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.
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.
- 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).
- 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.
- However, you should be loving them and waiting for them with open arms and a hopeful heart (Luke 15:20).
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
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 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).”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).”
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.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.