to the broken puzzle pieces that just won’t fit into your preconceived ideas about life. But pray until you see the light of a dawning sky, like acid it burns at first until your sorrows melt like butter, only then will you discover the meanings hidden beneath your tears.

Loneliness reveals the secret things that we all hold dear. It strips your conscience bare. Down to the bone, it digs until all your fears come up for air. Capture those fears and hold them tight until they die underneath the weight of faith. Faith is the substance of things unseen just know that it’s difficult to breathe when faith is fighting strange foes from below. But this is the measure of your strength; will you fight or lose sight of who you were meant to be?

Like a wordsmith, Satan shapes your thoughts until loneliness forces his manipulation into an open battlefield with your soul. Muster your last ounce of courage and careen into that confrontation with desperate anticipation knowing that you will not fight alone. The great God of heaven and earth will move like lightening, fighting, conquering when you fail, strengthening when you’re weak.

That’s the upside of loneliness, it reveals our hidden strengths; it unveils our deepest needs and pushes us to our knees. It brings us to dependency on a higher power that we all so desperately need. Why does it take such extremes for us to finally see that we’re all just candles in the wind in need of a flame that only God can bring? His fire fills and consumes. It heals and destroys at the same time. It thaws against the icy tendrils that grip a lonely heart until you feel alive and free.

Loneliness is like a healing stream, it hurts until you hear the music sing. And when you finally hear the song, don’t forget to sing along.