AV Podcast Ep. 2 | Unmasked

Episode number two of the podcast is available today. We cover all the information from UNMASKED (Cogent COVID Thoughts) and a little more. Apostolic Voice is now available on every major podcasting platform. Follow THIS LINK for quick access to most platforms. We’re also available on iTunes and you can find us by using THIS LINK. Please consider not only subscribing, but giving a five star rating and a review.

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I closed this episode of the podcast out with a poem by Edwin J. Milliken. First written in 1890, it was actually Sir Winston Churchhill who popularized the poem in the years leading up to WWII. He cited the poem as a poignent warning to wake up and be alert to the dangers of the world. I find this poem eerily relevent for us today. As promised, I’m including the complete, unabridged poem below and the original illustration as well. Enjoy.

Death and his Brother Sleep

Who is in charge of the clattering train?
The axles creak, and the couplings strain.
Ten minutes behind at the Junction. Yes!
And we’re twenty now to the bad–no less!
We must make it up on our flight to town.
Clatter and crash! That’s the last train down,
Flashing by with a steamy trail.
Pile on the fuel! We must not fail.
At every mile we a minute must gain!
Who is in charge of the clattering train?

Why, flesh and blood, as a matter of course!
You may talk of iron, and prate of force;
But, after all, and do what you can,
The best–and cheapest–machine is Man!
Wealth knows it well, and the hucksters feel
‘Tis safer to trust them to sinew than steel.
With a bit of brain, and a conscience, behind,
Muscle works better than steam or wind.
Better, and longer, and harder all round;
And cheap, so cheap! Men superabound
Men stalwart, vigilant, patient, bold;
The stokehole’s heat and the crow’s-nest’s cold,
The choking dusk of the noisome mine,
The northern blast o’er the beating brine,
With dogged valour they coolly brave;
So on rattling rail, or on wind-scourged wave,
At engine lever, at furnace front,
Or steersman’s wheel, they must bear the brunt
Of lonely vigil or lengthened strain.
Man is in charge of the thundering train!

Man, in the shape of a modest chap
In fustian trousers and greasy cap;
A trifle stolid, and something gruff,
Yet, though unpolished, of sturdy stuff.
With grave grey eyes, and a knitted brow,
The glare of sun and the gleam of snow
Those eyes have stared on this many a year.
The crow’s-feet gather in mazes queer
About their corners most apt to choke
With grime of fuel and fume of smoke.
Little to tickle the artist taste–
An oil-can, a fist-full of “cotton waste,”
The lever’s click and the furnace gleam,
And the mingled odour of oil and steam;
These are the matters that fill the brain
Of the Man in charge of the clattering train.


Only a Man, but away at his back,
In a dozen ears, on the steely track,
A hundred passengers place their trust
In this fellow of fustian, grease, and dust.
They cheerily chat, or they calmly sleep,
Sure that the driver his watch will keep
On the night-dark track, that he will not fail.
So the thud, thud, thud of wheel upon rail
The hiss of steam-spurts athwart the dark.
Lull them to confident drowsiness. Hark!

What is that sound? ‘Tis the stertorous breath
Of a slumbering man,–and it smacks of death!
Full sixteen hours of continuous toil
Midst the fume of sulphur, the reek of oil,
Have told their tale on the man’s tired brain,
And Death is in charge of the clattering train!

Sleep–Death’s brother, as poets deem,
Stealeth soft to his side; a dream
Of home and rest on his spirit creeps,
That wearied man, as the engine leaps,
Throbbing, swaying along the line;
Those poppy-fingers his head incline
Lower, lower, in slumber’s trance;
The shadows fleet, and the gas-gleams dance
Faster, faster in mazy flight,
As the engine flashes across the night.
Mortal muscle and human nerve
Cheap to purchase, and stout to serve.
Strained too fiercely will faint and swerve.
Over-weighted, and underpaid,
This human tool of exploiting Trade,
Though tougher than leather, tenser than steel.
Fails at last, for his senses reel,
His nerves collapse, and, with sleep-sealed eyes,
Prone and helpless a log he lies!
A hundred hearts beat placidly on,
Unwitting they that their warder’s gone;
A hundred lips are babbling blithe,
Some seconds hence they in pain may writhe.
For the pace is hot, and the points are near,
And Sleep hath deadened the driver’s ear;
And signals flash through the night in vain.
Death is in charge of the clattering train!

Illustration from Punch magazine, published in October 1890, which accompanied the poem Death and His Brother Sleep by Edwin James Milliken.

Unmasked (Cogent COVID Thoughts)

COVID has revealed tons of things, both good and bad, that need to be considered as we move into the future. The following cogent COVID thoughts have been swirling around in my brain for several months. I’m making a conscious effort to only mention things that will be relevant even after the virus itself is gone.

Unmasked: Our Religious Freedoms Are in Jeopardy

2019 seems like the distant past, but somehow, I can vaguely recall certain things that happened way back in the good old pre-COVID days. A particular memory keeps pushing its way to the forefront of my brain; it’s a conversation I overheard between two friends. Friend number one commented about the world’s increasing hostility towards the Church and his concerns about maintaining our freedoms. Friend number two considered this to be the silliest viewpoint a modern Christian could hold. He accused friend number one of nursing a persecution complex. I agreed with friend number one. There was an awkward silence and we all just agreed to disagree.

Today we have churches fighting their state government and the United States government for the right to simply have church. Startling numbers of churches are permanently closing their doors. And, pastors have been fined, harassed, and incarcerated for failing to comply with shutdown mandates. We are seeing the single greatest onslaught against religious freedoms in the history of the United States. COVID unmasked the animosity towards Christianity walking the halls of power at the state and federal levels. The waters are being tested and a stronger wave of discriminatory action towards Christianity is just around the corner.

This unmasking is probably for the best. Maybe it will shake some of us out of our naiveite and call us back to effectual fervent prayer (James 5:16). But one thing is for sure, antichrist spirits are only one pandemic away from stripping us of our freedoms. And for the non-religious folks out there, my freedom to worship won’t be the only freedom taken. They’ll come for something you care about eventually. If you dance with the devil long enough you will get burned.

“…antichrist spirits are only one pandemic away from stripping us of our freedoms.”

I’m not trying to stoke fears or be negative. I believe this is a great opportunity for the Church to reach the world with the Gospel. Jesus said, “Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid (Matthew 5:14)”. We usually think of this as a challenge to let our light shine as bright as possible, and that’s fine. We say things like don’t hide your light. However, Jesus compared the Church to a city set on a hill that “cannot” be hidden. That word “cannot” is translated into English from two Greek words, ou and dynatai, which means …does not have the ability. We could accurately translate that verse to say, “You are the light of the world. A city placed by God on a hill that does not have the ability to be hidden”. The Church is purposefully designed and carefully crafted by God to be set apart (that’s what holiness means) and brightly shining into the darkness. The true Church can’t hide, blend in, be comfortable in, or conform itself to, the world. So, as the world gets scarier the light of the Church will draw hungry hearts to itself as never before.

The true Church can’t hide, blend in, be comfortable in, or conform itself to, the world.

Unmasked: Christian Hypocrisies

My dad (Dr. Talmadge French) made a comment last night during midweek Bible study that is startlingly true: Many people are more influenced by their TV than by their pastor. Taking that thought even further, I’ve noticed throughout this pandemic how quickly we all allowed government officials to have absolute authority over us. Officials told us to wear masks and we all went out and bought masks. They told us to close businesses and stay home and we did. They told us to stay away from people and we did. They told us not to touch people and we did what they told us to do. They told our kids to stay home from school and learn online and they did (my kids still do). They told sports to shut down and they did. It drastically impacted our dress codes, our vacations, our social lives, our finances, and our education.

Many people are more influenced by their TV than by their pastor.” -Dr. Talmadge French

Why did we fall in line so quickly? We fell in line (almost universally with a few exceptions) even when the “experts” disagreed. We fell in line even though the facts were (and are) difficult to decipher. We made great personal sacrifices. For some people, it will take them years to recover and some will never fully recover. I believe we did it because we perceived those sacrifices as being a greater good than the pain. We sensed the urgency and we pulled together. Perhaps some operated from raw fear, but even that fear wasn’t pure selfishness, it was born out of concern for others as well.

I’ve watched people faithfully wear masks and stay indoors for months who have never allowed their pastor to have any real influence in their lives. COVID unmasked a barren wasteland of hypocrisy in many professing Christians. They make all types of excuses for why they won’t listen to their pastor: He’s too intrusive, too cautious, too demanding, too blah blah blah. The reality is they are more than willing to comply when they think the stakes are high. They just don’t think biblical issues are that important. They don’t really consider sin as important or judgment as immanent. Furthermore, they do believe in authority they just don’t want godly authority.

Unmasked: A Realistic Path to a One-World Government

Prophecy pundits typically point to nuclear warfare or some type of World War III scenario as the catalyst which will bring the world under one global government (Revelation 13:1-18, Revelation 17:13, Daniel 2:44, Daniel 7:24, 1 Thessalonians 2:1-17). While possible, there wouldn’t be much left to govern after massive nuclear strikes around the world. However, this pandemic unmasked how easy it would be for a full-blown epidemic to usher in a one-world government. I can envision several epidemic scenarios where the people of the world would willingly give up their freedoms without a shot being fired or a bomb being dropped.

I can envision several epidemic scenarios where the people of the world would willingly give up their freedoms without a shot being fired or a bomb being dropped.

Think of the panic if people were dropping dead in the streets of an unknown and incurable virally transmitted disease. What if one government magically had the cure and would only give it to people who surrendered unconditionally to their authority? This virus could be manmade or not, it doesn’t matter because the opportunity for dominance could be leveraged either way. Even now it isn’t hard to imagine a world where individuals would not be allowed to buy or sell without having some kind of chip or government-issued ID proving they are virus-free (Revelation 13:17). COVID revealed a realistic path to the End Times that doesn’t sound like nonsensical conspiracy theories.

It isn’t hard to imagine a world where individuals would not be allowed to buy or sell without having some kind of chip or government-issued ID proving they are virus-free (Revelation 13:17).

COVID revealed a realistic path to the End Times that doesn’t sound like nonsensical conspiracy theories.

Unmasked: Disregard for Localized Pastoral Leadership

In many ways, the foundations of biblical Church government and the United States government are similar. And, that isn’t by accident, the founders modeled the Bible in numerous ways when crafting the Constitution. For example, individual states were originally intended to be autonomous yet governed and united by the Constitution. The federal government was limited and designed to have minimal interference in the affairs of local governments. Similarly, the Early Church was designed to be locally governed by pastors who were united by adherence to the Holy Word of God. Christ remained the head of the Church while bishops only intervened in local church matters when the Word was being disregarded. Biblically sound apostolic organizations follow this paradigm. Pastors are given leeway to govern their local flock as long as they remain doctrinally sound and morally pure. Most decisions are best made by local leadership because they are connected to the specific personalized needs of their congregations.  

So, COVID hit and local pastors were forced to make tough calls without any precedence to lean on. They were deluged with lots of convoluted “facts” being thrown at them from every direction. Some pastors closed down their gatherings and some remain closed. Some waited a little longer than others to close in-person gatherings. A very small number of pastors never closed at all. Some are fighting to reopen. Some did outdoor services, and zoom, and Facebook meetings, and anything else they could do to keep a sense of connectedness. In other words, local pastors did the best they could do for their flocks. They prayed, agonized, sought wise counsel, researched, and listened to the needs of the saints. The average pastor is working harder this year than in most previous years of ministry. They’ve diligently strived to do the right thing for their local assemblies and to please God.

The average pastor is working harder this year than in most previous years of ministry. They’ve diligently strived to do the right thing for their local assemblies and to please God.

Yet, regardless of what decisions local pastors made they were met with unrelenting condemnation at every turn. Facebook “pastors” went completely nuts commenting and criticizing from the comfort of their sideline seats. Pastors clashed with pastors over “right” pandemic protocols. Saints defended their pastor’s decisions by attacking other pastors’ decisions. Or worse, some saints threw their pastor under the bus and sided with a pastor who doesn’t even know their name. I expected worldly cultural commentators to aim their blistering attacks on church leaders, but I admit the infighting took me off guard.

The lack of civility, respect, charity, grace, and dignity in these public disagreements is deeply disturbing. But setting that aside, the complete disregard and disrespect towards localized church government was the real shocker unmasked by COVID. Doesn’t it make sense that local pastors would take different approaches based on the needs and facts on the ground in their community? Wouldn’t we expect different churches to adopt various approaches based on their surroundings? Why would our way be the only way? Looking back, I think every honest pastor wishes they had done at least one thing differently. Zero people had all the right answers in 2020.

It would be helpful moving forward to reestablish the authority of local church leadership in a global, information-saturated world. Anyone with the slightest understanding of ministry understands real-world decisions are complex and vary from place to place. Rarely do cookie-cutter policies work properly in every church. Regardless, lets at least try to recognize in extremely difficult times that no one wants what is best for a local church more than its local pastor. Let’s give them some grace and trust they are seeking God for the flock He entrusted to them.

No one wants what is best for a local church more than its local pastor.

Ep. 16 | Talking with Mom (Rebecca French) About Pain, Sickness, Parenting, Faith, Ministry, Pastor's Wives, and People with Special Needs Apostolic Voice with Ryan French

Ryan talks to his mother (Rebecca French) about parenting children with major health issues, keeping the faith through the fire, parenting tips for raising godly kids, ministry, what saints need to know about their pastor's wife, and growing up with a disabled brother. Be sure to check out Rebecca French's article at http://www.ryanafrench.com called Praising the Lord in All Things.  — This episode is sponsored by · Anchor: The easiest way to make a podcast. https://anchor.fm/app — Send in a voice message: https://anchor.fm/apostolicvoice/message Support this podcast: https://anchor.fm/apostolicvoice/support
  1. Ep. 16 | Talking with Mom (Rebecca French) About Pain, Sickness, Parenting, Faith, Ministry, Pastor's Wives, and People with Special Needs
  2. Ep. 15 | 9 Things to Remember When You're Hurting & Ryan's Top 10 All-Time-Favorite Carman Songs
  3. Ep. 14 | Ministering to Vets, Overcoming Tempers & Practical Apostolic Principles for Success with Special Guest Josh Michael
  4. Ep. 13 | Let's Be Honest with Guest Jeremy Gove
  5. Ep. 12 | 10 Symptoms of Insecure Leadership and Helpful Prescriptions

The Death of Reverence

CAN YOU DEFINE REVERENCE?

While contemplating this article, I conducted an extremely non-scientific, anecdotal experiment. I asked several people from various backgrounds (religious, irreligious, and a few in between) to define the word reverence as best they could without googling it or phoning a friend. As you can imagine, the answers were varied, to say the least: Some were spot on (mostly the extremely religious), others defined reverence as some type of fear (mostly the mildly religious), several people thought reverence was a title for priests or clergy (mostly the irreligious), and a handful didn’t know how to define the word reverence at all. If they were willing to play along, I also asked them to explain the terms sacred, hallowed, consecrated, holy, and inviolable (if you’re like most people, you had to google inviolable). People’s attempts to define these words sorted out pretty much the same way as it did for the word reverence; they were confused, uncertain, or outright wrong in their answers.

THE YOUNG & THE IRRELIGIOUS!

Pollsters, social scientists, and statisticians are super interested in putting us all into nice little categories. In reality, humans are far more complex and less monolithic than we have been led to believe. However, it’s increasingly clear from stats that the elderly are much likelier than younger generations to be religious.

Rest assured, many young adults are extremely religious, but there is an ever-widening gap between the spiritual and the irreligious. Meaning, the “in-betweeners” are disappearing. People are either becoming more religious than ever or joining the growing number of atheists. So, the question is why? Why is this gap ever-widening, and what can be done about it? From the secular perspective, nirvana can be reached by eradicating pesky religious notions. It’s a naive and ludicrous idea.

There is an ever-widening gap between the spiritual and the irreligious. Meaning, the “in-betweeners” are disappearing. People are either becoming more religious than ever or joining the growing number of atheists.

THE MEANINGLESSNESS CONUNDRUM

Douglas Rushkoff is a widely acclaimed media theorist, writer, and university professor. His name might not be familiar to you, but you’ve used phrases he coined. Terms like “viral media” and “social currency” originated with Rushkoff. Some of his thoughts on socialization and technology are fascinating. His theories have silently impacted your life in more ways than one. Rushkoff is one of many vogue atheists who laid the groundwork for secularizing modern young minds. Here’s a famous and particularly nauseating quote from Rushkoff:

“It’s also hard for people to contend with the difficult possibility that we are simply overadvanced fungi and bacteria hurtling through a galaxy in cold, meaningless space. But just because our existence may have arisen unintentionally and without purpose doesn’t preclude meaning or purpose from emerging as a result of our interaction and collaboration. Meaning may not be a precondition for humanity as much as a by-product of it.”

THE MEANINGLESS FALLOUT!

It’s almost painful to read Rushkoff, and countless others like him, trying to deal with the conundrum of meaninglessness that secularism produces. All the pandering platitudes and pointless philosophizing in the world can’t reconcile the awful emptiness that godlessness produces. Rushkoff’s quote reeks of desperation. It’s as if he’s trying to force the square peg of meaning into the circular slot of secularism. To his credit, at least he’s attempting to face the nothingness of secularism. He’s honest enough to admit that his worldview relegates us all to overadvanced fungi and bacteria hurtling through a galaxy in cold, meaningless space. His feeble attempt to insert meaning and purpose into this worldview falls flat on its face. Any intellectually honest person knows that if this trendy shift away from belief in God continues, there will be a catastrophic fallout in the collective human psyche.

All the pandering platitudes and pointless philosophizing in the world can’t reconcile the awful emptiness that godlessness produces.

Any intellectually honest person knows that if this trendy shift away from belief in God continues, there will be a catastrophic fallout in the collective human psyche.

I suspect that much of the world’s woes are precursors to this fallout. Many societal problems are directly linked to the psychological and spiritual disruption that occurs when humans start thinking of themselves as animals. Higher evolved perhaps, but animals, nonetheless. Even worse, what if large swaths of humanity adopt Rushkoff’s view and seriously think of humanity as being little more than bacteria? At least most people like animals, but no one likes or cares for fungi. Certainly, dangerous ideas have real-life consequences.

Many societal problems are directly linked to the psychological and spiritual disruption that occurs when humans start thinking of themselves as animals. Higher evolved perhaps, but animals, nonetheless.

HOW CAN IT FEEL SO WRONG IF THERE’S NO WRONG?

The repercussions of a perceived godless universe are already being felt in big and small ways. I believe the growing suicide rates indicate how a perceived world without eternal purpose affects people mentally. The staggering statistics on mass depression and substance abuse also highlight the failures of secularism. Secular thinkers are perplexed by the dilemma of a wildly advanced civilization filled with unhappy citizens. Our world has more wealth, health, comfort, entertainment, and prosperity than any other generation in civilization’s history. Yet, we are plagued with dissatisfaction, disappointment, and disenfranchisement. Predictably, while society encourages and celebrates freedom from religion, the warm fuzzy feelings quickly fade into a haze of melancholia.

Secular thinkers are perplexed by the dilemma of a wildly advanced civilization filled with unhappy citizens.

Our world has more wealth, health, comfort, entertainment, and prosperity than any other generation in civilization’s history. Yet, we are plagued with dissatisfaction, disappointment, and disenfranchisement.

Take racism, for example, an issue that is currently spotlighted in our nation. Many agnostic millennials are waking up to the shortcomings of their worldview. For instance, without a God, there is no such thing as tangible intrinsic human rights or freedoms. If we weren’t created equally by God and we’re just overadvanced fungi, what makes racism wrong? What makes anything wrong? Why would euthanasia be wrong? Why would suicide be wrong? Why would hatred, bigotry, dislike, or injustice be wrong? The very word injustice implies an intrinsic human right, but humanity doesn’t have inherent rights without God. Without God, the world is just an animalistic fight for survival where only the fittest survive.

Without a God, there is no such thing as tangible intrinsic human rights or freedoms. If we weren’t created equally by God and we’re just overadvanced fungi, what makes racism wrong? What makes anything wrong?

The very word injustice implies an intrinsic human right, but humanity doesn’t have inherent rights without God. Without God, the world is just an animalistic fight for survival where only the fittest survive.

Without God, we’re all just little specks looking for some silly bits of meaning in a vast ocean of nothingness. Try as they might, godless philosophers and thought leaders can’t change that reality because it’s the logical dead end to a series of agonizingly long and twisted veins of faulty philosophies.

Without God, we’re all just little specks looking for meaning in a vast ocean of nothingness. Godless philosophers can’t change that reality because it’s the logical dead end to a series of agonizingly long and twisted veins of philosophy.

INCUBATION, INEBRIATION, INHIBITION, HANGOVER

Like all philosophies (and sins), there’s a kind of early incubation period. During incubation, a new albeit terrible idea basks in the warmth of shiny newness. Of course, there’s nothing new under the sun, but mankind has a gullible tendency to mistake ancient sins for brand new brilliant ideas. The “new” worldview temporarily blooms into an exciting “free” way of life, unshackled by the silliness of past ideologies, morals, standards, or antiquated religious reverences.

Mankind has a gullible tendency to mistake old sins for brand new brilliant ideas. The new worldview temporarily blooms into an exciting free way of life, unshackled by past ideologies, morals, standards, or antiquated religious reverences.

For a long time, the Western Hemisphere has enjoyed the inebriations of heady Rushkoffian philosophies. Secular society has tried hard to create its own brand of morality from nothingness. The inebriation produces predictable inhibitions. They’ve been comfortably intoxicated with the exhilaration of their “new” notions, but for many, the hangover phase is kicking in. The stark realization that most secular “moralities” are poorly imitated holdovers from the Judeo-Christian worldview is unsettling. Morality always unravels without the involvement and recognition of humanity’s Divine Creator.

Morality always unravels without the involvement and recognition of humanity’s Divine Creator.

THE GROWING DIVIDE

There was a time when secularists and Christians agreed that certain things were considered sacred. They treated those things with reverence. For example, most agreed human life was sacred and should be treated with reverence. Most agreed there was something sacred about the innocence of children and that children should be protected. Most agreed freedom and common decencies were sacred. The family was also considered sacred by most of society. But an alarmingly large number of secularists hold their noses in disdain at the very mention of things we used to have in common.

THE DEATH OF REVERENCE

I could fill lots of paragraphs with examples of how society is cheapening the value of human life. The abortion issue alone could fill volumes of books. Certainly, secular society gives lip service to the sanctity of life, but they are increasingly less interested in protecting the lives of those who are in disagreement with their worldview. And, of course, the slow decline of the family unit has been documented for decades. Society can’t even agree to call biological men, men and biological women, women (and supposedly Christians are the science “deniers”). It’s not even socially acceptable to teach children that a family consists of a biological mom and a biological dad who are married. So, how can we expect the family unit (the basic fundamental building block of society) to thrive?

Secular society gives lip service to the sanctity of life, but they are increasingly less interested in protecting the lives of those who are in disagreement with their worldview.

It’s not even socially acceptable to teach children that a family consists of a biological mom and a biological dad who are married. So, how can we expect the family unit (the basic fundamental building block of society) to thrive?

Furthermore, marriage is viewed more and more as antiquated. Admittedly, if marriage isn’t a sacred covenant between a man, a woman, and God, it is pretty ridiculous. Western culture’s respect for marriage’s sanctity bit the dust when gay marriage was legalized and celebrated. To be sure, it was already gasping its last breaths, but it officially died with that legal pronouncement. Culture can’t even define the family properly anymore. Ironically, even morally ambiguous counterfeit Christians got more than they bargained for after supporting the homosexual agenda. Most liberal Christians never dreamed the transgender agenda would be the next culture battle. But if life, family, and marriage aren’t sacred or definable, sexuality isn’t either. Western society had already been pushed down the slippery slope of letting go of holy things. Vast groups of carnal gullible Christians became willing conspirators in the destruction of yet another holy and sacred institution, marriage, and family.

IT ONLY GETS WORSE

Ok. I’ll admit it! I really like to say, I told you so. But this is one situation where I desperately wish my predictions had been wrong. Years ago, on this blog, I predicted that pedophilia would become socially acceptable. My prophecy was met with incredulity, mockery, and dismissiveness. I was called a fear-monger and worse. Atheists told me that children were the last sacred totem. I couldn’t help but roll my eyes at that because I’m fully aware of the massive abortion rates. At that time, science was already definitively affirming anti-abortionists’ position, yet secular culture didn’t care at all. So, why would I believe children are any safer out of the womb than in the womb? I didn’t believe it then, and I really don’t believe it now!

A recent TED Talk entitled Why Our Perception of Pedophilia Has to Change is just one of many disgusting examples of how pedophilia is being normalized in culture. Pedophiles are brazenly referring to themselves as Minor Attracted Persons or MAPs. The internet is filled with MAPs going public and beginning their sexual revolution. Much of the so-called scientific research in this area is trending more favorably towards the MAPs community. One recent study (The Internalization of Social Stigma Among Minor-Attracted Persons: Implications for Treatment) reports that 5% of the world’s population might be MAPs. The overwhelming reports of child molestation coupled with the bleak knowledge that most child molestation cases go unreported lend credence to the 5% theory. With that kind of percentage, the societal push for destigmatization will only grow stronger. One day soon, there will be no social stigma for MAPs.

NETFLIX HITS A NEW LOW

As if on cue, while writing this article, Netflix announced the release of a new show called Cuties, where little girls are explicitly sexualized in bizarre and repulsive ways. Girls as young as eleven are scantily dressed and perform sexually provocative dance routines. Children’s hyper-sexualization is hardly a first for the entertainment culture, but it is one of the more unblushingly pro MAPs shows ever released to the general public. It would do us all well to remember how the gay agenda used this same kind of strategy to normalize itself in the public eye. Little by little, shows were littered with overt references and subtle instances of homosexuality. Western culture was predictably desensitized over a relatively short period of time. History is repeating itself, but now innocent children will suffer because of our godless culture (godless churches aren’t helping either, but that’s a different blog for a different day).

DON’T PANIC! PRAY!

Keeping all of this in mind, it’s little wonder secular culture doesn’t value or consider it worthwhile to protect Christians’ religious freedoms or their churches. This long trending cultural shift makes the Church more countercultural than it’s ever been in modern times. I want to quickly look at how the Church should and should not respond to the death of reverence taking place right before our eyes. Of course, it’s easy to feel panicky when the world seems to be in a moral death spiral. But rather than panic, why don’t we commit ourselves to prayer as never before? Prayer will stabilize us and make a difference in the world around us. Prayer isn’t simplistic or naive. It isn’t a lesser course of action than other pursuits. Instead, prayer is the action by which all other actions are judged. Nothing else we do could ever match the importance of praying over our world.

Prayer will stabilize us and make a difference in the world around us. Prayer isn’t simplistic or naive. It isn’t a lesser course of action than other pursuits.

Prayer is the action by which all other actions are judged. Nothing else we do could ever match the importance of praying over our world.

BE SUPER SERIOUS ABOUT SACRED THINGS

In response to society’s drastic shift away from reverence, the Church should contrast itself by intensifying our respect and awe for sacred things. Our gatherings should be filled with a sense of reverence and majesty. I’m not talking about stuffy formalities; however, we must resist the external pressure to approach the things of God flippantly or casually. I’ve long contended our attire is a reflection of our sense of reverence for the house of God. We should oppose societal pressure to approach corporate worship casually in demeanor, clothing, focus, and attention. We must prioritize sacred things above the secular. For example, jobs, relaxation, and entertainment should never be prioritized over the sacred. Even family time shouldn’t be prioritized above sacred things. Family time should always be a major priority, but it should be balanced so the sacred isn’t infringed upon. When Christians consistently prioritize the secular over the sacred, it signifies the impending death of reverence in their hearts.

In response to society’s drastic shift away from reverence, the Church should contrast itself by intensifying our respect and awe for sacred things. Our gatherings should be filled with a sense of reverence and majesty.

We should oppose societal pressure to approach corporate worship casually in demeanor, clothing, focus, and attention. We must prioritize sacred things above the secular.

When Christians consistently prioritize the secular over the sacred, it signifies the impending death of reverence in their hearts.

You don’t have to go back too far in history to remember a time when American culture kept Sunday’s sacred on a national level. Even the irreligious enjoyed the benefits of work-free Sundays. Now, Christians are caught between the need to be in the workplace and the need to keep the Sabbath. But Christens must have the courage to put God first and trust Him to bless their faithfulness. This is an essential area where Christians must win the battle, or we will not stand when more significant battles move to the forefront. If we can’t prioritize God over our finances, how will we prioritize Him over our lives if needed?

BEWARE OF ALPHABET SOUP

Logical fallacies are fake or deceptive arguments that seem irrefutable but prove nothing. Fallacies often seem superficially sound, and far too often, they retain immense persuasive power even after being exposed as false. Alphabet Soup is a fairly modern fallacy where a person or group inappropriately overuses acronyms, abbreviations, form numbers, and arcane insider “shop talk” primarily to prove to people that an individual “speaks their language” and is “one of them.” Secondarily, people use Alphabet Soup to shut out, confuse, condescend, or to impress outsiders. Officially showing someone, they are on the outside looking in. For example, “It’s not uncommon for a KC-113 with ABC to be both GW and YB;” “I had a twenty-minute DX Q-so on 17with a SED-Q12 and a couple of SQ’s even though the QR-JANE was 34 over B10;” or “I hope I’ll keep on seeing my JNT on my HVL until the day I get my WW511.”

You get the picture. Alphabet Soup is a great way to misdirect someone from noticing you don’t actually know what you’re talking about. And, it’s a wonderful way to keep people at arm’s length by intimidating them into assuming you know things you don’t really know. Secularists use this pseudo-intellectual insider jargon all the time to make Christians feel feeble or out of touch. They use made-up phrases and talk about elaborate unprovable theories as if they are cold hard facts. They blather about billions of years and trillions of eons as if they know something with certainty they don’t even understand partially. It’s a condescending, intellectually dishonest way of dominating any form of real debate before it even begins.

Secularists use this pseudo-intellectual insider jargon all the time to make Christians feel feeble or out of touch. They use made-up phrases and talk about elaborate unprovable theories as if they are cold hard facts.

Secularists blather about billions of years and trillions of eons as if they know something with certainty they don’t understand partially. It’s a condescending, intellectually dishonest way of dominating a debate before it even begins.

REFUSE TO BE MARGINALIZED

We must not allow ourselves to be marginalized or bullied into silence. If you know Jesus, you know more than the most highly educated atheist in the world. Refuse to be overlooked because of your faith. Be vocal, confidant, and unashamed.

If you know Jesus, you know more than the most highly educated atheist in the world. Refuse to be overlooked because of your faith. Be vocal, confidant, and unashamed.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Initially, I set out to write an article about irreverent behaviors creeping into everyday Christian life and church services. You know, things like cell phones lit up throughout preaching. And, one of my biggest pet peeves; talking and joking around during altar services. Empty prayer rooms, grungy casual attire, disrespect towards ministry, disrespect towards elders, immodesty, untouched Bibles, and the list goes on. But while pondering these problems, I realized these are just spiritual manifestations of much deeper cultural problems ineluctably bleeding into the Church. Everywhere I look, irreverence seems to be the norm. The dereverencing and dismantling of traditional institutions like faith, family, honesty, and morality are eroding ordinary everyday life. The needed human perceptions of majesty, grandeur, and transcendent supernatural accouterments are sadly lacking even within sincere religious settings. We live in a post-respect, post-truth, post-logic, post-virtue secular society. That secular mindset has imperceptibly influenced unsuspecting Christians.

Everywhere I look, irreverence seems to be the norm. The dereverencing and dismantling of traditional institutions like faith, family, honesty, and morality are eroding ordinary everyday life.

The needed human perceptions of majesty, grandeur, and transcendent supernatural accouterments are sadly lacking even within sincere religious settings.

We live in a post-respect, post-truth, post-logic, post-virtue secular society. That secular mindset has imperceptibly influenced unsuspecting Christians.

How has this happened? Well, mostly through secular educational systems that work to legitimize secular evolutionary philosophies and stigmatize religious viewpoints. No longer can Christians unthinkingly hand their children over to be influenced carte blanche by secular educators from preschool to the end of college. Colleges are especially egregious in their cultural brainwashing efforts. This doesn’t mean we should become anti-education. On the contrary, we should be more educated than ever before. However, we must promote positive educational reforms and demand a seat at the table within educational systems.

Beyond that, Christians have allowed secular media to dominate their time and captivate their thinking for far too long. When the elders abstained from television and movies before television and movies were really all that bad, they had spiritual foresight. In the name of freedom and progress, many Christians engage in grotesquely sacrilegious and immoral viewing regularly. I know pointing out television is antiquated. Television is quickly becoming a thing of the past. But the ever-expanding web of the internet is far more dangerous than television could ever be. Not to mention the sticky world of social media and it’s mostly unknown negative impacts on the human psyche. It would be incredibly naive and foolish for the Church to ignore the vast powers of all media sources to influence, infiltrate, desensitize, destabilize, demoralize, and stigmatize the holy things of God.

Christians have allowed secular media to dominate their time and captivate their thinking for far too long.

In the name of freedom and progress, many Christians engage in grotesquely sacrilegious and immoral viewing regularly.

It would be incredibly naive and foolish for the Church to ignore the vast powers of all media sources to influence, infiltrate, desensitize, destabilize, demoralize, and stigmatize the holy things of God.

But the Church is shaking itself loose of past naivety. We are learning to recognize what reverence looks like when it is dying. It isn’t too late for the Church. The only hope for the world is a sanctified Church calling them to repentance and a supernatural Holy Ghost encounter with God.

“But the end of all things is at hand: be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer (1 Peter 4:7).”

The only hope for the world is a sanctified Church calling them to repentance and a supernatural Holy Ghost encounter with God.

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

An unseen microscopic viral enemy is bringing the world economy to its knees and taking lives. Whether you believe the worldwide response has been warranted or irresponsible the impact of COVID-19 is tangible and far reaching. Secular and religious organizations alike have been forced to make difficult choices in these uncertain times. Churches are closing their doors to corporate worship and frantically ramping up live stream capabilities. Even now, we just aren’t sure how long this threat will last.

Because this is all so unprecedented and strange (for modern times) there’s not many resources teaching us how to think or react to the events unfolding around us. Godly saints are especially vulnerable during this time of disconnection between one another and pastoral leadership. Opinions abound, but wisdom and common sense are precious, hard to find commodities. Consider this a starter manual for spiritually navigating these uncertain times. This beginner manual will certainly need to be updated and revised over time, and applied to new and changing situations. However, it’s at least a start as we all prayerfully wait on the Lord.

Gathering Still Matters!

While nobly attempting to remain boldly optimistic, many leaders and saints have overblown the impact of having virtual church. This sends mixed messages to people about the continued need for the Church to gather together for corporate worship on a regular basis. Just because we temporarily can’t have church, doesn’t mean we aren’t desperately in need of having church.

To clarify, I’m all for live streaming and getting the Gospel out with every high-tech or low-tech tool available. However, nothing can, should, or will replace the necessity of the assembling of the Church. Beyond that, live streaming isn’t some sparkling new thing that just materialized because of the Corona pandemic. It’s been around for a long time and it can be a great blessing in certain situations. But, it simply cannot compare to what happens when God’s people get together and unify in faith, fellowship, worship, praise, prayer, preaching, and power.

Yes. The Church is not a building. Yes. The Church should be the Church outside of the building. But everyone stuck at home, watching live streaming in their pajamas while eating Lucky Charms, isn’t exactly an epic unleashing of the Church. It’s great to be positive, but let’s not be silly and trivial about the importance of corporate worship.

Trust Your Pastor In Times of Crisis

I’ll echo what many wise folks have already voiced: Your pastor has never pastored in a pandemic before, and he wants what’s best for the church more than anyone else. Pastors are doing their absolute level best to love, protect, and care for their flocks during this crazy and confusing time. They have to answer to God for the decisions they make during this season. They don’t need Monday morning quarter backs criticizing their every decision.

It’s important to note that God may direct one pastor differently than another pastor. Every church has a different dynamic. If you’ve ever trusted your pastor, trust him during this time. If you’ve ever supported your pastor, support him during this time. Your support means more to him than you can imagine. Either you believe your pastor is a God-called under-shepherd over your life or you don’t. Times of crisis reveal the heart; take inventory of your heart in times of crisis.

Speaking of the Heart

If mass social distancing and quarantines have taught me anything, it’s that we have taken too many luxuries for granted. Other nations struggle with hunger, but we feel majorly distressed if we can’t find our favorite brand of coffee creamer. We are, without a doubt, a spoiled people. We are totally unfamiliar with genuine sacrifice or deprivation.

We take our freedoms for granted, including our religious liberties, because we have been too busy and distracted with luxuries. As a nation, we have trended towards less and less church gatherings, and many Christians casually skip church for silly non-essential reasons.

We Americans make plenty of time for the internet, social media, Netflix, and sports; yet we struggle to find time for prayer and spiritual gatherings. This reveals an American heart problem. We are busy doing everything, except for the things that matter the most. Suddenly, when church buildings are temporarily closed our deep need for spiritual connectedness becomes crystal clear.

Many Christians are learning for the first time that sports are little more than a frivolous distraction from reality. We can and should spend more time with our families. Careers aren’t everything and economies and markets are fickle friends that will betray us without warning. Governments can’t save us or even really protect us from every threat. In other words, uncertain times clarify the things that truly matter in our lives. It gives us perspective. And, hopefully a fresh wellspring of gratitude for God and family is bursting into our national consciousness.

The things we care about most are far more fragile than we realize when the busyness of life jerks us from activity to activity. Maybe, just maybe, God is trying to slow us down long enough to remember to keep the main things the main thing. No. I don’t mean that God sent a COVID-19 plague upon the world. However, I do believe God would have us learn lessons in our crisis moments.

Speaking of Crisis Moments

Many people’s finances are being adversely impacted by the quarantines. Jobs are disappearing at staggering rates. Others are enduring layoffs and having their hours slashed. Businesses and small business owners are going under while others are hanging by a thread. If you aren’t being financially effected, you probably know many people who are being effected right now.

With that said, churches still need supported so they can survive this crisis too. If you still have income (be grateful) and be sure to get your tithes to the storehouse of God. Don’t take a vacation from giving God what is already His. That’s a sure way to lose His blessings over your life.

I’ve heard many reports of churches that are unable to pay their regular bills. Newer churches, and smaller to midsize churches in large numbers are facing financial collapse if things don’t change soon. There’s no government bailout for churches. And the church shouldn’t need a government bailout anyway. Let’s just keep being the Church like they were in the book of Acts. If the Early Church could find a way to faithfully give (without the internet) in the middle of literal physical persecution, we can too.

We Always Do Better Under Pressure

God’s true Church has always thrived under pressure. In fact, we seem to spiritually flourish in tough times and become spiritually anemic in times of ease. That was certainly true of the original book of Acts Church, and we see that same phenomenon in the great revivals and spiritual awakenings throughout history. Tremendous apostolic outpourings of the Holy Ghost were poured out during the Great Depression. Those revivals continued to spread even during the first and second World Wars. History is replete with examples of powerful revivals in crisis seasons and spiritual decline in seasons of prosperity. Just look at the reports from economically depressed, and physically oppressed countries outside of the United States. They have constant miracles, church growth, signs, wonders, and spiritual hunger in those regions. Why? Because the Church thrives under pressure and persecution.

But why does the Church thrive under pressure? And, why does the Church seem to struggle with prosperity? I could get very preachy and talk about how the love of money is the root of all evil (1 Timothy 6:10), but it’s deeper than just loving money and stuff too much. That’s just part of the overall problem. I think (and I’m preaching to myself), in times of ease we lean to our own understanding (Proverbs 3:5-6) rather than leaning on the Lord. We rely on ourselves more and rely on God less. Essentially, we take God for granted without even meaning to do so. But times of crisis push us back into the arms of Christ. Pressure keeps us razor sharp and keenly focused on God. When we run out of options and resources, we come sheepishly back to our Creator for rescue. And, He rescues us because He loves us with a deep love.

This Will Pass

We’ll move from this valley to a mountaintop, and dip back into another valley. There’s a time and a season for everything under the sun (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8). Perhaps God will teach some of us how to cry out to Him in our distress and face our fears and faithlessness (Mark 4:37-41). Maybe God will show some of us that we can walk on water and overcome the impossible if we keep our eyes fixed on Him (Matthew 14:22-33). How wonderful would it be if the Church rediscovered the power and importance of prayer meetings like the book of Acts Church (Acts 2:1-2, Acts 4:23-24, Acts 12:5-12, Acts 16:25)? The Church can and will continue to turn the world upside down (Acts 17:6) in the midst of pressure. However, when the pressure passes, let’s keep the lessons and priorities we have learned close to heart.

The Adversity Advantage

I don’t like adversity! I like things to go as planned. I like all the ducks to be in nice neat little orderly rows. My heart sinks when adversity comes because my gut reaction assumes that adversity is always an enormous disadvantage. We don’t want to be the underdog or feel like we picked the short straw in life.

Sadly, by viewing adversity as a tremendous negative, we often create self-fulfilling prophecies. We lose because we think we’re going to lose. We fail because we believe adversaries have the advantage. In reality, the reverse is true. Adversity can be a tremendous advantage in life. I know it sounds crazy, but adversity can actually be the catalyst for your greatest achievements. Lots of anxiety can be avoided by merely recalibrating the way we think about and react to adversity.

By viewing adversity as a negative, we create self-fulfilling prophecies. We lose because we think we’re going to lose. We fail because we believe adversaries have the advantage. The reverse is true. Adversity can be an advantage in life.

Adversity Reveals the Heart

Adversity serves to sharpen and reveal what was already inside of you in the first place. If you are faithless, adversity pushes that to the surface. If you are fearful, adversity pushes that to the surface. If you lack integrity, adversity reveals it. If you are strong, adversity reveals strengths you didn’t even know you had. If you are anointed, adversity forces you to dig deep into wells you didn’t know existed. If you are prayerful, adversity takes you to places in prayer you did not know were possible. For example, Gideon didn’t think he was a mighty man of valor until adversity combined with the voice of God revealed what was already inside of him (Judges 6:12). People don’t backslide because of adversity. They backslide because adversity revealed their heart. People aren’t anointed because of adversity. Adversity just reveals what was already in them.

Adversity sharpens and reveals what was already inside of you. If you are faithless, adversity pushes that to the surface. If you are fearful, adversity pushes it to the surface. If you lack integrity, adversity reveals it.

If you’re strong, adversity reveals strengths you didn’t know you had. If you’re anointed, it forces you to dig deep into wells you didn’t know existed. If you’re prayerful, it takes you to places in prayer you didn’t know were possible.

God Strategically Prepares Underdogs

In Malcolm Gladwell’s book David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants, Gladwell makes several observations about the biblical account of David’s victory over Goliath. He points out that most readers have understandably incorrect misconceptions about David’s underdog status in that conflict. Yes. Goliath was bigger and stronger and heavily armed with powerful conventional weapons. Certainly, Goliath was intimidating and imposing; he had the appearance of advantage. However, any modern battle strategist would tell you that being light, fast, mobile, and having a long-range weapon constitutes a distinct advantage over a big, slow, cumbersome opponent carrying a close-range weapon. David was viewed as the underdog, but he would likely be considered the favorite in that fight in a modern context.

Gladwell misses a crucial point in his book, a point that makes all the difference. While it’s true that David might not have been quite the underdog most people considered him to be, he was only equipped for that victory because of the adversity God had allowed in his life while tending his father’s sheep. In other words, God was preparing him for victory with every season of difficulty he endured. Every adversity God allows you to endure prepares you for a greater victory in the future.

David was only equipped for victory over Goliath because of the adversity God allowed in his life while tending his father’s sheep. In other words, God was preparing him for victory with every season of difficulty he endured.

Every adversity God allows you to endure prepares you for a greater victory in the future.

It’s hard in the difficult moments to see Goliath as anything but terrible adversity. But, adversity (Goliath) is really a God-given opportunity. David only escaped the obscurity of tending sheep by successfully facing off against adversity. He was equipped for Goliath because of precious adversities (killing the lion and the bear). His life was forever changed for the good because of adversity. That trial wasn’t his last trial, but it was the trial that opened the door for continued opportunity and growth as a leader and a man of God.

It’s hard in the difficult moments to see Goliath as anything but terrible adversity. But, adversity is really a God-given opportunity. David only escaped the obscurity of tending sheep by successfully facing off against adversity.

If you’re facing giants, be encouraged, good things ultimately come from adversity if you depend on the Lord to give you victory.

If you’re facing giants, be encouraged, good things ultimately come from adversity if you depend on the Lord to give you victory.

Should Christians Celebrate Christmas?

The irony of the Christmas debate never ceases to amaze me. On the one hand, secular culture tries hard to take Christ out of Christmas. To them, Christmas is just another holiday. On the other hand, a noisy 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 vaguer and obscure. Everyone pretty much just did their own thing and went on with their lives. But social media gets people from every side of the Christmas issue at one another’s throats. Many people feel the need to state their opinions firmly, 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.

Secular Objections to Christmas

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).

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, 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 consider us a genuinely Christian nation any longer; however, we Christians have every right biblically and constitutionally to voice our faith loud and long.

If “pagans” consider Christmas too Christian for comfort, Christmas is clearly not a pagan holiday.

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, we must be offensive; if Christians become timid about a story as innocuous as the Messiah’s birth, then we won’t have the courage to talk about His death and resurrection. I have no sympathy for the secular objections to Christmas, and you shouldn’t either.

If talking about Emmanuel (God with us) publicly is offensive, we must be offensive; if Christians become timid about a story as innocuous as the Messiah’s birth, then we won’t have the courage to talk about His death and resurrection.

Christian Objections to Christmas

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, unnecessary, and destroys everyone’s credibility. While I 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 beliefs are not founded on concrete facts. Nor do I think anti-Christmas convictions are worthy of imposing on fellow believers.

Indeed, we don’t actually know the exact date of Jesus’ birth. And it’s improbable 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 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 about Jesus seems like something every Christian should be excited about.

It’s true 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 disinterested shrug of the shoulders. If the Bible prohibited celebrating the birth of Jesus, I would be all ears and entirely on board with anti-Christmas sentiments. However, Scripture gives us important details surrounding the miraculous birth of the Messiah (Matthew 1:1-24Matthew 2:1-23Luke 1:26-66Luke 2:1-40John 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 22:18Numbers 24:17Isaiah 11:1Jeremiah 23:5-62 Samuel 7:12-14Micah 5:2Isaiah 7:14Psalm 72:9-10Jeremiah 31:15Hosea 11:1Isaiah 9:6-7). It’s safe to say many Scriptures affirm 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 verification methods (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 daily. 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

The Christmas tree debate is probably the most common concern for Christians. It’s an extension of the pagan roots concern, but this concern should be taken a little more seriously because two Bible passages can be distressing at first glance (Jeremiah 10:1-16Isaiah 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 to create 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 handmade idols. This biblical command applies to everything other than God alone. Worshipping a tree or anything else would indeed 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.

A Christian Objection to Commercialism

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 exposing people to godly environments that can implant a seed of God’s Word into their consciousness.

Christmas brings families together and connects thoughts of Jesus with happy family memories.

A Most Wonderful Time to Witness the Oneness

For Oneness Pentecostals, Christmas is a fantastic 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 1:15John 1:1John 1:14Philippians 2:6-71 Timothy 3:16). Christmas is an excellent time to emphasize that Emmanuel (Isaiah 7:14Matthew 1:22-23) 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 most precise 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).”

For Oneness Pentecostals, Christmas is a fantastic opportunity to expose others to the great revelation that Jesus was the mighty God in Christ

What kind of deity would send 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 (1 Timothy 3:16).

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, causing Thomas to ask Jesus where He was going and how would they know the way (John 14:5)? In verse six, Jesus’ most famous response is 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.

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.

“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).”


Podcast | Should Christians Celebrate Christmas?

This article was recently featured on the Apostolic Voice podcast with a few added bonuses. I hope you enjoy the episode as much as I enjoyed making it.

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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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Charlie Gard and the Value of Human Life

The tragic story of baby Charlie Gard has garnered international attention and instigated fresh debates over the value of human life. Charlie was born in the U.K. last August with a rare life threatening genetic condition (you can read more about the details here). Long story short, although Charlie’s parents have raised over 1.6 million dollars to send their baby to a facility willing to use potentially lifesaving experimental treatments, a British hospital is refusing their requests. In fact, they are escalating the situation by threatening to remove Charlie from life support against the wishes of his parents (read more on that here).

This entire story is staggering. It spotlights several cultural moral dilemmas that are reaching a boiling point. For example, does all human life have intrinsic value? Should government bureaucracies have the authority to overrule parents in matters of life and death? Would abortion have been the compassionate option had the parents known of his condition in advance? The answers to these questions have far-reaching, and quite literally, life threatening ramifications.

Like Charlie, I too was born with a rare genetic life-threatening condition. I was born “blue” and underwent four open heart surgeries before age six. But the relevant piece of information for this discussion is that prior to 1981 (I was born in 1983) my life (barring a supernatural miracle) would have ended very quickly. In the decades prior, surgery on a “tet” baby was extremely experimental, and it was still experimental even in the 80’s. I am incredibly grateful for the lifesaving work of numerous doctors and nurses on my behalf, and for the many miracles that God supplied when the medical community came up short. On a personal level, Charlie’s case strikes a chord with me. But beyond that, my Christian faith shapes my opinions regarding life as well.

In all our theological pontifications, there are few things more foundational to a biblical worldview than the sacred value of a human life. At the creation of the world, God breathed the breath of life into mankind and man became a living soul (Genesis 2:7). The Christian understanding of life is predicated upon the reality that every life is a gift from God. Since life is given by God and sustained by God; it belongs to God and we do not have absolute autonomy over human life. We are simply stewards of our own lives and the lives of others. Therefore, all human life must be cherished and guarded. Furthermore, the protection of human life should absolutely be extended to unborn children too (Psalm 139:13, Psalm 51:5, Exodus 23:7, Proverbs 6:16-17).

Oddly enough, I find Christians to be shockingly quiet on issues of abortion, euthanasia, and the intrinsic value of human life. I’ve written in the past (you can read about it here) on the secularistic tendency to value animal life as equal to, and sometimes more valuable, than human life. This trend has gone largely unnoticed within the Christian bubble. Honestly, I’m not sure why my fellow Christians are unwilling to confront these dangerous ideologies head on. But this I know, if I were to post an article entitled How to Get Your Blessing Right Now it would get only slightly less attention than a YouTube video full of puppies. But if I post an article about the genocide of nearly 70 million unborn babies? Crickets. This ought not to be so.

Back to little Charlie, Europe is at the tail end of an existential crisis. Secularism, humanism, rationalism, atheism, and several other “isms” are reaching a shrill crescendo. America isn’t too far behind them either. Chillingly, when you read statements given by the faceless authorities who hold Charlie’s life in the balance, they use words like “dignity” and “compassion”. These are the same buzzwords Hitler used in the years leading up to the mass sterilization of the “unwanted”. The disabled and retarded were euthanized under the guise of “mercy”.

The “live and let live” crowd of the 60’s has morphed into the mindset of Job’s wife. Remember, while Job was physically and emotionally broken his wife said, “Just curse God and die (Job 2:9).” In a world, fraught with relativism, the “curse God and die” mantra is the natural evolution of poisonous philosophies.

Devoted Christians have long noticed the intolerant tolerance of societies at large. Behind the “just love everybody and adopt a puppy” platitudes there is a reckless disregard for everything sacred. We know this because we’ve been victimized and demonized by the “can’t we all just get along and hug a tree” crowd for decades. For example, secularism saves whales with religious zeal but demonizes Christians who desperately want to save the lives of unborn babies. In Charlie’s case, European secularism pats itself on the back for universal healthcare while planning to pull the plug on a helpless child against the wishes of his loving parents.

That’s the irony of relativistic morality; it calls murder compassionate, or merciful, or a woman’s choice, or whatever it wants because there is no authority beyond whoever wields the most power. Once you remove God from the equation anything is possible and the person with the most power gets to call evil good or good evil. History teaches us that godless relativism favors the wealthy, the attractive, the healthy, the like-minded, and the strong. However, it always poses a great danger to the weak, the religious, the poor, the sick, and the noncompliant.

I’m praying for Charlie tonight, and all the other Charlie’s out there who we’ve never heard about. My heart breaks for his parents. Whatever happens, their journey is just beginning. I pray they will have the strength to endure the road ahead. I’m praying that Christians everywhere would find the courage of their convictions. And I’m praying for a misguided world that desperately needs God.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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).