How Freakish Faith & Desperate Dilemmas Lead to the Miraculous

Humility is one of those extremely difficult things to teach, write, or speak about because anything said sounds exceedingly… shall we say, not humble? I’ve written rather sterilely about humility here, here, and here. However, looking back the realization washes over me that I was writing theoretically from head knowledge rather than from practical experience. To be plain, I was pridefully writing about the importance of humility.

Arrogance is an interesting component of the human experience. For example, there is a mythological nearly universally held belief that arrogance is exclusive to the rich, the powerful, the famous, the intelligent, and the beautiful. This is not so, pride is not a respecter of persons and it will happily ensnare the poor, the weak, the silly, the obscure, the ugly, and the witless.

Most alarmingly, pride initially creeps into a heart like undetected cancer, attacking the healthy cells and gradually gaining greater and greater control. Like cancer, many suffer from pride long before they realize it is even in their system. The longer pride has been allowed to fester without confrontation the more intensive the treatment process becomes. Furthermore, the certainty of a complete recovery becomes less and less assured as pride silently attacks more and more vital areas of the soul. Early detection can mean the difference between spiritual destruction and deliverance.

Without being too personal, this past year (really longer) has been the most painful season of my entire life. Agonizing pain, absolute rejection, abject betrayal, and total disappointment leave an individual with a profound sense of powerlessness. The desperation that ensues leaves literally no room for pride. In fact, it’s almost as if God surgically removed every cancerous tumor of pride from my soul without warning or anesthesia. At first, I treated God like I treated my heart doctor as a child being prepped for a fourth open heart surgery. “Why are you hurting me?” I’d shout indignantly towards the heavens. God responded just like that doctor, “I’m trying to save your life, but the process is painful.”

There are two spiritual results of humility that we typically fail to notice. One, genuine humility produces a desperation that encourages complete dependence upon God. Two, desperation and complete dependence upon God set the stage for a freakish (almost nonsensical) level of faith that activates the miraculous.

Oddly, humility and desperation are much closer cousins than we typically realize. And, humility and desperation are the foundation of almost every major miracle described in the Bible.

Recently, a respected friend enlightened my thinking regarding a perplexing faith enigma in the ministry of Elijah. The enigma is this: Why would Elijah have the faith to confront the prophets of Baal and call down fire from Heaven only to flee from Jezebel and sink into suicidal despair moments later? What changed? Why the drastic difference from one moment to the next? I believe there are two reasons, but I’ll only share one now and I’ll save the second reason for another article. We tend to think of Elijah’s showdown on the mountain as an act of confident superhuman faith. But, I think the text and the context support the thesis that Elijah was acting out of an absolute dependence that gave him no choice but to put his faith completely in God. In other words, Elijah reached a place of such deep desperation that he realized God was either going to do it or he was going to die praying for God to do it.

It is not paradoxical to say that faith and despair are tightly connected in the realm of the miraculous. God does not respect desperation without faith, but faith without desperation is rarely genuine faith. I know, that takes a minute to get your head around, but Scripture overwhelmingly supports this concept. Psychologically speaking, the connection between desperation and the miraculous makes a great deal of sense. We do things we would never otherwise do when we are dangling from the end of our rope looking down at the jagged rocks below. When we have nothing left to lose and everything to gain, we become willing to do what God has been telling us to do all along. Tepid levels of faith resist the voice of God when it thinks it still has other valid “less crazy” options.

Scripture emphasizes how the woman with the issue of blood had spent everything she had and tried all the “reasonable” avenues before desperately touching the hem of Jesus’ garment.

Peter had nothing to lose when he stepped out onto the water. If Jesus didn’t intervene he was likely going to die anyway. So, he literally stepped out onto the sea with desperation induced faith.

When Moses stretched out that rod towards the Red Sea he really had no other choice but trust God or die.

Every leper that Jesus healed was already an outcast and freak in society so they had nothing to lose by running to Jesus.

What did blind Bartimaeus have to lose by ignoring the critics and screaming for Jesus to stop and have mercy upon his situation? He had nothing to lose and everything to gain.

Three and a half years of drought. No revival or repentance. Elijah was lonely, righteously indignant, and bone tired. Those were the perfect ingredients for a freakish act of faith like publicly calling down fire from the sky. Sometimes it really does take a certain level of indifference towards the miracle. An attitude of almost spiritual recklessness that says, “Lord I’m trusting you with the impossible, and if I end up looking foolish… who cares!”

Think of the humility it took for the three Hebrew boys to say, “God is able to save us from the fiery furnace, but even if He doesn’t we will not bow to the king’s idol.” Almost every major act of faith comes down to the willingness to do something utterly crazy believing that God can do anything, but inwardly determining that even if God doesn’t you will still do the right thing. It’s nearly impossible to have that mindset until every drop of pride has been drained from your soul.

Freakish faith and desperate dilemmas are almost inseparable. You’ll likely never tell a mountain to move out of the way in Jesus’ name unless you are desperate beyond words to get to the other side. You won’t pick up your bed and walk until you stop caring what people think about you. You won’t let Jesus rub mud and spit in your blind eyes until your pride is dead.

Prideful prayers don’t move God. Prideful praise offends God. But humble, desperate, freakish faith calls down fire and closes the mouths of lions. And just when everyone thinks your freakish faith has finally gotten you killed, you will answer from the pit like Daniel:

“…O king, live forever. My God hath sent his angel, and hath shut the lions’ mouths, that they have not hurt me: forasmuch as before him innocency was found in me; and also before thee, O king, have I done no hurt. Then was the king exceedingly glad for him, and commanded that they should take Daniel up out of the den. So Daniel was taken up out of the den, and no manner of hurt was found upon him, because he believed in his God (Daniel 6:21-23).”

Top 10 Articles of 2017

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

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

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

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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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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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Here’s Why Young People View the Church Like the Last Old Department Store

In the last 25 years, the church growth movement has transformed how America has church. It has also changed how younger people view church.

Many churches are now driven by business and marketing philosophies, moving away from a focus on discipleship and relationship with God.

The pastor has changed roles from shepherd to salesman. A distorted view of grace is his wares.

Evangelism is nonexistent. Apostles are no longer understood. Prophets are rejected. Teaching revolves around life skills. Prayer is redefined as positive thoughts, and the Spirit has no place in the business plan.

People now go to church to be courted and entertained, rather than to worship God.

Choosing churches is now the equivalent of deciding between buying jeans at the GAP or Old Navy. The product is pretty much the same. So who has better customer service? Or you can always stay home and do your shopping every Sunday morning online with a beer in your hand.

The result of this church culture is that younger people now view most churches like the last old department store in town, barely hanging on from the last century.

And they are simply shopping elsewhere.

Attempts to become mega church businesses have equated churches in the minds of millennials with the Sears downtown.

There is a “Going out of business” sign on the windows and everything is for sale, including the fixtures, the building, and even management.

The only way the Church will ever out-market, out-perform, or out-sell the world is through prayer, the preached Word, and the power of the Holy Ghost.

This world doesn’t need the Church to be Sears, a megachurch, their coffee shop, or a theater where they can view a well designed theological-themed production.

The world needs the Church to be Apostolic, Spirit-led, and Gospel preaching.

The world needs the Church to be full of conviction and separated unto God.

They need the God-designed Church that began in the Book of Acts, has thrived in every century, and still preaches the Truth that has the power to change even this generation.

Rev. Jonathan Sanders is a dynamic evangelist, preacher, teacher, and coffee connoisseur. This article originally appeared on Jonathan’s Facebook page. His posts and daily thoughts are always inspirational, articulate, interesting, relevant, and thought provoking. You can follow him on Facebook or Twitter here and here. As I read his original post, I couldn’t help but think of David refusing King Saul’s armor before fighting Goliath. David understood that he needed to use the tools that God had equipped him with rather than conventional weapons of war. The modern Church desperatelly needs to reject marketing methods and embrace spiritual, God-ordained weaponry.

 

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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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Just Another Article About Why Millennials Are Leaving Churches

Everyone seems to be consumed with the question of why Millennials are leaving churches. Just google “why are millennials leaving the church and you’ll have a month’s worth of reading material. Millennials are writing “open letters” to the Church like doctors write prescriptions. America has shifted its focus from the Baby Boomer generation to the Millennial generation. The reasons are many, Millennials by most estimations have surpassed the Baby Boomers in number, they are taking over the workforce, and shaping culture in countless ways both good and bad.

Full disclosure, at 33 I am technically a millennial. For those who have remained blissfully unaware, the consensus seems to be that Millennials are comprised of those born from 1982 – 2012 (although there is some debate). So, I squeaked into what is often called “the worst generation”. Good for me!

Having said that, it should be noted that Millennials are not monolithic. We simply cannot be lumped into one big pile. I think that’s one of the most interesting and underreported aspects of my generation. We are radically different from person to person. This can be attributed to the massive amounts of data and information that have become accessible to us from our youth via the rise of the internet, social media, education, and other media sources. In fact, we have so much data we’re literally drowning in it.

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Regarding the hysteria surrounding the so-called mass exodus of Millennials from churches, this is not a new issue. Every generation has had a falling away (check out this article written in 1993 regarding the Baby Boomer generation). I’m a fifth-generation Oneness Pentecostal Christian, and every generation in my family has bemoaned the departure of large portions of their generation from the Church.

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So why all the frenzy? One, there are more people polling, studying, analyzing and collecting data about Christianity than in days gone by. Second, the rise of blogs (like this one), social media, and the internet in general spreads the word beyond the stuffy conversations of church board meetings. Third, my generation doesn’t leave quietly. We make a big deal over it. We whine and write and vlog and yada-yada-yada about it. The result is that this feels like a brand-new problem when it’s really just an old problem with a new label.

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As this study points out, young adults commonly leave churches for a season only to return later in life. Jesus parabolically described this very thing in the story of the Prodigal Son. Marriage, the birth of a child, a life crisis, or the realization that secularism is full of emptiness often draws people back to their childhood faith. My grandparents used to call this phenomenon “sowing wild oats”. I still have no idea what that means.

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Please don’t misunderstand, I’m not saying this isn’t a problem, it is. It’s just not a new problem. Beyond that, I think overreactions and knee-jerk responses to the perceived death of Christianity are ridiculous, unnecessary, and unhelpful. I would even argue that the overreacting has contributed to the problem.

Recently, an article caught my attention on Facebook called 12 Reasons Millennials Are Over Church. I’ve read countless articles like it but this one gives a clear window into the heart of the issue. I’d like to address several things the author mentions head on (from one millennial to another so to speak).

It’s probably the narcissistic millennial part of me, but I think being at the upper end of the age spectrum gives me a unique insight into the issue at hand. In other words, I see both sides of the coin; sometimes I think like a typical millennial and other times millennial thinking makes me want to hang my head in shame. Regardless, bridges must be built between the generations, but they must be properly built on foundations of truth and honesty; not hypocrisy and cheap compromise.

Back to the 12 Reasons Millennials Are Over Church, the first complaint on the list is Nobody’s Listening to Us (don’t worry I won’t take the time to address all 12). At the risk of sounding like a broken record, this also is not a new problem. Every generation has felt undervalued, unappreciated, and unheard. We are in the throes of a generational clash. Every younger generation has felt they could do it better, run it better, make it better, etc. Sometimes they’re right and sometimes they’re wrong.

Growing pains are tough and feeling marginalized is tougher. Generational clashes are as old as time, we’ve all heard the platitudes about kids who thought dad didn’t know anything about anything until they had kids of their own. This is the natural order of life, but it must be addressed and discussed.

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While it is true that Millennials don’t know everything many of us are sincere (although we are often sincerely wrong). Approaching sincere Millennials with bad assumptions about our character and name calling will alienate us further. Opening channels of communication is imperative if you want us to feel connected to the future and health of the Church. On the flip side, we Millennials must learn that listening is just as important as being heard. The generations ahead of us endured tons of obstacles to get where they are and when we insult their dignity they automatically (and understandably) question our motives.

This brings me to my biggest problem with my generation. Lack of respect. I know, I know. Respect must be earned, but a vast majority of Millennials struggle to respect any traditional authority structures. Mountains of research have been compiled on this very subject. Like most Millennials, I’ve seen many “heroes” fall both secular and religious. This has produced a general mistrust towards leaders of all kinds, which is reason number 7 (Distrust & Misallocation of Resources) in the article we’re discussing.

Since we Millennials love to point out hypocrisy, I’ll shine a little light on one of my generations hypocritical conundrums. Many of my peers may be shedding the “chains” of Christianity and parental dominance, but they are trading them for a secular dogma that they pursue with religious fervor. Their preachers call themselves professors, their bishops are politicians, and science is their Bible. They even have an apocalyptic End Times theology called global warming. Taxes are nothing more than tithes in the mega church of government, and morality is not sexual but it is social. Here’s the problem, politics and science and social justice warriors have far more scandals, greed, misappropriation of funds, antipathy, complacency, inconsistencies, and general fraud than all the churches in all the world could ever dream of having. For example, here’s a list of solutions that the author has given to help churches overcome the distrust Millennials have towards financial stewardship within churches:

Actually, I think all those things are great ideas, and many churches do that stuff and much more. But as Millennials become increasingly politically active why are we not voicing the same concerns towards the almighty federal government? Where is the outrage over the waste and fraud within beloved government social programs? Millennials supposedly value consistency above all and when the Church fails the test we’re out, right? Why then aren’t we imposing these same concerns in the realm of politics?

Moving on, reason number 3 on the list of why Millennials are over church: Helping the Poor Isn’t a Priority. This one always irks me a little bit even though I think I know where he’s coming from. Honestly, it seems like every mega church in America is more concerned with sending water to Africa than actually preaching the Gospel (no need for hate mail, I’m all for sending water to Africa). The social gospel movement dominates western Christianity. Helping the poor is important, vital, necessary, and Christ-like. But nothing could be more compassionate, life-changing, and elevating than the Gospel. That’s why the Great Commission is Gospel-centric not welfare oriented.

But therein lies the true problem my fellow millennial is addressing. To some degree, I’m jumping to conclusions here, but it’s fairly safe to assume based on his description that the author attends a typical semi-mega church. Meaning that the Gospel is so watered down and shallow it’s just a shell of the authentic truth of the Bible. Performance has replaced praise and relevance has replaced righteousness. And these are the kinds of churches that Millennials are fleeing like a religious Titanic.

Churches like this rail against the culture (see point 4) but they are saturated with the culture. They preach sermons based off movies and incorporate secular music into their services. Millennials spot the hypocrisy a mile away. They see churches filled with a form of godliness yet denying the power of it (2 Timothy 3:5). It’s a point I’ve previously made here, many heterosexual Millennials supported gay marriage because they watched churches wink at adultery, divorce, and various other sexual sins while bellowing against the gay lifestyle. Let me be clear, all those things are biblically unacceptable, but many American churches lost the moral high ground a long time ago in the name of relevance. These churches thought they were making the Gospel more palatable, but they really just perverted it.

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So, churches that are like the culture have no room to rail against the culture. It’s like the proverbial pot calling the kettle black, or to use one of Jesus’ analogies; it’s like the guy with a beam in his eye pointing out a speck in the other guy’s eye (Matthew 7:3-5). And we’ve circled right back around to hypocrisy; we millennials hate hypocrisy even if we don’t always recognize it in ourselves.

Reason number 7 (We Want to Be Mentored, Not Preached At) is probably the best example of how I see both sides of the coin. On the surface, I agree with the statement but once he starts elaborating he loses me. I do see a dearth of one on one mentorship in the average church. Jesus said to go and make disciples (Matthew 28:19). His whole ministry was a combination of public preaching and private teaching. Millennials are desperate for godly mentors, especially with the overwhelming absence of mothers and fathers due to divorce, careers, and addiction.

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But I fear that the minimization of preaching and the weird comfort level that Millennials have with virtual pastors is a product of weak pulpits. Meaning, the average commercially relevant Christian church is preaching watered down sermons thinking that’s what it takes to connect. When in reality they are disconnected from the anointing and the biblical authority they desperately need.

Here’s a point to ponder for holiness pastors such as myself; Millennials are not afraid of biblical righteousness if it is correct, sincere, consistent, and kind. That may rock your boat a little but it’s true. Millennials are not afraid to be counter-cultural if it is presented to them truthfully, sincerely, convincingly, and directly.

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Which leads me to reason number 9 on the list of why Millennials are over church; We Want You to Talk to Us About Controversial Issues (Because No One Is). This is the most important point in the entire article, and it is 100% accurate. For too long now churches have remained alarmingly silent on the big issues. Hollywood, social engineers, politicians, and liberal professors don’t have any qualms about facing the big controversial issues head on. So why should the Church? Churches need to talk about jobs, money, careers, sex, marriage, dating, addiction, social issues, and more. As he said, I understand all these topics can’t and shouldn’t be discussed in the main sanctuary. However, opportunities need to be provided to face the controversial issues head on.

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For my fellow Pentecostals, there is some good news regarding the scary millennial statistics and the general decline of American Christianity. While mainline, denominational churches are dying Pentecostals are experiencing growth (check out this fascinating article Why Do These Pentecostals Keep Growing? by Ed Stetzer).

While Pentecostals may have declining ranks of Millennials, statistics strongly indicate that we have much better retention than mainline denominational churches. Why? Because we have what the apostles had, the power of the Holy Spirit. We have not allowed liberal theologians to create contempt and mistrust for the Bible. While imperfect, we are distinct and separated from the world. Is carnality creeping into many of our churches? Yes! And that will be the death of those churches. Because Millennials hate hypocrisy. So, if you want to impress Millennials, “…be ye steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord (1 Corinthians 15:58)”.

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Finally, Millennials are ultra-social conscious. We want to see poverty, disease, and anguish eradicated. We may be more sensitive than our predecessors in petulant ways, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t earnest. That’s great news for true Bible believing Apostolics because we know that the Gospel can genuinely change lives. The Holy Ghost can lift a drug addict out of crippling addiction, restore marriages, heal sickness, and turn a liar honest. What could be better for broken communities than hundreds of thousands of Spirit transformed people? Apostolic revival is the greatest social program of all time. The Acts 2:38 message can still turn the world upside down (Acts 17:6).

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Video – 5 Mistakes Every Worship Leader Makes

In this video Ryan and Nathan sit down to discuss the 5 common mistakes every worship leader makes.

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.

 

Top 10 Trending Articles

To celebrate three years of writing I have compiled the top 10 trending articles here at Apostolic Voice. It’s been very interesting seeing what articles have generated the most interest. For example, never in my wildest of dreams would I have thought that number two would become a trending article. Also, I want to say a huge thank you to my father and brother for contributing to this blog (three out of the ten articles are their guest entries). Thanks for reading.

1. Baptism In Jesus’ Name and the New Testament Greek by Dr. Talmadge French

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2. You Might Be A Carnal Christian If… by Ryan French


3. Why Do So Many Christians Support Same-Sex Marriage? by Ryan French

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4. 7 Ways To Help Your Youth Group Backslide by Nathan French

5. Been Hurt By a Pastor? (8 Reasons You Should Stop Talking About It) by Ryan French

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6. 14 Ways You Can Support Your Pastor by Ryan French

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7. 9 Signs That You Might Be Weary In Well Doing by Ryan French

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8. 7 Types of Church Services by Ryan French

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9. 7 Things That Make Us Weary In Well Doing by Ryan French

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10. 5 Mistakes Every Worship Leader Makes by Nathan French

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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 Number One Reason Small Churches Stay Small

Let me make a few disclaimers right from the beginning. First, not all big churches are healthy and not all small churches are unhealthy. Big churches are not necessarily better than small churches and the reverse is also true. However, if the body is not growing it is dying. This is true spiritually and physically. That’s not to say setbacks, sicknesses, and dry seasons won’t temporarily stunt growth, but the key word there is “temporarily”. Long-term stagnation or decline is a sure sign of an impending downward spiral if something drastic doesn’t take place to fix the problem.

I grew up in a small church plant that my father started in 1983 (the year of my birth), and I grew up alongside the growth of that church. Churches must grow into maturity just as a child grows into maturity. If a mother church grows strong she will give birth to daughter churches that will repeat the process over and over again.

The number one reason small churches stay small is that they want to stay small. This reality is often hidden stealthily beneath the surface making it difficult to spot. But if you watch carefully you’ll see it manifested in dozens of little ways. They literally have no desire to grow. Again, I love small churches, but small churches are in direct violation of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20) if they have no desire to see new souls added to the church. And if a church doesn’t want to grow it will not grow.

One final clarification, 99.9% of the time the pastor desperately wants the church he oversees to grow. The lack of desire for growth typically comes from the congregation, not the clergy. In best case scenarios, the church (or an influential portion of the church) is simply complacent towards the churches growth. In worst case scenarios, the church (or an influential portion of the church) actively tries to hinder the churches growth. Regardless, this is a problem that must be addressed head on or it will choke the life out of a small congregation. Here are nine contributing reasons that small churches often don’t want to grow. 

  1. The church simply doesn’t want to suffer through a building program. This usually stems from either a faith problem or a stinginess problem. Sometimes well-meaning church members confuse good stewardship with stagnation. A small building that’s been paid off for 20 years is a wonderful thing, but if you can’t continue to grow in that building (or the location hinders growth), it’s time to take the necessary leap of faith. For other less sincere saints, they simply don’t want to commit financially to the vision of revival (think Ananias & Sapphira).
  1. The church has lost sight of its purpose. Many churches gradually forget the urgency of the hour. They become content with their own salvation and forget that Hell is still a reality for their community. They forget that God has placed them within that community to reach the lost. It doesn’t matter how many missionary plaques you hang on the wall if you aren’t being a missionary to your own region. I often hear people say, “some give by going, and some go by giving.” I know what they mean, but it gives the impression that only certain elite people are called to reach the lost. Wherever you are right now, that’s your mission field. Far too often we allow our giving to replace going into our own harvest field.
  1. The church has lost its love for people. Many times, it is that simple. Bitterness, pride, harshness, and unresolved anger can rip the love of Christ right out of the hearts of a congregation. At its peak, it results in a harshness so severe that it rejoices rather than weeps at the lost condition of “reprobates” and “sinners”. Hell, is a reality that should move us to tears, not cheers.
  1. Spiritual lethargy, exhaustion, and laziness. I understand that revival and evangelism are just plain hard work; emotionally, spiritually, and physically. People who have participated for many years in the process can easily grow weary in well doing (check out my writings on this subject here and here). Some folks are just lazy by nature and this bleeds into their spiritual life as well. Revival and laziness are like oil and water; they just don’t mix.
  1. Institutional racism or a clique mentality. I’m truly afraid that the church is still one of the most segregated places in America (click here for a related article). But God has called the church to be multicultural and accepting of all races, ethnicities, backgrounds, and cultures. Some congregations want revival only if all the new people look and sound just like them. Yikes, that’s a big problem. I’m just glad the apostle Peter allowed God to change his heart so a Gentile like me could be a part of the Body of Christ.
  1. Rampant carnality and materialism. When a church grows carnal they just don’t have room for spiritual concerns. They’re too busy with sports and movies to care if their neighbor is going to Heaven or Hell. Financial blessings are a wonderful gift from God, but we should never squander that gift on trivial things that constantly distract us from the Kingdom of God. Churches fraught with carnality and materialism would rather talk about anything other than spiritual things. They don’t have time to be inconvenienced with revival, and they do the absolute minimum they can do for God (check out this article entitled You Might Be a Carnal Christian If…).
  1. The church doesn’t want to lose constant or immediate access to the pastor. This one is very common and even understandable to a certain degree. Saints instinctively know that as a church grows it will become harder and harder to gain immediate access to the pastor for counseling or anything else for that matter. In many ways, it’s like an only child who resents the idea of a baby brother or a baby sister. They grow jealous of the attention that their parents must devote to their new sibling. This is understandable but only to a point, if it turns into outright aggression towards new babies in the Lord it must be dealt with lovingly but firmly.
  1. A certain element within the church desperately wants to maintain power, position, and influence. Ah, this is a big one. It’s very insidious, extremely dangerous, and usually carefully disguised. It can be anything from worship leaders and singers who feel threatened by new people who are talented or lay ministers who feel threatened by young babes in the Lord who feel called to preach. It can be anyone who feels like their position might be threatened by an influx of new people. It can be a wealthy saint who enjoys being perceived as the wealthiest saint in the church, or a talented musician who enjoys being perceived as the most talented person in the church, or board members that want to keep their authority consolidated. It can even extend to the entire congregation and their desire to keep a strong influence over every aspect of the church, therefore, they perceive new people as a threat to that power. This is almost never articulated out loud but the signs are there if you are paying attention.
  1. The congregation has an institutional bias against the culture of growing churches. Some people are just conditioned either by their upbringing or their preconceived ideas of how a church should be to dislike large churches. In extreme cases, people like this consider big churches evil, but they’ll usually use code words like “full of compromise” or something of that nature. The reality is that small churches and big churches alike can fall into the trap of compromise. Some people fear that large churches are incapable of being friendly or warm. The reality is that small churches and large churches can fall into the trap of being unfriendly and cold. A church shouldn’t desire to grow just to be large, but it should want to be large because it wants everyone to be saved.

Final caveats: I realize there are other reasons small churches stay small. Local economies, transient locals, spiritual onslaughts, poor leadership, tragedy, rapid leadership turnover, seasons of sowing, difficult locations, and more can all be relevant factors. Also, churches go through seasons and holding patterns that are temporary conditions. I am talking about chronic conditions. However, it would be unwise to casually ignore these points without at least considering the very real possibility that one or more of these problems could be at work.

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 judgment. 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

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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Overcoming Ministerial Insecurities

This article first appeared as a guest posting on the blog www.searchofkings.net curated by Evangelist Timothy Hadden. The Search of Kings is a tremendous site full of well-articulated Apostolic content. Incidentally, Rev. Timothy Hadden is one of the premier evangelists of our day and the founder of Transition Ministries. Be sure to follow him on Twitter with the  handle @T_C_hadden for daily inspiration.

The Bible emphatically declares that the meek will inherit the earth (Mark 5:5). As many before me have pointed out, meekness is not weakness. In fact, meekness can only be actuated from a place of inner strength. We might even say that meekness grows in the garden of godly confidence. And make no mistake, although we are to avoid pride like the Ebola virus, ministers must walk in confidence.

A quick biblical study of the word confidence produces a wealth of commands like Proverbs 14:26, “In the fear of the LORD there is strong confidence, and his children will have refuge.” Our confidence is not built upon ourselves but rather upon our faith in God. It took confidence for Moses to stand before Pharaoh over and over again. It took confidence for Joshua to march his army around an impenetrable city. It took confidence for Elijah to challenge the prophets of Baal. It took confidence for Gideon to send thousands of able-bodied soldiers home. It took confidence for Noah to build an ark having never seen rain. It took confidence for a fisherman to preach on the Day of Pentecost. It took confidence for Paul to plant dozens of churches in unfriendly environments. The list could go on and on, but you get the point.

We are using the word confidence because it is almost interchangeable with the word faith. Faithful confidence is the antithesis of insecurity. We know that without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6). Without faith mountains will remain firmly planted (Matthew 17:20). Without faith revival will not occur, chains will not be broken, and the work of the Kingdom will be diminished. And yet, ministers are often afflicted with insecurity and plagued by depression.

If I sound judgmental or accusatory it’s certainly not my intention. As I have outlined in a previous article (Ministerial Depression – And How To Handle It), ministerial depression is usually a direct result of ministerial insecurity.

It may sound strange, but the first step to overcoming insecurity and discouragement is knowing that you’re not alone. Almost every great man of God in Scripture faced strong feelings of discouragement; a cursory examination of the Psalms makes that fact crystal clear. Even Jesus had moments of intense frustration that could easily be described as discouragement. How else would you describe weeping and lamenting over a faithless people (Luke 19:41-44)? Elijah literally watched fire fall from heaven only to enter into a severe season of discouragement. Gideon worked while hiding from the Midianites and scoffed when the angel called him a mighty man of valor. He was so discouraged that even angelic visitation didn’t invigorate him immediately.

Biblical examples aside, you may look across town and assume some other ministry is floating on air without a care in the world; nothing could be further from the truth. They have their own problems, failures, obstacles, and fears that you may never see. In fact, the higher you go within any leadership paradigm the more terrifying the view. If you’re mountain climbing the higher you go the more success you achieve, but you’re also facing new complexities and dangers at the same time. In fact, the danger becomes palpable.

With that in mind, comparison is often the culprit that ignites ministerial insecurity. My friend Mark Brown says, “A spirit of comparison comes from a spirit of competition, and competition comes from a prideful desire to be better than others. God resists the proud.” When we are proud God resists us, starting the cycle of insecurity and discouragement all over again. Prideful comparison is fundamentally ungodly and always leads to unnecessary discouragement. Remember when David disobeyed God and took a census of the people for the sake of comparison? It stirred God’s immediate anger. Resist comparison at all times.

Similarly, the pressure to compromise and the pressure to produce results also instigates insecurity. There is a disturbing trend festering that approaches ministry like a business, and pastoring like coaching. Preachers are increasingly pressured to lead their churches like a business and lead people like a corporate CEO. While ministry does contain aspects of business, shares traits of coaching, and even benefits from secular leadership skills it ultimately cannot be confined into those worldly paradigms. Trying to do so produces dissidence, dissatisfaction, spiritual anemia, and insecurity.

For example, if you measure spiritual success purely in terms of numbers, spreadsheets, and bottom lines you will always fall short. If you measure the success of a worship experience purely by talent, ambiance, and skill you will always be less than something or someone else. If you are led by trends, social winds, surveys, and opinions rather than convictions, doctrines, values, and timeless principles you will never lead with confidence.

Godly leaders understand that God does not measure success in the same way that businesses measure success. It’s not just about filling buildings, deep bank accounts, and slick productions. No. Ministry is about righteousness, truth, anointing, changed lives, transformed hearts, and right relationship with God and others. I would rather have a storefront church with two genuinely saved souls than a mega-church full of lost tithers. So the next time you feel the pressure to compromise for the sake of so-called success, remember that God does not measure success in the same way that carnal minds measure success.

With that in mind, one of the great deceptions of our time is the belief that compromise always produces growth. Consider this, the average church (across all denominational lines) runs about 75. The vast majority of those churches consistently compromise 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 publically or secretly, they lead from a fixed position of insecurity. They live with the same Grasshopper Complex the ten spies articulated when they told Moses that the Promise Land was unconquerable (Numbers 13). In other words, they are defeated without ever going into battle. That’s the real tragedy of insecurity, we are defeated on the battlefield of our own minds before even attempting to accomplish what God has called us to accomplish.

Flashes of insecurity are not sinful nor are they unusual, but living there is toxic. Prolonged insecurity is really a reflection of an inner lack of faith in God’s power, purpose, plan, and process. Remember, insecurity is the source of negativity. Choose faith over fear and lead with godly confidence.

5 T rust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.6 In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.7 Be not wise in thine own eyes: fear the Lord, and depart from evil (Proverbs 3:5-7).

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).





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.

The Words We Speak

Click here to watch The Words We Speak visual blog.

I think sometimes that time stands still when we’re facing judges and holding grudges. Like old knives, we sharpen our remarks into thinly veiled slices that dice and splice until nothing is left but pain and violence. Nothing cuts deeper than pointed remarks that open up scars, they bury straight to the heart of the matter, and all of this chatter makes friendships scatter, faster than rats on a sinking ship.

I wish we could all just skip these unnecessary scripts where we demolish our friendships and burn down bridges. When will we ever learn to tame our tongues, turn the other cheek, and keep the peace? Because our words create a world of hurt that does not heal with a thrill or a cheap pain pill, it takes real determination to keep our mouths closed tight and avoid the fight, but take every unkind name throw it away and speak peace into a brand new day.

Remember, every critical remark creates a spark that burns into a raging blaze that spreads out of control until the heat is more than anyone can take. What a tangled web we weave when at first we fail to see that careless words march on like unseen armies. They crush and they break and they alienate, until families no longer speak, friendships litter the streets like war-torn causalities.

When will we learn to tame our tongues, turn the other cheek, and keep the peace, take inventory of the words we speak? Think of the difference we could make just by thinking before we say what pops into our heads on any given day. It’s safe to say the world would be a better place. Less hate, less pain, less heartbreak. Lay down your daggers and defenses, trade them in for tools that mend fences; tear down walls and build up bridges.

I think sometimes that time stands still when we’re facing judges and holding grudges. Like old knives, we sharpen our remarks into thinly veiled slices that dice and splice until nothing is left but pain and violence.

Click here to watch The Words We Speak visual blog.

Resolved

Resolved Audio

Royal veins flow through my blood. It pumps and drips and falls and floods. Like a saga, it journeys on never stopping to hear the song. And if I could quiet the noise in my ears the melody could take me far away from here, and every mistake, every twisted trace. But for now this throbbing pain is all through my brain, it fills my thoughts like a sinful stain, it melts my heart without a trace.

The ache is real but the hurt is fake, and it’s all I can do to stay awake. But I have resolved to pray and pray until these demons have gone away.

Would you do more if you could see your fears like tangible things springing into your atmosphere? Or would you cower into the shadows like an overgrown child running from faith like it was out of style? These are the questions we ask when we have too much time, too much space, and too much at stake.

The ache is real but the fear is fake, and it’s all I can do to stay awake. But I have resolved to pray and pray until these demons have gone away

Twisting grace has become the norm for some and now everyone’s soul is on the run. Every turn brings a brand new pain and every valley leads into a deeper place. Until mountains are dimly lit memories from another space, and time that won’t return, until we learn to turn back to the Son that saved us all with blood, and nails, and wood, and grace. We forgot that place as we travelled along never stopping to sing the song.

The ache is real but the fear is fake, and it’s all I can do to stay awake. But I have resolved to pray and pray until these demons have gone away.

And away they’ll go if I can keep the faith, walk in the light and not the gray. But strange voices pull and they tug, nameless faces call my name from dimly lit places on every lane. The strain is strong as I pull away back into the light of day.

The ache is real but the fear is fake, and it’s all I can do to stay awake. But I have resolved to pray and pray until these demons have gone away.

What You Should Do After the Storm

Mark 4:35-41; 5:1-6

35 And the same day, when the even was come, he saith unto them, Let us pass over unto the other side.
36 And when they had sent away the multitude, they took him even as he was in the ship. And there were also with him other little ships.
37 And there arose a great storm of wind, and the waves beat into the ship, so that it was now full.
38 And he was in the hinder part of the ship, asleep on a pillow: and they awake him, and say unto him, Master, carest thou not that we perish?
39 And he arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace, be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.
40 And he said unto them, Why are ye so fearful? how is it that ye have no faith?
41 And they feared exceedingly, and said one to another, What manner of man is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?
1 And they came over unto the other side of the sea, into the country of the Gadarenes.
2 And when he was come out of the ship, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit,
3 Who had his dwelling among the tombs; and no man could bind him, no, not with chains:
4 Because that he had been often bound with fetters and chains, and the chains had been plucked asunder by him, and the fetters broken in pieces: neither could any man tame him.
5 And always, night and day, he was in the mountains, and in the tombs, crying, and cutting himself with stones.
6 But when he saw Jesus afar off, he ran and worshipped him.

If it had not been for a storm Jonah would still be a backslider and all the people of Nineveh would be lost. If it had not been for a storm Elijah would not have known Elisha. If it had not been for a storm Peter could not have walked on the waves. If it had not been for a storm the disciples would not have witnessed the miracle of peace as Jesus spoke gently into a wild situation. If it had not been for a storm Paul could not have preached the Gospel on the island of Malta. When we come out on the other side of a storm we can say of God as Job did, “He knoweth the way that I take: when He hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold (Job 23:10).” So, even though storms are frightening, and they are painful, and they are unpredictable, they are necessary for our spiritual growth.

Storms have a way of sending people to their knees in prayer. Nobody has time for prayer but when the waves start crashing people suddenly have a little room in their schedule for time with Jesus. Everyone is content to let Jesus sleep in the back of the boat until danger strikes. We’re all content with the “this” and the “that” until pain comes crashing in on us like a tidal wave and then we’re all in the back of the boat screaming, “Master, carest not thou that we perish (Mark 4:38)?

It’s been my experience that most people instinctively turn to Jesus during the storms of life, and much of what we do in church and around church is designed to help people stay strong through the storms. We sing and preach about dancing in the rain and praising in the storm. All of that is good and necessary; but what about after the storm is over?

I think sometimes we put so much emphasis on the storm itself that we forget about life after the drama. We spend so much time being afraid and reactionary that we don’t have any strength left once it’s over, and it will be over! The gospel of Mark spends five entire verses describing the storm and how the disciples were afraid and then Jesus gets up and simply says, “PEACE, BE STILL (Mark 4:39)” and the whole thing is over just like that. Storms are no big deal for Jesus. He is far more concerned about our lack of faith than he is about the storm (Hebrews 11:6).

What I find most noteworthy about this whole story is not the storm or that Jesus calmed the storm or that Jesus was angered by their lack of faith or that they marveled. It’s what did not happen that makes me sit up and take notice. These disciples who were a part Jesus’ closest inner circle did not worship Him or offer up a word of thanksgiving even after He miraculously calmed the tempest. Wow. I think that’s a big deal and I think it was a big deal to Jesus as well.

It sounds strange to say it out loud, but I’ve witnessed more people slip away from a right relationship with God in the good times then in the bad times. It’s almost as if the waves push us into the arms of Jesus but the calm lulls us into a state of complacency. We might experience fewer storms if we could remain focused on the Master in the good times.

Take King Saul, for example; God gave him a great victory over his most dangerous enemy and immediately afterwards He allowed rebellion to take root in his heart (1 Samuel 15). His downward spiral didn’t happen during the battle it happened after the danger had already passed. His worship is where the corruption first became apparent. When the process of backsliding begins it is usually first manifested externally in our worship. With that in mind, here are three things that we must do after the storm is over.

1. OFFER THANKSGIVING. After Jesus healed the ten lepers in Luke 17 He sent them off to show themselves to the priest. And then the unthinkable happened, only one of them returned to thank Jesus after realizing that he had indeed been healed. That one leper was immediately made whole by Jesus. In other words, he was not only healed of the leprosy but of the previous effects of the leprosy.

Some people will never see another miracle until they learn how to be thankful for the first miracle. Those other nine lepers made it through a storm, but they forgot that Jesus is more than the Lord of the storm, Jesus is the King of kings and Lord of lords (1 Timothy 6:15). Jesus wants more than our frenzied cries of desperation He demands our gratitude (Psalm 100:4).

2. BUILD AN ALTAR OF SACRIFICE. I think we can all agree that Noah endured a genuine, big time storm. After he made it through to the other side he provided an example for us all to follow; he quickly built an altar of sacrifice unto the Lord (Genesis 8:20-21). God was so moved by this gesture that He promised to never again smite the earth with a storm of that magnitude. If you want to avoid going through the same type of storm over and over again start building an altar of sacrifice unto the Lord. In this New Testament era, you should present your body as a living sacrifice unto the Lord (Romans 12:1; Hebrews 13:15).

3. GIVE HIM WORSHIP. When the disciples got out on the other side of the storm they were immediately approached by a man who was literally possessed with not one or two but by a legion of demons (Mark 5:9). A man so tormented, so outcast, so messed up that he lived among the tombs. He terrorized the towns nearby.

They tried to bind him with ropes and chains, but he could not be bound. They tried to subdue him, but it was humanly impossible. Ironically, the world tries to fix bondage with more bondage, but He who the Son hath set free is free indeed (John 8:36)! The townspeople could hear this wild man crying in the tombs and cutting himself (that’s how unbearable his physical and spiritual agony was). This man was unwanted, he was wild, he was an embarrassment, he was demonic, he was sinful, and yet when he saw Jesus afar off he ran and worshipped him. Ironically, it took a messed up, tore up, broken up man who was possessed with a legion of demons to show those disciples what to do after the storm is over.

Psalm 107:29-31
29 He maketh the storm a calm, so that the waves thereof are still.
30 Then are they glad because they be quiet; so he bringeth them unto their desired haven.
31 Oh that men would praise the Lord for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men!

Is Technology Hurting Our Worship?

I like technology. I’m not an anti-tech kinda guy. In fact, if I err, I err on the side of too much tech. In many ways, technology has changed our lives for the better. I mean, does anyone really want to live in a world without Angry Birds? And on a less humorous note, paperless billing has certainly made my world a lot less stressful. Technology is an instrument that can be harnessed for the good or for the bad.

More than a few church growth experts have detailed the fact that from the 70’s to the mid 90’s churches remained largely unchanged in terms of technology. Interestingly, in roughly the last two decades churches have made changes and made them drastically and rapidly. Screens are now normative, along with mood lighting, and a host of other changes as well. Musical styles have shifted and diversified, church branding is a mainstream concept, and churches are finally utilizing the benefits of free social media options. For the most part, I’m on board with these things (although I’d love to hear the old hymns a little more often).

But there is a growing concern that has been plaguing my mind for a good while now. Are we substituting genuine worship with atmosphere? For years when this question popped into my head, I pushed it back. Surely, the flashing song lyrics augmented by the motion loop background makes understanding the lyrics much easier thereby creating the optimal worship experience. Right? And then one night the church where I am privileged to serve (Apostolic Tabernacle) experienced the unthinkable. Our computers all malfunctioned at once and we were forced to do church without the support of our usual high-tech accents. We entered the service with high levels of anxiety, but something amazing happened that night; we experienced one of the most dynamic worship services of the year (on a midweek Bible Study too).

Now, is my little story conclusive proof that technology is hindering our worship services? No. However, if you begin to pay attention, and keep an open mind, I think that you will gradually notice that in many cases we are moving away from genuine worship. I fear that we often settle for well-crafted and finely tuned atmospheres over genuine moves of God.

Is my goal to see technology removed from our worship services? Certainly not. I am simply suggesting that we begin a process of self-evaluation. We can get so caught up in the graphics, the presentations, the motions, the colors, the branding, the flow, the timing, the relevance, the aesthetics, and the perfectly timed video clips that we forget to allow room for spiritual things.

Here’s a few questions that we should all consider from time to time:

  1. Are we spending more time on the physical atmosphere than we are in prayer and study?
  2. Are we emphasizing the image of a physical space more that we are seeking a move of the Holy Ghost?
  3. Are we promoting style over substance?
  4. Would we prefer our spiritual leaders to be trendy or anointed?