Graphic Design Tips – For Churches On A Budget

I’m not a professional designer by any stretch of the imagination. Calling myself an amateur designer is probably an overly generous designation. This article is by an amateur for amateurs.

So why would an amateur write about anything: Because most churches simply can’t afford to hire out every little design project needed. Churches are fueled by passionate well-meaning amateurs who do their very best on a shoestring budget.

Not every church is blessed with a member well versed in graphic design. Meaning, someone is forced to wade into the murky confusing waters of amateur graphic design. If that person is you (or you know someone who fits that description), stick around (or pass this along) because listed below are several free resources that will make your (or their) life a lot easier. And as a bonus, the finished projects will be substantially more astatically pleasing than copy and paste clip art collections.

One caveat, amateur designers need to know their limitations. Many projects require more expensive computer software and/or skills then we possess. For those situations, you should bite the bullet and pay someone who really knows what they’re doing. For example, it’s probably best to have a professional design your church logo.

If your church isn’t connected to a good designer I highly recommend Joy Mills at Savvy Design Solutions. SDS is Apostolic owned and operated. The prices are reasonable, the work is completed promptly, and the finished product always exceeds expectations.

Social media has made the need for basic graphic design skills more necessary than ever. As I’ve written in the past, churches should do their best to have a presentable online presence. However, the general rule of thumb is that it’s better to have no online presence than a tacky online presence. Also, bulletins, flyers (digital and printed), sermon slides, announcements, and much more are often made much nicer with a few minor tips. And most of those things work best by starting with a high-resolution image for the background (if you don’t know what resolution means familiarize yourself with it here).

Image Resources 

You may have noticed that stock images aren’t cheap and media resource memberships are pricey too. Listed below are five websites that provide free high-resolution stock images.

  1. www.creationswap.com

Creationswap.com used to be 100% free. Recently they added a subscription package that unlocks every resource. However, they still have free images, videos, and motion graphics available for download.

  1. www.pixabay.com

Pixaabay.com is probably the most popular of all the free stock image sites. It’s now integrated into many of the popular design apps listed below.

  1. www.unsplash.com

Fewer people seem familiar with Unsplash.com. Probably because its collection is smaller than Pixabay.com. But they provide a beautiful and unique selection of free images.

  1. www.freerangestock.com

Freerangestick.com is one of the most practical free image sites out there. It’s less artsy than the others, which is nice for bulletin and announcement projects.

  1. www.stockvault.net

Stockvault.net is my least favorite of the five listed here. But it has been useful on occasions so it made the list.

Font Resources

Regardless of the computer program, you’ll add more oomph to your project by having great font options. The standard fonts pre-loaded in most software programs are pretty boring. Choosing the right font can make even a simple black and white flyer pop. Thankfully, the internet has made downloading free font varieties super easy. It’s a little overwhelming at first because there are so many neat fonts to choose from. But take heart, once you download a new font it will show up in your programs font window automatically. Over time, you’ll have tons of neat choices right at your fingertips. Below are three great free font resources that every designer should have bookmarked for quick reference. Oh, and they add new fonts regularly so check back from time to time.

  1. www.dafont.com
  2. www.urbanfonts.com
  3. www.fontspace.com

Video, Graphics & Slideshow Resources

These next two websites are also available as apps on your tablet or smartphone.

  1. www.canva.com

Canva.com is completely free but priceless for the inexperienced designer. Basically, Canva.com provides free design templates for a wide range of projects. There are free customizable design templates for social media posts (literally all social media outlets), business cards, flyers, postcards, invitations, letterhead, programs, bulletins, and email headers. Or, if you know the necessary dimensions of your design there is a custom dimension option available too.

Unlike other competing free design sites, Canva.com allows you to upload your own graphics (like a church logo) and pictures to use within your project. It’s very user-friendly and they help take a lot of the guesswork out of the equation for amateurs like me. Also, they save all your projects and uploads for future reference.

One negative about this resource; there is a free Canva app available for download (Apple and Android), but you lose a lot of features in the app. The website itself is much better than the app.

  1. www.adobespark.com

Adobe Spark is a terrific resource for churches. The website is great but the app is even better (especially on a tablet). Among other great features, Adobe Spark allows you to create cool videos very quickly. It has integrated templates, fonts, and instrumental music. You can use it to create announcements, slideshows, tutorials, or even teach an illustrated lesson. It’s easy and fun to use. Plus, it stores all your past projects for you in their server saving you lots of space on your computer or devices.

App Resources for Phones & Tablets

For quick projects like social media announcements, sermon slides, or blog titles apps are time savers. But sorting through all the apps can really get annoying. In my humble opinion, below are the top ten must-have apps for anyone involved in church media design.

  1. Typorama is the absolute best text on photo editor, typography maker for the iPhone and iPad (sorry Android people it’s only available for Apple users). It is by far the easiest to use without sacrificing features. One of my favorite things about this app is the integrated ability to add tasteful overlays (like bursts of color or light leaks) to any image. Often, I will edit an image in Typorama, save it to my photos, and cycle the newly saved image back through Typorama a second (and sometimes a third time) adding new touches each time.
  2. WordSwag is very similar to Typorama only with fewer features. Even still, WordSwag is a must have app.
  3. Word Dream another app in the typography, photo editor family. I find it’s font choices a little too outrageous most of the time. Word Dream does have a superior filter selection than the others. Sometimes I will create a graphic in Typorama, save it to photos, and add a filter in the Word Dream app.
  4. Tangent advertises itself as an app that helps you easily turn your photos or graphics into one-of-a-kind works of art. But it’s also great for quickly adding a custom look to sermon slides, announcements, or social media posts right from your phone or tablet.
  5. Back Eraser allows you to literally erase the background right off any given picture. By erasing the background off, for example, a guest minister you can layer the image over another image and give a more professional look. There are several apps designed to erase unwanted backgrounds off of images. This one is the most user-friendly I’ve found so far. Warning, you’ll want a stylus for best results when using this app. Also, remember to save the image as “transparent” or your finished product will have a white background.
  6. Photoshop Mix is a powerful free app from the famed Adobe ecosystem. It can do many things but I use it primarily for layering images. For example, I’ll often use the Back Eraser app to remove unwanted background from a person and use Photoshop Mix to merge that image with a new announcement image created in Typorama.
  7. Pixlr is deservedly the most popular photo editing app across all device platforms. But it can be used for more than just editing selfies. If you create an announcement in Typorama (or anywhere else) you can add a neat filter to it in Pixlr for added color or texture.
  8. Aviary is just like Pixlr with fewer bells and whistles and a few different filter options.
  9. Dropbox is a cloud storage service that still provides free service up to a certain point (depending on how many gigs of storage you need). If you are creating things on your devices it really becomes important to save them to the cloud for quick access from all your other devices. Also, it keeps the storage on your phone and tablet from clogging up. Dropbox gives you the ability to share specified folders with other users so you don’t have to email files or pass them around on a thumb drive. Dropbox has a lot of great competitors to choose from but it just happens to be my cloud storage service of choice.
  10. Evernote is one of the most personally helpful services in my tech arsenal. Simply stated, after downloading Evernote on your computer, cell phone, and/or tablet you can write a note and it will be saved to each of those devices for future reference. In the bad old days, I would write something in iPhone’s notebook and wish I could magically make it appear on my desktop. Evernote does just that. You can save images, pictures, videos, websites, and written notes in Evernote. All these can be organized by topic and even favorited for quick reference. Most of my sermons begin as seeds of prayerful thought quickly jotted into Evernote to be revisited later.

I hope you found something helpful in this post. I’m sure the mega professionals quit reading a long time ago. Probably right after the word “amateur”. For those of you that stuck around, you might think some of these resources sound complicated or difficult to use. And they might be at first, but if you will play around with them it will become easier and easier. As you work, often with little to no thanks or remuneration, remember whatever you do for Christ is not in vain (1 Corinthians 15:58).

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6 Dating Standards for Apostolic Singles

Singles seem to fall through the cracks in our churches. That’s an observation, not a criticism. It’s one of those hard to avoid problems that just naturally occurs. If you’re single and reading this you’re shaking your head in agreement right now.

It’s not that churches don’t care about singles – they do – but being single isn’t a characteristic that necessarily unites people into well-structured little groups. For example, you can be 18 or 88 and be single; 18-year-old singles have a completely different set of needs than say… a middle-aged single adult.

All the good and bad excuses aside, churches need to talk more about how Apostolic singles should approach dating and relationships. I see singles struggling to navigate dating and serving God faithfully at the same time from all age groups. With that in mind, these six dating standards are directed towards every age group. Some of these standards are solid biblical truths, while others are personal opinions based on years of counseling and observation.

Let me start with a few statements of fact: Being single does not mean that you are less valuable than married people, and it’s far better to be single than married to the wrong person. Having said that, it’s a natural God-given desire to long for a spouse. You should pursue that desire on God’s terms, which leads me to point number one…

1. Apostolic singles should never consider dating anyone (and I mean anyone) who is not Apostolic. There is nothing more important to any relationship than walking in spiritual unity. How can you have anything truly in common with someone who isn’t in full agreement with the most defining aspect of your life (Amos 3:3, 2 Corinthians 6:14-17, 1 Corinthians 15:33, 2 Timothy 3:5)? Spiritual and doctrinal disagreements impact every aspect of a married life.

Now, I’ve heard all the arguments and excuses for why “this” person is the one good exception to that rule, and the story almost always ends in heartache or backsliding. I’ve observed countless situations where someone pretended to be serious about God just to be in a relationship with an Apostolic guy or girl. In those situations, the entire relationship is built on a lie. Hardly a good start to any long-lasting marriage. Dating someone into the Church is a bad idea – the happily ever after success stories are extremely rare. Beyond that, it’s a question of the heart. Why would you be attracted to someone who isn’t Holy Ghost filled, holy, and zealous about their faith?

2. Mr. Right will attract a Mrs. Right and vice versa. Most singles have a mental (and maybe even an actual) checklist of what they want the “right” one to be like. There’s nothing wrong with that necessarily (depending on what’s on the list). However, you should spend more time making sure you’re everything that you should be. You won’t attract the right kind of person if you aren’t working to be the right kind of person. Singlehood is a tremendous opportunity for self-improvement, preparation, spiritual growth, and maturation.

3. Apostolic singles must trust that God is guiding their footsteps (Romans 8:28, Proverbs 3:5-6, Proverbs 16:9, Psalm 37:23). Fate is not a biblical concept. God orders our every step if we are faithful to Him. That’s something every Apostolic single should believe wholeheartedly. God will guide the right person into your life at just the right time.

You might look around your church on any given Sunday and think, “If these are my only options I’m gonna die alone.” But remember, we walk by faith not sight (2 Corinthians 5:7).

Many moons ago, before I met the beautiful red-headed superwoman of my dreams, I was in Bible College and attending a very large church. That’s only relevant because there were hundreds of Apostolic girls around my age, but none of them were the “one”. In what can only be described as a literal act of God, I met Rachel who lived nearly three hours away. The real miracle is that she gave an awkward, shy, younger version of me any attention at all. All reminiscing aside, if you trust God and guard your integrity, God will orchestrate your future in ways that you can’t possibly plan.

4. Speaking of guarding integrity, Apostolic singles should create and maintain protective boundaries in their relationships. I’m confident the average Apostolic single doesn’t enter a relationship planning to be promiscuous, indecent, or sexually immoral. Nevertheless, if you don’t have defensive boundaries in place lines can be crossed very quickly. Carelessness leads to sinfulness in a hurry.

So, let’s talk dating and relationship boundaries for a minute.

Under no circumstances should a man and woman – unless they are married to one another – be alone together in a house or bedroom. There’s too much opportunity for things to go too far in that setting, and even if nothing happens it looks wildly inappropriate.

It’s important for dating couples to spend time with groups of people. You need to see how that person interacts with others and with the people who are already a part of your life.

Dating couples should always have a plan. Don’t just get together and kill time. Boredom and too much free time is a dangerous combo for two people who are attracted to one another.

Singles of all ages must be open and accountable to spiritual authority. Singles should talk to their pastor, family, and trustworthy spiritual mentors BEFORE becoming too emotionally invested in a relationship. Singles who remove this boundary are dodging godly counsel.

When dating, singles should ask lots and lots of questions. Don’t take it for granted that you know what someone believes just because they warm a church pew. There’s always a Judas hanging around Jesus. Talk. Find out what they really believe deep down. Talk about hopes, dreams, plans, goals, and aspirations. Find out if they are growing spiritually or dying spiritually.

When dating, watch how they respond in church services. If they sit in church like a dead frog you know something is spiritually off balance. If they’re totally uninvolved and out of touch with their local assembly… run.

Stay modest, even when you’re not together. Texting, social media, video chatting, and tons of other forms of technology have changed the modern dating scene. If it would be immodest for you to show it or wear it in person, you shouldn’t be showing it or wearing it digitally either.

5. Don’t date someone who isn’t marriage material. Never date just to date. I’ve received a lot of pushback on this piece of advice over the years. I stand by it anyway, dating isn’t a game or a way to kill time. Dating shouldn’t be a temporary fix for loneliness. Dating is two people evaluating whether they are compatible and capable of truly loving one another for a lifetime. And by the way, spending all your free time with a member of the opposite sex is dating whether you call it that or not. If marriage is out of the question, stop dating that person immediately.

6. Know your worth. You are incredibly valuable. Don’t let anyone or anything convince you otherwise. In a culture of casual sex and careless relationships, Apostolic singles are set apart by God for better things.

Finally, marriage is by far the most life-impacting decision a person will ever make. Be prayerful, be accountable, be faithful, be prepared, and seek wisdom. Know that God cares about your happiness. God is in complete control of your future. Let the Lord lead you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And they are simply shopping elsewhere.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Rev. Jonathan Sanders

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15 Ways to Win the Battle Within

I’m a statistics kinda guy, but I know from the glazed looks people give me when I bring them up that most people aren’t like me. So, rather than bore you with the minutia of details, let’s just say folks are battling depression on an epic scale.

Certainly, temptation, in general, is an ever-present problem, and even Christians seem to be struggling with feelings of despair. Not to mention other emotional issues like fear, anger, bitterness, unforgiveness, lust (including pornography), greed, envy, jealousy, and the list goes on. And those are just the natural issues that human beings face; demonic attacks are prevalent as well. Sadly, many people don’t even realize they’re entangled in a spiritual battle.

These problems begin in the mind. Every sin starts with a thought, and if that thought is not dealt with properly it will produce a sinful action or reaction. The battle for peace is fought in the mind. The battle for joy is fought in the mind. The battle for purity is fought in the mind. Satan engages your mind first because what you think about the most is what you will eventually act upon. If you engage your mind with darkness you will be drawn towards darkness. If you engage your mind with righteousness you will be drawn towards righteousness (Philippians 4:8).

That’s what Paul meant when he said, “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind… (Romans 12:2)”. Again, in Ephesians 4:22-24 Paul refers to the battle of the mind in relation to holiness and overcoming the old “sinful” way of life. The old mind produces the old sins, but a renewed mind produces holiness. In verse 25, Paul illustrates the first fruit of that new mind is truthfulness with our neighbors. The state of our mind informs the status of our actions. In other words, garbage in garbage out and vice versa.

My personality is very susceptible to depression. That’s not easy to say because many Christians are so used to emotionally faking it that they think they’re making it. They’re kicking the emotional can down the road until the inevitable day of reckoning.

Hands down, the number one question posed to me when counseling: How can I win the battle that’s raging in my mind (or some variation of that)? The answer is not a simple one. Most people want a silver bullet that makes all the struggles go away immediately. To be sure, there are powerful offensive weapons, but none of them are lasting without a strong defensive shield. You can rebuke the Devil, but he’ll just come back around if you leave your defenses vulnerable.

Below is a list of fifteen things that will truly guard our minds. Fifteen powerful defensive shields. If you’re looking for a shorter Twitter-friendly list just know, there are no shortcuts to safety.

1. Get some rest (Psalm 4:8). Have you ever been so tired you just didn’t care about anything anymore? Exhaustion has a way of draining us physically and emotionally. There are times it simply can’t be avoided, but there are also times where we simply haven’t made rest a priority.

2. Help somebody (Hebrews 13:16). We should help others because it’s the right thing to do. But there are benefits attached to helping others. It takes our minds off us and our problems. Helping others forces us out of selfish habits and self-destructive thoughts. It’s amazing how quickly our attitude can change when we empty ourselves out in the service of others.

3. Only listen to Christian music. Fill your mind with godly music that is uplifting. Yep, and the more it talks about Jesus the better. Listen to it a lot.

There’s literally nothing that has more ability to impact your mind and mood than music. Everything about music is designed to lower your guard and capture your attention. When you fill your mind with sinful lyrics you’ve opened yourself up to spiritual attack. You’d be hard-pressed to find a popular secular song that doesn’t glorify either casual sex, cursing, violence, drinking, drugs, cheating, lying, greed, lust, godlessness, hopelessness, despair, or divorce. That list could be a lot longer, but you get the idea.

By listening to that kind of music you are literally handing your mind over to the enemy. If it walks like the world and talks like the world it probably is the world. Oh, and if you’re in the world your prayers lose their power: The prayers of a righteous man avail much (James 5:16).

By the way, everything listed above applies to all your entertainment choices. Everything from books, magazines, movies, television, internet, games, and more. Surely, you can’t be entertained by filth and wonder why you long for filth. Surely, you can’t watch horror and wonder why you battle anxiety. Surely, you can’t watch (and laugh at) immorality and wonder why you’re full of lust. Clean it up, throw stuff out, make a covenant with your eyes and ears. Take Philippians 4:8 seriously and you’ll be surprised how quickly your mind will be renewed.

Everything else on this list of defenses will be weakened if you constantly subject your eyes and ears to worldly entertainment.

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4. Spend time daily reading the Bible. If you need direction, search the Scriptures. If you need encouragement, search the Scriptures. You need the Word daily. Why would you leave your greatest resource untouched?

The word is a lamp unto our feet (Psalm 119:105), which means it protects us from painfully stumbling and falling. But it’s also a sword (Ephesians 6:17), meaning it is our greatest offensive weapon against the enemy. When Satan tempted Jesus in the wilderness his strongest offense and defense was the Word (Luke 4:1-13). If you know what is written you will know how to confidentially respond to temptation.

5. Pray, really pray (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Sincerely, pray and ask God for strength. Pray until the Holy Ghost falls. Pray when you don’t feel like praying. That’s usually when you need to pray the most. Pray for the Lord’s will (Luke 22:42, Matthew 6:9-13). Pray your way through the Psalms.

It’s good to get alone with God in a private place, but some of my best prayer meetings happened in my car driving down the road. That’s what it means to pray without ceasing, being ready to pray at a moment’s notice.

Don’t just pray when you need something, pray because you want to be close to God. Put some praise in your prayers. Talk to God about your hopes and dreams, doubts and fears, pains and triumphs, and all the in between stuff too. We’ve all known people who only called when they needed something. Don’t be that way with God. Be that person who maintains the relationship in the good times and the bad.

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6. Make sure you’re being obedient to the Bible in your personal life (even when no one is looking). Disobedience invites the demonic (1 Samuel 13:14). Even worse, disobedience stirs God’s wrath (Ephesians 5:6). Disobedient Christians are miserable because they are fighting the demonic and suffering the Lord’s wrath at the same time.

Disobedience produces guilt, condemnation, pain, and spiritual resistance. The pain that we suffer while in disobedience is intended to draw us back to repentance. Much like the prodigal son who needed a pig pen before he realized he needed to go back home. If you’re living in disobedience, things will get progressively worse until you repent and make things right with God.

7. Spend time talking with godly, Holy Ghost filled people who will encourage you not discourage you (Proverbs 13:20-25). Choose your inner circle wisely. Those closest to you will impact your attitude and your mind the most. Your closest friendships should not be with unwise or ungodly people. Be kind to everyone, but your deep friendships should be with Holy Ghost filled encouragers who aren’t afraid to tell you the truth even when it hurts.

8. Avoid people, places, and things that will trigger a spiritual attack, temptation, or depression (when possible). Eve would have been far less likely to eat the fruit if she hadn’t been near the fruit. The serpent didn’t show up until she showed up where she shouldn’t have been. Don’t set yourself up for failure by hanging around people and places that pull your mind in dangerous directions.

There are some things that aren’t sinful by themselves but they have emotional connections in your mind that trigger unhealthy thoughts. Avoid those things. For example, I have a friend who was addicted to heroin before he received the Holy Ghost. Every time he shot up he would listen to instrumental jazz music and wait for the drugs to take over. Whenever he hears jazz music all kinds of negative emotions come crashing down on him. Obviously, if possible, he avoids jazz. That’s called wisdom.

9. Get to church as soon as possible and grab the altar until God touches you (Psalm 84:3, Psalm 92:13). There’s a reason that we are instructed not to forsake the gathering together of godly people (Hebrews 10:25). It’s a blessing for our own benefit (Mark 2:27).

Even the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13) is written in the plural, not the singular: Give us this day our daily bread. We thrive as a community of believers. We were not made to walk alone. Faith feeds faith. Worship breeds worship. Joy is contagious. When we are weak we need the strength of fellow believers, and when we are strong weak believers need our encouragement.

There is safety in numbers. The Bible refers to Satan as a lion looking for a person to devour (1 Peter 5:8). Lions are known for stalking very large prey. They follow a herd and wait for one member of the herd to lag behind or become separated from the others. That’s when the lion pounces. A herd can defend itself from the lion’s attack, but a single animal becomes an easy victim.

Years of ministry has taught me that many people avoid church when they are struggling to win the battle for their mind. That’s literally the worst thing a person can do in that situation. If you have to take a boat, train, plane, or walk in the rain: do what you have to do to get to church.

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10. Worship the Lord all the time even when you’re alone (Psalm 34:1). This one might sound silly at first, but you should spontaneously worship the Lord throughout your day. If you love and appreciate the Lord, you won’t wait until Sunday to tell him.

11. Add fasting to your prayers. In Matthew 17:14-21 a father brought his demon-possessed son to Jesus for deliverance. The King James Version refers to the son as a “lunatic” inferring that the possession and oppression were so strong it had literally destroyed the boy’s mind. The father had already taken his son to the disciples but they had been unable to cast the demon out of him. Of course, Jesus cast the devil out immediately leaving the disciples wondering why they had been powerless. In verse 19 Jesus rebukes them for their unbelief (lack of faith), and in verse 21 he reveals the reason for their unbelief; lack of prayer combined with fasting. This demon was so strong that it required prayer and fasting to overpower it.

There are situations, attacks, oppressions, and spirits that require prayer and fasting to overcome. Fasting brings our mind and body into subjection. It cultivates spiritual awareness and sensitivity. Our mind is sharpened and our spirit is quickened when fasting. And yet, this is the most underutilized tool in most people’s spiritual belt.

12. Keep a prayer journal. For me personally, this has been one of the most helpful things I have ever done. I write thoughts, prayer requests, questions, goals, hopes, dreams, study findings, and testimonies. The Bible speaks of overcoming by the word of testimony (Revelation 12:11). We humans have a bad habit of fixating on what we need God to do and forgetting what he has already done. This forgetfulness leads to anxiety. Remembering what God has done builds faith.

13. Study a specific subject in the Bible. This is different than just daily Bible reading. Find a subject that you don’t fully understand dig deeply until you understand it inside and out. Knowledge is power in the Spirit (Proverbs 24:5). Satan operates best in confusion.

14. Stay busy. Boredom is the Devils playground (1 Timothy 5:13).

15. Listen to a lot of good anointed Apostolic preaching. I highly recommend downloading the Holy Ghost Radio app and the Revival Radio app. They’re free and they’re awesome. Also, you can catch my church Podcast here or on iTunes here.

FINAL THOUGHT: The Devil attacks people’s minds immediately after powerful spiritual events. It was right after Jesus’ baptism that he was carried into the wilderness and tempted by the Devil (Matthew 4:1-11). There are countless other biblical examples, but if you know this to be the case you can be prepared and respond appropriately.

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Weekly Ramblings (Critics, Free Speech, Gluten & Earth Day)

Ramble alert! Consider yourself forewarned, this is going to be a little scattered and verbose.

If you’re a regular reader, you know that my posts usually have a clear and central theme. I typically only write about a subject that I have thought through thoroughly, and that meticulousness keeps me from being prolific. Time constraints simply don’t allow me to produce interesting articles on a daily or even weekly basis. Furthermore, as the readership has grown, the critics and detractors have increased as well. Don’t get me wrong, support is strong and I’m truly grateful for the unexpected connections this blog has cultivated. I only mention the critics because they challenge me to be very sure of something before I hit publish and send another article into cyberspace.

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In a way, the critics serve as an inspiration to be especially well prepared to explain my opinions and theological views. I much prefer preaching over writing, and pre-Apostolic Voice I would have assumed that preaching invites more criticism than writing ever could. Interestingly, the reverse seems to be true. I’ve introspected about this reality and landed on the theory that preaching is intellectual and emotional, while theologically driven opinion piece writing is almost entirely detached and cerebral.

To illustrate the difference between preaching and writing, try to remember the exact wording of the last sermon you heard. It’s really hard, isn’t it? That doesn’t mean you weren’t touched by it, you could likely explain what the theme of the sermon was or describe how it impacted you in some way or another. But the exact phrasing is probably fuzzy. Also, we don’t stop preachers’ mid-sermon and ask them to repeat something we missed, or ask them what they were really trying to say if it was a little unclear. But with writing, we can read it over again, ask a question (in a blog fueled by social media), and even challenge a point. I think that’s a good thing if it’s done with mutual respect. In best case scenarios, that kind of interaction generates healthy discussion. However, it does cause me to weigh every word written with great circumspection.

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All of that to say (I warned you this would be wordy), that’s my main excuse for not writing more often. Well, that and being busier than a tax preparer in April. Nevertheless, many extremely kind people have asked me to pick up the pace and post more often. With great hesitancy, I’ve decided to begin posting a weekly article of random thoughts, comments, inspirations, and semi-chaotic opinions. I should qualify by saying, I’ll give it a try and see how it goes. So, let’s go!

The recent Berkeley debacles have forced most well-informed people to solidify their opinions about free speech in America. Christians really have an obligation to take notice, whether you like the people involved or not. In my opinion, we’re only a hop, skip, and a jump away from violent protestors trying to silence churches that aren’t “PC” enough. Free speech must be free whether we agree or disagree. I don’t like what a lot of people are saying, but I believe in (and would defend) their right to say it.

I’m predicting that freedom of speech will become increasingly controversial and contested. Secularism doesn’t care if you label yourself a Christian if you stay silent about cultural hot button issues like abortion, sexual immorality, and other prevalent sins. Remember, preaching is the mechanism that God ordained for the advancement of the Gospel. Freedom of speech is an important liberty that intertwines solidly with freedom of religion; the unraveling of one weakens the other.

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My beautiful wife is severely allergic to gluten. She literally can’t eat it. Period. If you don’t know what gluten is, it’s basically the substance that makes everything yummy.

For years we didn’t know what was causing her to have so many health issues. It was such a huge relief to finally figure out that it was a food allergy. It’s nothing short of impressive the way she has been able to cut vast categories of food out of her life. To be fair, for her the repercussions just aren’t worth the instant gratification of a glutinous Krispy Kreme donut (or two, or a dozen, or whatever). Although, if I was allergic to gluten I’d probably die in a blaze of gluten fueled glory.

Because of her allergy, I really try (often unsuccessfully) not to eat things around her that she loves but can’t eat. At the very least, I try not to be totally in her face about it. Also, my name is Ryan and I’m a donut addict and I have the empty Krispy Kreme box to prove it. In the effort to reconcile my efforts to be sensitive to her allergy, and my need to eat donuts, I’ve become a sneaky donut eater. The struggle is real.

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Remarkably, I really wasn’t all that wild about baked goods until the moment they started to seem forbidden. And therein lies a profound insight into the human condition. We have this innate pull towards things that seem forbidden. Especially if the perceived rewards are immediate and the consequences seem far removed (or uncertain). For my wife, the consequences are almost immediate if she consumes even one donut, but for me, the consequences creep in gradually (almost imperceptibly).

Ironically, this human psychological conundrum can be traced all the way back to the Garden of Eden when Eve ate the fruit and didn’t keel over dead. The serpent seemed vindicated momentarily because death was not instantaneous. But the process of physical death was activated by sin and spiritual death was triggered the moment she swallowed that forbidden bite.

Admittedly, this empty box of Krispy Kreme donuts is undoubtedly inspiring this little guilt-ridden rant. But when it comes to spiritual things, we would all do well to remember that just because consequences are mercifully delayed doesn’t mean they aren’t looming undetected (Galatians 6:7-8).

Another Earth Day has come and gone. This is me reminding you that the earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof is his (Psalm 24:1).

Also, don’t you think it’s interesting how secularism always has a generic substitute for biblical things? Skeptics love to mock Christians for preaching apocalyptic theologies about the impending end of the world, but we’re all supposed to take baseless, apocalyptic, unproven, calamitous theories about global warming seriously. Here are two good related articles from National Review: Bill Nye’s View of Humanity Is Repulsive, Science vs. Science. WARNING, that second article quotes actress Rachel Bloom and she is vulgar, but such is the state of “mainstream” science today.

Oh, and the earth isn’t your mother (thanks for that witty insight Andrew Grant).

I’ll leave you with a relevant Earth Day passage of Scripture:

The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork. Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge. There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard. Their line is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them hath he set a tabernacle for the sun, which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, and rejoiceth as a strong man to run a race. His going forth is from the end of the heaven, and his circuit unto the ends of it: and there is nothing hid from the heat thereof (Psalm 19:1-6).”

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Should We Still Dress Our Best for Church?

I’m a millennial and I still think it’s best to wear our best to church. Recently my brother (Jonathan) and his wife (Vera) launched an online tie store called French Thread (shameless plug). Their company is awesome and it’s a great conversation starter. In particular, the issue of the so-called church “dress wars” comes up from time to time. No, I don’t think a suit will save you or jeans will jinx you; I just think God’s house deserves our respect. I can hear the groans from latte sipping, skinny jean, cashmere wearing liberals now… and yes, I know the Church is made up of people, not buildings. In fact, I’ll take you all the way down that road; our bodies are literally temples of the Holy Ghost (1 Corinthians 6:19). Meaning, it matters how we dress, speak, talk, eat, live, and on and on. And not just at church, but every day. Our bodies represent Jesus. His holiness, His majesty, and His royalty dwell within us. I want to represent the Holy Spirit to the best of my ability (whatever that may be).

Having said that, the church house is a building specifically designated and dedicated to worshipping a God that is awesome beyond our wildest imaginations. His presence is everywhere, but a church is dedicated to worship and the Word. When functioning properly, a church is a collection of unified, Spirit-filled, enthusiastic individuals who show up to lift up the name of Jesus. They come to learn, grow, praise, and experience the presence of God in a way that only collective worship allows. The singing is sacred, the preaching is powerful, the prayer is purposeful, and the atmosphere is faithful. A gathering of the Church in any place or building on the Lord’s Day (Acts 20:7, 1 Corinthians 16:1-2, Psalms 118:22-26) is a convocation of holy people worshipping a holy God (i.e. a holy convocation). Basically, church is a big deal, God is the biggest deal, and because worship is not a casual thing we should not dress informally. I dress up for church for the same reasons I dress up for weddings; it’s a sacred time and I want to honor it.

Psychologists know that how we dress impacts our mindset greatly (here, here, here, and here). Schools have found that uniforms foster a focused classroom. Conversely, anything goes dress codes promote lazy, casual, and disrespectful demeanors (here, here). Studies of businesses show that productivity dramatically decreases on casual Fridays (here, here). We all instinctively know this to be true deep down. There’s a reason we buy special clothes for vacation; certain types of clothing make us feel more relaxed (you can always spot a tourist). It’s not a coincidence that people dress a certain way to go clubbing or hit the bars, they have a certain goal and a certain mindset and they dress accordingly. There’s a reason why politicians, lawyers, business professionals, newsmen, doctors, pilots, military personnel, pastors (at least historically), and even late night comedians mostly wear dress clothes while representing their endeavors. They are showing respect for their profession, themselves, and others. They exude confidence, competence, focus, command, and elicit trust.

I know there’s a certain charm to feeling the liberty to wear jeans and T-shirts to church (or whatever). It’s easy, casual, convenient, and relaxing. And therein, lies the problem; church is not designed to be easy, casual, convenient, or relaxing. Yikes! I know how politically incorrect that statement sounds, but nevertheless it’s true.

Church is meant to be exciting, exhilarating, exalting, and life changing. If you think that sounds sillier than passing up a Krispy Kreme when the “hot” sign is on, it’s because you haven’t experienced the moving of the Spirit in a tangible way (at least not recently). Like it or not, preaching is not inherently designed by God to only be positive and encouraging K-Love radio, sometimes it’s for correction, conviction, instruction, and rebuke (1 Timothy 5:20, 2 Timothy 4:2, 2 Timothy 3:16-17, Luke 17:3-4, Mark 16:14). I don’t want my pastor looking like he’s about go camping for the same reasons I don’t want my lawyer looking like he’s about to go play video games in his Mom’s basement; it reeks of immaturity, incompetence, indifference, and frivolity. None of those images inspire confidence, gravitas, or respect. Furthermore, church is a sacred time where we come into direct contact with Divine anointing, revelation, illumination, salvation, sanctification, and the list could go on for miles. Bottom line, it’s not casual.

Let me address objections that I often hear from the promoters of super casual church attire. It usually goes something like this “Isn’t it a waste of money to buy dress clothes?” It’s normally followed up with “Couldn’t that money be better spent another way?” Typically, a caustic accusation of vanity is leveled as well. First, those statements are eerily like the arguments that Judas employed against Mary for breaking her alabaster box over the feet of Jesus (John 12:3-8). An argument that Jesus promptly rejected (I wouldn’t call Judas a great role model). Second, dressing in a respectful, dignified way doesn’t necessarily have to be expensive. Third, I recently performed a wedding alongside a pastor who was adamantly against wearing a suit and tie to church. Ironically, he spent a lot of time bragging about his $300 name brand jeans and his $400 distressed leather boots. I don’t necessarily care what he paid for what, but obviously hip “casual” clothes can be just as expensive and vain as a suit and tie.

If you walk away from this article assuming I think a tie has some salvific value you’d be dead wrong. Neither do I expect guests to change their wardrobe before they walk through the doors of the church house! Also, I fully acknowledge that if people aren’t careful, “dressing up” can devolve into vanity and showiness! I do think, however, that as we mature spiritually our level of reverence towards the things of God should grow exponentially (1 Timothy 3:14-15, 1 Peter 2:5). As that happens, we should begin to dress reverently for church (Hebrews 12:28).

This excerpt from an article by CNN writer John Blake offers a further perspective:

The reasons why people stopped dressing up could fill a book. Yet Fulwiler offers one explanation that’s seldom mentioned – lack of gratitude.

Fulwiler’s revelation came one day as she watched scruffily dressed people board a plane. She flashed back to a black-and-white photo she had seen of her grandparents boarding a plane in the 1940s. Most of the passengers were dressed in suits and ties and dresses because air travel was such a privilege at the time.

“We dress up for what we’re grateful for,” she says. “We’re such a wealthy, spoiled culture that we feel like we have a right to fly on airplanes,” says Fulwiler, author of “Something Other than God,” which details her journey from atheism to Christianity.

Church is like air travel now – it’s no longer a big deal because people have lost their sense of awe before God, Fulwiler says.

Yet some of these same people who say it doesn’t matter how you dress for church would change their tune if they were invited to another event, Fulwiler says.

“If you had the opportunity to meet the Queen of England, you wouldn’t show up in at Windsor Castle wearing jeans and a T-shirt,” she says.

Shouldn’t people have that same reverential attitude when they show up at church to meet God, some ask? After all, doesn’t your dress reveal the importance you attach to an occasion?”

The real underlying question here is “should you choose to approach church casually or reverently”? Before you decide, ask yourself if it would be disrespectful to show up to a wedding in flip-flops and a T-shirt? Take that thought a little further, if you were the bride how would you dress? Certainly, as the bride of Christ, we should be reverent in our dress code as we gather to worship our Groom. Saints of old viewed it symbolically as a foretaste of the Great Marriage Supper of the Lamb (Revelations 19:6-9). Dressing “up” was a symbol of their profound respect for the things of God. I think they were right.

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Related Articles: The Difference Between Praise & Worship, 6 Descriptors of Genuine Worship, Don’t Play Past the Bike (Common Sense Theology), 9 Signs of a Prideful Heart, You Might Be a Carnal Christian If…, Right, Righteous & Self-Righteous Judgements (Knowing the Difference), If We Are What We Post (What Are We Saying)?, Is Technology Killing Theology?, A Pattern of Persecution (What Does Hollywood Have In Common With ISIS)?

 

Top 10 Trending Articles

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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8. 7 Types of Church Services by Ryan French

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

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10. 5 Mistakes Every Worship Leader Makes by Nathan French

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Guard Dog or God’s Chosen?

Today, I awoke in a frustrated state, as my dogs raised the alarm. Their urgent barks were interrupted momentarily by low guttural growls as they raced from window to door in agitation. The guard dogs were on the prowl, warning of imminent danger; or were they? Many argue a guard dog is the best alarm, money can buy, but I’m not so sure I agree.

You see, once I awoke enough to wipe the sleep from my eyes, I knew in my heart there was no true threat. I had seen it too many times, in mere seconds they would transform from frothing beasts to their normal sweet, amiable selves, clamoring for a belly rub. Dogs are unable to differentiate between a real threat (a thief) and the “evil” mail carrier. I have watched my own dogs sleep through a knock at the door, softly twitching their paws content in their dream state, just to attempt a death-defying leap through a glass window to defend the household from the “danger” imposed by the garbage truck. No matter, how we try to sugar-coat it, the reality remains, all dogs are in truth dumb, regardless of the tricks they know or their loyalty to their human family.

In today’s society, many have reduced themselves to nothing more than guard dogs. Some, like a dumb, lazy dog choose to sleep, unconcerned with the effects of today’s decisions on future generations. The pressure of political correctness has stifled free speech, sensitivity to “micro-aggressions” has overridden wisdom, demands for “trigger warnings” have made people fearful of open debate, and a political platform has displaced logic. Although, many champion an era of “new tolerance”, the current climate has, in fact, created one of the most philosophically intolerant time periods in human history. This intolerance automatically labels all truth claims as suspect and few are willing to take a counter-cultural stance. People willingly sacrifice the power of their voice, the essence of their humanity, and their spirituality for a comfortable, blissful sleep. While a moral revolution takes place, many bury their head in the sand and remain unmoved. They choose to navigate without a compass, set adrift, anchorless on the changing winds of popular opinion. The temptation to deny reality and cling to the mirage of a utopian dream beckons and those who surrender to its siren cry welcome the sleep of spiritual death.

Others epitomize the aggressive, guard dog on the prowl. They demand individuality at the expense of truth and are obsessed with the concept of non-conformity. Many ardently state their disillusionment with everything considered “too mainstream” and choose to draw lines of demarcation. This is most evident in the various ways our culture self-identifies across socio-economic, racial, ethnic, educational, philosophical, religious, sexual, and gender lines. Their attempts at originality are articulated via mass-produced bumper stickers, copy-cat tattoos, branded clothing, political flags, and mass-produced entertainment. The cries of this generation are unmistakable as they fight to protect the territory they’ve arbitrarily defined. Their area of marked defense is ever changing, shrinking and expanding as individual emotions shift, trends change, and public opinion polls swing. The guard dog mentality has created a self-absorbed culture of violence and discord, which has fractured society beyond human repair. After all, a “good” guard dog doesn’t sleep through a time of revolution, but stands, prepared to rip out the throat of anyone who crosses into its territory, whether friend or foe.

Though the church is immersed in this extreme culture, it is imperative, both ministers and saints recognize we cannot slumber and we cannot rage. There is simply too much at stake for God’s people to follow the lead of society. We cannot afford to simply “wing-it” and hope for the best. Our response must be determined, deliberate, and decisive. We are hopeless if we merely reflect the failed guard dog mentality of culture.

In the Old Testament, the prophet Isaiah, speaks of those God commissioned as watchmen. However, he does not commend them for a job well-done; in fact, he rebukes them as nothing more than “dumb dogs”. He indicts them as “blind” and “ignorant”. He suggests they value the comfort of sleep more than the safety of God’s people. (Isa. 56:10). When the Christian feels overwhelmed by the obstacles and wickedness of this world, slumber is a very real temptation. It is easy to ignore the signs of the times and the monumental shifts in culture. Often we see this evidenced in the following ways:

  1. Churches and saints who still operate according to a nineteen-fifties approach to ministry and daily living. They continue with business as usual and fight to maintain a cocoon of protection from all secular influence. They placidly sleep while the enemy prowls. Their unwillingness to acknowledge the effects of the post-modern worldview creates an entire generation unprepared to face the challenges and obstacles of the twenty-first century.
  2. Others embrace a neutral, permissive attitude in the name of love and tolerance. The assumption that compassion and a good example alone are enough to change hearts and lives, robs the church of any true growth. Dynamic oratory skills are not a replacement for solid Biblical teaching! When the priority is to avoid offense and confrontation, nothing is established as a moral or doctrinal absolute. Individuals abandon growth and embrace spiritual stagnation. Some even limit the spiritual development of children and new converts to prevent them from offending, by virtue of their walk.

However, simply closing our eyes to everything unpleasant does not lessen the impact society has on the minister, the church, or its saints. While we refuse to acknowledge the enemies’ approach, a generation is slaughtered mercilessly. The church must rise to the demands of the times to do anything less is sin. (Ja. 4:17) Furthermore, sleep is surrender and surrender is not an option!

The alternative is just as destructive. God forbid, the body of Christ adopts the same dog-eat-dog mentality modern society has perfected. The church confronted with the vehemence of culture cannot stoop to society’s methods of communication and unabashed, self-preservation. God never called His people to an attack dog mentality or a pit bull ministry. Doctrine and holiness is not the church’s squeaky toy to protect by tooth and claw. Truth should never be defended based on an intellectual decision or principle alone. The church functions at its best and doctrine is most effectively articulated when His people are sincerely in love with God and His Word.

Though secular society lives in the muddied waters of moral ambiguity, reliant on emotions alone to define their understanding, the church does not have to do the same. Thankfully, Scripture provides a lifeline! In fact, I would argue, God’s word speaks directly to our current situation. There is no excuse for a morally ambivalent church, just as there is no defense for a saint that doesn’t represent the Savior in word and deed. We must exemplify true Biblical Christianity in the way we live, minister, and lead. Our passion and love for the Creator is demonstrated through a loving, but honest approach to the sins of this world. So, in the midst of the extremes of a guard dog culture, God demands the church look to the timeless words of Scripture.

  1. First and foremost, we must learn what it truly means to be the church of the Living God. It is not merely a title we wear emblazoned on our shirts or a placard we hang behind the pulpit. The early church didn’t accidentally turn “the world upside down.” (Acts 17:6) Their level of effectiveness in evangelism was a direct result of the depth of their relationship. They didn’t reflect the world, but rather the God they served. Non-conformity is an illusion. Ultimately, how we spend our time and energy, where we set our affections, and what entertains us will define us. The choice is ours; will we conform to the broken, self-destructive worldview of the guard dog or the liberating image of our Creator and Redeemer? (Jn. 8:32; Ja. 1:23-25; Ro. 12:2) It is impossible for us, to know the mind and heart of God if we refuse to spend time getting to know Him through prayer, fasting and His word. When we learn to fully trust God He will shape and define us, so our character will mirror His. Philippians, chapter two explains that God, Himself “took upon him the form of a servant” (Ph. 2:6-11). In the face of such great condescension, we must not be offended when He asks us to humble ourselves for His service. After all, we must realize, before He called us to be saints or ministers; He called us to be His followers and servants and that call doesn’t change. The temptation to embrace an extreme mentality fades as we turn our eyes away from our own desires and the distractions of this life and focus our hearts and minds on Him alone.
  2. Secondly, we must learn the power of obedience. The guard dog is often difficult to control growling and snapping without regard for its master’s command. But,               Scripture tells us “obedience is better than sacrifice.” (I Sa. 15:22). Sacrifice is               required for the overcoming, Christian. However, our sacrifices are meaningless, unless they are accompanied by a willingness to obey the One we claim to worship. When we are in love with God, submitted to Him, and growing in our relationship with Him; obedience is a natural response. Holiness and right living, no longer feel like an imposition, because His spirit compels us to demonstrate our commitment to Him with our lives. In essence, we learn to walk in the spirit. (Ga. 5:16) If we hope to be God’s instruments for revival, we must learn to obey Him. He isn’t looking for an aggressive church straining at the leash and foaming at the mouth. His heart desires men and women, willing to submit to Him in obedience and allow Him to order their steps.
  3. The Bible is clear. When we recognize who God is, we are faced with the reality of our own inadequacies and must choose how to respond. John 9:38-40 gives us a perfect example of this concept in action. Jesus didn’t heal the spiritually blind of the Pharisees, because they refused to admit their weakness and continually claimed to see. The revelation of His infinite wisdom and omniscience, demands we willingly acknowledge the limitations of our own finite human understanding. The sooner we admit our human intellect is powerless in the face of pain and spiritual brokenness, the sooner we can communicate, in His strength to a world in need. There is no excuse for an ignorant church or saint and despite the claims of some, ignorance is never bliss! We need His wisdom and discernment. God knows the height and depth of our knowledge, it’s impossible for us to pull the wool over His eyes. This is why He promises that if we ask in faith for wisdom, He won’t chastise us, but will empower us. (Ja. 1:5-6) The wisdom that comes from above has the power to move us beyond complacency and emotionally charged responses. When we surrender our understanding at the feet of the all-knowing One, He enables us in the following ways:

a. To identify the enemy – There are true enemies and we mustn’t spend time attacking the proverbial windmill (ala Don Quixote) or fighting the wind (I Co. 9:26). We have to know who and what we fight against. Paul tells us in Ephesians 6:12, that our battle isn’t physical, but spiritual. Furthermore, he states “…the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty in God…” (II Co. 10:4-5) A spiritual battle requires a spiritual approach. When the disciples failed in healing a demon possessed child, Jesus told them “…this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting.” (Mt. 17:14-21). We must be sober, vigilant, and culturally informed. But, without prayerful surrender and putting “…on the whole armour of God…” we face the reality of defeat. (Eph. 6:10-18) His discernment grants us the ability to focus our time and energy in the right direction. Instead, of battling perceived enemies, we can preach timeless Apostolic truth, strike at the heart of the enemy, and teach our generation how to apply the principles of Scripture to their lives.

b. To distinguish the lines of battle – The war for the hearts and minds of an entire generation is ongoing and the fences we construct, should with each post hole dug mark the field of battle. Ultimately, if the sheepfold we build is too small, the sheep will feel trapped and fight to escape, but if it’s too large, the enemy can creep in unaware. The sheep’s safety is determined by their nearness to the shepherd and the shepherd protects the sheep by staying close to the Great Shepherd. Therefore, our positions on matters of morality, entertainment and holiness must not be based on an emotional response or an intellectual analysis. We must resist the urge for a knee jerk reaction to anything new or foreign but must rely on His wisdom to teach us where to draw the lines of battle, when to fight, and how to protect God’s people. (Jn. 10:1-18)

c. To sound the alarm – If we act within our own wisdom and sound the alarm without cause, we are no better than the little boy who cried wolf. We sacrifice the power of our witness, when we simply attack everything we don’t understand. But, when we submit to His wisdom our message will ring with prophetic timeliness and resound with the voice of eternity. The collective sound of the church will echo with the clarity of a trumpet, warning of danger and beckoning sinners to a place of repentance and refuge.

Although, at times the devices of the enemy may seem overwhelming, God does not excuse us from our responsibility to Him. Instead, He fully equips His people through initiating a relationship with us, teaching us the power of obedience, and imparting His wisdom. He gives us the power to not only endure times of change and unrest, but to thrive! The Apostle Peter defined us not as guard dogs, but as “…a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people…” So, it’s time we abandon slumber and rage and “…shew forth the praises…” of the One who called us “…out of darkness into his marvellous light;” (I Pt. 2:9)

Jennifer Mast is a graduate of Indiana Bible College and has worked full-time at IBC, since 2004, serving in various capacities. Currently, she is the registrar, as well as an instructor for the Biblical Studies Department. She teaches a number of courses including; Gospel of John, General Epistles, New Testament Greek, and Biblical Hebrew. In addition, she holds ministerial license with the United Pentecostal Church. She is a passionate preacher and teacher and has a burden to communicate His word to the world.

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Jennifer Mast

Related articles: Overcoming Ministerial Insecurity, Ministerial Discouragement (And How To Handle It), You Cannot Be A Church Leader If… (Part 1), You Cannot Be A Church Leader If… (Part 2), 5 Tips For Introverted Leaders, Ministry Pitfalls, The Case For Yearly Preaching Plans, 14 Ways You Can Support Your Pastor, Consistency – 16 Keys To Great Leadership

The Death of Harambe (How Moral Relativism Has Made It Controversial)

Update: since posting this article in June of last year the controversy surrounding the singular specialness of human life has continued to rage. For many, the odd angst surrounding the death of a gorilla was their first contact with this unique brand of secular madness. Wesley J. Smith of National Review fame recently published an article entitled Now It’s ‘Posthumanist Ethical Pluralism’ that deals with this issue. The article is exceptional. I hope you’ll take the time to read through it. Below is my favorite quote from the article:

“If human life doesn’t have the highest ultimate objective value simply and merely because it is human–an equal value to be distinguished from all other life forms on the planet–there is no way to philosophically defend universal human rights. Moreover, if we can’t distinguish between our inherent value and that of animals, we will not elevate their status to our level but diminish our own to theirs.”

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve heard about the death of Harambe the gorilla. In case, by some blessed miracle you’ve been able to escape the media madness surrounding this story, I’ll give you a quick summary. A small boy recently fell into the gorilla enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo; zoo officials, fearing for the child’s life, shot and killed the 450-pound gorilla and rescued the boy.

I’m not here to argue the merits of whether or not the parents were or were not at fault. Although, having two young children myself, I know just how quickly a child can slip from your sight and into danger. Neither do I have a solid opinion on whether or not the zoo was at fault for not securing the enclosure more adequately, what’s interesting to me is the bizarre social dilemma that has bubbled up to the surface because of this story. At the heart of the debate is a simple question: is a human life more valuable than an animal’s life (click here for a great article that details the ongoing debate)?

For most of my readership, this question is an absolute no brainer. Of course, a human child’s life is immensely more valuable than a gorilla’s life. But for many, this question is far from settled. We are trending on a societal trajectory that is going to wrestle with the question of the value of human life above animal life with increasing levels of intensity.

This should not be a surprise, it is, after all, the natural logical conclusion of a post-Christian, evolutionistic nation. If you reject a biblical worldview then you are left with a man-made, relativistic brand of morality. As my atheist friends would be quick to point out, it is possible to be an atheist and have morals. This is true. But their morality is subjective and open to interpretation, nuance, and circumstance.

For example, a moral relativist might say (and they often do) that war is immoral. But why? If there is no higher power who sets the standards of right and wrong than who gets to make the moral rules? Who gets to write the commandments that we all must follow? Without God, moral standards are chosen arbitrarily by those with the most power to impose their opinions. So, if human beings are just an accidental causation of a chemical reaction with no soul it’s only logical to wonder if we are really valuable at all? Why does any life have value for that matter?

Certainly, the slippery slope of evolutionary thought creates a moral conundrum; because if humans are just highly evolved animals what makes us better than lesser evolved animals? Without a higher authority, all actions are rendered nonmoral. Right and wrong, good and evil, etc. are completely idiosyncratic and without objective legitimacy.

Just to be clear, I really like animals. When Chip, my childhood dog died, I cried like a baby. I consider gorilla’s to be majestic and fascinating creatures, but they are creatures, not human beings. I think it’s tragic that circumstances caused Harambe to die. However, human life is immeasurably more valuable than animal life. The life of that one child is more valuable than every single animal in that zoo. Period.

My belief in the value of human life is deeply rooted in my biblical worldview. Human beings are created in the image of God and we are far more than flesh and blood. Our temporary bodies merely house our eternal souls. The soul is what separates us from the animals. God created animals and gave us dominion over them. Human versus animal equality should not enter into the picture at all.

But for those who have swallowed the theory of evolution and rejected the Bible, this question will continue to fester. As America becomes increasingly post-Christian, this debate will naturally rise to the forefront of the cultural conversation. This poses a tremendous opportunity for Christians because many who believe in evolution instinctively know that human life is superior to animal life. When they are forced to follow the logical conclusion of their belief system they find it hard to digest and repulsive to their sensibilities.

Even though we are living in a largely post-Christian culture there are still strong vestiges of biblical morality holding society together. In other words, many people have moral principles that are consistent with biblical principles rather than their underdeveloped post-modern beliefs. To clarify further, they still believe certain things that are consistent with biblical morality because they haven’t followed their own philosophies on down to their logical (or illogical) conclusions. Sometimes, helping to lead an intellectually honest and sincere person down their own philosophical sink hole shines a light on the real fallacies and dangers that lurk below.

In the meantime, if you don’t believe in God or the Bible you have no right to lecture me on morality of any kind. Your own belief system denies the reality of true morality and replaces it with social relativism. Social relativism is why the world has suffered genocide after genocide (including the mass genocide of unborn children) at the hands of godless governments. It also produces a growing segment of society that genuinely wonders if babies can be aborted (murdered) up to four months after birth, cheerfully sells aborted body parts over salad, and dryly kicks around the idea of population control because of an apocalyptic view of climate change (the secular version of the book of Revelations). When you lecture me (or anyone else) about morality you are playing God, and only the one true God gets to tell me what is moral and what is immoral.

Related articles: Is Faith Absurd?A Pattern Of Persecution (What Does Hollywood Have In Common With ISIS?), Why Do So Many Christians Support Same-Sex Marriage?Resist Irrelevant Relevance, 5 Key Subjects That We Must Address (If We Want To Retain Young Adults In Our Churches)

 

Fire Then Rain

For me personally there is probably no passage of Scripture that has given more inspiration to me than the epic story of Elijah calling down fire from Heaven on Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18:36-39). It’s inspirational on many levels because it shows how one person of faith can change the course of a nation. It shows that we are not alone even when we think that we’re alone. It shows that God works all things together for good to those that love and trust Him. It shows that evil does not have to prevail. It shows that you don’t have to be in the majority to win if God is on your side. It demonstrates that God is all powerful and willing to reveal His glory when the time is right. And beyond all of that it’s just an awesome story. Who among us would not want to witness God putting the skeptics to shame with an outpouring of fire? In fact, it’s easy to get so focused on the falling fire that we forget they still needed rain even after they experienced the fire.

Elijah lived and prophesied in dark days. King Ahab and Queen Jezebel had ushered in an era of idolatry. It seemed that everyone was a backslider in Elijah’s early years of ministry. Jezebel was a murderous queen who introduced Israel to a brand of sensual religious paganism. Evil was rampant in the kingdom. The culture buckled under the pressure of compromise and lasciviousness. Good and decent people were forced into hiding, godly people became the outcasts of their society simply because they would not conform to popular culture. Babies and children were the most vulnerable in the culture that Jezebel shaped because they were offered as living sacrifices to the pagan god known as Baal. If all of this sounds familiar it’s probably because I could just as easily be describing today’s culture where good is called evil and evil is called good, where righteousness is considered stupid and sensuality is the norm, where false religion is prevalent but true religion is scarce, where compromise is cool and steadfastness is underrated, and over 55 million defenseless babies have been murdered since Roe vs. Wade (watch this powerful pro-life video if you dare). It is the single most atrocious genocide in the history of mankind, and yet they sip their wine and eat their salads completely undisturbed. What have we become as a nation? What will we become without revival? How much longer will God allow mercy to hold back the hand judgment? And yet, as bad as things are now it was just as bad in Elijah’s day.

In a moment of exasperation, Elijah prayed for God to withhold the rain and for three and a half years not one drop of rain fell to the ground. It was a brutal famine. People were desperate for life-giving rain. They were perishing slowly but surely. Yet, Elijah remained sensitive to the voice of the Lord and he realized that there needed to be an outpouring of fire before there could be an outpouring of rain. The fire represented death the rain represented life; Elijah understood that you can’t have new life until you put the old life to death. This generation will not have an outpouring of rain until we first have an outpouring of fire.

And so I echo the words of Elijah, “How long halt ye between two opinions? If the Lord be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him (1 Kings 18:21).” You can’t serve God and the world at the same time. You can’t gain new life and keep your old life at the same time. If we ever want to see a deluge of the Holy Ghost than we must first experience the purging of the falling fire. But Ryan you’re stuck in the Old Testament. Let me take you to the New Testament:

1 And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.2 And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.3 And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them.4 And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance (Acts 2:1-4).

So how do you get the fire to fall? First, you’ve got to get yourself to an altar. Second, you’ve got to be willing to sacrifice. Third, you’ve got to pray and then pray some more. And then just step back and watch God do His thing! We would have more rain if we would be willing to experience the fire. There are too many Christians who want rain, but they don’t want fire because fire takes sacrifice. Fire takes consecration. Fire takes perseverance. Fire takes dedication. Fire takes courage. Fire takes prayer and more prayer. Fire takes confrontation. Fire will not fall if we’re just doing business as usual. Fire will not fall if we’re just going through the motions. Fire will not fall while the altar is in disrepair. But there is a spiritual famine in our society today that is so prevalent that it cannot be ignored any longer. And if the Church will not call down the fire the rain will not fall.

The Holy Spirit is powerful and it moves in mysterious ways. Anyone who tells you they fully understand every interworking of the Holy Ghost is either a liar or extremely foolish. But I can tell you that the Holy Spirit manifests itself in many different ways. It convicts us and yet it saves us to the uttermost. It brings joy and consternation. It reveals our weakness and empowers us at the same time. Sometimes it falls like a gentle shower and sometimes it burns like a holy flame. It heals and it makes whole. It breaks us and reshapes us. It molds us and makes us better than we were before. It fills us and surrounds us, and it goes before us. When the Holy Ghost falls like rain it brings growth just like physical rain brings growth to the natural world. In the natural rain brings strength, refreshing, and cleansing and so it is in the Spirit as well. Our culture desperately needs the Spirit to fall like rain. But remember, the way God operates is fire first, then rain. When the Holy Ghost falls like fire it purifies.

For He is like a refiner’s fire, and like fullers’ soap: And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness (Malachi 3:2-3).

You can’t get to the rain until you go through the purification process. However, you can’t offer a bull as Elijah did on Mount Caramel. No. We must present ourselves to God on the altar of sacrifice. When we give ourselves wholly and completely to Him the Holy Ghost will fall like a refiner’s fire.

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service (Romans 12:1).

And it came to pass in the mean while, that the heaven was black with clouds and wind, and there was a great rain… (1 Kings 18:45).




An Echo Experience

“This charge I commit unto thee, son Timothy, according to the prophecies which went before on thee, that thou by them mightest war a good warfare; holding faith, and a good conscience; which some having put away concerning faith have made shipwreck:” (I Timothy 1:18-19)

Today, we live in the world of the MP3. Gone are the days of 8-tracks, audio cassettes, and hand-held radios. When it comes to music, our response tends to be, “there’s an app for that.” The Walkman has gone the way of the dinosaur and CDs will be there soon, if not already. But before the medium completely disappears, there’s an awesome lesson we can learn from the humble compact disc.

It’s interesting that in the music recording industry there are 2 primary options for burning a CD. The first is duplication. When a CD is duplicated, it contains the songs that are saved onto it. Put it into a player and it will play. But at a later time, if another album comes out or if the CD is needed for another purpose, with the touch of a few buttons and the right software, it can easily be over-written. That’s duplication.

The other method is called replication. And, here’s the difference: When a CD is replicated, the data, the music, the message, whatever it is…is “burned” so deeply into the CD that it becomes a permanent part of its identity. At that moment, the entire identity of that element has changed. You can try to reburn it and rebrand it a million times, but the result will always be the same. The outcome will stand. Truth be told, it’s more likely that the CD will give out, wear down, break apart, and effectively die before even considering taking on a new message.

In the above verses, Paul is instructing Timothy, his mentee, his protégé, his son in the Lord. Timothy is young. He’s effective. He’s a hard worker and is steadfast. And even then, knowing how faithful Timothy has been and how faithful Timothy will be, Paul encourages him to hold fast.

Hold. Fast.

In fact, the word Paul uses for “holding” is the Greek word “echo.” It means “to have; to own; to possess; to hold to one’s self; to adhere or cling to; to be closely joined.” It’s tied to the idea of never letting go, but it goes beyond that. It’s also understood that holding—echo—is the idea of identifying with something so closely that it becomes a part of you. It’s the moment something is burned into your being. It’s the moment where the element changes and replication takes place.

As youth workers and youth leaders, I hope and I pray that we have an Echo Experience when it comes to truth. I hope that in our hearts of hearts, we’re replicating truth and not just duplicating it. I also hope that we aren’t just replicating truth in our own lives, but in the lives of the young people we work with as well. I know that’s a concept that’s been coming up again and again in my personal prayer time: “Lord, let our young people have an Echo Experience, let them fall in love with this truth, and let it become a part of them.”

I don’t want this truth, this Apostolic Identity, to just be written over when something new comes down the pike. But instead, let it be replicated. Let it go forward. Let it be passed on. Don’t let the message stop with our fathers, the Paul’s in our lives, or with us. Because this truth is more than a list of core doctrines and ideas. It’s more than a deeper understanding of Scripture. It’s more than a vision, purpose, or mission statement. It’s an identity…one that’s meant to be passed on.

I’m thankful for this precious truth and I love this life-changing message. As we lead, let us remember that youth group isn’t meant to be the holding tank or awkward waiting period between Sunday School and regular church. It’s the place where foundations are laid, where decisions are made, and ministries are born. It’s the place where one of our tasks, second only to presenting the gospel, is to encourage our young people to fall in love with this truth and to create an atmosphere for an Echo Experience; to see this truth, this message, this identity, not just duplicated, but replicated in their lives.

GOVE

Jeremy Gove

Husband of Sarah. GDYD Section One Youth Director. Writer. Teacher. Preacher. IT Admin. Graphic Designer…at the end of the day: Nothing outside of my Savior.

Jeremy Gove is an ordained minister with the United Pentecostal Church International and the Section One Youth Director for the Georgia District. Prior to 2014, Jeremy served as the Assistant Pastor at Midtown Tabernacle in Middletown, Delaware. He accepted the position in 2008, the same year he graduated from the University of Delaware with a B.S. in Management Information Systems. As a fan of Jewish culture, Jeremy became involved in the Jewish Studies program at UD, taking various courses in Jewish theology, philosophy, and ideology. He ultimately became one of the first business students to hold a minor in that field of study. Jeremy was first licensed with the United Pentecostal Church International in 2008, ordained in 2011, and officially installed in 2012. In September of 2014, Jeremy moved to Claxton, Georgia and married Sarah, the editor of the local paper and love of his life, shortly after.

Professionally, Jeremy works as the Information Systems Administrator for Evans County, Georgia and freelances as a graphic designer and brand consultant. He also preaches, teaches, heads up HYPHEN (college and career), and handles A/V and several aspects of promotion at his home church, Truth Tabernacle, in Blackshear, GA; his wife, Sarah, also serves on youth staff and is the Minister of Music at Truth. Jeremy is a gifted speaker who teaches with passion and with the goal of applying the Bible’s truths and concepts to everyday life. When not teaching, studying, designing, or doing “church work,” you can usually find Jeremy sitting down with a good book or spending time with his family.

www.jeremygove.com

Paths of Righteousness (Psalms 23:3)

He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake (Psalm 23:3).

The 23rd Psalm is beautiful and arguably the most recited passage of Scripture. I have found that most people focus primarily on verses one and two, but verse three is filled with a wealth of powerful truths. So let’s dig in.

HE RESTORES MY SOUL (What Does That Mean?) I always thought it meant that God strengthens us when we are weak (and that’s exactly how some people translate this phrase), but the meaning goes much deeper than just a physical strengthening. It literally means that God will bring our soul back from its wanderings or wrongdoings. Nothing is more ready to wander astray than sheep, and nothing has more trouble finding its way back than sheep. All we like sheep have gone astrayand we are always vulnerable to failure and backsliding; we are prone to leaving the right way, the way of truth, and the way of duty, and detouring onto the familiar, brightly lit paths of unrighteousness. That’s exactly what Jesus meant when He said, “Wide is the way the leads to destruction, but narrow is the way that leads to life (Matthew 7:13-14).” It’s easy to get off course. It’s easy to get lost.  It’s easy to get on the busy highway that leads to destruction and just follow the traffic. It’s easy to let the Devil take the wheel. And in those moments remember that God is merciful. He is a God of restoration. Cry out to Jesus, and He will find you even when you have abandoned Him.

When God restores our souls, He shows us our errors, He brings us to repentance, He calls us back to our duty, He forgives, He forgets; and if he did not do so, we would wander endlessly and we would be undone. The Bible indicates that God can heal our backsliding (Jeremiah 3:22). That word “healing” is interesting because it signifies that God views backsliding like a disease that needs immediate care. We can take our weakness, our doubt, our unbelief, our failure, and our sin to the Lord. And just as surely as God can open blinded eyes he can heal a hardened heart.  Just as surely as God can heal the lame, he can mend a wounded soul. He can and will heal our backsliding if we turn to Him.

HE LEADS Once God restores us He will be our leader. In fact, he will demand to be our leader. Sometimes we try to lead God. We try to manipulate God’s will to fit our desires, but all of those efforts end in pain. God is all-powerful; we cannot share in His Lordship. We could end a lot of difficult lessons right now by simply allowing God to lead us in all things. That means God leads our finances, our time, our entertainment, our appearance, our conversations, our futures, our relationships, our families; everything.

HE LEADS US IN PATHS OF RIGHTEOUSNESS (What are paths of righteousness?) Paths indicate well-walked trails that others have blazed. It’s a trail that goes off the paved roads, well worn by travelers who created natural paths through difficult terrains.  In the prophet Jeremiah’s days, Israel rejected the Lord’s ways and began following whatever roads looked good to them. Look at the command that God gave to the people in Jeremiah 6:16.

Thus saith the Lord: “Stand ye in the highways and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way; and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls. But they said, ‘We will not walk therein.

They willingly disobeyed the Word of the Lord and invited judgment into their lives. Let’s not make the same mistake. Remeber, “In the way of righteousness is life; and in the pathway thereof there is no death (Proverbs 12:28)”.

FOR HIS NAME’S SAKE He restores and he leads us into righteousness because it brings honor to His name. That’s not to say that He doesn’t do so out of love for us because He certainly does. But just like a parent experiences dishonor when a child refuses to be obedient, God is dishonored by our tantrums. When we enter back into covenant with God it restores honor to us and Him.



Love or Hate?

Stop and think, does what you say some come from a place of love or hate? If love then great. If hate, stop and pray. Pray for your inward state. Because without grace this life is a waste. If you offend from a place of grace than you’ve stated your case in a godly way. But if hate is hidden behind fake grace you lose faith. And worse your neighbors lose faith in the words you say. Regardless of whether you’re right or wrong; no one wants to hear an angry song played out of key with broken strings. That’s what hate sounds like; out of sync. The beat, the rhyme, the melody all collide, it shrieks. Loud and shrill it rolls off your tongue, like honey filled with glass, it cuts deep. So be careful not only of the words you speak but of the heart that beats. Say hard truths, that’s ok, but always with love and not with hate.

The Words We Speak

Click here to watch The Words We Speak visual blog.

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

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

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

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

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

Click here to watch The Words We Speak visual blog.

Resist Irrelevant Relevance

Called to Be Culture Warriors

To be a culture warrior, it takes courage. It takes courage to be different. It takes courage to seek the higher ground. It takes courage to resist the tide of sinful societies. It takes courage to resist false premises that are commonly believed to be true. But for those who identify as Christians, this is exactly what God has called us to do. God, speaking through the apostle Peter, gives a clear command, “…Be ye holy; for I am holy (1 Peter 1:16).” This is just one of numerous passages that call us to a lifestyle of holiness.

Holiness Matters

Obviously, God takes holiness very seriously, and yet the topic of holiness is one of the most divisive subjects among Christians of all flavors. Don’t panic, this article isn’t intended to be a list of do’s and don’ts (I’ll save that for another time). Before we can have a conversation about any of the outward or inward manifestations of holiness, we must first agree that holiness actually matters.

Holiness in Action (God Begins the Process)

Some theorize that holiness is something like forgiveness; God grants it to us and then we go our merry way without any responsibilities whatsoever. This argument is odd because although it is true that only God can pardon our sins, even that pardon comes with an expectation. Consider the woman caught in the act of adultery; Jesus tells her that her sins are forgiven with the stipulation that she must stop sinning from that moment forward (John 8:1-11). In a certain sense, holiness is the continuation of a work (sanctification) that God sets in motion within us.

Holiness (the Process)

The apostle Paul makes it clear that holiness is a process in which we are active participants, “…let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God (2 Corinthians 7:1).” Notice that we are to cleanse ourselves and perfect holiness. This is not a flippant elective that we can approach casually; we perfect holiness in the fear of God.

We Are More than Mere Bystanders

To be clear, holiness is not something that can be achieved through ourselves, by ourselves, or because of ourselves. Neither are we clueless bystanders free of responsibility or obligation. God calls us to a higher standard of living both internally and externally. Thankfully, God promised that his Spirit will empower us when our strength fails us (Luke 24:49; Romans 8:11).

God Is Holy

We can all agree that God is holy, but what does that mean? Passages like 1 Samuel 2:2 and Isaiah 6:3 are just two examples of many passages about God’s holiness. We could describe the holiness of God as absolute sinless perfection. God is unlike any other (Hosea 11:9) and His holiness is the essence of that “otherness.” His very being is completely absent of even a trace of sin (James 1:13; Hebrews 6:18). He is high above any other, and no one can compare to Him (Psalm 40:5). God’s holiness pervades His entire being and shapes all His attributes. His love is a holy love, His mercy is holy mercy, and even His anger and wrath is holy (wrap your head around that one).

What does it mean for us to be holy?

When God told Israel to be holy in Leviticus chapters 11 and 19, He was instructing them to be distinct from the other nations by giving them specific regulations (or standards) to govern their lives. Israel is God’s chosen nation and God has set them apart from all other people groups. They are His special people, and consequently, they were given standards that God wanted them to live by so the world would know they belonged to Him. When Peter repeats the Lord’s words in 1 Peter 1:16, he is talking specifically to believers. As believers, we are commanded to be “set apart” from the world unto the Lord. Therefore, we are to live according to God’s standards, not the world’s. God isn’t calling us to be perfect but to be distinct from the world. First Peter 2:9 describes believers as “a holy nation.” And it is in fact! The Church is spiritual Israel. We are separated from the world; we must live out that reality in our day-to-day lives.

Resist Irrelevant Relevance 

I’m not advocating that the Church should seek to be irrelevant; what could be more relevant than endeavoring to save a lost world? However, relevance for the sake of relevance makes the Church irrelevant because we lose sight of our priorities quickly. Relevance at all costs leads to compromise no matter the cost. In all our noble efforts to reach the world, let’s not forget that a holy people cannot assimilate into an unholy culture and remain holy.

 

7 Ways To Help Your Youth Group Backslide

This is a followup guest entry to an article entitled Do You Believe Your Youth Group Will Stay In The Church? by my brother Nathan French.To get to know Nathan better check out his bio here or his Facebook page here. Nathan is our Youth Pastor at Apostolic Tabernacle and he is passionate about seeing AiMYouth live for God with abandon. Also, here’s a link to an article that I wrote a while back entitled 5 Key Subjects That We Must Address (If We Want To Retain Young Adults In Our Churches).

First of all, let me say that “backsliding” is a very real thing. It is impossible to “backslide” if you were never standing where God wanted you to stand in the first place. The youth of our generation have grown up in a different world then our elders grew up in. There are new temptations of convenience. The devil has cleverly placed temptations in front of our youth and made sin easily accessible for them. Violence, profanity, pornography….it’s all just a click away now. You haven’t given them computer access? Satan says, “No problem, their cell phones will do.” Satan has provided our students lots of help to lead them on the way to backsliding. As the Church, it is our responsibility to counteract these attempts of the enemy, and stand against the fiery darts of the wicked. I believe our young people can live for God in the last days! I also believe that they can resist the temptations of this world if the Church will be the lighthouse that they need it to be in order to see their way on an ocean of easily accessible sins.

The problem is not what’s coming from the world; our youth understand that the world is a dark place. What they cannot understand is how darkness gets into the Church. Backsliding begins in our youth groups when they see the darkness in the Church, because they no longer know where to draw the lines of right and wrong.  They begin to ask themselves questions like, “If darkness is in the Church, how are we any different than the world?” Please don’t misunderstand me; I don’t believe any of our churches want to see their kids backslide. Most often, we don’t even realize how we’re “helping” the process along. Here are seven ways church people might be obliviously “helping” youth backslide.

  1. Talk bad about ministry. This is a great way to help your youth backslide. If you want to help them on the road to backsliding, keep on having those negative conversations at lunch on Sunday. “Why does Pastor always….?” Anyways, you get the point.
  1. Never get involved. This is a great way to help your youth backslide. After all, you’re way too busy to help with the church right now. If we keep teaching our youth that God is the last priority, that will definitely help them make the decision to put God last in their life.
  1. Never worship. Worship draws people closer to God, so if you want to help your youth group backslide… teach them how to not worship. Hosea 11: 7- And my people are bent to backsliding from me: though they called them to the most High, none at all would exalt him.
  1. Constantly miss church. This is a great way to help your youth backslide. By simply not taking them to church, you have helped the devil immensely. The presence of God will begin to break strongholds in their life, so if you want to help them backslide, definitely do not take them to church three times a week. Psalm 122:1- I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the LORD.
  1. Speak in anger and not love. Correcting your youth in anger rather than love is a great way to help them backslide. After all, God is love. If you don’t want God to be a big part of their life, don’t do anything in love.
  1. Seclude yourself. Your youth group is a community of great friends that believe in the same thing. So, by secluding yourself and your family, you have already helped the devil. I mean, who wants to be around their friends of like faith anyways? Oh wait… your youth do!
  1. Use God’s Name in vain. There is power in the name of Jesus. When you abuse it by using it as a joke, the devil is so happy. There is nothing more powerful than the name of Jesus. If you teach your young people that His Name is just a joke, you will definitely help them backslide. Act 4:12 – Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.

We are THE CHURCH! Let’s be a light in a dark world and do whatever it takes to keep the darkness out of the Church.

You Might Be A Carnal Christian If…

Carnality is not a place where God wants us to live. God has called each of us to walk in the Spirit and not in the flesh (Galatians 5:16). Carnality can be defined simply as a Christian who leans towards worldliness. It is possible to be carnal and not totally backslidden, however, those who flirt with worldliness long enough usually divorce themselves from God eventually or vice versa. In my years of pastoral ministry, I have been asked over and over again to give practical snapshots or specific definitions of what carnality looks like in real life. This is my humble attempt to answer some of those inquiries. I have tried to be honest (not unkind) with these little snapshots – thirty of them to be exact. Don’t worry, they’re short. I regularly check my own attitudes, actions, and influences for any trace of deadly carnality. It is my prayer that this article has been written with, and that it will be read with, a spirit that desires to please God. So here we go.

You might be a carnal Christian if…

…going to church is a low priority in your life.

…your activities at church only involve one-day a week or less.

…you are more comfortable around sin than you are around righteousness.

…you regularly make fun of, laugh at, or become angered by righteousness (spiritual things).

…you have no personal spiritual disciplines like prayer, Bible reading, Bible study, Bible memorization, witnessing, and fasting.

…you are angered by preaching that challenges, convicts, corrects, rebukes, or even nudges you a little bit.

…you dislike worshipping and other people’s outward demonstrations of worship annoy you as well.

…you don’t want pastoral authority or advice (you may or may not say this verbally, but you feel it inwardly).

…you will only do things for God that others will notice and applaud.  You are unwilling to do small, menial tasks for others, your church, and God’s kingdom in general.

…you regularly give in to temptation and get tripped up by the same sins over and over again (even after repenting).

…you live on a steady diet of worldly music and other various forms of entertainment that promote, glorify, and justify sinful activities.

…you will not listen to godly advice even from close family and friends.

…God is not the first priority in your life.

…you withhold your tithes (10% of your income) from God, do not give offerings (any amount given to God in love), or ever give sacrificially (giving until and/or when it hurts).

…you don’t think you have any room for improvement or spiritual progress.

…you regularly participate in gossip, backbiting, and contribute to arguments and strife.

…you look for controversies and ways to bring divisions rather than seeking peace and unity with all men.

…you are regularly filled with envy, rage, jealousy, pride, arrogance or any other emotion that does not reflect the fruit of the Spirit.

…you put you first rather than others.

…you can’t remember the last time you repented to God or another individual for wrongdoing.

…humility is a word that makes you uncomfortable.

…you are secretly dishonest but would like for people to view you as trustworthy.

…you regularly lie, but you think it’s ok because you don’t get caught.

…you are constantly looking for loopholes in God’s Word rather surrendering to its authority.

…you get more excited over a football game (or you can fill in the blank with your favorite distraction) than you do the goodness of God.

…you can’t remember the last time you talked about God outside of a church function.

…you regularly let your mind dwell on lustful, immoral, wicked, and evil things, but you think its ok because you haven’t acted on them.

…you have no respect for godly elders or opinions other than your own.

…you do not value those who labor in the Word (preachers, pastors, prophets, evangelists, missionaries, and teachers). You do not think they are worthy of a double portion (or any portion for that matter).

…you have not felt the presence of God in a long, long time.

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5 Things We Should Be Talking About (If We Want Our Kids To Stay In Church)

In a moment, I am going to list five key subjects that the Church (and parents) must address forcefully and often if we want our kids to stay in church. Four of the five areas are subjects that the Church has largely remained silent on in the last several decades.

It’s time to face the ugly reality that the Churches retention rate of young adults is rapidly dwindling.  The stories of tragedy are countless and remarkably similar.  The scenario usually goes something like this; Jamie graduates from high school where humanism, atheism, secularism, and every other “ism” you can imagine has been crammed into her head for the last decade or more.  But until recently, Jamie always went home to a mom and dad who worked hard to combat the onslaught of worldly concepts and temptations infiltrating her mind.  But when Jamie goes to college she faces the same battles that she fought in high school, only now they are even more intensified.

One key element changes to Jamie’s disadvantage; she no longer goes home to the stability of her parents.  Jamie has more freedom, more independence, more responsibility, more pressure, more temptations, more opportunity for failure, and less support.

Sadly, many times the Jamie’s in our churches simply are not equipped to withstand the philosophical, moral, spiritual, and psychological battles that blindside them fresh out of high school.  Somehow, somewhere before Jamie reaches these critical years she must develop her own intimate, personal relationship with God if she is going to withstand the cultural onslaught that young adulthood brings.

So what is the Churches role in all of this?  I believe it is significant.  In fact, it is paramount.  Outside of parents, nothing can impact and shape the hearts of students like the properly functioning body of Christ.  It is vitally important that the Church (especially the leadership) is aware and concerned about the challenges facing their young adults.

Backsliding is never instantaneous, but rather a slow, hard, often silent development.  It is an internal process that usually doesn’t manifest itself outwardly until it has almost completely germinated.  That’s why Scripture admonishes us to, “Train up a child in the way that he should go… (Proverbs 22:6).”  Nothing can replace the shaping done during an individual’s formative years (arguably adolescence and young teens).  When Jamie goes to college she will subconsciously draw from behaviors and patterns learned long ago.  Therefore, for the Church to retain its young adults it must maintain thriving child, adolescent, and pre-teen ministries.  Take advantage of formative years and equip them for a lifetime of success.  Spiritual development is a lifelong process that best begins at the youngest age possible.

Ok.  So this is a longer article than I usually post (modern day attention spans aren’t what they used to be), but with all of the above in mind, I have included some areas that the Church must address exhaustively if we are going to keep our children in the apostolic faith.

  1. Science and the theory of evolution in particular. We should not be anti-science, however, we should be anti-scientific theories that have an anti-God agenda.
  2. Morality, God’s plan for human sexuality, and the family. Hollywood, public schools, the internet, peers, and every other facet of culture talks about these issues night and day.  If the Church is going to remain relevant it cannot stay silent or fearful of these subjects.
  3. The Bible and why it can be trusted as the literal Word of God. It’s no secret that the Bible has been under attack in one way or another since its inception.  They may not be burning Bible’s in the streets but liberal academia has been doing their best to undermine it for centuries.  They don’t care if you read it as long as you don’t trust it for absolutes.
  4. Popular culture, holiness, and what it means to live righteously. Of course, just because something is popular doesn’t make it evil. However, just because it’s popular doesn’t make it acceptable either.  The Church must stand on the front lines of the culture wars and promote godliness in a clear, loving, well thought out way.
  5. Relationship with Jesus. None of the above will matter without a close, experiential, relationship with Jesus. Relationship will sustain a heart even when storms rage all around.

Is Faith Absurd?

I always appreciate an article that causes my mind to strain just a little bit.  That’s exactly what this article by Cole NeSmith entitled What You Believe Is Absurd (And 5 Reasons It Should Be) did for me the other day.  I encourage you to read it for yourself (be sure to come back and finish this article though).  For those of you who would rather just keep reading allow me to simplify and summarize NeSmith’s main thoughts.  NeSmith basically reminds us that our Christian faith is absurd to those who are not believers.  In other words, faith is not rational, scientific, or without questions.

1 Corinthians 2:14 immediately jumped into my mind while reading NeSmith’s article, “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”  Spiritual things always seem irrational when viewed through the prism of carnality.  I am fully aware of the temptation to try and boil spiritual things down into logic or sound reasoning.  But when Jesus tells us to go and sin no more (John 8:11) for example, that sounds impossible without the Spirit guiding our thinking.  When you are terminally sick and God tells you to dip in the muddy Jordan River seven times (2 Kings 5:14) that sounds a little crazy.

Faith which is the foundation of the Christian life is not rational.  Hebrews chapter eleven says, “…faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrew 11:1)To believe in something that you have never seen is absurd when you are looking in from the outside.  Look at the third verse of Hebrews chapter eleven, “Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.”  My belief that God spoke the world into existence (Genesis 1:1-31) and breathed the breath of life into mankind (Genesis 2:7) is not intended to be a scientific endeavor or fit neatly into a logical box.  It is an act of faith.  I would contend that much of what we label as science today is in reality a belief system that also requires faith.  I simply choose to put my faith in God rather than man made theories.

By no means am I saying that everything about the Christian faith is illogical.  Morality makes sense when you view it objectively.  Many things about our world only make sense when we understand God’s ultimate plan.  The value of life itself only makes sense when viewed through the lens of a Divine Creator.  Even love is not logical without a belief in God.

I think there is a danger in trying to rationalize too much about God and faith.  There is a freedom that can only be found when we embrace the reality that there are some things we will never understand until we meet the Lord.  There is a peace that can only be found when we realize that faith is messy and absurd.

 

 

 

Robin Williams, Suicide & Hope

I have really hesitated to weigh in on the sad passing of actor Robin Williams, because I do not want to appear insensitive.  But I am concerned that the national media and the Hollywood machine is contributing to a pervasive societal problem that goes largely unreported: suicide.

According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention nearly 40,000 people commit suicide in the US each year making suicide the 10th leading cause of death for Americans.  Roughly speaking, someone commits suicide in the US every 14 minutes.

o-DEPRESSION-facebookSo here’s my concern; the media seems to be carefully glossing over the tragedy of the suicide.  For the most part I understand why, suicide is depressing and difficult to talk about.  No one wants to appear disrespectful or insensitive (I include myself in this number), but by rushing past the sadness in order to celebrate the past we might be unintentionally promoting suicide.

Consider the fact that Robin Williams has been largely out of the limelight for many years now, however, after this tragedy we are seeing 24-hour coverage, celebrations, and honorariums of his career.  On the surface this seems like a nice thing to do, but are we inadvertently sending a signal to the overlooked teen that suicide will be a sweet release and 15 minutes of much-desired fame?  Could we be accidentally signaling to the overworked, depressed, businessman who is struggling with a waning career and a broken family life that self-harm just might be a valid solution?

Before you call me crazy, remember that studies have already shown that copy-cat suicides are a genuine phenomenon.  Suicide contagion is real and it is dangerous.  There is a thriving subculture that promotes suicide as an honorable and worthy way to gently leave this harsh world. Therefore, we must be extremely careful how we discuss the suicide of Robin Williams or anyone else for that matter.

And what about the thousands of individuals who take their own lives in utter obscurity?  Isn’t it time for our culture to wake up and realize that we desperately need the peace that only God can give?  What about the false images of happiness that Hollywood promotes every single day?  What about the endless quest for fame and fortune that proves to be unfulfilling time and time again?  How many have been led to believe that godlessness, promiscuity, and substance abuse are valid pathways to happiness only to find themselves standing on the edge of a deadly precipice?  What happens when the beautiful who worship beauty lose their beauty?  What happens when the rich man who worships riches loses his wealth?  What happens when the superstar loses his stardom?  There has to be more to life for lasting happiness to be achieved.

There are thousands contemplating suicide right at this very moment.  They desperately need someone to tell them that suicide is not the answer.  They are hungry for someone to convince them that life is worth living.  They need something that transcends the darkness pressing in on them.  They need you to show them the light of Jesus.  They need you to demonstrate the joy of abundant life.  They need hope!

Building The Kingdom

I know in my life it can become difficult to keep the right things in focus.  We live in a world where so many things are fighting for our attention, our time, our money, and our devotion. There are moments when I have to slow down and think about my priorities.  Consider for a moment what Jesus said in Matthew 6:23, “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.”  A powerful spiritual principle emerges as Jesus shows us, that when we put God’s Kingdom first, the rest of life’s moving pieces begin to fall naturally into place.    

TO DO LIST

Sadly, many people place God’s priorities near the bottom or the middle of their To-Do-List.  This creates a life that is constantly out of sync with the benefits of God.  If you are peace-less, than you probably have a priority problem.  If you are joyless, than it’s probably time to reevaluate who’s kingdom is first in your life. 

Everybody instinctively longs to be loved (by the way, love itself is a phenomenon that the atheist simply cannot explain scientifically), but our fallen nature tricks our minds into believing that love is something that we must search after selfishly.  Our human default settings look for love in all the wrong places, in all the wrongs ways, and with all the wrong resources.  Looking out for “me first” is not a strategy that invites God’s Kingdom to rule our individual world. 

In actuality, true love is only accessible when we humble ourselves, seek God’s plan first, and allow Jesus to be the Lord of our lives.  And Christ’s lordship must apply to every area of our hearts; that includes the secret places that no one can see or hear.  We must allow His lordship into the things that we grasp tightly onto: finances, time, family, relationships, attitudes, lifestyle, culture, and behavior.  Deception tells us that we know best, and that we should simply follow the desires of our hearts; but God warns us that our hearts are not to be trusted (Jeremiah 17:19).  Like the song we cry, “Lead me Lord, I will follow.”

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Consider another Scripture found in Mark 1:15 as Jesus preaches, “…the Kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the Gospel.”  Thus, we see that God’s Kingdom is only available to us through repentance and obedience to the Gospel (for a brief description of the Gospel which requires: repentance, water baptism in Jesus’ name, and Spirit baptism visit Acts 2:38).  If we are Kingdom minded, than we must realize that it is not enough to be satisfied with our own salvation; we are called to reach others and bring them into the Kingdom as well. 

The Apostle Paul demonstrated admirably how a Kingdom minded individual operates with those who are lost, “…there came many to him into his lodging; to whom he expounded and testified the Kingdom of God, persuading them concerning Jesus, both out of the law of Moses, and out of the prophets, from morning till evening.  And some believed the things which were spoken, and some believed not (Acts 28:23-24).”  It is, I think, important to remember that we can reach for the lost, but we cannot impose God’s will upon them.  Even God does not impose His will upon us.  However, we are mandated to lovingly reach for every single person that we possibly can. 

So as we rush through the busy month of August, let’s intentionally seek the Kingdom of God first.  Let’s refocus our minds upon spiritual things, rather than allowing the busyness of our daily lives to be an overwhelming distraction.  

Faith Shakers

(Please note that this article is an edited edition of a full sermon preached by Ryan French on July 27th, 2014 at Apostolic Tabernacle)

The average Christian is familiar with the story of Job.  Poor old Job has become the poster child for good people whose faith has been shaken.  It took Job a lot of suffering and a lot more questioning to realize that God was greater than his circumstances.  We have all experienced events that shook our faith in our entire belief system.

Faith Shakers: things that shake our faith in the reality that God is a good God. Faith Shakers: things that shake our faith in the reality that God is a powerful God. Faith Shakers: things that shake our faith in the promises of God that are yet unfulfilled.  We have all had them and we will all face them from time to time.  And no matter how many times that we face them and come through them victoriously we still seem to cower at the ferociousness of the shaking.  Even though, they had seen the Red Sea parted; even though they had seen Pharaoh’s Army defeated; the Israelite’s still struggled to believe that God could provide water from a rock.  Even though, they had seen thousands put to flight by God’s mighty right hand; they still struggled to believe that those Jericho walls could really come tumbling down with only a trumpet and a loud shout.

There are three basic forces that can produce enough turmoil in our lives to produce a shaking. One, the forces of Satan. Second, the natural tragedies produced by our fallen and finite world. Thirdly, the hand of God.  Let’s focus on that last one because it’s probably the hardest to comprehend.

Sometimes the “Faith Shakers” that we experience are by God’s design because He is preparing us for something great.

And when they had prayed the place was shaken where they were assembled together and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost and spake the word of God with boldness (Acts 4:31).”  

Notice, just as God was preparing to provide a supernatural outpouring there was first a preparatory shaking, and because they endured the shaking they could enjoy the blessing.  We see this same principle on display later on in Acts chapter 16 when Paul & Silas are thrown into the innermost prison simply because they had been preaching the Gospel of Christ.  Not only were they imprisoned unjustly; they were beaten mercilessly.  They would not have been human had they not been discouraged. Certainly, DOUBT flooded their minds. Certainly, they had unanswered questions.  Certainly, they were afraid.

I’m sure that Paul & Silas were not feeling the level of faith that they would have liked while in that Roman prison.  They could not clap their hands because their hands were bound.  They could not leap for joy because their feet were bound.  They could not lift their hands because their hands were tightly fastened in stocks. But the enemy forgot about the power of a voice that is lifted to God in praise while storms rage.  The enemy forgot what a simple song at midnight can accomplish. It always seems darkest just before the rays of a new day begin to break through; so let’s purpose in our hearts to give God praise even in the middle of life’s faith quake’s.

It was midnight when Paul & Silas sang praises unto God, and immediately there was a great earthquake.  The earthquake was so powerful that the foundations of the prison were shaken; sometimes God has to shake our whole world just to set us free!  Sometimes God has to break up our foundations so that He can set our feet on solid ground.

Interestingly, the most important aspect of this story is really not the supernatural deliverance that took place, but rather the conversion of the prison keeper and his family.  Paul realized that there was a greater purpose for their painful experience than just deliverance.  Paul recognized that God had carefully positioned them to impact the life of an obscure prison keeper.  Often times we are so busy rejoicing in our deliverance that we fail to notice the bigger plan that God is bringing to pass.

“And when Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks and laid them on the fire, there came a viper out of the heat, and fastened on his hand. And when the barbarians saw the venomous beast hanging from his hand, they said among themselves, “No doubt this man is a murderer whom, though he hath escaped the sea, yet vengeance suffereth not to live. And he shook off the beast into the fire and felt no harm. Now they were expecting that he should have swollen or suddenly fallen down dead; but after watching a great while and seeing no harm come to him, they changed their minds and said that he was a god (Acts 28:3-6).”

When things attach themselves to our lives in painful and unexpected ways just as that viper attacked Paul on the island of Malta, it is important that we become Faith Shakers. When our faith is shaken that means it’s time for us to shake our faith!

The Case for Yearly Preaching Plans

I remember a kind of gloomy fog settling over my mind after hearing from my Pastor (who doubles as my father) that we would be planning preaching and teaching strategies for the entire upcoming year. Dread! Panic! A throbbing, and all too familiar migraine, began forming in the base of my skull. Up until that point, I had mostly been a high powered evangelist approaching each new service like a maverick gunslinger. On some, albeit rare occasions, I even went to the pulpit with a few scribbled notes and an open Bible. I had a preaching mindset that prided itself upon being highly in tune with the Spirit, and evidently (according to my youthful way of thinking) the Spirit could only see a few days (or even hours) into the future.

That’s not to say that there isn’t a certain kind of desperate advantage to that style of ministry. Certainly, an evangelist is charged with the sacred duty of stirring a sudden response to the Gospel that is often best served with a large dose of spiritual spontaneity. But my role in the Body of Christ had shifted, and now my pattern was being drastically jolted.

Plan we did, with calendars and coffees in hand. We planned teaching series for Midweek Bible Study and Sunday School, and preaching series for Sunday mornings and Sunday evenings (we have lots of good church at Apostolic Tabernacle).  Thankfully, we left some wiggle room for my coveted spontaneity. We left no stone unturned. We met with our church staff (paid and volunteer) to plan yearly events and activities.  Meanwhile, I held my breath and nursed a silent tantrum fully expecting this strategy to fail magnificently. Not only did it not fail, it excelled beyond my wildest ability to believe.  When I say excel, I mean far more than that the church received good sound doctrine, grew at a reasonable pace, and enjoyed good health (although all of that is true); I mean that the process has been a tremendously freeing experience.

This is shocking to me because it seemed so constricting at first. I discovered a profound peace in having a structure (loose but not too loose) in which to study and seek God’s heart. Also, it seems that God is fully aware of what will be happening next month or even (gasp) next year. God can give direction far in advance of any man made time stamps. Not only that, God operates according to a certain command structure. God honors us when we surrender our stubborn will to ordained authorities.

Fast forward several years later, and I can’t imagine ministry without a well-planned preaching and teaching schedule.  I just happened to mention this to Dad at lunch the other day, he laughed and gave me a knowing look; then he said something profound (as he often does), “If you approach study without self-imposed parameters of difficulty you will always seek the most familiar path or the mediocre path of least resistance.” In other words, when we approach preaching and teaching like a maverick gunslinger we never challenge ourselves to learn, study, contemplate, and digest things that are unfamiliar. It’s well and good to have a favorite soap box or a tasty candy stick but those things, although comfortable, may become little more than an excuse for intellectual laziness if we are not very careful. So father does know best (sometimes).

Living Selflessly In a Selfie World

I recently saw a report claiming that the average teenager takes a minimum of 20 selfies a day. This seems narcissistic at best and narcotic at worst and we aren’t even discussing the closely related issue of highly sexualized selfies that clog up social media venues. This is a unique problem and it will likely take us several years to fully realize the consequences of a world with no sense of modesty, privacy, and dare I say, decency.

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Now obviously in Bible times smart phones were yet to be invented, but I think that Philippians 2:3-5 speaks directly to our selfie culture, “Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:” When we have the mind of Christ we are constantly taking the focus off of ourselves (which goes against our fallen nature) and redirecting it on others and on Jesus.

On several occasions Jesus makes a point to warn us against having the spirit of the Pharisees. The Pharisees loved to wear attention grabbing clothing and they walked through the marketplaces demanding that people look at them (Luke 20:46-47). Anything to draw attention to themselves. They were obsessed with self-promotion and the outward was highly cultivated while the inward was sadly neglected. At one point Jesus said that they were like white washed tombs, clean on the outside but filthy on the inside (Matthew 23:27).

So is a well-timed selfie a grave sin? Certainly not, but is an attitude of constant focus on self and the outward a sin? Yes. Understanding the difference is extremely important.

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Clothed In Humility

Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble (1 Peter 5:5).

This commandment flew in the face of the Greek culture because, like ours, it glorified self-assertion and aggressiveness. They worshipped bodily perfection and “wisdom,” as they called it, flaunting it before others as a basis on which a relationship would be conducted. Feeling better than, or being seen as better than others was of utmost importance to people in the ancient Greek world.

Greek culture, like ours, glorified youthfulness and the apostle Peter felt a holy unction to warn the Church against the dangerous sin of exalting youth and beauty above the wisdom of the elders. Godly young men and young women run from arrogance and seek out the wisdom that only age and grace can produce.

God commands us to be clothed with humility. Humility is pride’s opposite, its antonym. We learn a great deal about humility when we just do the opposite of what the Bible teaches us about pride. Part of the key to understanding humility is in this short phrase “just do”. Just do it, as the Nike® advertisement urges. Why would God want us to do such a thing? Because true humility is a choice. It is not something that comes naturally. We have to choose to do it.

Peter says that we must “be clothed with humility.” Meaning, we must put on humility in the same way that we choose to wear a winter jacket. Doing either of these activities is a choice. In this phrase, the apostle is reminiscing about Jesus at His last Passover, when He clothed Himself with an apron and knelt down before His disciples, including Peter, washing their feet as an example of His mind, His attitude, toward them (John 13:1-17). He girded himself and performed this lowly act. He had to put on, choose to practice, humility to do that. Every day we must reach past the garment of pride and clothe ourselves in humility.

If God manifest in the flesh could make himself of no reputation (Philippians 2:7); what choice do we have but to follow His example?

 

Is Technology Hurting Our Worship?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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