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 is to assume that adversity is always a gigantic 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 think 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 simply recalibrating the way we think about, and react to, adversity.

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 know 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 on them.

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 in a modern context he would likely be considered the favorite in that fight.

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.

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.

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

What Churches Can Learn From Chik-fil-a

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)…”

Top 10 Articles of 2019

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.

Politically Incorrect Prophets (Speaking Truth In an Age of Timidity)

When modern ears hear words like “prophet” or “ prophecy” they typically invoke imagery of futuristic predictions or something sensationally mystical. Most people relegate the role of prophecy to the ancient scrolls of the Old Testament. And, prophecy does often involve a God given vision of the future. Furthermore, the prophetic role certainly seems more prominent in the Old Testament.

To understand the role of prophecy today we must begin by understanding the role of the ancient prophets. Otherwise, it’s like trying to understand algebra without a rudimentary knowledge of addition. It doesn’t take much casual browsing through Scripture to realize that prophets were intensely controversial, mostly misunderstood, extremely negative, and overwhelmingly politically incorrect.

Pre-Pentecost prophets were politically incorrect centuries before politically correct speech and behavior was embedded into mainstream culture. And, contrary to what most modern “prophets” peddle, their predictions of future events were rarely rosy. Their predictions were typically terror inducing warnings straight from the mind of God. Aside from eschatological prophets (like Daniel and Ezekiel), their warnings were anything but vague. Prophets were acutely aware of the looming death penalty if they lied or spoke out of turn (Deuteronomy 18:20-22). God despises false prophets who invoke His authority to speak lies or manipulate people to their own will (Jeremiah 23:9-40).

This was the backdrop which framed the mindset of true men of God. They feared the judgement of God and eschewed the opinions of men. To be sure, that nobility of heart and strength of moral character took a toll. Habakkuk felt abandoned by God (Habakkuk 1:2-11), Jeremiah mourned the prosperity of the wicked and felt the loneliness of being discounted (Jeremiah 12:1-4, Jeremiah 20:8), Elijah longed for death (1 Kings 19:4), Noah succumbed to strong drink after the fulfillment of his prophecy of worldwide judgement (9:21), Hosea was forced to marry an unloving prostitute (Hosea 1:2) and endure a lifetime of heartbreak.

Their difficulties and struggles don’t make the prophetic calling particularly compelling. Modern readers glamorize the prophetic life, but the reality described in Scripture is sacred, scary, and sacrosanct. To put it mildly, most people claiming the prophetic gifting have more in common with Balaam than Elisha.

To convolute the existing confusion surrounding prophecy, the definition itself is mostly misunderstood. Old Testament prophets did more than predict the future. They bubbled forth the Word of the Lord. They were God’s mouthpiece. They spoke what God spoke regardless of the personal repercussions. They taught, they reproved, they rebuked, they informed, they corrected, and they did all of this with long-suffering. In other words, they operated much like the preachers described in the book of Acts. That being said, in many ways all preachers carry the prophetic mantle.

The five-fold ministry (Ephesians 4:11-13) is mostly divided into distinctly separate categories by apostolic thinkers. Apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers are usually viewed as non-overlapping roles. Even those who theologically recognize the simplistic nature of this way of thinking revert back to it in practice. However, every New Testament preacher operates with a blending of the five-fold ministries. The prophetic mantle rests on the shoulders of every God-called preacher of the Gospel regardless of official title or position.

Modern preachers should be fountains that bubble forth the pure Word of God. They are keepers of the Word and carriers of the cross. They are the original truth to power brokers. Tweaking the Word for convenience is unacceptable in the eyes of God. Refusing to speak the full revelation of God’s Word is a perversion of the prophetic office. To pollute, dilute, or exclude any God-given words for profit is detestable and stirs the wrath of God.

I am genuinely concerned that many apostolic preachers are losing the courage to remain righteously counter-cultural and unavoidably politically incorrect. I say “unavoidably” because it’s not possible to be biblically correct and politically correct at the same time. Politically correct preachers are really just biblically incorrect preachers.

I’d rather eat glass than jump into impossible-to-resolve eschatological debates. And, there’s probably no stickier debate than the question of who the Two Witnesses are in Revelations chapter eleven (Revelation 11:3-12). However, it would be foolish to overlook the appearance of burlap-wearing, fire-breathing, element-controlling, loudly-testifying, plague-inducing, death-defying prophets roaming the streets in the last days. When God calls two witnesses to preach during apocalyptic times they will be eerily Old Testament in nature. And yet, more often than not, New Testament preachers seem frightfully out of step with the biblical prophetic legacy.

Every self-aware preacher wrestles inwardly with the tension that exists between their human desire to be excepted by men and their calling to be godly counter-cultural mouthpieces. Some bow, some bend, some break, and some refuse to surrender their will to anyone but God’s. No one really desires to be politically incorrect, but it’s the nature of the calling. The truth (especially God’s Truth) is rarely mainstream, annoyingly inconvenient, and stubbornly unchanging. The world desperately needs courageous modern godly mouthpieces that will speak the truth in an age of timidity.

I’ve noticed six growing tensions developing in the hearts of ministers in my lifetime. Every politically incorrect prophet must win these battles that rage within their own hearts, and resist the pressure to become just another name on the long list of false prophets. This is a genuine life and death, Heaven verses Hell battle between good and evil. Not only does their eternity hang in the balance, the souls of their followers do as well. Many have lost their stomach for the fight, others are just learning the importance of the struggle, and yet a powerful remnant of true prophetic men of God are stepping to the forefront of spiritual warfare.

Truth vs. Timidity

Post modernism has been eroding the perceived value of truth for at least sixty years. Just calling a biological man a man is considered borderline hate speech in our stupefied society. Peddlers of confusion malign and attack simple voices of reason. Spiritual truths are betrayed, minimized, and shunned by purveyors of moral ambiguity. Preachers are portrayed in pop culture as buffoonish curmudgeons or wild eyed lunatics. Sometimes, godly truth tellers are physically punished or stripped of their comforts.

In America, they are silently bullied and quietly derided (at least publicly) in an attempt to intimidate or embarrass them into submission. More and more, western preachers feel the urge to be timid about truth. They fear preaching controversial topics and eventually avoid speaking of the things God cares about altogether. But true men of God choose to shake off the shackles of timidity and speak the truth with boldness (Acts 28:32, Proverbs 28:1, Acts 4:13, Acts 4:31, Ephesians 6:19).

Clarity vs. Confusion

God is not the author of confusion (1 Corinthians 14:33). True prophets clarify. False prophets confuse and convolute. Genuine preachers aren’t vague, cryptic, or overly speculative in their preaching. If a prophetic preacher generates more confusion than revelation he’s more than likely a false prophet.

Conviction vs. Compromise

Have you ever noticed how excruciatingly uncomfortable the Last Supper must have been for the disciples? Judas was on the verge of betraying Jesus, and Jesus was painfully aware of that impending “kiss” of death. Judas was probably acting super strange. Jesus was always perfectly willing to make people squirm. So, naturally, He decided to mention a betrayer was in the room. That little grenade caused a lot of commotion.

As if that wasn’t enough drama for one night, Jesus took the opportunity to warn the disciples about all kinds of discouraging things (John 16:1-4). He told them they would be kicked out of synagogues and become societal outcasts. He even told them they would be killed by people who thought they were doing the work of God. Surely the disciples were thinking this is the kind of stuff we should have been told a long time ago. And, Jesus perceptively addressed those thoughts by assuring them that even though He was leaving in the flesh, He would remain with them in the Spirit (John 16:5-7).

During this revelatory conversation about the coming of the Holy Ghost, Jesus laid out a description of what the role of the Spirit would be on the earth (John 16:8-11). Jesus didn’t mince words, He said the Holy Spirit will convict people of their sin, reveal their need for righteousness, and warn them of the coming judgement. Notably, conviction is one of the primary roles of the Holy Ghost.

Conviction. Sin. Righteousness. Judgement. All of these are becoming taboo topics. But if these topics are the primary issues the Holy Spirit was sent to address than preachers who refuse to handle them are not Spirit filled. Compromising eventually places preachers in the position of actively resisting the work of the Spirit. Essentially, they become an enemy of God.

As people search for “safe” spaces and Truth is viewed more and more as confrontational hate speech, preachers are placed in a precarious situation. The temptation is to avoid conviction and replace it with an ooey gooey, warm and fuzzy brand of non-intrusive, conversational preaching. Please understand, there’s rarely a need to be intentionally offensive or off putting, but God’s Word usually offends carnal sensitivities. Conviction isn’t comfortable but it’s irreplaceable and completely necessary. In fact, preaching conviction is a huge part of the prophetic job description. Prophets who never preach conviction of sin into the hearts of their flock are not prophets at all.

Faith vs. Fear

The spirit of antichrist doesn’t care if prophets speak the truth as long as they whisper it in fear and cower in the corner. Fear is normal and often justified, but true prophets overcome their fears with faith. They preach fearful things, but they temper it with faith that encourages and edifies. They preach doom and coming judgment, but they also preach that faith will bring us into an eternal relationship with God that is blissful beyond comprehension. Faith and fear are not compatible. One eventually pushes the other out. True prophets allow faith to cast out their fears, and they inspire their followers to do the same.

Reverence vs. Irreverence

There is a growing sense of irreverence towards spiritual things even among “religious” people. I believe this is reflected in a myriad of ways including how people dress for church (check out Should We Still Dress Our Best For Church?).

Ancient prophets brimmed with righteous reverence for the things of God. They demanded the same from those listening to their divinely inspired words. Modern Christianity must overcome the growing tension between reverence and irreverence in our culture. God will not accept irreverent sacrifices in His name.

British theologian Thomas Smail gives an interesting warning in his book The Forgotten Father:

“Abba is not Hebrew, the language of liturgy, but Aramaic, the language of home and everyday life… We need to be wary of the suggestion… that the correct translation of Abba is ‘Daddy.’ Abba is the intimate word of a family circle where that obedient reverence was at the heart of the relationship, whereas Daddy is the familiar word of a family circle from which all thoughts of reverence and obedience have largely disappeared… The best English translation of Abba is simply ‘Dear Father.”

I think Smail was attempting to strike the delicate, yet hard to achieve balance, between reverencing God and simultaneously feeling closely connected to God. In the apostolic movement, many have over-corrected away from highly liturgical denominations (like Catholics, Methodists, and Presbyterians) whose reverence is more like a cold indifference, into a mushy “God is my best buddy” mindset. Not only does this endanger reverence, it breeds lots of unintended theological fallacies as well.

Power vs. Prosperity

Perhaps, the worst degrading of prophecy has come from the proponents of prosperity theology. Basically, the “God will double your money if you send me a thousand dollars right now” crowd. These charlatans either genuinely or disingenuously believe that wealth, health, and fame are the measures of spiritual success.

But, ancient biblical prophets were far more concerned with spiritual power than earthly power. They called down fire from heaven while barely having enough food to eat or a place to live. If prosperity theology is correct, the ancient prophets were wildly out of the will of God.

Most people reading this have long ago rejected prosperity theology, however, there is a lingering (unspoken) assumption that struggling preachers are somehow out of God’s favor. This is a subtle trick of the enemy. It’s just another way to shame godly preachers into conforming to the will of the carnal majority.

The real measuring stick of apostolic authority isn’t bank accounts. Rather, it’s the manifested power of God. Interestingly, as materialism grows, manifestations of the Spirit decline. Men of God should seek the power of God not positions or materialistic prosperity. I’m all for the blessings of God, but never at the expense of the power of God.

In Conclusion

The household of God is built on the blood-soaked foundation of the apostles and prophets (Ephesians 2:20). Jesus is the chief cornerstone of that unshakable foundation. Next time you read through the Gospels, pay attention to how astonishingly politically incorrect Jesus was in word and deed. He wasn’t trying to be odd or quirky. It wasn’t a gimmick or a facade that Jesus put on for attention. He just spoke the truth even when it was unwanted.

God is calling a fresh generation of preachers who are willing to be completely unashamed of the Word of God. They will preach without thought for their own safety or societal security. They will leave their comfort zones and abandon the shackles that carnal culture wraps around their minds. They will seek to grow the Kingdom of God and not their ministry. They will value Truth above tolerance, and wisdom above worldliness. The spiritual revolution is already beginning; which side of it will you be on?

Kanye West Might Be Sincere (But Sincerity Alone Is Not Salvation)

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.

Yes, sincerity is a good thing. I like sincere people. Most of us are drawn instinctively to sincerity. In fact, sincerity is so compelling we often trust sincere people even when they are completely wrong. Sincerely incorrect people can unintentionally do great damage to their circle of influence in countless ways both big and small. For example, it took thousands of years for doctors to finally realize that bloodletting was actually more likely to kill than to cure patients (read this disturbing article, 7 Unusual Ancient Medical Technique). Last year statistics shockingly revealed that over 800,000 people died because of medical devices prescribed to them by very good and sincere doctors (read that article HERE). Lets not even start thinking about how many sincere judges and juries have sentenced innocent people to prison or death (How Many Innocent People Are Sentenced to Death? and A Leading Cause for Wrongful Convictions: Experts Overstating Forensic Results). Clearly, in certain situations, sincerity without correct information is extremely dangerous.

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 6:3-8Galatians 2:20Colossians 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 3:31 Peter 1:23) into the Kingdom of God.

Essentially, repentance is our spiritual death (Galatians 5:24Romans 6:11Galatians 2:201 Peter 2:24Romans 6:6)baptism in Jesus’ name is our spiritual burial (Romans 6:3-4Colossians 2:12-13), and the infilling of the Holy Ghost is our spiritual resurrection (Romans 6:5Colossians 3:1Romans 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 16:17Acts 2:4Acts 10:46Acts 19:6) and every time from then on. And, baptism is only salvific when done in the name of Jesus (Acts 4:12Colossians 3:17Acts 2:38Acts 22:16Galatians 3:27Acts 10:48Romans 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, 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!

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You Might Be In Ministry If…

You might be in ministry if you have…

…encouraged those who discouraged you.

…loved those who left you.

…prayed for those who preyed upon you.

…lifted those who let you down.

…laughed with those who laughed at you.

…given to those who do not give.

…rejoiced with those who rejoiced against you.

…worked for those who worked against you.

Count it all joy. That’s what it means to be like Christ. Why would we have it better than our Master?

Of course, there are tremendous blessings and rewards as well. Most of them are spiritual and otherworldly. However, I think we set up young aspiring ministers for failure when we fail to prepare them for the realities of ministry. Ninety-nine percent of ministry is not glamorous or exciting.

Make sure you have a genuine calling and unshakable burden before you enter the ministry.

Feeling Disconnected From Your Church? Think About This…

POST ALERT – this won’t help if you’re not willing to look at it objectively.

“I don’t feel connected and a part of the church…”

As a pastor, one of the things I hear often is, “I’m thinking about leaving because I don’t have any friends and I don’t feel connected to the church.”

I agree that there’re some churches that don’t have a healthy culture and it makes it hard to connect. However, I want to approach this from the one perspective that we have the power to change, and that is we may be the reason why we’re feeling disconnected.

What I want to say is not to offend anyone, but if you are offended it may be that there’s a hurt that needs to be healed or it may be an indication of something in you that needs to be changed.

Things that affect our ability to connect…

1. Personalities – if you’re shy and don’t push yourself to get out of your comfort zone and be friendly it will affect how connected you feel.

2. Time – if you don’t make the time to stay and fellowship you’re never going to build relationships.

3. Involvement – if you’re not involved in any ministry in the church you’re never going to feel connected to it.

4. Faithfulness – if you’re always hit and miss and rarely come to church you’re more of a visitor than a member and you’ll have a difficult time connecting.

5. Attitude – if you allow yourself to always be the victim you’ll for sure feel disconnected and it will affect the way people perceive you (full-time victims are a drain and are hard to connect with).

6. Mindset – if you’re resistant to church culture and don’t operate outside of your few friends it will be difficult to feel a part.

7. Doctrine – if you don’t align your life with what the church teaches and believes you’ll naturally struggle to fit in with the rest of the body (how can two walk together except they agree?).

Hard questions that require honest answers…

1. Are you faithful to church? Be honest.

2. Do you come late and leave early?

3. When you’re there do you show yourself friendly?

4. Do you go out of your way to talk to people or wait for them to come talk to you?

5. Do you ever invite anyone out to eat after church or decline when others invite you?

6. Are you involved in any ministry?

7. Do you attend church dinners and fellowships or avoid them?

8. Do you go to any church events outside of regularly scheduled services?

9. Will you fellowship with anyone or does it have to be a certain select group of people or no one at all?

10. Do you wear your feelings on your shoulder and are you easily offended?

Observations about friendships and connections in the church

1. Everyone, at times, due to circumstances and changes in life, will not feel as connected as they want to be – this even includes pastors and pastor’s wives – but don’t quit.

2. Friendships, and feeling a part, requires time and effort on our part – we can’t refuse to work at relationships and expect them to just happen on their own.

3. Getting connected will only go as far as you’re willing to go – the church has many opportunities for people to fellowship and get involved, we just have to do it.

4. People who leave a church because they don’t feel a part will almost always get to the next place and feel the same way – the truth is, in spite of all our excuses of why it’s not us, we’re usually the problem.

5. All our arguments and justifications of why we don’t feel connected don’t change the facts – it may or may not be us, but whatever it is we need to be willing to look at it objectively if it’s ever going to get better.

6. The church is full of people just like you that would love to be connected – believe the best in yourself and in others and I promise you’ll start to feel like you belong.

Brian Labat is Lead Pastor at Calvary United Pentecostal Church, a vibrant apostolic church in Addison, IL. You can follow his articulate posts on Facebook and Twitter.

Support Your Local Pastor’s Wife

Arguably, pastor’s wives are the most under-appreciated, stereotyped, overworked, unpaid people within any church paradigm. Pastor’s wives are especially vulnerable to criticism, attack, disrespect, and general impoliteness. And we aren’t even talking about the stresses her husband faces that bleed over into their marriage.

Far too often, Pastor’s wives live under the umbrella of insinuated and sometimes overtly stated congregational demands. Unrealistic expectations abound along with contradictory requests that defy logic. Dress to perfection, raise impeccable children, always smile, be the church secretary, have unlimited time for everyone, lead every ladies ministry, attend every nuanced church function, host lavishly, entertain pleasantly, sing, play an instrument, teach Sunday School, be the ideal wife to the pastor, remember every detail, work, clean, organize, decorate the church, keep a model home, babysit, teach, and in some cases they are expected (or forced by necessity) to work a secular job as well.

Pastor’s wives dwell in a glass house and live with the constant realization that their every move is scrutinized. Beyond that, they are criticized by people with opposing judgments. For example, if they dress too fancy they are unapproachable, but if they dress too plain they are embarrassing. Those same conflated standards are usually applied to their house, their car, and their children’s clothing. Furthermore, if they lead too many programs they are accused of not making room for other leaders, but if they don’t lead enough programs they aren’t pulling their weight according to the critics. This is especially true if they are musical. Most of this negative information is filtered back to pastor’s wives via the “well-meaning” grapevine.

To be clear, there are blessings and benefits that come along with being a pastor’s wife. In ideal situations, they are treated with extra courtesy, respect, kindness, generosity, grace, understanding, and consideration.

Usually, there is a mixed bag of goodness from some and ugliness from others towards the pastor’s wife. Hopefully, kindness outweighs the critical or tremendous emotional pain is inflicted on her heart. It goes without saying, this will also adversely impact her husband’s ability to minister effectively.

The spoken and unspoken pressures take a toll. Usually with very little external evidence. I’ve spent my whole life in and around ministry so I know this to be true instinctively, however, surveys corroborate my anecdotal experiences

Most of this tension comes from a general lack of biblical understanding regarding pastor’s wives. Furthermore, I believe this stems from the startling reality that the Bible has almost nothing to say directly about the role of a pastor’s wife. Leaving many to simply insert their own version of what they believe a pastor’s wife should be into their churches culture, structure, and tradition. This creates a rigid performance template that many pastor’s wives find soul-crushing because it doesn’t take their individual giftings into consideration.

Although the Bible doesn’t provide explicit teaching directed to the role of pastor’s wife, it does not deny a pastor’s wife a ministry role within the church. Certainly, there are other important ministry roles in local churches that the Bible doesn’t spell out instructions for, like Outreach Director, Youth Pastor, Sunday School Director, or Children’s Ministry Director just to name a few.

The Biblical role of being a pastor’s wife is best understood from what Scripture teaches about being a woman, a wife and mother, and a Christ-follower with God-given gifts.

Biblically speaking, a pastor’s wife’s main role is to be the wife of the pastor. I know, that sounds a little too simplistic, but that is her first role in God’s eyes.

“And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him. (Genesis 2:18)

“Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh. (Genesis 2:24)

In Hebrew, the word for “helper” used in Genesis 2:18 is ezer (pronounced “ay-zer”), and it is always used in the Old Testament in the context of vitally important and powerful acts of rescue and support. The majority of its twenty-one occurrences in the Old Testament depict God helping human beings. Since God Himself can be a “helper” it is clear that neither the word ezer nor the role of “helper” implies any sort of inherent inferiority (Exodus 18:4, Deuteronomy 33:7, Psalm 33:20, Hosea 13:9). What it does imply is that the “helper” plays a supporting role, rather than bearing primary responsibility for a task.

In the Hebrew text, “helper” is modified by the “suitable for him” (kenegdo), which seems to express the notion of complementarity rather than identity. The help looked for is not just assistance in his daily work or in the procreation of children, though these aspects may be included, but the mutual support companionship provides. The word denotes function: Designed as the perfect counterpart for the man, the woman was neither inferior nor superior, but she was alike and equal to the man in her personhood while different and unique in her function. The function of Eve is not less valuable to the maintenance of the Garden or to the furthering of humankind, but the shared responsibilities involve each accomplishing complimentary tasks.

The usage of the Hebrew term ezer denotes far more than the English term helper can offer. The term indicates an “indispensable companion”. Defining the specific divinely inspired purpose for a woman is vital for understanding her role as a wife because the two are unmistakably intertwined.

In light of Genesis 2:18, a pastor’s wife is called to be an indispensable companion and helper to her husband. Meaning, the role of a pastor’s wife will gradate based on the particular strengths, needs, and personalities of the couple (read more about pastoral personalities and styles here).

Of course, a pastor’s wife must adhere to the same biblical standards as all other Christian women. She serves God and family while leading in various influential roles (Proverbs 31:10-31). Her virtue is praiseworthy (Proverbs 31:28-31). Most importantly, she is one who “fears the Lord” (Proverbs 31:30). Because she reverences the Lord she will walk in the “beauty of holiness” (Psalm 96:9). Godly women must be “given to hospitality” (1 Peter 4:9). She must “walk in the Spirit” and not the flesh (Romans 8:1).

Now that we have a basic biblical understanding of womanhood we can discuss nine ways to support your local pastor’s wife.

1. Graciously allow her to prioritize her family. Although she loves you and cares for your soul the needs of her family are and should be her primary concern. Don’t resent her for concentrating on the needs of her family above yours.

2. Appreciate her for who she is in Christ. Avoid the painful trap of comparison. God has given her gifts and abilities that are specific to her and her alone. Don’t constantly hold her up against someone else or against some elusive idea of the perfect pastor’s wife.

3. Celebrate her strengths and be understanding of her weaknesses. She strives for perfection and excellence, but like everyone else, she will not always obtain it. Rather than exploit or criticize her weaknesses do your best to lift burdens off her shoulders that do not fall within her areas of expertise.

4. Give her the benefit of the doubt just as you would have others do for you (Luke 6:31).

5. Love her children and/or grandchildren in spite of their imperfections (read more about how to help preacher’s kids here).

6. Do not belittle or speak critically about her husband to her or anyone else. If you have a problem with the pastor speak with the pastor.

7. Refuse to speak critically about her behind her back. If someone else tries to engage in negativity kindly remove yourself from the conversation. Idle words almost always filter back to the offended party. If you have a legitimate grievance, constructive suggestion, or concern broach it with her privately.

8. Advocate on her behalf and speak positively into her life at every possible opportunity. I promise you, she doesn’t receive nearly as much positive affirmation as you might assume. Choose to be an encourager, not a discourager.

9. Pray for her on a regular basis and intercede with God to give her strength. Your prayer cover will have a tremendous spiritual impact on her heart (Ephesians 6:18).

By supporting your pastor’s wife you are creating an atmosphere of peace and unity. It encourages your pastor and gives him a sense of stability. All of this contributes to a climate of revival and goodwill. God will bless you because you are a blessing (Proverbs 11:25).

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Dear Preacher – They’re Rejecting Jesus, Not You

American preachers don’t receive much up-front, in-your-face rejection. Sure, the occasional person might get up and walk out during a sermon. People walk in and out so much during preaching these days it’s hard to know if they are upset or just running to the water fountain.

People who study these things are finding that if someone walks through the doors of your church they have already researched your beliefs online pretty thoroughly. Meaning, if they were really likely to be overtly offended they probably just wouldn’t attend in the first place.

While people may not be throwing rotten eggs at us, preachers do experience rejection in more indirect ways. The visitor who never returns. The saints who skip across town because we refuse to reinterpret the Bible for their favorite sin. The subtle crossed arms and slanted eyebrows that glare back at us while preaching a particularly convicting passage of Scripture. The tragic altar call where the sinner leans back rather than running to repent. Passive aggressive anonymous letters of disapproval.

Experienced preachers develop the ability to glance around a congregation and discern immediately who is rejecting and who is receiving the message God has given them for that service. That ability can become either a motivation, a distraction, or a discouragement. In worst case scenarios, one person rejecting the Word can mentally overshadow a room full of people who are receiving the Word with gladness.

Frankly, there are times after preaching that I leave incredibly discouraged because I couldn’t reach that one person. That preoccupation sometimes keeps me from rejoicing over other lives that were deeply touched by God.

I was discussing this weakness in my personality with a friend recently and he promptly dropped a little conviction grenade right into my psychological bunker. He said, “Ryan, don’t you hear the arrogance in your statement?” I was a little stunned and self-righteous until he repeated my words back verbatim, “…I leave incredibly discouraged because I couldn’t reach…” Then he paused and let the grenade explode, “Ryan you’re saying a lot of me’s and I’s, don’t you know that you just plant the seed and God gives the increase?”

How quickly preachers can forget that we are just the messengers. We aren’t the attraction. Sometimes we are a distraction, but we certainly are not the attraction. The Word is the seed and all we can do is cast the seed and pray that it takes root on good ground (Matthew 13:1-23). Often my discouragement is rooted in my own hubris rather than anything truly sincere. Don’t get me wrong, I want to preach as compellingly as possible. I want to be persuasive like the apostle Paul and passionate like the apostle Peter. But in the end, my abilities can’t save a single soul.

The apostle Paul taught that we are simply ambassadors of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20). We represent reconciliation between God and man (2 Corinthians 5:19). We speak on behalf of God. The message is not ours. The Gospel was not our idea. It’s not a commodity with a sales quota attached. When the Word is rejected they aren’t rejecting us they are rejecting Jesus.

Jesus knew that His ambassadors would be tempted to judge the success or failure of ministry by the metric of popularity. He knew that rejection would feel like a personal failure. He knew that we would struggle with our own unique blends of pride and insecurity. He knew that we would be prone to despiritualizing the Gospel and relegating it down to humanistic abilities. So, Jesus gathered the twelve disciples together and sat them down to tell them, and by extension us, when they reject you they are really rejecting Me. Look at this uncomfortable reminder from Jesus:

“Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you (Matthew 5:10-12).”

You can’t be truly Christlike unless you are willing to suffer rejection for His sake. In fact, if you haven’t been rejected or reviled in a while you’re probably not a true ambassador.

Please don’t take me out of context, I’m not advocating running around trying to prove how spiritual we are based on how many people reject the Gospel. But it is freeing to know that as ambassadors we can only proclaim what we have been given by our King to proclaim. If we are rejected it is for His sake, and we must shake the dust from our feet (Matthew 10:5-15) and keep preaching the Good News.

How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things (Romans 10:14-15)!”

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