Full disclosure, I’m not a Popeyes hater. And, at the risk of being burned as a heretic, I don’t think Chik-fil-a has the worlds best tasting chicken sandwich. I did the Popeyes verses Chik-fil-a sandwich challenge, and Popeyes tasted better by a wide margin. I’m probably risking my life making this admission because I pastor in the treasured heartland of Chic-fil-a headquarters. I live a stones throw away from the first CFA; right in the epicenter of the eat-more-chiken world headquarters. CFA is revered around here to say the least.
That said, I still choose to eat at CFA nine times out of ten. So, even though I typically prefer the food at Popeyes, I almost always go to CFA instead. I think the reason for that oddity contains a lesson that every church should notice. Don’t worry, I’m not going to give a cheesy lesson about God’s chicken or something like that. The reason I go to CFA over and over again is simple; the service and the experience.
Recently, I enjoyed a delicious meal at Popeyes. I mean, the food was really really good. But, I stood in line for twenty minutes to order. A very unpleasant cashier took my order without uttering one friendly word. After ordering, I waited another twenty minutes for the food. In the meantime, the restroom was so disgusting it made my eyes water. I had to clean my own table before eating. And, the greatest tragedy of all; the soda machine wasn’t working. A little detail I discovered after paying for a large beverage. My food was still delicious, but the service and the experience was terrible.
I wish that was an anomaly at Popeyes, but it’s not. While that was more extreme than usual, there’s almost always some variation of that scenario when I “attend” a Popeyes. Otherwise, I’d probably “attend” Popeyes over CFA nine times out of ten. In contrast, I can’t remember ever waiting for more than a few minutes for my food at CFA (even when the line was wrapped around the building). My family and I are always greeted with a smile and genuine friendliness. If they make a mistake (which is very rare), they go overboard to correct it. The dining areas and restrooms are always neat and clean. Without fail, a nice CFA person will stroll by and offer to get refills or extra condiments for the table. I’ve been to high-end fine dining establishments where their service didn’t rise to CFA’s level of customer kindness and consideration.
The lesson every church can learn from CFA is so simplistic it almost escapes us. The human experience is more important than flavor. Let me put it this way, fancy buildings and programs are great, but not if we forget how to treat people with common kindness and courtesy. It’s not enough for churches to offer lots of options and bold flavors if they can’t connect with people on the most basic human levels.
Your church doesn’t have to be the best at everything to make people want to come back over and over again. In fact, some churches get so caught up trying to be awesome at everything they wind up doing everything pretty poorly. At the heart of CFA’s success is their simplicity. They do four things really really well. One, they serve a small menu but it’s always fresh, consistent in quality, and in stock. Two, they are extremely friendly and welcoming in a sincere and honest way. Three, if they make a mistake they own it and fix it. Four, they are fast and organized so they can take care of you in a timely manner.
If every church borrowed this model they would see immediate growth results and visitor retention rates. Your church doesn’t have to offer a giant “menu” of programs. Find a streamlined “menu” that fits the needs of your community. Make sure your church menu is sustainable and always fresh and good quality. I didn’t say it had to be the best in the world, but it does need to be consistent and fresh (in the sense that it maintains enthusiasm, and doesn’t become stale, boring, or mediocre). It’s better for a church to do fewer things really well than to do tons of things poorly.
I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to simply smile and speak to people when they walk in the doors of your church. It’s not enough for the pastor alone to be friendly. The entire culture of the church must be intentionally and genuinely friendly. Many churches think they’re friendly when in reality they are mildly nice at best. Every single church could learn a lesson from the culture of kindness that CFA carefully cultivated and maintains. Many churches pray for revival, but kill every chance for growth with their inward cliquish behavior.
Every church makes mistakes, drops the ball, misses the mark, and gets the “order” wrong in some way or another. Churches are full of humans and humans make mistakes. When that happens (and it will), accept it and go the extra mile to make it right. Most people will forgive mistakes if they are acknowledged and corrected.
In a church setting we aren’t taking orders and trying to get people in and out in twenty minutes or less. However, we will repel visitors if we are disorganized and disrespectful of their time. When services start late or run over for no good reason we reek of disorganization. When people don’t know where to go or what to do next we make visitors incredibly uncomfortable. Of course, we never want to hinder the Spirit or prioritize organization over the flow of the Spirit. However, I believe that when churches are properly organized it creates an environment where the Spirit is not quenched by incompetence.
Over the years I’ve helped many churches that stood for truth and fervently preached sound doctrine, yet they could not keep guests coming back. It wasn’t because their doctrine was heretical, or their location, or an insufficient building. Rather, they struggled with some combination of all the areas mentioned above. As they addressed these issues intentionally they began to grow organically.
Nutshell: Streamline (do less things with excellence rather than many things with mediocrity), smile (be genuinely welcoming), admit mistakes (go overboard to make them right), and organize.
The apostolic Gospel works, but sometimes our Popeyes mentality sends people across town to a different location. I think we owe it to a lost world to run our churches with even more excellence than a fast food chain.
“Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might (Ecclesiastes 9:10)…”
If you’re looking at the recent past feeling like a loser because you just barely survived, take a moment to remember that there’s no such thing as revival without survival. In the end, suffering through seasons of survival are the greatest victories you will ever achieve. I know survival doesn’t feel glamorous. In fact, sometimes seasons of survival feel more like you’re sitting on death row waiting for your last meal. If you’re anything like me, seasons of survival force you to swallow that nasty pride and accept that others will criticize your inability to thrive. And to make it worse, social media often causes survivors to feel like the last people on earth who aren’t proudly standing on top of the world.
Asaph lamented that his feet almost slipped when he saw the the prosperity of the wicked (Psalm 73:2-3). He almost gave up, he almost fell backwards, he almost quit, but he went into the house of the Lord and remembered that temporary prosperity is a poor substitute for simply staying near God (Psalm 73:17-28). Staying near God is the key to survival in the worst of times. When you’re gut punched, and your whole world feels shaken, stay close to God. Stay in prayer. Stay in church. Stay submitted. Stay in the Word. Stay faithful.
Regardless of what life coaches, self-help gurus, and prosperity prophets teach; it’s ok to be in survival mode. The Bible is full of ordinary heroes who endured horrific hardships, but they survived their way into revival. The woman with the issue of blood had to crawl her way to revival (Mark 5:25-34). Noah spent over a year on a stinky ark surviving a world wide flood (Genesis 7:11-13, Genesis 8:14-20). Jonah survived a mess of his own making (Jonah 1:1-17). David spent eight long years surviving the murderous hatred of king Saul. Paul was shipwrecked, stoned (literally to death), beaten, imprisoned, and survived vicious attack after vicious attack. The list is almost endless, but they all had one thing in common; they simply endured without quitting or giving up. Once you quit, the possibility for revival goes to zero. That’s what the Bible means when it says, “…and having done all, to stand. Stand… (Ephesians 6:13-14)”. Sometimes just standing takes more courage than moving forward. Refusing to give up in the face of crushing defeat takes more courage than winning with ease. Paul couldn’t have known that revival was about to break out on the island of Malta while he was hanging onto broken pieces of a ship (Acts 27:44). He just held on until the Storm was over and faithed his way into unexpected revival.
There is a cycle of life that runs throughout the stories of the Bible. The same cycle plays out in our lives to today: surviving, reviving , thriving, and repeating the cycle again. We’re always in one stage of that cycle. There’s never a guarantee how long each stage of the cycle will last. Every mountain climber survived a valley. Everyone is either ascending or descending a mountain of victory. This is mildly depressing news for people thriving on mountain tops, but it’s wonderful news for people surviving valleys. Thankfully, every valley prepares us for the next valley, and every mountain gives us confidence that we can get to another mountain top.
So, here’s a little key to mentally surviving the valleys. It seems overly simplistic and trite. It might even sound like a silly platitude if you feel trapped in a dark unforgiving survival stage. But if you could somehow grab this concept and keep it close, it will pull you through terribly difficult times. And, if you stay faithful to God you will look back and find that what I am about to tell you is profoundly true. Are you ready for it? Here it is: Every valley is an opportunity for another victory. Let me say it this way: Every season of survival is another chance for fresh revival. You will be revived and you will thrive. And, then the process will be repeated until we reach our pinnacle destination; Heaven. In Heaven we will thrive forever in the eternal presence of the Lord.
Don’t ever allow anyone or anything to make you feel like a loser because you’re simply surviving. Survival is just the beginning of revival. When you’re surviving, you’re in the perfect position for God to work miracles on your behalf. Solomon wisely said, “Whatsoever your hand findeth to do; do it with all thy might… (Ecclesiastes 9:10)”. Keep doing everything within your power and strength to do. And, when you’ve reached your limit God will step in and pick up your slack. You’ll be hard pressed to find any instance in the Bible where God did something for someone that they could have done for themselves. You’ll be even harder pressed to find an instance where God did something for someone without requiring them to do something first. So, when you’re weak, barely surviving, at the end of your rope, and you literally have done everything can possibly do, and you’re standing at a Red Sea with no solutions; take heart, miraculous revival is right around the corner.
At the end of every year, I enjoy reviewing the most read posts of the past twelve months. I’ve included links to all ten of them below. Just click the pictures and it’ll take you to the articles. Interestingly, the top three haven’t changed in several years. I haven’t written much new content in 2019 (I plan to change that in 2020). Oddly, this has still been an exciting year for Apostolic Voice; we leaped over the million click mark, gained a tremendous number of new readers, and made progress on relaunching the podcast. I deeply appreciate your confidence and support. Thank you for allowing my writings into your life. God bless you all, and may 2020 be your best year yet. If you’re new to the Apostolic Voice family, welcome and I hope you find something helpful, inspiring, or at least mildly interesting.
The irony of the Christmas debate never ceases to amaze me. On the one hand, secular culture really tries hard to take Christ out of Christmas. To them, Christmas is just another holiday. On the other hand, a very loud minority of Christians consider Christmas a pagan practice. The rest of us are uncomfortably sandwiched in between these two extremes.
Before the rise of social media these debates seemed a little more vague and obscure. Everyone pretty much just did their own thing and went on with their lives. But, social media definitely gets people from every side of the Christmas issue at one another’s throats. Lots of people feel the need to strongly state their opinions, and just about everyone else feels the need to be offended by everyone else’s opinion. Yeah, it’s about as crazy as it sounds.
Let me respond to the secular objections to Christmas first. They find offense at the elevation of one religion over others. And, in some cases, the elevation of any religion at all in the public domain. Their solution is to dechristianize the season and replace it with strictly secular terminology and traditions. Santa, elves, and reindeer fit nicely into this agenda because the childish make-believe parts of Christmas have no distinctly Judeo-Christian roots. When you peel back the layers you’ll find the secular motivation for attacking Christmas is mostly rooted in rabid christophobia (hatred of Christianity).
Without getting too far ahead of myself, this alone is a pretty compelling reason to celebrate Christmas louder and louder every year. If “pagans” consider Christmas too Christian for comfort than Christmas is clearly not a pagan holiday. On that note, Jesus said if you’re ashamed of me I’ll be ashamed of you (Mark 8:38). Christians should never shy away from any opportunity to talk about Jesus openly. Like it or not, America was founded on Judeo-Christian values. Sadly, I don’t really consider us a truly Christian nation any longer, however, we Christians have every right biblically and constitutionally to voice our faith loud and long.
I think capitulating to secularism would be a tragic mistake and offensive to the Lord. Of course, we should never be intentionally offensive or ugly, but just celebrating the birth of our risen Savior is well within our reasonable rights. If speaking the name of Jesus or talking about Emmanuel (God with us) publicly is offensive than we have an obligation to be offensive. If Christians become timid about a story as innocuous as the birth of the Messiah than we won’t have the courage to talk about His death and resurrection. Clearly, I have no sympathy for the secular objections to Christmas and you shouldn’t either.
Ok. Let’s shift gears and address the Christian objections to celebrating Christmas. Their concerns usually center around five different issues. One, we don’t actually know the date of Jesus’ birth. Two, the Bible doesn’t specifically instruct us to celebrate Jesus’ birth. Three, they argue that Christmas itself and the surrounding traditions are rooted in paganism. Four, a Scripture that appears to forbid Christmas trees. And five, the crass commercialism surrounding the Christmas season.
There are good and sincere people who make these objections compellingly. Others make ignorant claims that are more ludicrous and argumentative than necessary. I’ve certainly seen Christians from both sides of the issue display less than Christlike behavior when debating the points mentioned above. It’s mostly ugly, totally unnecessary, and destroys everyone’s credibility. Also, while I do believe that celebrating Christmas is a good thing (probably even a wonderful thing), I am painfully aware of how it feels to have deeply held counter-cultural convictions that others love to belittle. I have genuine sympathy for sincere Christians who simply can’t feel comfortable celebrating Christmas. Regardless, I do believe anti-Christmas convictions are not founded in solid facts. Nor do I think anti-Christmas convictions are worthy of imposing on fellow believers.
It’s true that we don’t actually know the exact date of Jesus’ birth. And, it’s highly unlikely that Jesus was born on December 25. It’s also true that Christians didn’t start celebrating Christmas until hundreds of years after the resurrection. And, my response basically boils down to a shrug of the shoulders. So what, I don’t need an exact date to celebrate and reflect on my Savior’s birth. It’s nice to have an agreed upon date so everyone can celebrate at the same time. It’s also worth remembering that early Christians were understandably busy avoiding martyrdom and being mutilated by lions. Furthermore, arguing that because early Christians didn’t celebrate Christmas means Christmas is somehow prohibited today is a pretty awkward theological and intellectual leap. Celebrating all things pertaining to Jesus seems like something every Christian should be excited about.
It’s true that the Bible never specifically commands us to celebrate the birth of Jesus. The word Christmas is not in the Bible. And again, my response is a fairly disinterested shrug of the shoulders. If the Bible prohibited celebrating the birth of Jesus, I would be all ears and fully on board with anti-Christmas sentiments. However, Scripture gives us important details surrounding the miraculous birth of the Messiah (Matthew 1:1-24, Matthew 2:1-23, Luke 1:26-66, Luke 2:1-40, John 1:1-16). In each of these passages angels and people celebrated the birth of Jesus. Many Old Testament prophecies revolved around Jesus’ birth (Genesis 22:18, Numbers 24:17, Isaiah 11:1, Jeremiah 23:5-6, 2 Samuel 7:12-14, Micah 5:2, Isaiah 7:14, Psalm 72:9-10, Jeremiah 31:15, Hosea 11:1, Isaiah 9:6-7). It’s safe to say there are many Scriptures affirming the celebration of Christ’s birth and none forbidding it.
Regarding the concern that Christmas is rooted in paganism, the evidence for such a claim is far from clear. The origins of so many modern traditions are unsubstantiated and often misinformed. Sources claiming Christmas’ pagan roots contradict one another and rarely have any reliable methods for verification (please don’t send me weird internet links… I’ve seen them all… sigh). While some minor Christmas traditions like holly were probably used in pagan rituals this doesn’t make Christmas evil by association. Many things were used in pagan rituals that we use on a daily basis. For example, oak trees were revered almost universally by pagans and yet Christians don’t refrain from using oak trees and oak wood in their homes and yards. Even the Nike logo was originally a pagan symbol. But the association has been changed and no longer has pagan connotations. Either way, a Christian concerned about pagan symbolism could still celebrate Christmas and simply refrain from the particular traditions they find worrisome. This concern doesn’t require throwing Christmas out completely.
The Christmas tree debate is probably the most common concern Christians wrestle with in their minds. It’s an extension of the pagan roots concern, but this concern should be taken a little more seriously because there are two Bible passages that can be distressing at first glance (Jeremiah 10:1-16, Isaiah 44:9-18). The most cited passage comes from Jeremiah chapter ten verses three and four:
“For the customs of the people are vain; for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the ax. They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not.”
When looking at the passage in context, it’s clear that Jeremiah is referring to craftsmen who cut down trees for the purpose of creating idols. The decorating referred to here is not the decoration of a tree, but the decoration of a carved idol. Even more specifically, Jeremiah is expressly forbidding falling down and worshipping hand made idols. This biblical command applies to everything other than God alone. Worshipping a tree or anything else would be idolatry of the worst kind. I’ve known people who worshipped trees, but they were not Christmas trees. Even so, I could understand someone feeling uncomfortable with a Christmas tree. However, simply avoid the tree and celebrate the Savior if your conscious demands it. If you’re uncomfortable with my quick explanation of Jeremiah 10:3-4, check out John Gill’s Exposition of the Bible on verse three HERE, and on verse four HERE.
The last objection that many Christians raise is reasonable and should be heeded. Christmas has been hijacked by secularism and crass commercialism. There is a sense in which Christmas can become about receiving and not giving. The pressure to buy irresponsibly can be overwhelming at Christmastime. All the reindeer and elves can crowd out the message of Christmas if we aren’t careful. All the decorating, cooking, buying, and wrapping can become a silly substitute for reverencing the miracle birth of Jesus. Christians should guard against this mindset, and strive to keep Jesus at the center of the season.
The benefits of Christmas, in my opinion, far outweigh any of the negatives. The world is almost universally exposed to the story of Jesus’ entrance into the world. That revelation alone leads to more and more questions about who Jesus is and what He did while He was here. This opens tremendous opportunities for Christians to share their faith and talk about Jesus openly. Christmas brings families together and connects thoughts of Jesus with happy family memories. Christmas brings out the selflessness in many people. Charitable giving goes up drastically during the Christmas season. Many hard hearts grow tender towards God as they consider the Christmas story. Churches fill up with people who usually would not make church a priority. This exposes people to godly environments that can implant a seed of God’s Word into their consciousness.
For oneness Pentecostals, Christmas is an awesome opportunity to expose others to the great revelation that Jesus was the mighty God in Christ. For example, does it really make sense that a separate deity would send a son (who is also a coequal deity) to die on his behalf? What kind of father would send his son to be tortured and killed on his behalf? No. Jesus was the Word incarnate (Colossians 1:15, John 1:1, John 1:14, Philippians 2:6-7, 1 Timothy 3:16). Christmas is an excellent time to emphasize that Emmanuel (Isaiah 7:14, Matthew 1:22-23) literally means “God with us”. Jesus was not one of three distinctly separate deities born of a virgin. He was Emmanuel in the flesh. He is referred to as the Son of God because He had no earthly father (Luke 1:35). I don’t usually like the New American Standard Version, but I think it gives the clearest translation and explanation for why Jesus is referred to as the Son of God in Luke 1:35:
“The angel answered and said to her, The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; AND FOR THAT REASON the holy Child shall be called the Son of God (emphasis is mine).”
Even the disciples seemed slightly confused about what this terminology meant. In John chapter fourteen Jesus was comforting them because He was leaving (John 14:1-6). He mentioned the mansions in the Father’s house and how no one could get to the Father but by Him. This caused Thomas to ask Jesus where He was going and how would they know the way (John 14:5)? Jesus’ most famous response is in verse six where He says “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life… (John 14:6)”. But, people often overlook John 14:7:
“If ye had known Me, ye should have known My Father also; and from henceforth ye know Him, and have seen Him.”
Jesus clarified that because you have known Me you know the Father and you have seen Him! Wow! That’s an epic revelation.
But Phillip was still struggling to catch Jesus’ implication so he asked Him to show them the Father (John 14:8). So, Jesus gave one of the clearest of all answers in Scripture about His deity in John 14:9-10:
“…Have I been so long a time with you, and yet hast thou not known Me, Philip? He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, ‘Show us the Father’? Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me?…”
Jesus made the messianic claim that He was literally God in human flesh. That is the quintessential message of the Christmas story; God came to dwell with us. I can’t see how that is anything other than wonderful to celebrate.
“For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government shall be upon His shoulder. And His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6).”
If you’re a social media user it might feel like a non-stop Kanye West extravaganza has taken over your feed lately. The frenzy from all directions has been palpable. Many people in my inner circle didn’t even know who Kanye was until a few weeks ago. For me, his name was associated with lyrics and artists that I purposely avoided because of the vulgarity, sexuality, violence, and substance abuse they promoted.
This article is late in the making. Frankly, I just didn’t care about the Kanye kerfuffle until the noise escalated into a fever pitch. Beyond that, lots of people have already been contributing wise words to the ongoing (seemingly neverending) conversation. One of my favorite Apostolic bloggers, Search of Kings has a must-read article about the “Kanye Conversion”. Others have convincingly commented that Kanye’s sincerity might be less suspicious if he would remove all his old music from circulation. I’ve noticed several people expressing frustration at the Apostolic hype over Kanye’s new album Jesus Is King, by pointing out the lackluster support Apostolic artists typically receive. We Apostolics do tend to demean our own and glamorize (perhaps even idolize) artists who are distinctly non-apostolic.
Speaking of idols, the flip side of the coin is the ardent, almost breathless support many Christians have afforded Kanye’s new album. It reeks of an adolescent desire to finally be accepted by the “cool” kids. The internet is littered with comparisons of Kanye’s conversion to Saul’s transformation into Paul. Others dream of stadiums packed with people who would never listen to “Jesus” music being deeply impacted by Kanye’s newfound faith. Many elders felt this way about Elvis Presley in past decades. I still frequently hear people mention how sincere Elvis was about his Christian (perhaps even Apostolic) faith.
So, the speculation about Kanye’s sincerity has become a lightning rod of controversy. For what it’s worth, I think Kanye might be sincere. Admittedly, I don’t really know if he’s sincere or not. I struggle to know if people around me are sincere sometimes. I’ve never met Kanye and I doubt anyone reading this has either. Sincerity is a hard thing to judge in a short period of time. It’s even harder to judge from a distance. Even Paul had to undergo many years of scrutiny and training before he was fully accepted as a new creature in Christ Jesus. That’s one of the reasons Paul wrote to Timothy and said, “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15)”. Regardless, Kanye’s sincerity or lack thereof is a moot point. Why? Because sincerity is not salvation.
We easily understand that principle when it comes to the physical, but we’re a little fuzzy when it comes to spiritual things. We don’t just want doctors to be sincere, we want them to be sincere and correct at the same time. Frankly, the latter is far more important than the former. But when it comes to spiritual leaders and influencers we’re a little less cautious. Maybe its time to consider that we Christians are overly concerned with sincerity? Perhaps we’ve elevated sincerity above biblical sanctification? Is it possible many Apostolics, either consciously or subconsciously, equate sincerity with salvation? Do we believe that sincerity without biblical salvation can save us? If so, we are doomed to become just another variation of the Catholic church. The Catholic church now officially teaches that Muslims, Jews, and really any sincere person can be saved without converting to even the mushy Catholic perversion of the Gospel (Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 1260).
If the prescription for sin is the blood of Jesus it can only be accessed via the Gospel of Jesus Christ (John 14:6, 1 Timothy 2:5, Acts 4:12). At the heart of the Gospel is the teaching that we must undergo our own spiritual death, burial, and resurrection just as Jesus did physically (Romans 6:3-8, 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.
After we are obedient to the fullness of the Gospel all the old sinful things pass away and we become a new creation in Christ Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:17). We walk in agreement with the Spirit (Galatians 5:16). Meaning, God not only saves us from our past sin, but He also empowers us with His own Spirit to live righteously (2 Peter 1:3-4). The extra good news of the Gospel is that God doesn’t just save us and leave us the same: He saves us, changes us, dwells within us, and continues to strengthen us daily.
Having said all of that, I am far more concerned with Kanye’s salvation than I am his sincerity. I hope he’s sincere and that his sincerity leads him to salvation. Otherwise, his sincere religious error will probably do far more damage than good. Furthermore, any sincere, yet theologically incorrect preacher is more dangerous than any charlatan could ever hope to be. Charlatans are eventually exposed, but sincerely wrong people fight with misled convictions that are deeply influential to others.
Let me leave you with a passage of Scripture to ponder where Paul addresses the issue of zealousness for God without a proper understanding of God’s word. This passionate sincerity without knowledge will cause them to be lost unless they learn to walk obediently to God’s plan.
Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved. For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God (Romans 10:1-13).
Hey, if you’re looking for awesome Apostolic music check out Nathan + Rachel. You’re welcome!
Like so many things in Scripture, we can trace much of theology all the way back to the book of Genesis. Self-idolatry or self-worship is no exception. The serpent enticed Eve with words of self-exaltation: “For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods…” (Genesis 3:5). Becoming a god unto ourselves has always been the greatest temptation that Satan lays before humankind. He subtly emboldens us to take authority that belongs to God into our own hands. We often define this as rebellion, but it is far more than just rebellion, it is self-idolatry.
In essence, anything that comes between us and the one true God is idolatry (1 Corinthians 10:7-22). Or, we could narrow it down even further and say that anything we love more than the Lord is an idol. God demands that we offer ourselves to Him as living sacrifices for His glory (Romans 12:1-2). Anything that hinders that self-sacrifice becomes idolatrous.
The Idolatry of Godless Wisdom
Leaning on our own wisdom is another form of self-idolatry (Romans 1:20-25). Paul speaks of those who hold the truth in unrighteousness (Romans 1:18). They literally suppress the truth with their own sense of self-righteousness. This kind of self-idolatry leads to worthless thinking and God eventually gives this type of person over to complete foolishness and depravity (Romans 1:21-30).
An Idolatrous Conundrum!
Psalm 115 is probably the most poetically profound condemnation of idolatry found in Scripture. In an epic biblical smackdown, the psalmist describes idols as useless and those who make them and trust them as being just as ridiculous (Psalm 115:4-8). In other words, idolators become eerily like their idols. They make the idols and become like their own creation. They trust in idols and become like the demonic idols they trust. This begs the question: Are self-idolators really worshipping themselves? Or, have they just worshipped another idol for so long they have become like the ungodly object of their affection?
Either way, it would be wise for us all to recognize the signs of self-idolatry and remove any hint of it that might be found in our hearts.
10 Signs You Might Be Guilty of Self-Idolatry
You search you heart before you search the Bible (Jeremiah 17:9, Psalm 18:30).
Your feelings matter more to you than your faithfulness (Proverbs 28:26, Luke 12:42).
You are overly obsessed with outward beauty and vanity (Jeremiah 4:30, Proverbs 31:30, Galatians 5:19-30, 1 Peter 3:3-4, 1 Timothy 2:9-10, Deuteronomy 22:5, Leviticus 19:28, Isaiah 3:16-26, Exodus 20:26).
You crave flattery but recoil at conviction (Proverbs 27:6).
You lack compassion for those less fortunate than you (Colossians 3:12).
You maintain a double standard; you consider some things acceptable for you but not for others (Proverbs 20:10, Romans 2:11).
You use and manipulate people while simulataniously wanting their admiration (Luke 11:42).
Your prayers are primarily focused on your own wants and needs; you rarely pray selflessly for others (Philippians 2:3-4).
You view church as being all about your blessing; your opinions, wants, and needs are always the main focus (Philippians 2:3-4).
Idolatry Inside the Church
I know some of you are thinking that idolatry is an outside problem. No. The worst versions of idolatry are inside problems: Inside the “saints” and inside the Church. If you study the Old and the New Testaments you find that the most grievous forms of idolatry came from within the camps of God’s own people. It’s time to stop viewing idolatry as a problem far removed from the Church or something that was just an Old Testament problem. Idolatry is alive and well today. Thankfully, God is still on the throne and He still draws near to those who seek Him and Him alone (James 4:8).
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).”
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.
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).
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.