6 Reasons We Think God Is Silent When He Is Speaking

I recently finished a book by Mark Batterson entitled Whisper. Batterson is best known for authoring The Circle Maker, a tremendous book on prayer. Whisper, however, zeros in on the necessity of hearing the gentle voice of God. What good is prayer if we never bother to listen? What good is begging God to speak if we do not know how to hear His response? Whisper, is well worth the read.

This is not a regurgitation of that tremendous book. Rather, the book caused me to consider how often we long to hear the seemingly silent voice of God. How many times have we desperately longed to know the will of God, and coveted the voice of God?

The reality is that God rarely refuses to respond. We are simply incapable of hearing His voice. What if you could hear the voice of God right now? Would you be willing to remove the distractions and the competing voices? What if God is whispering the answer to your prayer right now, but you just don’t know how to listen properly? I believe, in most instances, this is indeed the case.

Scripture teaches us that even the heavens declare the glory of God (Psalm 19:1-6). There are over ten references to God speaking in Genesis chapter 1 alone. God literally spoke the world into existence and He is not mysteriously silent today. With that in mind, below are six reasons we often can’t hear what God is saying to us.

  1. We mistake the voice of God for someone or something else (1 Samuel 3:1-11).

When young Samuel heard the voice of God in the middle of the night he assumed it was Eli the priest calling. God spoke to Samuel three times before Eli realized God was trying to speak to Samuel. Because Samuel was submitted to the man of God he received instruction on how to hear and respond to the voice of God. Many people never learn to communicate with God because they are not submitted to a man of God.

  1. We run from the flames rather than towards them (Exodus 3:1-12).

When the Lord decided to speak to Moses He sent a sign in the wilderness. God caused a bush to blaze with fire but not to be consumed. But it was not until Moses walked towards the flame that God spoke. Beyond that, God refused to speak again until Moses had removed his sandals in honor of holy ground.

Many today turn their back on the fires of the Holy Ghost and miss what God desires to speak into their lives. Others, walk towards the flames but refuse to surrender themselves to purity and holiness.

  1. We are too busy talking to hear the voice of God (Psalm 4:4, Proverbs 10:8).

Many Christians know the importance of talking to God but fail to listen to God. They petition but they never position themselves to hear his response. They cry out to God but they complain rather than calmly listen for His reply.

  1. We are too busy listening to other voices (Mark 4:9).

Many pray and then run around seeking advice from the closest person they can find. They speak with confidants and friends looking for a word from God. They trust that God will speak to someone else on their behalf, but not that He will speak to their heart. They listen to everything and everyone, but God.

In modern culture, we are surrounded by constant noises and inundated by media. Our headphones are on and the volume is turned up to the max. We are addicted to our phones and glued to our devices. The news cycle is twenty-four hours a day seven days a week. We listen and listen and listen to every voice and sound but ignore God. The Lord is not silent, but we are too loud.

  1. We neglect His Word and the preaching of the word (Luke 11:28, Psalm 119:11, Psalm 119:105).

God has already spoken unalterably through His Word. God chooses to speak according to His Word through the preaching of His Word. God interacts with us as we interact with the Bible. God speaks to us through the preaching of the Word. God speaks to us through righteous men. When we are submitted to the Word and the preached Word we will be positioned to personally hear His voice.

  1. We don’t recognize God’s voice because we are a goat, not a sheep (John 10:27-28, John 8:47).

The Lord’s sheep hear His voice and they follow him. God is constantly speaking to His people. Many can’t hear or recognize His voice because they have become goats. Only sheep can hear the Shephard’s voice. Only repentance will allow them to hear Him once again.

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How Freakish Faith & Desperate Dilemmas Lead to the Miraculous

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

13 Leadership Articles from the AV Vault

I recently published the 100th article here on Apostolic Voice. Considering AV launched in the summer of 2014 that number should be substantially higher. But I’m usually busier than Santa on Christmas Eve. In spite of my woefully slow output of material, we’ve covered quite a few topics over the years. It would take a newcomer several cups of coffee and multiple uninterrupted hours to read every AV article.

Leadership, including but not limited to pastoral leadership, is a topic that surfaces a good bit around here. In fact, it’s not unusual to receive requests for an old leadership article that someone wants to revisit but they can’t remember the exact title. In the interest of full disclosure and total transparency, I typically can’t remember my titles either. I can’t even remember what I ate for breakfast let alone something I wrote about two years ago. So, after rummaging around in the dark cavernous recesses of the AV vault I’ve rediscovered thirteen of the most requested leadership articles and niftily compiled them here for your reading convenience.

Much thanks to my friends and guest contributors whose articles made this list. Their written offerings are far superior to my own. Their contributions are appreciated, which is good because that’s their only remuneration. God bless and thanks for reading.

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8 Preacher Traps – That Can Develop Over Time

I’m a fierce advocate of preachers and preaching. I’ve written in defense of preachers on numerous occasions here, here, and here. That doesn’t mean I view preachers as superhuman or little deities, however, God clearly ordained the foolishness of preaching as the mechanism for reaching the world with the Gospel (1 Corinthians 1:18-21, Acts 17:18, Mark 16:15). Preaching is also Divinely designed to preserve, encourage, strengthen, equip, and correct the Church (1 Corinthians 15:2, 1 Peter 1:25, 1 Timothy 4:13, 2 Timothy 3:16). Bottom line, preaching is really, really, really vital for the overall health of the Church and the advancement of the Gospel. It only makes sense that Satan would set traps for preachers faster than a poacher on a wildlife preservation.

Without descending into a pit of needless negativity, I can safely assume everyone reading this post has witnessed at least one sincere preacher turn, shall we say… less than sincere. With very few exceptions, preachers do not begin ministering with nefarious intentions. For the most part, preachers make tremendous sacrifices to enter the ministry. Preacher problems develop over time as they fall into traps either because of carelessness or unresolved character flaws the enemy cleverly exploits.

My motivation for writing isn’t to berate the fallen, there’s plenty of preacher bashing going on without me jumping unceremoniously into the ring. Instead, I’m writing with the earnest hearted preacher in mind. Additionally, I’m writing for those who may have stepped a toe across a line, yet still have the capacity to feel a surge of conscience. One thing is for certain if you labor in ministry long enough you will be forced to navigate around or fight your way out of a preacher trap. I’ve identified eight common traps in the hopes of building awareness, fortifications, and wisdom.

1. Success & popularity. Most preachers have tons of incredibly humbling moments in their early days of ministry. To this day, my brother has a “blackmail tape” containing one of the first sermons I ever preached. I sounded like a scared parrot that only knew four words. After those four words, everything else was just squawking and weird chirping sounds. It was horrible. God bless that precious congregation and Pastor James Fielder for loving me enough to be encouraging despite that pathetic, although sincere attempt to preach.

Yep. Early days of ministry are filled with epic fails, empty blusters, false starts, zealous stumbles, learning curves, knowledge gaps, unrestrained enthusiasm, and embarrassing awkwardness. Some endure that maturation process longer than others, but over time the resilient step into a season of ministerial success. Now, measuring ministerial success can be tricky because it really has nothing to do with money, fame, large congregations, or popularity. God defines success differently than most people define success, but that’s another post for another day. Regardless, even achieving a godly standard of success can suck the humility right out of a sincere heart. Once that humility is gone, all kinds of nasty things compete to fill the void.

Success is not the problem. Success is a good thing. Responding correctly to success is the key. Most people spend a lot of time figuring out how to deal with failure, but very little time preparing their heart to handle success and popularity.

2. Talent. The moment a preacher realizes he is talented enough to move a crowd without relying on the anointing his foot is poised above a preacher killing landmine. Lawyers, politicians, comedians, actors, false prophets, and motivational speakers move crowds emotionally every single day without the help of the anointing. Having talent is great, terrific even, but it is the anointing that breaks the yoke (Isaiah 10:27).

I firmly believe that preachers should work to develop strong communication skills. I believe preachers have an obligation to work as hard as they can to communicate biblical truths effectively and with as much excellence as possible. This is partially what the Apostle Paul was alluding to when he admonished Timothy, “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15).” But all the talent, work, study, and charisma in the world is no substitute for prayer, fasting, and humble reliance upon the Lord.

Every talented preacher should remember the warning of the ever-somber prophet Jeremiah: Cursed is that man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength (Jeremiah 17:5-9). Learning how to move a crowd emotionally is a cheap substitute for the genuine power and demonstration of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:4-5).

3. Loving preaching more than people. This is one of the most common traps to ensnare preachers. It shames me to admit that I’ve had to fight my way out of this trap a time or two. This one takes a lot of self-introspection to detect.

Upon reflection, I’ve pinpointed a few things about my preaching while wriggling out of that devious little trap. One, I preached way longer than needed to communicate what God laid on my heart. Two, I chased a lot of rabbit trails that interested me but were of little help or value to the hearers. Three, I resisted the Spirit when it prompted me to deviate from my prepared notes. Four, I rebuked out of personal anger rather than true righteous indignation. Five, I spent less time weeping over the lost and broken than concocting just the right wording for each sermon point. Six, in the preparation process I resisted the directing of the Spirit opting instead to build my favorite soap box or pursue topics that were intellectually stimulating to me personally. Seven, I was more passionate about winning arguments than winning hearts. Eight, I preached condescendingly, smugly, and arrogantly.

To be clear, preaching cannot and should not be solely directed towards the “felt” needs of a congregation. Neither should preaching be spineless, compromising, or afraid of necessary confrontation. Nothing mentioned here should leave the impression that preachers should be push-overs, milquetoasts, or overly obsessive about offending the hearers. But the fact remains a preacher’s motives matter. Preachers should always stand behind the sacred desk driven by love for God, God’s Word, God’s Church, and lost people.

4. Forgetting the main mission. As I mentioned earlier, preaching has many noble purposes, but none more vital than the propagation of the Gospel (Matthew 28:19-20, 2 Timothy 4:17, 2 Corinthians 10:14, Acts 8:12-17). Preaching can quickly devolve into mere motivational jargon if it isn’t Christocentric. During the endless quest to remain relevant, creative, interesting, inspiring, and fresh some preachers lose sight of the Great Commission and ultimately fail their mission.

5. Valuing crowd size above the spiritual growth of the congregation. I’ve written a good bit on church growth here, here, here, and here. No preacher in their right mind wants seats to be empty while the Word is being preached. Every empty seat represents a soul that needs God. Regardless, God never called preachers to build large congregations. Rather, we are called to plant the seed; God alone gives the Harvest (Matthew 9:38). Every preacher reading this knows that is the case, but it doesn’t stop us from feeling like failures when church attendance dips or doesn’t grow at the pace we had envisioned. All of that is normal and acceptable to a certain degree, yet very dangerous if we begin to value large crowds above the actual spiritual health of the people.

Obviously, just gathering large groups of people together every Sunday isn’t the ultimate spiritual objective. Otherwise, the NFL would be one of the most spiritual organizations in America. When preachers become inordinately focused on crowd size instead of spiritual maturation they will suffer depression, discouragement, insecurity, jealousy, and struggle with the temptation to become people pleasers rather than God pleasers. Which leads nicely to the next trap.

6. Willingness to sacrifice scriptural integrity for any reason at all. There are many reasons a preacher might be tempted to compromise biblical truths. Some compromise due to the illusion of assured numerical growth, desired popularity, personal carnality, outside pressure, peer pressure, spiritual battle fatigue, greed, or any number of other factors. Regardless, failing to preach the whole Truth and nothing but the Truth is a gross betrayal of God’s calling and of the trust placed in us by others.

7. Burnout. Unresolved physical, emotional, and spiritual exhaustion can result in burnout and burnout produces bitterness. For every preacher with a golf course “ministry” reputation, there are ten others burning the candle at both ends. As I’ve written before, ministry is incredibly demanding. Burnout usually manifests itself as depression or anxiety or both. The tragedy of the burnout trap is that it takes advantage of a preacher’s good intentions. We want to be all things, to all people, all the time. It’s just not humanly possible.

8. Ministering to others while neglecting family. I understand that a preacher’s family must be willing to make sacrifices for the sake of ministry. I get that. Been there. Done that. Still doing that. But a preacher’s first ministerial obligation is to his family (Genesis 18:19, 1 Samuel 3:13, 1 Timothy 3:1-12, Titus 1:6). Many dynamic ministries have been rendered powerless because their family fell apart. They were so busy ministering to others they lost sight of their primary responsibility.

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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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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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Just Another Article About Why Millennials Are Leaving Churches

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Advice to Millennials

In dealing with and hoping to advise our fellow millennial citizens who range from eighteen to thirty-four years old there are some questions in my mind. Who would you listen to if advice were given? I can answer the question in part, you would probably not listen to your parents, nor would you listen to any older person and very possibly you would not listen to a minister. So, the question is, who could arrest your attention for possible enlightenment? Your peers would probably agree with all that you are now thinking. That is the option you would give your professor, the chance to open your thinking. But he or she would only reiterate what you have already been taught. Or maybe you would thumb through the latest list of movies on the subject in question. I hope you don’t mind my pointing out the fictional aspect of that option.

Well, it’s all complicated but you have more responsibility than you might think. So, I ask you to shake your head and think out of the millennial box.  I am not suggesting or asking that you must dress differently or change your hair style. I am only asking that you stretch your mind. Let me say, that by you doing this it will not help me at all, but there is a chance it might benefit you. If you would like to be different than your generation, try this ever so often. Stretching your mind will be a sure way of finding uniqueness since probably not many around you will be so daring. Don’t worry, you could not be an older person if you tried, nor will you ever be thirteen again. So, you must be yourself not a cookie cutter version of all around you. When you think out of the box, you realize no one could push God on you that is impossible. When you understand this, you will be thinking beyond the crowd. It is not possible for preachers to force this upon you. Reading the Bible cannot be forced upon you. Church attendance cannot be forced upon you.

Let me share a secret with you – your children will think you are nuts because what you think about life will be antiquated in 25 years, just like the car you now drive. Your thinking is headed for moth balls. It is on its’ way to becoming obsolete. As a millennial, you might have put God and the church aside which is your prerogative. But please allow me to say before you pull your thinking back into a narrow box, you are taking a lot on yourself. You can’t hug yourself to your own heart. You will find that you alone are just not enough. So, you can’t take anyone else’s idea about a lot of things including God because that is not something others can (or should be allowed to) decide for you. When you fight for your rights remember that others also have theirs. I am not stupid enough to think I can unmillennialize you but we all should realize that we need thinking that will last a lifetime.

Rev. O.C. Marler wears more hats than I can list in this one little bio spot. He is a highly sought after speaker, preacher, and teacher who is known for his powerfully engaging communication style (you can listen here). He currently travels the country preaching with his beloved wife Joan. They are both prolific writers of western and mystery genra fiction. Everyone should own a copy of O.C. Marler’s best selling book Doctrine Does Matter, which is a wonderfully readable explanation of how to be saved. On a personal note, Rev. Marler is a lifelong friend and mentor to me. During my Indiana Bible College years his classes left a lasting impact on my life. His advice, wise counsel, and example are invaluable to me. His ministry has shaped and influenced thousands of millennials throughout the United States.

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If We Are What We Post (What Are We Saying)?

While we used to think that people mostly misrepresented themselves on social media, studies are finding more and more that the opposite is actually true. Studies are discovering that people represent themselves more accurately on their Facebook accounts than they do in person. This is encouraging and distressing at the same time. We have known for over a decade now that people’s inhibitions are lowered when using passive-aggressive forms of social interaction, that’s why so many inappropriate relationships and affairs have begun on places like Facebook and MySpace (back in the day). Similarly, that’s why people become bullies on Twitter who would never pick a fight in person. Studies used to argue that social platforms were influencing bad behaviour, but now experts are suggesting that who we are on social media is who we have really been deep down all along. So how should we Christians view this information and apply it to our lives?

1. What you post about and talk about the most on social media is probably what you care most about in life: if you never talk about God and family than those things are probably not the highest priorities in your life.

2. Your social media posts (or lack of them) say a lot about your marriage, your faith, your future, and your real priorities.

3. Are you a “Lurker” or a “Liker”? We all know the social media user who lurks around but never likes or engages with anything. Studies are suggesting that this imbalance gives a window into the soul. If you lurk and never like but you feel angry when no one likes your posts; you are likely a selfish narcissist. However, if you lurk and never like but don’t care if others like your posts; you are probably just cautious, private, and curious. There’s a big difference between the two. There has been much debate about the narcissistic side effects of social media. Needless to say, the Kardashian worshipping, selfie-obsessed, fame seeking mindset has no place in a godly heart (check out my very first blog post entitled Living Selflessly In a Selfie World and Clothed In Humility).

4. Speaking of selfishness and narcissism; the sheer amount of selfies and how you pose in said selfies is very telling as well. This is my personal observation, the amount of Christian woman (especially married ones) who are constantly taking seductive selfies is staggering.

5. So I think as Christians we should examine our social media “footprint” and ask ourselves are we a reflection of Christ, or are we allowing carnality to run rampant in our online presence. If the studies are right and our online presence is becoming the truest reflection of our inner selves than shouldn’t we be expressing our faith, our joy, our salvation, our love, our gratitude, our reverence, and so on?

6. If it is true that our inhibitions are lowered on social media and that our media footprint is a true reflection of who we are then we must use it as a platform to share the Gospel and evangelize the world. I know there is pressure (even within the Christian community) to remain quiet about our faith on public forums. I’m not advocating being obnoxious, mean-spirited or argumentative. But the cold reality is this; if you won’t share your faith on social media you definitely will not share it in person. Hollywood, advertisers, atheists, politicians, salesmen, and secularists impose their beliefs and preach at me every day on social media. Why should we be ashamed to speak publically of the single most important thing in our lives, the Gospel?

Similar articles The Pros and Cons of Facebook (Part 1) and The Pros and Cons of Facebook (Part 2). For further reading check out You Are What You Post: What Your Social Media Engagement Says About Your Personality, Stanford Scholar Findings, Psychological Stress and Social Media Use, and Social Media Posts May Be Indicators of Personality, Potential Health Risks, and Cultural Differences.

The Continuing Legacy of a Father

This past Father’s Day I enjoyed celebrating fatherhood with my family. I love being a father; I love all that it involves, every nuance that it brings to life. And yet I worry, I worry about the culture that my children will face; I worry about subtle influences that gently creep into young hearts. You see, I’m fourth generation Apostolic, statistics tell me that my children will likely not fall in love with Truth.  I’ve always hated math anyway, so I’ve chosen to reject what the data tells me, and do everything in my power to see that my children serve God. 

The Scriptures are filled with fatherly role models, and we find some not so great examples as well. David, the sensitive poet, described as “a man after God’s own heart,” was a good king and a terrific military leader but not the best father.  The life and faith of Abraham, God’s friend and father of a nation leaves us with many good lessons. Others, like Isaac and Jacob, had mixed success as fathers.  The New Testament is remarkably void of fatherly details.  In fact, some of the stronger dads in the Bible were obscure and minor characters in Scripture. Others were obedient to God in their own time but failed completely to pass their faith on to their families. 

Allow me to remind you of a godly father who encourages me to believe that my children and my children’s children can indeed serve God. You may have forgotten about Jonadab, his story is so briefly told in Scripture. We first read about Jonadab the son of Rechab in II Kings chapter 15 when Jehu the 11th king of Israel made an alliance with Jonadab to destroy the followers of Baal.  King Jehu knew that Jonadab was zealous for God and an influential man. Together they successfully completed what the prophet Elijah had begun.  They destroyed all the worshippers of Baal. So complete was this destruction that the pagan worship of Baal (which sometimes included parents sacrificing their own children) was wiped out in Israel, and the temple of Baal was torn down and made into a garbage dump. 

We don’t know a lot about Jonadab’s life or his style of parenting but we do know that when it was time to take a stand, he took a stand.  When it was time to choose a side, he chose the Lord’s side.  When he became a father, he chose to BE a father.  He wasn’t anxiously waiting for his children to turn 18 so that he could be free of his parental responsibilities. He understood that fatherhood is a lifelong commitment. He also understood that the spiritual well-being of his children was just as important as the physical well-being of his children. 

In great wisdom Jonadab commanded his children to abstain from wine and strong drink. He warned them to dwell in tents and not buy houses. He asked them not to plant vineyards or to buy fields and plant seeds. Jonadab set standards to preserve his family BOTH physically and spiritually. Some of his guidelines sound unreasonable to us even today. But he wanted to insure that his family could survive the changes in Israel that would come when the nation was destroyed. He took measures that would permanently set them apart. They were to live differently than those around them. They were to maintain moral purity. He didn’t want them to get too comfortable in a dangerous place. 

Most people today would say that he was old fashioned and behind the times when, in reality, he was ahead of the times.  He was preparing his family for the tragedy that was coming to Israel in a few short years. Many other families didn’t survive because they had been living the “good life.” But Jonadab’s family survived pagan invasion after murderous invasion because they listened to their father.

How could he know that these things were going to happen in the near future? He knew by faith because he believed the words of the prophets who were speaking into his life. Several prophets had predicting the destruction of Israel. Elijah had predicted the complete destruction of the family of Ahab and Jezebel. Perhaps Jonadab was a little boy on Mt. Carmel when Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal. Maybe he saw the fire of God fall. Maybe he witnessed the prophets of Baal fall on their faces and cry, “The Lord, He is God!” He would only need to see a miracle like that ONCE to know that Baal was a defeated god. Again, it was Elijah who prophesied that Jehu would be king of Israel. Somehow Jonadab instilled a RESPECT in his family’s heart for men of God and the WORD of God. Even after his death he left a continuing legacy of RESPECT. 

While other dads were allowing their families to worship God and Baal at the same time, Jonadab remained zealous for the one true God. When everyone else had accepted that Baal worship was a necessary evil, Jonadab said, “NOT SO!” I wonder if Jonadab remembered Joshua’s powerful declaration, “…as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” when he agreed to risk his life taking a stand against the worshippers of Baal? He centered his family’s life around God’s word. But none of this would have made any difference if he had not been consistent in his private life.  Our families notice our inconsistencies and sense our secret sins. Faith, faithfulness, greatness, integrity, strength of character, and moral purity are things we learn by example and not by decree.

After II Kings chapter 15 it is almost three hundred years after Jonadab’s death before his name is mentioned again. Judah is in great turmoil. Idolatry is everywhere. Jerusalem is about to be captured, destroyed and plundered by the Babylonians.  Thousands of Israelites are about to endure the humiliation of captivity in Babylon. The prophet Jeremiah had been pleading with Judah for almost 40 years to turn from their sin and unbelief. When suddenly in the middle of all this chaos God spoke to Jeremiah and said, “Go find the descendants of Jonadab.” God told Jeremiah to test Jonadab’s legacy. They gathered his descendants together gave them jugs of wine and invited them to have a drink. That’s when something truly astonishing happened. They refused. “No,” they said, “we will not drink wine, our ancestor Jonadab son of Rechab gave us this command: ‘You and your descendants must never drink wine. And do not build houses or plant crops or vineyards, but always live in tents. If you follow these commands, you will live long, good lives in the land.’ So we have obeyed him in all these things. We have never had a drink of wine to this day, nor have our wives, our sons, or our daughters. We haven’t built houses or owned vineyards or farms or planted crops. We have lived in tents and have fully obeyed all the commands of our forefather.”

Almost 300 years after his death Jonadab’s children were still benefiting from his wisdom. He left a continuing legacy. The obedience of six generations was based on one man’s faithfulness. In Jeremiah 35:19, we see one of the most extraordinary promises given to a father and his family in the entire Bible. The word of the Lord came to Jeremiah and rewarded the faithfulness and obedience of Jonadab and his descendants, saying, “Jonadab, the son of Rechab, shall not lack a man to stand before me forever.”  Jonadab even after his death was promised that he would always have descendants serving God.  

This means that somewhere in our world today a descendant of Jonadab still survives and serves the Lord. This promise from God is more valuable than power, fame, wealth, health, comfort, looks, intelligence, or any of the things that we pray our children will have. The legacy of Jonadab stands as a shining example that faith, moral purity, values, standards, and families can remain strong from generation to generation. 




Praising The Lord In All Things

This article was originally featured in Reflections magazine a publication of the United Pentecostal Church International.

We sat holding our newborn baby, watching as the doctor drew a diagram. It was a heart. He drew what it should look like. Then he drew it with the four abnormalities of the congenital defect known as tetralogy, the condition with which our first son, Ryan, was born. At first, my untrained eyes didn’t even recognize the blueness around his little eyes and lips. We found ourselves in the midst of a journey for which we were so unprepared, a long walk of faith. But in those first few moments that day with the heart specialist, our world changed forever, and I was about to join the ranks of the “hospital moms!”

As home missionaries to a western Chicago suburb, we expected sacrifices and hardships, financial and personal. But we never expected anything like this. In fact, over the next six years Ryan underwent four complex open heart surgeries, at three months, eighteen months, four years and five years of age.  And, each time, the surgeon was working only millimeters from Ryan’s coronary artery. Thankfully, the Lord understands when we question our circumstances, knowing that we see “through a glass darkly.” These were certainly the “desert of our days,” and our faith, like never before, would have to stand the test of fire. Like the three Hebrew children, we came to realize that faith is not merely knowing “God is able to deliver us.” We too prayed, “but if not,” as the operating room doors closed before us, only to find that same God standing with us in the midst of the fire.

Each was supposed to be the last, yet we came to the day we had to tell Ryan that he needed a fourth surgery. I will never forget the difficulty of explaining that to a five-year-old with vivid memories of his hospital experiences. For two years he was the poster child for the Chicago Metropolitan Heart Association. At the news of the surgery his blue eyes filled with tears. “What did I do wrong?” he asked. Quickly, we reassured him that he’d done nothing wrong. Nevertheless, the test of faith had come yet again. But, at age eight, when a previously inserted patch began to leak, and surgery was inevitable, the miracle came! My husband was preaching a camp on the east coast when, in the middle of the service, the Lord spoke to him that He had just healed Ryan! The doctor soon confirmed it, the leak had, indeed, sealed off. This time God had chosen to deliver from the fire.

Our hospital journey, though, was not ended. We had now been blessed with two more sons, Jonathan, two, and six-month-old Nathan. The very week of Ryan’s miracle, Jonathan, began limping and could barely walk. The doctor, after blood work and scheduling orthopedics, reassured us – lightning rarely “strikes twice in the same place.” Still, we felt something was very wrong. His fever spiked and he became lethargic. Then, suddenly, I had a sense of “knowing” exactly what was wrong. I shared it with my husband. With news now about the second of our sons, we received the call from our concerned family doctor, “I hate to have to tell you this, Reverend and Mrs. French.” Then, he said the very words I had spoken to my husband earlier, “Jonathan has leukemia!” We were to leave immediately for Chicago’s Children’s Memorial.

In the early morning hours, though dazed, the first miracle in this fiery trial became clear. As Jonathan was diagnosed with acute lymphatic leukemia, God had given me a word from Him. Then, the Lord said to me, “I spoke to you to assure you that I am here. I know all about it. My face is turned in your direction.” As battle-weary as we were, I desperately needed extra grace, so the Lord prepared the way, a peace beyond understanding. Nevertheless, the seemingly endless chemo, the needles, the non-sedated bone marrow aspirations, the spinals – were all incredibly difficult. But, early into treatment, I was blessed to hear Sis. Nona Freeman minister on the subject: “Praising the Lord in All Things!” God used it mightily. God was reminding me of the source of my strength amidst the trial – the power of praise!

Praise God for his mighty power! Twice God delivered Jon as he went into life-threatening septic shock, as doctors worked feverishly over him to save him. One day a newly purchased minivan suddenly appeared in our driveway, keys and all! Later, at a particularly low point, Jon could barely eat, yet the doctors allowed us to take him to his great grandfather’s funeral near St. Jude hospital. So we took him, as well, to a special service nearby for prayer. My husband’s unsaved step-father joined us and wanted to hold his grandson as they anointed him. The Lord’s touch was instantaneous, with Jon immediately asking his grandpa for something to eat! Powerfully moved, grandpa returned the next week and received the Holy Ghost!

The mountain of medical bills was miraculously wiped out, with one especially huge sum forgiven in total because they inexplicably lost the account! The trials left no hint of smoke, only the sweet aroma of the presence of the One Who stood with us in the midst of the fire. Both Ryan and Jon are well and active in the church we pastor in Atlanta, Ryan serving as Assistant and Jon as a vital part of our youth and music ministry. To God be the glory.

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Rebecca French, alongside her husband, Dr. Talmadge French, has faithfully served the members of Apostolic Tabernacle in Jonesboro, Georgia, for five years. They have been married and leading in numerous ministry capacities for thirty-eight years. Rebecca’s greatest joy is that her three sons, their wives, and her three grandchildren serve the Lord.

Related Articles:

What To Do After The Storm?

Don’t Play Past The Bike

5 Areas Where Godly Fathers Should Shine

The Continuing Legacy Of A Father

Is That Really You God? – 10 Steps To Hearing God’s Voice

Ministerial Discouragement (And How To Handle It)

4 Reasons People Don’t Pray

6 Descriptors Of Genuine Worship

The Difference Between Praise & Worship

Is Faith Absurd?

Faith Shakers

Robin Williams, Suicide & Hope

 

 

5 Areas Where Godly Fathers Should Shine

With Father’s Day quickly approaching I have taken time to pause and consider the importance of fatherhood.  No one could ever deny the irreplaceable role that mother’s play in the lives of children, but in a culture where fathers are increasingly absent, minimized, and criticized it would do us well to consider a few areas where godly fathers should shine.

  1. Dads must cherish their wives (Colossians 3:19, Ephesians 5:25).

Our children are watching and taking notes on how we fathers treat their mothers.  Sons will emulate us and daughters often derive their self-perceptions by watching how you value the most important woman in your life. 

  1. Dads must spend time with their children (Ephesians 6:1-4).

There is no substitute for time spent with our children.  We forfeit influence in our children’s lives when we fail to spend time with them.  Make memories and teach life lessons while you can because if you don’t someone else (who likely doesn’t share your values) will.

  1. Dads must raise their children to serve the Lord (Proverbs 22:6, Deuteronomy 6:1-9).

It’s alarming how many Christian parents I’ve heard saying things like, “I don’t want to force my beliefs on my children.”  Be assured that every other religious and cultural force is working overtime to capture the hearts and minds of your children.  Scripture is clear in telling us that godly parents are mandated to raise their children to serve the Lord.  As a shining example for all future father’s Joshua famously declared, “…as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord (Joshua 24:15).”  A further point in this subject needs to be stressed because it is vital to the spiritual success of our children; the Christian faith must be taught and taught well.  A “just do as I say and be quiet” parenting style will alienate our children and push them away from God, which leads nicely to point number four.

  1. Dads must be patient teachers (Ephesians 6:4, 2 Timothy 3:14-15).

Children are going to make mistakes and mess up and they will require godly patience from their fathers if they are going to flourish.  Remember, the greatest lesson that we ever teach our children will be the daily example that we set and not the words that we say.

  1. Dads must be fair disciplinarians (Proverbs 13:24; 23:13-14).

Fathers who fail to lovingly and fairly discipline their children will live to regret the outcome.  To be a thoughtful and fair disciplinarian takes time, energy, and self-control.  Take caution not to discipline in anger but rather discipline in love.

Top 10 Trending Articles

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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8. 7 Types of Church Services by Ryan French

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

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10. 5 Mistakes Every Worship Leader Makes by Nathan French

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Church Growth (Practical and Spiritual Insights) – Part 2

If you missed part one, just click the picture below.

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Take the pulse of your congregation to determine if they want to grow and reach the lost. Most churches that aren’t growing simply don’t want to grow. Perhaps the pastor wants it to grow but the saints don’t share the vision or feel the burden. There are numerous reasons that churches don’t want to grow; laziness, complacency, fear of losing position or control, anti-social tendencies, fear of change, less access to the pastor, and more. Getting a true sense of whether or not the church is sharing in the burden to reach the lost is paramount. If the church doesn’t share in the burden all efforts will be sabotaged and in vain.

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Have big events. There are built in big events that happen naturally in every church paradigm. Easter and Christmas are perfect examples, although more could certainly be identified. Let’s break it down this way, if you divide the calendar year into quarters you should be hosting at least one big event per quarter. That’s a minimum of four big church events a year. Find events that mobilize and energize your congregation. This creates a buy-in that produces the kind of excitement that propels saints to invite people to something that they are passionate about.

The key to doing this well is choosing the right kind of events that generate excitement in your local church and community. Also, if you do too many big events you will likely burn out your members (these things take lots of work) and you will choose quantity over quality. If you do too few big events, you will lose momentum (and spiritual momentum is very important).

I’m not referring to simply bringing in a guest speaker (although that certainly can play a large role in the process); I am talking about doing things on a fairly large scale that generate excitement and garner the attention of your community. It’s very difficult to tell you what that should be in your local setting. It should be something for which you can create quality mailers to help promote the event. Getting something in the hands of church members that they can easily give to people is key.

A few ideas: back to school giveaways, revivals, fall festivals, concerts, dramas, conferences, kid’s programs, banquets, lady’s events, men’s outings, youth activities, anything involving good food, church anniversary celebrations, and on and on. Creativity, understanding of your local culture, awareness of your church’s strengths and weaknesses, and strong sensitivity to the Spirit is essential to identifying what big events will be best for your church. After committing to a big event, plan, plan, plan, plan, and plan some more. Invite, invite, invite, and invite some more. If nothing else, Easter and Christmas should be seasons where you go all out.

Make the altar call a part of the service. Once again, this point is all about a shift in mindset. When a minister gives the invitation to gather around the altar this is not the end of the service but rather the beginning of the altar service. This is the culmination of everything that has taken place so far in the service. This is where the saints rededicate, sinners find salvation, and prodigals rejoice in their restoration. Yes. I realize that God can move anywhere and at any time, but the altar service is a faith charged atmosphere that must be taken seriously. Empty altars result in empty pews. Quiet altars equal a church in need of revival. Remind the church over and over again that the end of the sermon is the beginning of something powerful not just the stepping stone to grabbing a bite to eat.

Be multicultural. I have briefly written about the concerns of racial tensions here. Just let me say, Heaven will not be white, black, brown, or yellow. It will be filled with people from every nation, tribe, and tongue (Revelation 7:9). Heaven isn’t going to be one big southern gospel singing-along or even a black gospel convocation. Nope. It will be multicultural and the Church should be a natural reflection of that diversity. If your community just happens to be predominately one culture fine, but if not, your church should be welcoming and inclusive to every ethnicity. If that bothers you, you’ll really dislike Heaven (if you make it).

Respect, honor, and support the ministry (Romans 12:10, Hebrews 13:7, 17, 24, 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13, 1 Corinthians 9:7-11, Matthew 10:40, Galatians 6:6). We live in a culture of dishonor and that bleeds its way into the Church. It subtly impacts the way we view, treat, and interact with ministry. Churches that refuse to properly honor, respect and provide for ministry to the best of their ability are by default dishonoring God. We know that the office of pastor is an under-shepherd (Jeremiah 3:15) to the Great Shepherd (John 10:11). Therefore, churches that refuse to give honor to that which God honors are in a precarious place, to say the least. Obviously, pastors are not called to “lord” over the flock (1 Peter 5:2-3), but they are worthy of the honor due a God-ordained office. If they lead well, they are worthy of double honor (1 Timothy 5:17-18).     

It would be foolish to assume that honoring the ministry has little to do with church growth. Having a biblical view of ministry unleashes anointing, unshackles the pastorate, fosters unity, develops trust, invites the favor of the Lord, demonstrates integrity to the community, and is absolutely apostolic. Giving honor is not about stroking ego’s or flattery, it should not be perfunctory, nor should it originate from a place of pride. Rather, honor should radiate from our relationship with God to the spiritual authority that He has placed over us. Show me a church that hesitates to honor ministry and I’ll show you a dying church. Having said that, I know that all pastors are not honorable. I’ve written about that subject here. But godly ministry is always worthy of high honor.

Covet the gifts of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 14:39, 1 Corinthians 12:31). The Berean Study Bible says to “…eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy (1 Corinthians 14:1)”. A quick study of Scripture makes it clear that we should genuinely desire and anticipate the operation of spiritual gifts in our church services and beyond. There is no substitute for the work of the Spirit in our churches. We can only do so much with our own ingenuity, programming, and preplanning. All our efforts are in vain without the Spirit.

Combat carnality. I’ve outlined some snapshots of what a carnal Christian looks like here. As my dad often says, “You won’t win the world golfing, playing video games, and watching television.” That’s not to say that golfing is wrong or inherently sinful, the larger point is that it’s about priorities. Churches that develop a top down lust for pleasure and entertainment grow stale and lukewarm. They lose their sense of urgency and grow powerless. Like Esau, they sell their birthright for immediate gratification. To be clear, I’m not against relaxing and setting aside time for fun, but when the quest for fun overwhelms the work of the Kingdom there is a fundamental problem that must be addressed.

Call people to repentance over and over and over again. This is not just for the unchurched, even the Church needs to be continually called back to a place of repentance. 2 Chronicles 7:14 is the quintessential verse quoted to call people to prayer, but many fail to notice that God is speaking directly to His people in this passage. Notice, the language “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways…”. These are commands that we usually direct towards the unchurched, but God makes it clear that repentance must begin within His own family. Churches have a way of passive-aggressively superimposing convicting sermons and calls to repentance upon unbelievers. Church growth will always be out of reach until a local congregation humbles itself through prayer and repentance.

Have good church. Every service matters. Every altar call matters. Every song matters. Every sermon matters. Every lesson matters. Every note played matters. Every iota of praise lifted towards Heaven matters. Make every service count. Make every moment count. Refuse to phone it in or go through the motions. Of course, some services will be more memorable and impacting than others, but every service matters. Pour passion, energy, and resources into every service.

The Church is not a building. Announce that loud and long. A church house is simply a gathering place for the church. The church is a collection of believers who are striving to walk with Christ and grow in spiritual maturity. View the physical building as nothing more than a resource. This simple shift in focus can mean the difference between treating people correctly or incorrectly. For example, if preserving a building is more important than treating people correctly the building has become an idol. People are the church the building is an instrument designed to help people. Sadly, we sometimes place more emphasis on our place of worship than the people who make it a place of worship.

Lead people don’t beat people. Leadership can be incredibly frustrating and exasperation leads to ministerial burnout. People will disappoint, fall down, rebel, attack, and cause incredible amounts of unnecessary pain. This can be mega taxing on the pastor and every other minister working within the church. The temptation can be to verbally beat people into submission. Although, there is a time and place for godly correction a sustained culture of negativity from pastoral leadership becomes toxic over time. In the end, people will not respond to being constantly berated regardless of how deserving of said “chewing out” they might be. Lead people with love and by example. Harsh correction should be the exception, not the rule.

Take care of your building. I know buildings are expensive and keeping them nice can be a real financial strain, but there is simply no excuse for trash and bad odors in a place of worship. It subliminally signals to visitors that a church just doesn’t care so why should they? However, beautiful buildings do not guarantee growth and growth does not guarantee beautiful buildings. And while I whole heartedly believe that you can grow anywhere with the help of the Lord, we must be good stewards of whatever place of worship the Lord has provided for us.

Refuse to be swayed by every wind of criticism but don’t dismiss criticism off hand. Every church leader from pastors to Sunday School teachers know the painful sting of criticism. Oddly, it tends to be worship leaders and soundmen who suffer the most brutal assaults and opinionated rampages. Sometimes it’s outright criticism or it might be of the passive aggressive “people have been saying” variety. No matter “how” or “who” it’s coming from criticism hurts. It’s almost paradoxical but there are two extreme responses to criticism that are counterproductive. On the one hand, some leaders are swayed and gyrated by every wind of criticism rendering them completely incapable of leadership. On the other hand, some leaders inoculate themselves from criticism so carefully that they never accept constructive criticism. There is healthy disagreement and there is unhealthy disagreement. The ability to discern the difference is a vital component of leadership and church growth.

Foster a prodigal welcoming environment. Yes. It’s biblical. When prodigals come home it should be a celebration. not a time for telling them how bad they messed up. You might be surprised by how many churches get a bad attitude towards prodigals. Don’t be like the angry brother, be like the celebrating father.

Grassroots word of mouth is still paramount. This goes hand in hand with our previously stated goal of emphasizing a lifestyle of evangelism. There is simply no substitute for personally inviting people to church. If everyone in your church would invite as many people to church on a weekly basis as possible the results would be staggering. Studies suggest that the average church member rarely invites anyone to be their guest at church. Out of all the expensive outreach pushes that we have ever done the most impactful has been simply printing up business card sized invitations and making them easily available to our church members. We ask our members to take two and invite two on a weekly basis. Invite friends, family, and co-workers because they are the most likely to accept. But don’t stop there, invite the waiter, the girl ringing up your groceries, the family in the doctor’s office, and everyone else that you possibly can. This takes intentionality and a change of mindset. Talk about it all the time. Keep the cards out front where people can pick them up on their way in and out of the church. Make it really convenient for your church members to get their hands on those invitation cards. Take away all their excuses. Talk to them about how to invite people. Give them encouragement, tips, and pointers. This sounds too simple but it is extremely powerful.

Connect with evangelists who are anointed and gifted harvesters. There’s not much commentary needed here, but I can tell you that a pastor can preach an evangelistic sermon one week with little response. The evangelist can come the next week and preach the same message and the Holy Ghost will fall like rain. It does not mean that the pastor is not anointed. It means that God anoints people in different ways for different seasons of ministry.

Don’t major in minor doctrines. I’m amazed by pastors who spend large amounts of time teaching and preaching candy stick doctrines that have almost no practical application or spiritual benefit. I’m not necessarily talking about false doctrine, but who really cares if the final trumpet will be one long blast or an upbeat medley. I’m sort of joking, but you get my drift. People won’t work all day, rush home to freshen up, and drag the kids to church over and over for midweek Bible study if they aren’t receiving teaching that is applicable to their lives. Right or wrong, they just won’t. I know of a church that ran a month long series discussing whether or not there are female angels. Not only is that kind of thing totally irrelevant, but it takes valuable time away from legitimate subjects that desperately need to be preached. Warning, this is going to sound harsh so if you’re really sensitive just skip down to the next point; preachers who regularly major in minor doctrines are either totally out of touch with the needs of their church, self-absorbed, or spiritually tone deaf. I know for myself, it’s often tempting to preach about obscure and unimportant things simply because it interests me. But that’s not my purpose or calling as a preacher, and it’s not yours either. If you really need to get it out of your system; write a book, or a blog, or talk it out with a peer but please don’t waste the church’s time.

Stop doing embarrassing things! Just stop it. I know embarrassing things are going to happen occasionally and that’s okay. But chronic public spectacles of awkwardness and blush-inducing moments are a sure growth killer. Some examples, it’s not really necessary to read out loud the prayer request for so and so’s bowel congestion, don’t make the congregation suffer through long rebukes couched as a testimony, and if the church isn’t equipped to play a video clip smoothly just don’t try to play a video clip (it goes back to a previous point that it’s better to do a few things well than to do a ton of things poorly). Some of you are reading this and it sounds petty or even elitist to your sensibilities, but I assure you that these types of things heaped together become a profound problem. A culture of embarrassing awkwardness will weigh heavily upon a congregation and repulse guests. It rests fully on the ministries shoulders to eliminate as many of these situations as possible. Once again, embarrassing things are going to happen from time to time, I am referring to frequent issues that are left unrestricted or even exacerbated by the leadership culture of a church.

Bonus thought: your church is not called to be an extension of a political party. Many years ago a pastor friend of mine endorsed and helped campaign for a local politician. He even had the official speak at his church. A few weeks later the news broke that the politician had been accepting bribes, visiting prostitutes, and selling drugs out of his campaign office. Bottom line, politicians are not the remedy for societies woes; Jesus is the answer to our local and national problems. When communities have apostolic revival they will naturally elect solid leaders. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t vote or have strong opinions, but don’t intentionally turn your church into a political battleground.

Related articles: Church Growth (Practical and Spiritual Insights) – Part 1Is Technology Killing Theology, 5 Mistakes Every Worship Leader Makes, 3 Revival Killers, Fire Then Rain, Evangelism By Fire, The Development of Vision – Part 1

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

Church Growth (Practical and Spiritual Insights) – Part 1

If you’re anything like me, you’re leery of church growth books and articles. I’ve read them by the dozens and most of them are either completely irrelevant for apostolic churches, full of platitudes, totally unrealistic, or so technical that you need a college degree just to wade through the formulas. It can be more discouraging than encouraging by the time you’re through. I’m writing this with that in mind.

I’ve hesitated to broach this topic for some time now because just writing about church growth can sound smug and braggadocios. I for one, do not claim to have all the answers or a magic formula that will fill every pew overnight. In fact, I don’t even think filling every empty seat overnight is truly healthy in most circumstances. If your leadership structure is too small to handle a sudden influx of hundreds of brand new spiritual babies you’ll see a lot of premature deaths. In my opinion, consistent gradual growth is the healthiest form of church growth. It gives the leadership and the congregation time to adjust when and where needed.

For the record, I don’t serve a mega church. But by the grace of God, Apostolic Tabernacle has grown in attendance by over 150% in 5 years. Our church has benefitted from a wonderful legacy and stellar stewardship from our Bishop. There was a tremendous small core of godly saints when we arrived. We’re also in a highly populated, although economically struggling, metropolitan county. In spite of those blessings, we’ve had plenty of setbacks and failures. We’ve tried things that flopped and we’ve made mistakes. We still have lots of room for improvement. That’s all part of the messiness of revival. I’m telling you this because there is no one size fits all path to church growth. Every city is different, every church is different, and every situation has nuances that must be identified before sustainable growth will take place.

Keep in mind, the average church loses about 10% of its membership on a yearly basis. Some of these are healthy losses like job transitions or college student move-aways, and some are due to spiritual backsliding and the church hoppers that we all know so well. This means that for a church to grow annually by 10% it actually needs to grow by 20%. As I’ve written in the past, Gideon had to lose some losers before the victory could be obtained. Not all losses are a bad thing, and not all gains are godly. So this article is about healthy church growth, not just temporary crowd generating activities.

After evangelizing for five years all over the US in churches of every shape and size; I’ve had the privilege of seeing almost every church paradigm imaginable. I’ve observed first-hand what to do and what not to do. Both have been instructive and helpful. I’ve tried to whittle these church growth insights down to universal truths that transcend into every apostolic church setting. Let’s get started.

You get what you preach. I love deep sermons that explore the rarely mined gems of Scripture, there’s definitely a time and place for that kind of preaching, but I’m amazed at how many churches think preaching the basics is boring. If you rarely preach the plan of salvation, you’ll rarely see people obey the plan of salvation. That goes for holiness too. If you want people to evangelize, talk about it. Talk about it a lot. I would suggest taking inventory of how often you are preaching core doctrinal subjects. Most are surprised at how rarely they actually tackle doctrinal fundamentals. Furthermore, I know the trend is to have less church, but less church means less opportunities to preach into different situations. I realize it varies from church to church, but for us, Sunday mornings tend to be evangelistic, Sunday nights are the best opportunity to preach specifically to the church, and midweek Bible Study is the time for digging deep and mining for those Scriptural gems. If the Bible tells us that people are saved by the “foolishness of preaching” (1 Corinthians 1:21) then shouldn’t we be preaching more not less? As churches have less and less church they also have less and less preaching, and sometimes almost zero teaching. Laying Scriptural admonishments aside, we live in a culture that demands options and opportunities. Shouldn’t we be giving people more service options and opportunities not less? Can you imagine a hospital only opening its doors once a week? If you rarely have church, you rarely have preaching, and for those who are trapped in the 24/7 work culture, missing their one-weekend service option can be spiritually devastating. On the opposite end of the spectrum are churches that never preach beyond the platitudes and always preach down to the lowest common denominator. They render all preaching down to spiritually anemic bullet points that leave people spiritually malnourished. There is a time for meat and a time for milk. 

And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching (Hebrews 10:24-25).

One man cannot do it all. Churches that think a lone pastor can and should do everything are destined for failure and pastors who think they can do it all are crazy. One person cannot be on call 24/7, preach and teach great new sermons, visit everyone, attend every event, be a financial guru, be a janitor, plan ahead, keep his family healthy (physically, spiritually, and emotionally), teach home Bible studies, cultivate relationships, manage day to day building operations, win souls, pray for the sick, maintain a personal prayer life, study, counsel with people (sometimes for hours on end), and mentor other leaders. It’s just not humanly possible or healthy. Even Jesus didn’t do all those things. Even Jesus had a leadership team of twelve. Even Jesus went away for days to pray and fast. So what’s the solution? Delegation.

Some things must be delegated to volunteers, and as soon as possible additional pastoral (and administrative) staff should be brought onto the team. Jesus demonstrated this process when he began sending his disciples out in pairs to preach and pray for the sick (Matthew 10:1-5). Quick thought, no matter how large the church, there’s never quite enough money in the budget for new ministerial assistants or support staff. Taking that leap of faith is vital. Most churches peak out because they max out their leadership’s capabilities. Ironically, one of the surest signs that a pastor is a great leader is if he can be gone for a week and everything still operates smoothly. Again, churches that refuse to add additional staff and train qualified volunteers always plateau. Period.

Many years ago Pastor Paul Mooney said something about church structure that shapes my thinking even to this day. He likened the average church leadership structure to a small table. He poured a bucket of sand onto the table and compared the sand to saints and church growth. The table easily contained the majority of the sand with only a few specks trickling off the edges. But as he continued to pour sand over the table eventually the majority of the sand began dramatically sliding off the sides onto the floor. His point was clear, the only way to sustain more growth is to build a bigger leadership table. None of this should be interpreted to mean that you should use sub-par leaders out of desperation. No. The only thing worse than maxed out leadership is toxic leadership on your ministerial or administrative team. Delegation is only effective when it is delegated to the right kind of leaders (read more on that subject here).

Be consistent. I’ve outlined the importance of consistency in leadership here. But beyond that, churches must be consistent as well. Remain consistent in the mission, purpose, culture, plan, and apostolic identity.

Insist on excellence. I’ll never understand why some churches develop the mindset that doing your best is carnal. You can’t just show up and wing it and expect God to bless your halfhearted efforts. Insist that your singers and musicians do their very best. Insist that your ministers give their very best in preparation and dedication. Insist that your teachers, greeters, and volunteers give their very best. Call people out of mediocrity. If you don’t take church seriously no one else will either. Practice, plan, prepare, and lovingly pressure people to be the best that they can be for the sake of the Kingdom. People who have grown complacent and comfortable with mediocrity will dislike you for a season until they see their own personal growth. Eventually, they will be glad that you insisted on excellence. No matter how small your congregation is you can call them to do their absolute best for the Lord.

This also means that not everyone who wants to do something should be allowed to do exactly what they want to do. For example, not everyone is musically gifted, which means that not everyone should be allowed in the music program. This can be awkward but it’s less awkward than having visitors flee from your off-key church services. Not everyone has the gift of teaching. Not everyone who wants to preach is called to preach. Not everyone who wants to decorate is gifted in decorating. The same goes for media, design, kid’s ministries, hospitality, and general leadership. Insisting on excellence means that sometimes you have to say no and redirect people towards their area of gifting. I know. I know. This is easier said than done. But it must be done or you will wallow in a sea of mediocrity that repels visitors and discourages your saints.

I’m not talking about absolute perfection. I’m talking about common sense policies. In the corporate world, they call this personnel placement. Meaning, you place people where they are best suited to be productive based on their talents. Knowing where you and others fit in the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:19-25) is a biblical imperative. Paul made it clear that the hand is not better than the foot, but the body will not function correctly if the foot is trying to operate in the same capacity as the hand. 

Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might… (Ecclesiastes 9:10).

And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, [do] all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him. And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men; (Colossians 3:17,23).

Love, equip, encourage, and care for people. People can tell if you genuinely love and care about them. There’s no replacement for this quality. Spiritual leaders who love the lost and the saints will equip them to withstand spiritual onslaughts, hardships, and teach them how to thrive spiritually. Love means more than smiling and having a good time. Real love tells the truth and confronts painful realities. If you’re struggling to truly love people, ask God to give you a new heart.

Expect a mess. In case you didn’t know, America is a post-Christian nation. Meaning that now more than ever, people are going to bring baggage with them into the church. Multiple broken marriages, addictions that you’ve never even heard of, tons of false doctrines, strange philosophies, and on and on and on. If that makes you wildly uncomfortable it’s time to reshape your perception of ministry. Imagine a hospital full of doctors and nurses that can’t stand the sight of blood; it definitely wouldn’t be a very effective environment. Churches that get all dizzy and faint-hearted at the sight of sinners have forgotten where they came from and their commission. They alienate the very people that Jesus has called them to reach. Squeamish churches will not grow. Churches that are condescending towards sinners will not grow. Churches that only welcome pristine people will never grow, nor are they godly. If it hadn’t been for a righteous man who was willing to pray for a hateful, messy, murderous, blind sinner named Saul there would be no Apostle Paul (Acts 9).

Additionally, conversion does not make all the baggage magically disappear. We reap what we sow (Galatians 6:7-8). Yes. God forgives. Yes. God removes eternal damnation after repentance, water baptism in Jesus’ name, and the infilling of the Holy Ghost (Acts 2:38). But a lifetime of sowing sinful seeds will produce a painful earthly harvest for some time. Thankfully, the Fruit of the Spirit and the sowing of spiritual seed will eventually replace bad harvests with good harvests. For example, God can deliver an alcoholic from addiction in a single instant, but that doesn’t mean the broken relationships the addiction caused will be mended overnight. New seeds will slowly be planted, growth will begin, and the Fruit of the Spirit will bring about the healing. Taking this hodgepodge of analogies one step further, Jesus referred to salvation as being born again (John 3:1-8). Peter continued the metaphor by referring to new Christians as infants (1 Peter 2:2). Birth is messy. Babies are messy. Even toddlers are messy. My mother would be quick to tell you (based on my teenage years) that teenagers can be the messiest of all. Growing churches love spiritual children enough to keep cleaning the mess and raising new believers into full maturity in Christ.

Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).

Protect the platform and the pulpit. The people on your platform and in your pulpit are a reflection of the values and culture of your church. Just because someone wants to preach doesn’t mean they should be allowed to preach. Just because they want to sing and can sing doesn’t mean they should sing if they don’t reflect the biblical values and culture of an apostolic church. Earlier we were talking about standards of excellence but now we are referring to spiritual protection. You can avoid a lot of spiritual heartaches and perceived inconsistencies by keeping your platform and your pulpit carefully guarded. This is easier said than done; do it anyway. Scripture repeatedly warns us that wolves will try to invade the church and cause division (Matthew 7:16, Matthew 10:16, Acts 20:29). Be careful and use discernment. Don’t give influence to people who could be spiritually harmful to the church.

Pray. Fast. Study. Rinse. Repeat. Make prayer a priority. Maintain corporate times of prayer and fasting. Equip and engage people to maintain personal Bible study habits. All leaders are readers. Study, study, study (2 Timothy 2:15).

Preach and teach with clarity and conviction. I’m noticing as I write these thoughts that much of my focus revolves around preaching. I make no apologies for that, preaching has always been central to apostolic revival. The New Testament Church was birthed around Peter’s sermon on the Day of Pentecost where the Holy Ghost was poured out (Acts 2). Using Peter’s sermon from Acts chapter two as an example, you’ll notice that he was completely confident in his delivery, he spoke from the head and the heart, and he spoke with clarity. In other words, he was clear and understandable. He didn’t leave any wiggle room for the hearers to squeeze in their own interpretation of what they needed to do to be saved. I hear far too much ambiguous preaching these days. Fuzzy preaching that sounds brilliant (or sometimes just incoherent) but makes it hard to pin the particulars down. This isn’t always intentional. Sometimes it comes from a desire to sound intellectual, or maybe it’s just poor communication skills, sometimes lack of preparation is the culprit, or possibly it stems from a subconscious fear of offending the hearers. In worst cases, it comes from internal doubts and disbelief. You don’t have to be a great orator. Passion, conviction, confidence, anointing, and clarity are far more valuable qualities than just being a wordsmith. Bottom line, clear preaching isn’t always the prettiest preaching but it produces apostolic results. Study thoroughly, know what you believe, say what you believe, believe what you say, and let God do the rest. Secondly, a clear distinction must be maintained between teaching and preaching. Many churches are seriously off balance in one direction or the other. They have tons of preaching and very little teaching or vice versa (this goes back to the problem of having less and less church). There really must be a balance between the two for healthy spiritual conversions and spiritual maturation to take place. Interestingly, most pastors struggle to accurately define the biblical differences between preaching and teaching. I’ve often heard people make the tongue-in-cheek statement that teaching is just preaching with less screaming. That’s funny but horribly inaccurate. Teaching should never be used as an excuse to be boring, uninspiring, or less anointed. Robert L. Waggoner gives one of the best differentiation between teaching and preaching that I have read. Waggoner writes:

“The primary meaning associated with the nature of preaching in the New Testament comes from the fact that the Greek word most frequently used to describe a preacher was that of a herald. A herald was one who announced a message, generally from the king or some other ruling authority, to those who had not heard it before. Preaching in New Testament times, therefore related primarily to announcing good news. In the New Testament, the content of that good news centered around the themes of Jesus Christ, the Word, the Gospel, and the Kingdom. On the other hand, the nature of teaching in New Testament times was primarily to explain ideas and their implications, and to exhort people to live by declared values. Whereas the message preached was the message announced, the message taught was the message explained, clarified, and applied, with exhortation to live by it. Whereas the message preached (announced) was primarily for the purpose of conversion, the message taught (explained, clarified, applied, with exhortation) was primarily for the purpose of building faith, Christian conviction and character. Essentially, preaching lays the foundation for teaching, just as an announcement lays the foundation for further comments. Both have the same message. Their points of emphasis differ. Whereas the content of preaching may be narrowly defined, the content of teaching is in broad terms.”

With this definition in mind, many churches lay a lot of good foundation with preaching but never adequately build upon it with solid teaching. This creates tons of spiritual babies that never survive into maturity. On the other hand, churches that are imbalanced on the teaching side of the equation are constantly trying to build structures on weak foundations.

Volunteers are valuable. As I mentioned earlier, there’s never going to be a big enough budget to hire the staff needed to fulfill all the needs of the church. Even large churches rely heavily on volunteers. Sunday school teachers, ushers, greeters, behind the scenes tech engineers, cleaning crews, board members, youth workers, bus drivers, outreach teams, hospitality teams, altar workers, and more are usually volunteers. They are the backbone of your church. Love, respect, appreciate, honor, lead, train, and equip them. Do not take them for granted.

Refuse to compromise on matters of biblical doctrine. Let me say that again for impact, refuse to compromise on matters of biblical doctrine. The idea that compromise always results in church growth is a huge myth that many have swallowed hook line and sinker. This often makes watering down the Word seem attractive even to preachers who actually believe in sound doctrine simply because they feel a desperation to grow. I’ve made this point in a previous article but it bears repeating, the average church (across all denominational lines) runs about 75. The vast majority of those churches consistently compromise (or likely never preached apostolic doctrine in the first place) without any numeric growth at all. Clearly, compromise and abandoning biblical foundations does not produce automatic numeric growth (even if it did it would not justify watering down the Gospel). When apostolic ministers accept that lie, whether publicly or secretly, they lead from a fixed position of insecurity. If you’re an apostolic church and you’re not growing it’s not because of your doctrine. There are probably many reasons you’re not growing, but standing for apostolic truth is not one of them.

Consider this, recent studies are showing that liberal mainline churches are in sharp decline while Pentecostal churches are still experiencing dramatic growth worldwide. This leaves researchers scratching their heads because we Pentecostals tend to be doctrinally dogmatic which is terribly politically incorrect. Biblically correct churches are outgrowing politically correct churches because they stand out as a beacon of light in a philosophically and doctrinally hazy world. To be clear, it would be better to preach the truth and stay small than to preach a lie and be damned. I would rather lead a small church to Heaven than lead a megachurch to Hell.

Know your limits. Even super-duper mega churches with deep pockets can’t do everything well. Find the things that your church is really good at (probably through a process of trial and error) and do them really well. It would be better to do a few things passionately and excellently than to do a hundred things badly. If your church isn’t exceptionally gifted in music don’t try to put on a music conference or a concert. That’s counterproductive. Find what you’re good at (and your church is good at something) and double down on it. Doing more stuff for the sake of doing more stuff is a terrible idea. Busyness for the sake of busyness is a recipe for burnout and church-wide depression. Oftentimes, less is more. Just because other churches are doing it doesn’t mean that you have to do it too. In fact, your focused efforts and unique abilities will set you apart in your community in a good way. By the way, the reason many church growth books are grossly unhelpful is because they want you to imitate every move of another numerically (although not necessarily spiritual) successful church. Unfortunately, your church may not be gifted or motivated in the same ways by the same things. You must identify your localized abilities and focus on them with laser-like intensity.

Trim the fat. Once you’ve found what your church is really good at and what it’s really bad at its time to trim the fat off the “sacred cows”. You’re going to be met with a lot of resistance at this point. You’re going to hear a lot of things like, “But that other Church does this and we should too” or “But we’ve always had this program” or “But everyone else is doing it this way or that way.” Stand firm, once you start doing things just to do things you will lose purpose, passion, and perspective. Cut out time-consuming, cumbersome, unproductive, expensive, and counterproductive programs as quickly as possible. To review, it’s better to be known for doing a few things really well than for doing tons of stuff really poorly.

Don’t be a seeker-friendly church. Be a God friendly church. Remember, God is the Lord of the harvest (Matthew 9:38), and He alone gives the increase (1 Corinthians 3:6-7). I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be friendly to seekers (you absolutely must be friendly), but the term “seeker friendly” has become synonymous with churches that try to create a generic and culturally acceptable worship environment. Again, if we use the book of Acts as our model, we find that the Church was anything but generic. The apostles spoke boldly into hostile and conflicting cultures with their primary concern being to please the Lord, not people. If God gives the true harvest than being a God-pleasing church should be our main concern. Churches that are more interested in pleasing people than God attract crowds and nothing more. Churches that are more concerned with crowds than the Gospel throw Super Bowl parties and churches that love the Gospel throw Holy Ghost parties. That’s a generalization, but the point is valid. A crowd does not make a church, but a book of Acts church will attract a crowd. When God starts moving, people in a cold world will be attracted to the warmth of the fire.

Promote praise and worship. I have explained the often overlooked differences between praise and worship here. God dwells among the praises of his people (Psalms 22:3). Praise sets the tone and the right atmosphere of faith for preaching to be most impactful. Praise drives away dark spirits (1 Samuel 16:23) and turns mourning into dancing (Psalms 30:11). Praise gets our flesh out of the way making room for the moving of the Holy Spirit. If you want revival you must promote and cultivate a worshipful church environment. Like it or not, you can gauge the spiritual temperature of a church by its praise and worship. Outward praise is not a replacement for spiritual depth, but you cannot claim to have spiritual depth without outward manifestations of praise. A church that refuses to be demonstrative in praise is in direct violation of countless passages of Scripture (Romans 15:11, Psalms 22:23, Psalms 33:1, Psalms 66:8, Psalms 67:3, Psalms 98:4, Psalms 100:4, Psalms 102:18).

Define revival. As Rev. Wayne Huntley often explains, many churches confuse revival with evangelism. The root word of revival is “revive” meaning to bring back to life or to infuse with fresh strength. You can’t revive something that has never been alive. Revival is for the saints and evangelism is for the world. A church that is not constantly being revived will not grow. A dead church cannot give birth. Having said that, evangelism is something altogether different. Evangelism reaches beyond the walls of the church house into the lives of those who are lost. The distinction between revival and evangelism is important because what revives the church does not always produce evangelism. Evangelism does little to no good without a revived (alive) church.

Revival and evangelism must be approached as two distinct processes that are connected but unique. Otherwise, a church will fall into the trap of having revival without evangelism or vice versa. I’ve preached in many churches over the years that settled for having terrific revival but never evangelizing. They needed to learn that being revived over and over again is not the same as reaching out to the lost.

Let me address an elephant in the room that is seldom mentioned; many churches love revival but they dislike evangelism. Sadly, many congregations grow very comfortable with their crowd of friends and they become content to just have good church and leave their community unchanged. This is a direct violation of the Church’s mandate to go and make disciples (Matthew 28:19). Every church needs to be taught that revival must overflow from our church services into spontaneous bursts of community evangelism, which leads nicely to the next point.

Live evangelism. Often, churches relegate evangelism to group events like door knocking. Don’t get me wrong, I’m 110% for door knocking and passing out flyers and water bottles at the park on a hot summer day. All great stuff, but if that’s the extent of your church’s outreach efforts your church is either dead or dying. Evangelism is a daily lifestyle, not a weekly or monthly program. Every growing church has one thing in common, saints who organically invite and encourage others to visit their church on a regular basis. This organic church-wide evangelism is not limited to friends and family members but includes strangers and acquaintances. Growing churches live evangelism as a constant lifestyle everywhere they go.

Have a long-term vision and short-term goals. I’ve laid out the case for yearly preaching plans here. My thinking has drastically evolved concerning church planning over the last several years. I used to disdain the idea of being overly planned because I felt that it hindered spontaneity and the flow of the Spirit. Nothing could be further from the truth. God honors planning. God knows the future and He can give us direction a year in advance just as easily as He can give us direction ten minutes in advance. Every church regardless of size should have an annual planning session mapping out a schedule for the upcoming year. That calendar should be neatly printed and made readily available to the entire church. This keeps ministries and activities from overlapping. It gives each ministry an opportunity to suggest strategies and develop a game plan. It promotes unity and creates general awareness. Obviously, there must be a level of flexibility throughout the year in scheduling and things will be tweaked and changed as needed, but every ministry and department will operate best within the structure of yearly preplanning.

Do not quench the Spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:19). That word quench in the Greek literally means to “extinguish” or “to go out”. In its normal context, the word was used to describe putting out sparks, fires, or flames. Many churches either intentionally or unintentionally quench the moving of the Spirit. If you read the context of the passage you will notice the next verse admonishes the church to “despise not prophesyings (1 Thessalonians 5:20)”. Spite towards spiritual things automatically hinders the Spirit. Churches that develop a top-down aversion to preaching, prophecy, the gifts of the Spirit, praise, prayer, and holiness are perverted vessels that put out revival fires. Some churches love prophecy but they despise praise. Some churches love preaching but they disdain the operation of the gifts of the Spirit. Some churches love outward holiness but they dislike the very sinners that the Church is mandated to reach. These imbalances hinder the Spirit and create dangerous droughts. Learning to be sensitive and responsive to the moving of the Spirit is paramount in terms of church growth. A spiritually tone-deaf pastor will stick to the program even when the Spirit is flowing in another direction. A spiritually insensitive preacher will miss windows of opportunity when and where the Spirit is trying to flow. While I affirm that we must do all things “…decently and in order (1 Corinthians 14:40)” it is always orderly to abstain from quenching the Spirit’s flow.

Deal with sin quickly, mercifully, and decisively (1 Corinthians 5:1-13, 2 Thessalonians 3:13-15, Galatians 6:1, James 5:19-20). Sadly, sin is going to infiltrate the lives of even the most trusted of saints from time to time. Even worse, it’s possible that trusted leaders in your church will fall into sin. It can be tempting to procrastinate addressing the issue at hand. Don’t do it. The festering will grow worse and leave a wake of destruction in its path. Make the necessary adjustments and corrections as quickly as possible. Take decisive and integrity-laden steps of action. And above all, be merciful and restoration-minded when and where possible. If you publicly oppose sin but privately tolerate sin among the core of your church or within the leadership structure over time the entire foundation of the local church will be weakened. If sin within a church is left unchecked for a long enough period of time it will replicate and spread like cancer until a church is no longer a church; just a collection of backslidden posers.

Have a guest follow-up ministry. As I peruse over what I’ve written so far, I’m realizing that the vast majority of these points are mindset oriented. They are mostly spiritual principles. But for those of you who are technique-minded, you will appreciate this point. Guest follow-up is a technical imperative for church growth. Yet, I am amazed by how many churches either have zero guest follow-up or very insufficient guest follow-up. To put things in perspective, if someone goes through all the trouble of getting ready and driving out to your church to visit they are the most likely converts in your proximity. I’ll double down on this point, if someone pointed a gun to your head (silly hypothetical) and forced you to choose between having a guest follow-up ministry or a neighborhood outreach ministry, you should choose guest follow-up. Studies have shown over and over again that a church is far more likely to get someone to come back than they are to convince someone to visit for the first time sight unseen. For the record, I absolutely believe that churches should be using every means of evangelism possible.

There are gobs of ideas out there about the best way to do a guest follow-up ministry. By the way, I prefer the word guest over visitor because the word visitor has a temporary connotation while the word guest is more welcoming and permanent sounding. Regardless, here are a few basics of guest follow-up. One, have some kind of welcoming area with a stationed greeter (preferably a very friendly and warm person) who is equipped with guest information cards. Two, the greeter’s goal is to make guests feel welcome, answer all of their questions, and acquire the guest’s contact information. Three, a letter from the pastor should be mailed or emailed to all guests within the following week. Four, a quick personal phone call or text (some people prefer this) from an actual human being should be initiated. Five, add them to a mailing list so they can be invited to all major events and activities throughout the year (unless they request to be removed from the mailing list). Those are the very basics. Many churches do personal visits. I did this in my early days of ministry but found that people were a little creeped out by having someone randomly show up at their house (maybe it was just me). Some churches with big budgets send a gift basket with all kinds of logo-covered goodies and edible treats. I think that’s great if you can afford it but unnecessary. However, I do suggest three things if your budget allows: 1) provide all your visitors with a very nice looking (professionally printed) brochure complete with information about beliefs, programs, media, service times, and ministries, 2) give away nice but inexpensive pens with the church logo and website emblazoned on it (people will use pens forever and it will serve as a gentle reminder of your church), 3) give away refrigerator magnets that contain your church contact info (people love fridge magnets and they will use them). This may seem like a lot of trouble but it will reap immeasurable benefits.

One last thought regarding this point (and this just might be the most helpful thought in this whole article), tell guests that you want them to become a part of your church. I mean, literally say those words to them out loud. Don’t just assume that they know how you feel because of your friendliness. Don’t say, “I really hope you visit again” as if they will always be an outsider trying to get into the club. Say, “I’m really hoping that you’ll make this your home church and become a part of what God is doing here”. One is exclusive and one is inclusive. Tell them they are wanted and mean it from the bottom of your heart.

Be a self-aware church. Over time it’s easy to lose perspective and awareness of how we are coming across to our guests and to our communities. Individuals can do it and churches can do it as well. For example, just because we think we are a friendly church (I’ve never been to a church that didn’t think it was crazy friendly) doesn’t mean that we are actually a friendly church. Be friendly, don’t just act friendly. Meaning, many churches become proficient at going through the motions of “friendliness” without truly having a caring or loving desire to know and help people, and they don’t have the self-awareness needed to even realize what has happened. But people can quickly spot all the things that we’ve gradually grown accustomed to in our comfortable surroundings.

In many ways, it’s similar to how I feel when people visit my home. My home doesn’t seem dirty, messy, or disorganized until guests show up, and then I start noticing every flaw and imperfection. The difference between church and our homes is that most folks rarely have guests in their homes, but we constantly have guests in our churches. Make a conscious effort to look at your church like you do your house when you know that company is coming. If nothing else, keep the platform and altar area clean, organized, clutter-free, and pleasant. Why? Because the platform and altar area is where people’s attention will be focused 99% of the time. Do your best to “awkward-proof” your platform as much as possible. Meaning, avoid tripping hazards, weird set-ups where singers are practically on top of ministers who are seated, chairs that make strange noises (funny story goes with this tip), busy seating arrangements that people have to weave around like a maze, bad lighting, exposed tangled wires, decorative arrangements that are easily bumped or fall with little provoking, and odd instrument and musician placements that conflict with the overall environment.

Being self-aware also means that we realize that unchurched people often don’t understand expressions and words that are common to us. No. I’m not one of those guys who wants to dumb down our preaching or secularize our expressions, but I do think we should pause often and explain to guests what we’re talking about. Yes, sir. That’s just common courtesy and good manners. We know exactly what we mean by God is going to “split the eastern sky wide open” but a guest just hears a weird, scary sounding phrase. Self-aware churches do a lot of patient explaining.

Along those same lines, if you announce that everyone who wants to be a part of “such and such” needs to talk to “so and so” without visibly showing them who “so and so” is, every one of your guests and newer saints is going to feel completely lost and excluded. Self-aware churches do lots of introducing people to people.

Utilize the power of social media and online presence. I’ve written many times about the dangers and pitfalls of social media (here, here, and here). However, it’s simply irresponsible when a church fails to harness this powerful outreach tool. Our church reaches over fifty thousand people each month via iTunes and podcast, and much more than that through our online presence. The vast majority of people in your community will check out your church online before making a decision to visit. Very few people show up without doing a little research these days. If possible, set up a podcast where people can listen to your lessons and sermons. Have a website, it doesn’t have to be state of the art but it needs to be updated (don’t have announcements posted for things that have already happened) and very informative. There’s no such thing as too much information. Tell them about your church, what to expect, what you believe, all about your vision, your ministries, your leadership (many church sites make it challenging to even figure out their pastor’s name), your service times, and your location. Link your site to various social media sites and utilize them to the best of your ability. Ideally, someone trustworthy and tech-savvy should be shepherding this ministry (and it is a ministry).

Don’t be ashamed of your apostolic identity (Romans 1:16, Luke 9:26). Hollywood isn’t ashamed of their spectacle. In fact, the world has never been prouder in spite of the chaos that it’s in. Do not be ashamed of the name of Jesus, holiness, Apostolic doctrine, the moving of the Spirit, exuberant praise, passionate preaching, or our Pentecostal heritage.

Beware of the Grasshopper Complex (Numbers 13:26-33). Remember the ten spies who gave an “evil report (Numbers 13:32)”? They said that they could not take the Promised Land. Mostly because they had spotted intimidating giants. They famously whined, “…we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in theirs (Numbers 13:33)”. They were suffering from an Inferiority Complex. They were so impressed and oppressed by the perceived strength of their enemy that they lost faith and paralysis took control. Many churches suffer from a Grasshopper Complex. They see thriving false churches, encroaching evil from every side, political pressure, cultural decay, obstacles that seem insurmountable, and they are frozen in fear. This is fundamentally a faith problem. Here’s the deal with giants; the bigger they are the easier it is to hit them with a slingshot. Okay. I know that sounds flippant and sometimes the battle is extremely intense. But in the end, we either trust God for the victory or we don’t.

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Been Hurt By A Pastor? (8 Reasons You Should Stop Talking About It)

I’m a pastor and I’ve been hurt by pastors. In fact, my most painful experiences have come from individuals who should have been spiritual shepherds. I’ve counseled with enough people to know that I’m far from alone in that scenario. Thankfully, I’m a preacher’s kid with a father who’s the real deal. He believes what he preaches and lives it too. I’ve had that consistent role model to follow when other peers and leaders let me down in dramatic ways. For that, I’m truly grateful

Let me be clear, I’m not talking about petty grievances of the “they didn’t shake my hand” or “they didn’t appreciate my potential” variety. I’m talking about legitimate situations where a pastor (or minister) was blatantly, perhaps even chronically hurtful, sinful, or harmful. Neither, am I talking about leadership differences, stylistic clashes, or minor judgment lapses, I believe in pastoral authority and apostolic boldness. I am comfortable receiving rebuke and correction from a spiritual leader. Nor, am I easily offended or hard to please. I am not fazed by the reality that pastors are fallible and very human. As a preacher, I know my own shortcomings all too well, so it’s easy for me to cut the preacher some slack. Regardless, real spiritual abuse does occur; good people do bad things, bad people masquerade as good people (Jesus repeatedly warned us this would be common), and mistakes are made. When these things happen, it’s only natural to want to tell anyone and everyone who will listen. I know it’s tempting, but that’s exactly what you should NOT do.

I’m not advocating sticking your head in the sand. Seek godly counsel, deal with the problem, keep a good spirit, put it in the past, and keep it there. As Paul said, “…forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:13-14).” Have you been hurt, disenchanted, disappointed, or even harmed by a spiritual leader? If so, you’re in good company; Jesus was crucified because of the influence of religious leaders. And yet, it was Jesus who admonished us to forgive and move on (Matthew 5:44, Mark 11:25, Matthew 18:21-22). I’d like to address eight reasons why I think we should avoid reliving these experiences in our conversations.

  1. It will produce, maintain, and enhance a dangerous root of bitterness in your heart. Bitterness will destroy you and turn you into the very thing that hurt you in the first place. Hurt people really do hurt people.
  1. It plants unhealthy seeds of distrust in the hearts of the hearers. Quick analogy, I respect police officers very much. I believe that most police officers are honorable people. However, I’ve had an extremely bad encounter with a police officer who was supposed to serve and protect. I don’t dwell on that one experience because I want my children to respect police officers. Will there be a day when I explain to them that there are a few bad apples out there? Yes. But that will never be my primary focus in conversation because, in the grand scheme of things, I want my children to honor and respect those who serve them. When it comes to spiritual leaders, I am even more careful. I do not want my family, unbelievers, or fragile saints to live under the impression that MOST truth preaching pastors are bad because of a FEW bad truth preaching pastors.
  1. It’s not possible to move forward safely when you are constantly looking backward. As a kid, I had a weird habit of running while looking over my shoulder. Yeah, I ran into a lot of stuff and caused myself all kinds of unnecessary pain. When you constantly talk about past church hurt you destabilize your present and endanger your future.
  1. Often, and sometimes without realizing it, we talk about such things with a desire to cause harm to the perpetrator. Understandable as that may be, it goes against everything that Jesus teaches us about forgiveness and loving our enemies and those who spitefully use us. God does not give us the authority to exact our own brand of revenge, revenge is the Lord’s (Deuteronomy 32:35, Romans 12:19).
  1. Constant rehashing of pastoral failings can create a lingering distrust towards good spiritual leaders in your heart. In spite of human flaws, everyone needs a pastor. If you’re not careful, you’ll become so distrustful that you will never allow a godly preacher to have apostolic authority in your life. If that happens, the Devil will have accomplished what he set out to accomplish.
  1. My personal observations of people who dwell on ministerial failings are that it becomes their primary excuse in justifying their own bad decisions. They excuse their bad behavior because of the bad behavior of a finite human being. Remember, our relationship with God should not be destroyed because of a ministers wrongdoing. God does not cease to be good just because a man or woman has hurt us. Wrong does not become right just because someone else goes crazy. David exampled this beautifully in the Bible. King Saul was out to kill him, and when David had the chance to take Saul’s life, he refused to touch God’s anointed (1 Samuel 24:10). Notice, David didn’t let Saul kill him, he removed himself from the situation, but he did not exact revenge or sink to Saul’s level of bad behavior.
  1. It keeps the wounds fresh. There’s no hurt like spiritual hurt. It can be devastating and earth-shattering. Talking about it over and over again just keeps that pain from healing. Take it to the Lord in prayer, leave it on the altar, and let Jesus mend your broken heart.
  1. It can invite the judgment of God into your life. I know this one will rub some folks the wrong way. And I’ve wrestled with this concept myself. On the surface, it simply doesn’t seem fair that our improper reaction to someone else’s sin could bring judgment into our own lives. One of the strangest biblical accounts is the story of Noah becoming indecent and intoxicated shortly after surviving the great flood (Genesis 9:18-27). When Ham, his son, saw the situation he cavalierly talked about it with his brothers. The text indicates a demeanor of condescension and disrespect for a man who had found grace in the eyes of the Lord. Noah was a righteous man who was in a temporary state of terrible failure. When Noah’s other sons (Shem and Japheth) realized what was happening they took a garment and walked backwards into their father’s tent to cover his nakedness. This was not denial; they weren’t avoiding the problem or living in La-La Land. But they had enough respect for their father’s godly history that they would not approach the situation lightly or contemptuously. Ham and his descendants labored under a God-given curse from that day forward. When dealing with the spiritual failings of a genuine man of God our demeanor matters.

Quick caveat, this article is not referring to false prophets, false teachers, or those who knowingly peddle false doctrine. Scripture clearly admonishes us to expose and rebuke them as needed (Galatians 1:6-9, Deuteronomy 13:1-4, Jeremiah 14:14-16, Titus 3:10-11, 2 Peter 3:15-18). Neither am I minimizing the pain that can come from a spiritual leaders failings. Many people, like David, have been wronged through no fault of their own. I also realize, that there are many people who incorrectly perceive wrongdoing because they are rebellious or unteachable. That’s another issue for another day. For the record, I do not endorse allowing a minister who is in sin to remain active in ministry.

Overcoming Ministerial Insecurities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With that in mind, one of the great deceptions of our time is the belief that compromise always produces growth. Consider this, the average church (across all denominational lines) runs about 75. The vast majority of those churches consistently compromise without any numeric growth at all. Clearly, compromise and abandoning biblical foundations does not produce automatic numeric growth (even if it did it would not justify watering down the Gospel). When apostolic ministers accept that lie, whether publically or secretly, they lead from a fixed position of insecurity. They live with the same Grasshopper Complex the ten spies articulated when they told Moses that the Promise Land was unconquerable (Numbers 13). In other words, they are defeated without ever going into battle. That’s the real tragedy of insecurity, we are defeated on the battlefield of our own minds before even attempting to accomplish what God has called us to accomplish.

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

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

Is That Really You God? – 10 Steps To Hearing God’s Voice

IS THAT REALLY YOU GODOne of the most common questions that I receive is something along the lines of how can we hear the voice or God? Sometimes it’s phrased in the context of seeking after the will of God. Every sincere Christian has endured seasons where they desperately needed to hear God or know his will. Loren Cunningham’s book Is That Really You God? delves into this topic head first. I found the book helpful and insightful. Loren digs beyond platitudes and easy answers burrowing down into the meat of the question. Especially, interesting are her thoughts on learning to differentiate God’s voice from our own internal voices and the world’s external voices. She walks us through the transition of young Samuel mistaking the voice of Eli for the voice of God. She further illustrates the process of Samuel’s maturation process and spiritual development, noting that as Samuel matured he easily recognized the voice of God, and others heard the voice of God prophetically through him.

I have compiled a short voice over video documenting the main themes of the book along with a few thoughts of my own click here to watch 10 Steps To Hearing God’s Voice.

For further elaboration click here to listen to my full Bible study podcast entitled 10 Steps To Hearing God’s Voice or on iTunes here. I have included the lesson slides below.

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You Cannot Be A Church Leader If… (Part 2)

This is an extension of my recent post You Cannot Be A Church Leader If. The interest was strong and the feedback intense so today I’m adding a few to the list.

12. You cannot be a church leader if you do not have a burden.

The apostle Paul described his burden for the salvation of his fellow Jews as a bitter sorrow and an unending grief. Jesus described a burden so strong that the parabolic shepherd left the ninety-nine to find that one lost sheep. A burden goes beyond love, a burden goes beyond concern, it is a deep driving force that propels an individual into action on behalf of the lost. It is manifested in a myriad of ways, which ultimately bears the fruit of saving lost sheep. It should be noted that all Christians are mandated to carry a burden on some level. A burden is not a calling, but it is necessary for a calling.

13. You cannot be a pastor without a Divine calling.

This point is specific to preaching and pastoral ministries. Having said that, I know many people who were called to teach Sunday School, drive a church bus, do community outreach, clean the church, or visit the sick. But all of those things can and should be done without a Divine calling if necessary. Preaching and pastoral ministry, however, is Divinely ordained and Divinely called. This article doesn’t have the space to lay the necessary theological framework for each point, but this is clearly illustrated in the ministries of Moses, Abraham, Noah, Samuel, each of the Apostles including Paul, and Timothy. Jonah is particularly interesting because he had a Divine calling, yet he lacked a burden. He was called first and God went to great lengths to take him to his field of evangelism.

14. You cannot be a church leader without wisdom.

Many people have knowledge but lack wisdom. Knowledge is information, wisdom is knowing what to do with that information. Leadership without wisdom eventually burns the leader and the followers out. Couple points: Good intentions do not equal wisdom, talent does not equal wisdom, age does not equal wisdom, charisma does not equal wisdom, personality does not equal wisdom, and enthusiasm does not equal wisdom. The higher you go in church leadership the more critical wisdom becomes.

15. You cannot be a church leader without vision.

“Where there is no vision, the people perish… (Proverbs 29:18).” That word vision comes from the Hebrew word “chazown” meaning dream, revelation, oracle, or sight. This Scripture is often misrepresented, but I think the meaning is complex. Leadership requires revelation from God, which brings dreams for the future, and insight into what is necessary to move forward in God’s plan.

16. You cannot be a church leader without faith.

“Without faith, it is impossible to please God… (Hebrews 11:6).” I think that pretty much says it all.

17. You cannot be a church leader without anointing.

Jesus said, “The Spirit of the Lord [is] upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor… (Luke 4:18).” I know this is an oversimplification, but if Jesus needed an anointing to preach you need one too. I think this is mandatory for pastoral and preaching ministries, and it certainly should be coveted in all other areas of church ministry as well. In a certain sense, the differences between Divine anointing and Divine calling are almost imperceptible. When David was anointed by the prophet Samuel the oil was literally poured over his head. It was highly visible for all present. Spiritual anointing seems intangible in theory, but you know it when you see it. You can feel it. Anointing brings down giants, lack of anointing cowers in hiding when adversity comes. It is palpable when God has covered a person. Anointing produces illumination, revelation, Divine inspiration, Divine operation, the gifts of the Spirit, and other tangible spiritual results. Anointing is not merely theatrics. Anointing is not good oratory or even capable leadership skills. It does not come from man, training, or education. Anointing comes only from God. God can anoint a fisherman or a theologian, a lifetime saint or a once vile sinner, or whomever He chooses. Although, God does give confirmation of anointing through godly pastoral authority. David didn’t anoint himself and proclaim himself the heir to the throne; he needed a Samuel to place God’s stamp of approval on his life first.

18. You cannot be a church leader without a time of proving and learning.

Paul admonished Timothy to study to show himself approved unto God (2 Timothy 2:15). Notice, when you are training you are not seeking earthly approval but God’s approval. Ministerial training was never intended to be a political process or a popularity contest. The desire for church leadership must be birthed out of a desire to please the Lord. Abraham was 75 years old when God called him and Samuel was only about 12 years old when God called him. Sometimes the training and proving periods are long and tedious. Whichever the case, patience and a right spirit are required or you will miss God’s will. That’s basically what happened to Judas. I believe Judas thought he could force Jesus’ hand. Instead, he destroyed his life and his potential ministry.

19. You cannot be a church leader without the blessing of a pastor and the covering of a local church.

Paul never embarked on a missionary journey without the unification of apostolic ministry and the covering (blessing) of a local church. This goes back to my point in part one of this post regarding submission to spiritual authority. God does not bless the maverick mentality. God blesses and operates via unification and through the mechanisms of authority. I’ve seen people run from church to church looking for someone to validate their personal ministry, eventually they find someone willing to give them a pedestal of some kind or another. But this is not the apostolic way, nor does God bless it. Those kinds of dissidents beget more dissidents and undermine their own ministry. It’s hard to inspire loyalty when you birth your “ministry” in disloyalty. I’ve seen this process run the spectrum from pastor, to preacher, to teacher, to evangelist, to musician, to singer, to youth leader, and on and on.

20. You cannot be a church leader without the ability to lead.

This one is going to rub some people the wrong way, but I know many good people who desired to be in leadership who lacked the ability to lead people. They eventually end up leading themselves and growing embittered. They drifted from the true “calling” that God had placed on their lives because they desired promotion. If you have a genuine calling (as we’ve already discussed) promotion will come without self-promotion. I often fear that in our rush to start new churches we push individuals into positions they are not qualified for or called into. One caveat, I do believe that if God truly calls he does qualify. However, many inadvertently substitute their own desires for a genuine Divine calling. They go to their pastor seeking approval with no desire for actual counsel. Using the apostle Paul’s analogy of the Church being like a body fitly joined together it is imperative that the shoulder work in conjunction with the neck, and the neck in conjunction with the head, and so on. When a hand, for example, tries to be a leg spiritual imbalance ensues. To be clear, many begin this journey with the best of intentions. However, good intentions alone are no substitute for God’s will.

21. You cannot be a church leader if you do not maintain a high standard of holiness.

20 For when ye were the servants of sin, ye were free from righteousness. 21 What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed? for the end of those things is death. 22 But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life (Romans 6:20-22).

True servants of God always produce the fruits of holiness in their inward and outward lives. The apostle James tells us that not many should become teachers because teachers will be judged more strictly by God (James 3:1). What a sobering thought. That’s why spiritual leadership is not to be taken lightly. Experience has taught me that followers will always follow at least a step or two behind the leader. Spiritual leaders should be so far ahead of the danger zone that when their followers lag behind they are still safe (i.e. saved). When spiritual leaders traverse in the gray areas their followers fall into oblivion. Servants of God are to be modest, sober, diligent, upright, moral, biblically sound, and trustworthy. Some of this is becoming redundant but it bears repeating because of its importance.

What would you add to this list?

 

 

It’s Time For A Resolution

Tis the season of New Year’s resolutions where we analyze and annotate our plans for self-betterment in the fresh year. Honestly, we break most resolutions and barely feel a twinge of regret. My 2015 goal of giving up Coke Cola lasted a miserable three days before ending with a delicious carbonated fizz. Regardless, resolutions are noble and worthy of careful consideration. With that in mind, allow me to recommend that you add the most important resolution possible to your list. I would like to encourage you to be more faithful in church attendance and participation in 2016 than you have ever been before. No matter how active or inactive you have been previously, take it up a notch or two in 2016. I promise that you will see blessings because of it. God honors faithfulness (2 Timothy 2:13, Matthew 24:45-47). Period.

We cannot expect God to bless our homes if we will not make His house a priority. Every other area of your spiritual and even physical life will be strengthened by becoming more faithful to the house of God. If in the past, you have only attended the Sunday morning service make an effort to attend the Sunday evening service as well (if your church still has one). Midweek Bible studies are a completely different format than Sunday services and they give an opportunity to learn, stretch, grow, understand, and discover things that are simply not possible in the Sunday format. Why am I asking for this intensified commitment? Because you get what you put in. You’ll only grow in God as you begin to stretch yourself. If you listen carefully, you’ll hear the Spirit calling you to go deeper in your commitment to the Lord’s house.

We are biblically mandated to assemble together as often as possible (Hebrews 10:25, Matthew 18:20, Colossians 3:16, Acts 2:42, Ephesians 4:12, Romans 10:17, Luke 4:16, Matthew 6:33, Hebrews 3:13), especially as the Lord’s return grows eminent. God instituted the Church for our benefit, not as a burden but as a strengthening mechanism for our souls. The closer you draw to the Church the stronger you will become, and the inverse is also true.

This resolution goes beyond merely showing up and filling a pew. I’m suggesting that as you grow in faithfulness you prayerfully find areas of ministry that you can be a part of. You cannot be used if you are not present. You cannot be used if you are not committed or growing spiritually, but as you grow you will become an integral part of the work of the Kingdom. This is a privilege that will bring anointing, blessings, and enormous amounts of satisfaction into your life. Ask the Lord (and work with the ministry) to match your unique talents to the needs of the Church. Old-timers used to call it “putting your hand to the plow.” And that is exactly what God wants from you in 2016.

Jesus said, “…the harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few (Matthew 9:37).” God isn’t in need of a harvest, it’s already there; He’s looking for faithful workers who will immerse themselves in spiritual field work.

I know that we will leave many resolutions unfulfilled in the coming year. We may not lose that five pounds, or learn that second language, fix that old car, go back to school, give up soda, or eat less sugar; but we absolutely must become more faithful to Church than we have ever been before. And as we give of our time let’s not forget that 10% of our income belongs to God as well. Freewill offerings too (Malachi 3:8-12, Proverbs 3:9, 2 Corinthians 9:7, Leviticus 27:30-34, Ezra 7:16, Genesis 14:19-20, Genesis 28:20-22, Numbers 18:21-26, Deuteronomy 12:5-6, 2 Chronicles 31:4-5, Nehemiah 10:35-37).

For further study on giving check out this article 20 Bible Verses About Tithing.

Related Articles: Spiritual Resolutions for a New Year, 7 Types of Church Services, 14 Ways You Can Support Your Pastor, You Might Be A Carnal Christian If…, 7 Things That Make Us Weary In Well Doing, Praising the Lord In All Things, The Number One Reason Small Churches Stay Small, Should We Still Dress Our Best for Church?, 3 Simple Steps to Deeper Bible Study, 4 Reasons People Don’t Pray, 9 Signs of a Prideful Heart

 

Fire Then Rain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




4 Reasons People Don’t Pray

For well-intentioned Christians, it becomes almost second nature to respond to situations with the little phrase, “We’ll be praying for you.” But are we? Please understand that I’m not trying to be snarky or hurtful, but I am concerned. In some cases, I’m afraid the well-meaning “we’ll be praying” has become little more than a platitude. Of course, there are exceptions to this concern. Thankfully, there is a long list of people in my life who hold my hands up in prayer. They are at the forefront of spiritual warfare. They have prevented untold hosts of attacks with their prayer lives, and they have stood firmly in the gap while others fell asleep in the garden of Gethsemane. Those individuals are the stopgap between life and death, Heaven and Hell, revival and stagnation. Without such people, the Church would be rendered spiritually anemic.

For some, however, the phrase “we’ll be praying (or another variation of the same meaning)” has become a declaration of concern rather than a declaration of actual intent. Genuine concern is not the same as genuine prayer. Concern is only valuable if it leads to an action. And the most valuable action that can be birthed from genuine concern is prayer.

Here are a few convicting questions regarding prayer that we should ask ourselves regularly. Do I talk about prayer more than I actually pray? Do I understand that genuine concern leads to genuine prayer? Do I believe that prayer works? Am I spiritually lazy? Or worse, am I complacent? Here are a few reasons that people do not move beyond concern and into actual prayer.

They do not understand how to pray. Even the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray (Luke 11:1). Prayer goes beyond merely caring. In fact, Jesus instructed us to pray for people that we don’t particularly like or care about (Luke 6:28). Powerful prayer is not casual or flippant. Prayer is most effective when we are in the Spirit (Colossians 4:2-4). Effective prayer requires faith (James 5:15). Prayer must be done often (1 Thessalonians 5:17). In short, the more you pray the closer to God you become, therefore, your prayers become increasingly powerful.

They intended to pray but became distracted or busy. This is one of the great difficulties of modern Christianity. Most of us truly mean well. We intended to follow through, but we’re all going a million miles an hour. Our lives are so filled with stuff, and we’re so overrun with demands that we simply fail to keep the important things as the top priority. But remember, good intentions alone do not help anybody.

They are only superficially concerned. Let’s face it, sometimes we are less concerned than we want to appear. There are two dangers lurking here. One, we should not make shallow promises to save face. Two, we should care more than we do. We should ask God to give us a tender heart towards the plight of others. Also, be careful that you are not using the promise to pray as an excuse to do nothing else. What if the Good Samaritan had only promised to pray for the beaten man rather than binding up his wounds? We instinctively know that this would have been immoral and yet we often use the promise to pray as a cop out. Sometimes we have to pray and physically help others at the same time.

Spiritual & physical exhaustion. I call this the Gethsemane Syndrome. Many of us have prayed so much and cared so much that we are physically and spiritually exhausted. When the disciples were with Jesus in the garden just before Calvary they were sincere but they were exhausted. Mercifully, if we wait upon the Lord he will renew our strength (Isaiah 40:32). Satan knows that you are weakened even further when you leave the presence of the Lord. The antidote for exhaustion is to enter deeper into the presence of the Lord.



An Echo Experience

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

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

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

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

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

Hold. Fast.

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

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

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

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

GOVE

Jeremy Gove

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

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

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

www.jeremygove.com

Paths of Righteousness (Psalms 23:3)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



The Upside Of Loneliness

Loneliness is like a healing stream it hurts until you hear the music sing, and it reveals all your inward things. It stings in the silence of the night when you find out that your heart’s not right. And you hold on tight to the broken puzzle pieces that just won’t fit into your preconceived ideas about life. But pray until you see the light of a dawning sky, like acid it burns at first until your sorrows melt like butter, only then will you discover the meanings hidden beneath your tears.

Loneliness reveals the secret things that we all hold dear. It strips your conscience bare. Down to the bone, it digs until all your fears come up for air. Capture those fears and hold them tight until they die underneath the weight of faith. Faith is the substance of things unseen just know that it’s difficult to breathe when faith is fighting strange foes from below. But this is the measure of your strength; will you fight or lose sight of who you were meant to be?

Like a wordsmith, Satan shapes your thoughts until loneliness forces his manipulation into an open battlefield with your soul. Muster your last ounce of courage and careen into that confrontation with desperate anticipation knowing that you will not fight alone. The great God of heaven and earth will move like lightening, fighting, conquering when you fail, strengthening when you’re weak.

That’s the upside of loneliness, it reveals our hidden strengths; it unveils our deepest needs and pushes us to our knees. It brings us to dependency on a higher power that we all so desperately need. Why does it take such extremes for us to finally see that we’re all just candles in the wind in need of a flame that only God can bring? His fire fills and consumes. It heals and destroys at the same time. It thaws against the icy tendrils that grip a lonely heart until you feel alive and free.

Loneliness is like a healing stream, it hurts until you hear the music sing. And when you finally hear the song, don’t forget to sing along.

The Words We Speak

Click here to watch The Words We Speak visual blog.

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

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

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

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

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

Click here to watch The Words We Speak visual blog.

Resolved

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spiritual Stockholm Syndrome

Officer Jason was excited to be a part of the task force commissioned with retrieving Suzie who had been kidnapped out of a Supermarket when she was only 8 years old. Now five years later they believed they knew exactly where she was being held captive; a small house on the edge of a sleepy California town. They watched the house and waited until her captor stepped out onto the front porch for a smoke.  He was on the ground and handcuffed without incident within a matter of seconds. Officer Jason’s heart pounded with pride as he stepped into the house anticipating emancipating Suzie.  His thoughts raced to the inevitable tear-filled reunion between Suzie and her loving parents, who had been inconsolable these past five years without their little girl. The house was filthy and filled with an odor so pungent that his eyes began to water; as Jason crossed the living room he suddenly found himself staring down the muzzle of a revolver; Suzie was holding the gun and her eyes were full of worry with a tinge of rage as well. “Where’s my Edward?” she screamed! “What have you done?” she sobbed! And then she pulled the trigger.

Thankfully Officer Jason was wearing his vest that day. He recovered quickly from the bruised rib, but Suzie is still struggling to recover from a terrible condition known as Stockholm Syndrome.

STOCKHOLM SYNDROME (sometimes referred to as Capture Bonding) is a psychological phenomenon where hostages identify with, become emotionally attached to, and sometimes even fall in love with their captors. They often defend, protect and develop strong emotional connections with their abusers. Victims of abuse such as battered wives, battered girlfriends, children, concentration camp survivors, and prisoners of war often suffer from Stockholm Syndrome. Sadly, people like Officer Jason have learned the hard way that victims of Stockholm Syndrome will resist the rescue, they will fight against salvation, and they will protect their abusers. It’s tragic! It’s heartbreaking! And many never fully recover from the psychological damage that lingers in their lives even long after the physical captivity is over. They are physically free but emotionally bound.

I see evidence of SPIRITUAL STOCKHOLM SYNDROME all around me. We know that Satan has come to kill, to steal and to destroy (John 10:19). His mission is total domination of your soul. He wants your soul as a trophy for Hell’s mantle place.  He knows what his fate will be, but he also knows that every tortured soul breaks God’s heart. So he roams like a silent assassin, a quiet killer; looking to bring you into captivity (1 Peter 5:8). He knows better than to present himself as your enemy. No one would willingly open up their front door to a thug or a kidnapper. Instead, he presents himself as a friend, a protector, a savior, a helper, or even an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14) if needed. He morphs into whatever it takes to bring your guard down. He’ll tell you whatever you need to hear in order to manipulate your actions and dominate your thinking. He’ll separate you from everything that can truly help you, and everyone who truly loves you. He’ll twist your mind until you’re not sure what’s wrong & what’s right, what’s up & what’s down, what’s real & what’s not. Until you call right, wrong and you call wrong, right (Isaiah 5:20).

We’ve all witnessed victims of SPIRITUAL STOCKHOLM SYNDROME who were so confused, they actually believed the thing holding them captive and destroying their life was their dearest friend.  In dramatic cases, we see the drug addict who thinks they can’t live without another hit.  The alcoholic who can’t make it without “just” another sip. The gambler who can’t resist playing away his kid’s college fund.  The promiscuous person who lives for another cheap thrill. But those are only the obvious cases. Many others suffer silently from Spiritual Stockholm Syndrome; they’re held captive by false doctrines, fooled by faulty teachers, drained by evil philosophies, and clinging to false promises made by wolves in sheep’s clothing.

Satan is a master of deception and subtlety. When he approached Eve in the Garden he seemed friendly, familiar and caring. He disguised himself as a leader who cared more about her well-being than God did. He just wanted her to have a good time. He just wanted her to meet her full potential. He just wanted her to be free.  In reality, he was setting the world up for pain, and death, and sin, and evil beyond Eve’s ability to comprehend.

Satan is not your drinking buddy, your partner in crime, your small-time pot dealer, or your local pimp; Satan is the incarnation of evil.  He’s worse than your worst nightmare, and the only thing that he hates more than you is the God that made you. His only goal is gaining total dominion over your soul. Hell is not a party boat, a late night club, or an afterlife playground. Hell is not a curse word or a descriptive term for your bad day. It’s a real place of eternal judgment. Captivity there will be final. There is no escaping Hell once Satan gets you there. Hell will make your worst day on earth seem like a lazy summer afternoon.  In Hell, God’s mercy will no longer restrict Satan’s evil. In Hell, the blood of Jesus will no longer set the captive free. In Hell, salvation will not be available.  But if you’re still breathing that means you still have access to freedom.

In the Gospel of John, chapter 8, Jesus had a fascinating exchange with the crowd that he was teaching that day. He had just made an impassioned statement of hope and deliverance by declaring, “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free (John 8:32).” Their response was an indication of full-blown Spiritual Stockholm Syndrome. They said, “We be Abraham’s seed, and were never in bondage to any man: how sayest thou, Ye shall be made free (John 8:33)?” First of all, they had been and still were in a form of physical bondage (they were under Rome’s thumb). They were hostages in their own land. But beyond that, they were certainly in spiritual captivity. The religious leaders of the day had distorted the law into something that it was never intended to be, and sin was running rampant amongst God’s elect. Their response was as arrogant as it was ignorant. But Jesus was undeterred by their blatant Stockholm Syndrome. He ignored their denial and responded, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin. And the servant abideth not in the house forever: but the Son abideth forever (John 8:34-35). Sin is a cruel taskmaster who often masquerades as a friend. We fall in love with the hostage taker and attack our savior. Isn’t that exactly what they did to Jesus when they screamed crucify him and hung him on a tree? Thankfully, the jubilant words of Jesus are just as true today as they were when he first said, “If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed (John 8:36).

Fiery Evangelism

Simply put, evangelism is spreading the Gospel by whatever means possible. Having said that, preaching and word of mouth are still the most effective forms of evangelism. But whenever I preach or teach on the subject of evangelism I can almost hear the internal sighs and groans. No one likes to feel pressured or guilt-tripped into evangelism. We all know that we could and should do more to reach the world around us. There are very few Christians so hardened that they don’t care about lost souls. So if we care why don’t we share (see what I did there)?

Immediately following the outpouring of the Holy Ghost and fire on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 1:3-4) a powerful force of organic evangelism was unleashed. They literally turned the world upside down with the Gospel, and they did it without cell phones, blogs, websites, television, radio, or reliable transportation. They didn’t formulate catchy sermon series that cleverly incentivised evangelism by every member of the church. Rather, when the fire of the Holy Ghost started falling people were attracted to the warmth of the blaze. In a cold world, the fire of the Holy Ghost will always attract a crowd. Not only that, when people left the Upper Room they were so full of that same Holy Ghost fire they couldn’t help but spontaneously share their experience with others. That’s what genuine evangelism looks and feels like.

If evangelism feels forced, fake, fancy, or frightening than you have likely lost the fire. I have seen desperate individuals, hurting families, and broken churches who were hungry for the fire to fall again. Elijah desperately needed the fire of God to fall from heaven too. His story has much to teach us regarding how God operates. Here are five things that we must do if we want the fire to fall. All five are taken directly from Elijah’s famous showdown on Mount Carmel.

23 Let them therefore give us two bullocks; and let them choose one bullock for themselves, and cut it in pieces, and lay it on wood, and put no fire under: and I will dress the other bullock, and lay it on wood, and put no fire under: 24 And call ye on the name of your gods, and I will call on the name of the LORD: and the God that answereth by fire, let him be God. And all the people answered and said, It is well spoken. 25 And Elijah said unto the prophets of Baal, Choose you one bullock for yourselves, and dress it first; for ye are many; and call on the name of your gods, but put no fire under (1 Kings 18:23-25).

1. We must not settle for manmade fire. Over and over again, Elijah emphasized that they were to put no fire underneath the sacrifice. He knew that it would take God’s fire to impact his culture. Many churches try to substitute heavenly fire with manmade fire and they end up with a form of godliness that ultimately denies the power thereof (2 Timothy 3:5). This isn’t always done intentionally; many times it’s an act of desperation rather than an act of rebellion, but nothing can replace the true power of the Holy Spirit. Refuse to settle for false fire.

And Elijah said unto all the people, Come near unto me. And all the people came near unto him. And he repaired the altar of the LORD that was broken down (1 Kings 18:30).

2. We must repair the altars. Notice that Elijah didn’t build an altar from scratch, he repaired an existing altar that had fallen into disrepair for lack of use. We lose the fire when we lose sight of the significance of the altar of repentance. There can be no resurrection power without a cross. It’s amazing how repentance warms things up in the realm of the Spirit.

And with the stones he built an altar in the name of the LORD: and he made a trench about the altar, as great as would contain two measures of seed (1 Kings 18:32).

3. We must acknowledge the name of the Lord. Whatever we do in word or deed it should be done in the name of Jesus (Colossians 3:17). Because there is no other name by which we can be saved (Acts 4:12). And one day, every knee is going to bow and every tongue is going to confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (Romans 14:11).

33 And he put the wood in order, and cut the bullock in pieces, and laid him on the wood, and said, Fill four barrels with water, and pour it on the burnt sacrifice, and on the wood. 34 And he said, Do it the second time. And they did it the second time. And he said, Do it the third time. And they did it the third time. 35 And the water ran round about the altar; and he filled the trench also with water (1 Kings 18:33-35).

4. We must be willing to sacrifice. When Elijah had them dump twelve barrels of water on the altar at the tail end of a three-year drought, he was demonstrating tangible sacrifice. In essence, he was saying, “Lord if we don’t see fire and rain today we’re going to die.” There can be no fire without tangible sacrifice whether it be our money, our time, our energy or our things. In fact, God requires all of the above.

36 And it came to pass at the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, that Elijah the prophet came near, and said, LORD God of Abraham, Isaac, and of Israel, let it be known this day that thou art God in Israel, and that I am thy servant, and that I have done all these things at thy word. 37 Hear me, O LORD, hear me, that this people may know that thou art the LORD God, and that thou hast turned their heart back again. 38 Then the fire of the LORD fell, and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench (1 Kings 18:26-38).

5. We must have faith in God’s Word. In the end, it all became a matter of faith, either Elijah trusted the voice of God or he didn’t. It’s really no different with us today. We either believe in the power of the Gospel or we don’t. We either believe that God is still pouring out his Spirit or we don’t.





What You Should Do After the Storm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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Don’t Play Past The Bike (Common Sense Theology)

Recently my 4-year-old son was happily playing outside when I noticed that he had drifted down to the end of our driveway precariously close to the road. Hastily, I ran to him full of worry induced anger, and loudly reminded him that he is not allowed to play near the road. During my lecture, I noticed that his bike was conveniently located about halfway down the driveway between the house and the road.  In a moment of inspiration, I yelled, “Bubs, don’t play past the bike!” I repeated myself several times for emphasis and stepped away confident that he would stay on the right side of the bike, safely away from the dangers of the road. Not more than five minutes passed before I checked on him a second time and was shocked to see him standing at the edge of the driveway yet again. Frustrated that he had ignored my instructions and fearing for his safety I yelled, “Son, what do you think you are doing?  I said not to play past the bike.” He looked at me with big, innocent eyes and said defensively, “Daddy, I didn’t play past the bike!” It was then I noticed that technically, he had not played past the bike. Rather, he had cleverly moved it to the road keeping it in front of him the whole time.

My son had found what he thought to be an acceptable loophole in the system. In his mind, he had found a clever plan to get his way and keep me happy too. At the very least, he hoped to avoid getting in big trouble. I appeared to be the mean Daddy who didn’t want him to have any fun. But he forgot that there was a very important reason for the bike boundary; safety. My responsibility as a parent is to keep him safe first and happy second.

Like my son, we too try to cleverly move the boundaries that God has placed in our lives. We don’t want to be in direct defiance against God so we passively aggressively pick up the boundaries and carry them with us right into the very danger zone that God was trying to keep us from entering in the first place. It’s important to remember that God loves us (Click to read 7 Inspiring Verses About God’s Love For Us). When God places boundaries in our lives He does it out of love. When God tells us to forgive our enemies (Matthew 5:44, Romans 12:17-21) it’s not meant to harm us; God knows that hatred and bitterness are cancers that will destroy our lives. When God commands us not to commit adultery (1 Corinthians 6:9, Matthew 5:27-28) and to maintain moral purity (Click to read 55 Verses About Moral Purity) He is not trying to keep us from happiness; He knows that immorality produces great heartache and faithfulness and commitment bring a lifetime of joy.Most of the time we know deep down that moving the landmark isn’t ok, but we do it anyway hoping that God won’t notice our disobedience. As we move into a new year let’s commit to obeying the voice of God rather than playing around with technicalities and looking for clever loopholes. Let’s remember the biblical admonition, “Remove not the ancient landmark, which thy fathers have set (Proverbs 22:28).”

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.

6 Descriptors of Genuine Worship

Worship is an attitude of the heart. A person can go through the outward motions of praise and not be worshiping. God knows our hearts, and He desires and deserves sincere, heartfelt praise & worship (check out my previous article outlining the difference between praise & worship). The following is a list of six descriptors of genuine heartfelt worship.

Genuine worship is vertical (Psalm 95:1). It is always directed upwards to God; never horizontally towards man. It’s important for a genuine worshipper to carefully make the distinction between being ushered into praise via talent and worshipping talent (musical or otherwise) rather than the Creator.  Genuine worship is not about personal preferences, entertainment, emotionalism, or sensationalism alone (although there are times when one or more of those elements may be involved); rather it is about total surrender to God.

Genuine worship is joyful (Psalm 95:2). On numerous occasions, God commands us via Scripture that we must worship joyfully. In reality, worship erupts from a heart that is full of the joy of the Lord. Godly joy is not predicated upon our conditions, our surroundings, or even our circumstances. That’s why Paul and Silas could worship and sing praises to God while confined unjustly in prison (Acts 16:25).

Genuine worship is participatory (Psalm 95:2). God calls us to worship Him, not to watch someone else worship Him. It is not until we truly participate that we become woven into the tapestry of godly worship. When we participate we bless God and He blesses us in return.

Genuine worship is thankful (Psalm 95:2). It is not possible to really worship with a heart filled with ingratitude.

Genuine worship is humble (Psalm 95:3). Humility is the opposite of pride. Pride is a praise killer. Pride renders a heart incapable of sincerity. Pride breeds sins of all types. Pride squeezes worship out of the hearts of men and women. Pride kept Michal in the tower (2 Samuel 6:16) but humility caused King David to worship anyway (2 Samuel 6:14).

Genuine worship is reverent (Psalm 95:4-5). God is the sovereign Lord of all the earth, the King of glory; the Rock of our Salvation. We should not suppress our joy in our expressions of reverence. Neither should we compromise our reverence in our expressions of joy.

The Pros and Cons of Facebook (Part 2)

Last week I promised that I would follow up my article on the 7 cons of Facebook with a list of pros.  So without further ado let’s jump right into the 6 pros of being on Facebook.

1. It is a great way to share your faith. 

I know that we all have obnoxious Facebook friends who fuss and fight about religion, but don’t let their bad behavior keep you from lovingly (and creatively) sharing your faith in God.  We should be unashamed of the Gospel in every arena of our lives.

2. It is a great way to stay connected with friends and family.

Especially those loved ones who live far away.  I have spent the majority of my life living a long distance from family.  Facebook is a wonderful way to stay involved and up to date.

3. It is a great way stay connected with other churches and ministries.

I always look forward to scrolling through my newsfeed on Sunday evening to see all the wonderful reports of what God has done in other churches.

4. It is a powerful forum for inviting people to your church.

You can and should invite people to your church via Facebook.  You’d be surprised how many people will accept your invitation.

5. It is a good way to gauge someone’s spiritual health.

Church leaders can often gauge someone’s spiritual health by observing how they operate on social media.  I have been saddened many times to find out that an individual who seemed like a sincere Christian at church portrayed a very different persona on Facebook.

6. It can be a source of edification and inspiration.

Now certainly Facebook can be the exact opposite of edifying and inspiring, but if used correctly it can be uplifting.  I regularly come across articles and posts that support me spiritually.

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The Pros and Cons of Facebook (Part 1)

So obviously I am a Facebook user (you likely found this article on Facebook).  I have weighed the pros and cons and believe that the good (in most cases) outweighs the bad.  Especially for churches.  Social media is a powerful tool for community evangelism and for creating awareness of your local church to very specific people.  I believe that every church should leverage social media for the sake of the Gospel.  Having said that, Facebook (and social media in general) can severally damage an individual’s reputation (check out this article entitled 18 Ways to Ruin Your Reputation on Facebook by Paul Steinbrueck).  Let’s begin by looking at seven cons of being on Facebook.  Next week I will follow up with a list of Facebook pros.

1. It can be a time drain.

It really, really, really can. Here are a few questions that you should consider before you allow those minutes to speed by surfing Facebook (or the internet in general for that matter).  Have I read my Bible today?  Have I made real human connections, especially when it comes to my family?  Have I spent time with the Lord in prayer?  Have I accomplished important daily goals?  Am I procrastinating right now?

2. It can hinder your relationships with real people.

If you find yourself in a room with another person (or persons) and you’re scrolling through Facebook it’s time for a reality check.  Put the device down and interact with real people.  Remember, the term Facebook friends is pretty misleading.  I am personally connected to thousands of people on Facebook who I don’t actually know.  Be very careful not to substitute virtual friendship for genuine (real life) friendship.

3. One moment of carelessness can do irreparable harm.

We’ve all seen the public meltdowns appear on our Facebook newsfeeds that made us wonder if a particular individual had lost his or her mind.  We’ve all seen the flashes of anger, the pity parties, the unexpectedly vulgar, and the irreversible rants.  These moments of unbridled emotion can drastically tarnish a reputation

4. It can open doors to inappropriate relationships.

Facebook has replaced the chat rooms of the 90’s.  One of social media’s strength’s is that it helps keep us networked with people that would otherwise be difficult to stay connected with on a semi regular basis.  However, there are lots of people whom we should not be networking with.  Old flames are just one of many examples of the inappropriate relationships that can be rekindled via Facebook.  Studies have proven time and time again that people let inhibitions down when connecting via the passive aggressive medium of the internet.  Guard your conversations, your connections, and keep yourself open and accountable at all times (the same is true for the phenomenon of text messaging).

5. It can destroy your witness.

Christians can destroy their witness by plastering their hypocrisy and ungodly behavior all over Facebook.  It does no good to criticize your church or pastor publically only to turn around and invite folks to visit that same church.  Another way that people destroy their witness on Facebook is when they try to bully unbelievers into submission or become overly argumentative rather than instructive.  Fussing, fighting, and debating rather than loving, teaching, and witnessing will quickly destroy a believer’s witness.

6. It can be depressing.

For the most part, people try to put their best foot forward on Facebook.  If you’re not careful you can wind up constantly comparing your imperfect life to everyone else’s seemingly perfect life.  Facebook can easily become the modern day mechanism for keeping up with the Jones’.

7. It can produce narcissism in your heart.

Narcissism by definition is a characteristic of those who have an over inflated idea of their own importance.  Social media can produce a false sense of celebrity stature that for some becomes intoxicating.  Humility is a biblical virtue that must be applied to our social media presence as well as our physical interactions.

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9 Signs That You Might Be Weary In Well Doing

Last week I promised that I would follow up on the post entitled 7 Things That Make Us Weary In Well Doing, and I am making good on that promise today. Sometimes we are spiritually worn down and we don’t even recognize that there is a problem until it has spiraled out of control.  The following is a series of warning signs that should make our internal alarms start beeping when detected.

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1. Lack of Prayer

I could quote tons of Scriptures about the importance of prayer, but in the end prayer is about having a relationship with God. If you are failing to communicate regularly with the Lord your relationship is not healthy. We instinctively understand this principle in our relationships with other humans, but we often fail to understand it in relationship to God.

2. Half-Hearted Praise

When Mary performed that beautiful act of worship by anointing Jesus’ feet with expensive oil Judas expressed displeasure at her extravagance (John 12:3-6). Now that we have the advantage of hindsight we can clearly see that Judas was exhibiting a warning sign of weariness in well doing. When we begin withholding praise and feel critical of another’s praise we should quickly make some spiritual corrections.

3. Habitually Missing Church

I should clarify that we all miss services from time to time with legitimate reasons, however, I am referring to those seasons of missing for no good reason. We all know the Scripture (Hebrews 10:25) that commands us to stay faithful in our church attendance, and yet the assembling together of the saints is far more than a stuffy commandment; it is for our own edification. Our carnal nature tends to pull away from the very thing that we need the most when we are weary in well doing. Keep a sharp eye out for this important warning sign.

4. Murmuring & Complaining

Whenever the Hebrews were about to do something really horrific that stirred God’s wrath it was always preceded by murmuring (Exodus 16:8; Numbers 14:27; Numbers 17:5). We all become frustrated and need to vent once in a while, but if it becomes the norm you have a serious spiritual condition that needs immediate attention.

5. Spiked Levels of Temptation & Intensified Longings For Worldliness 

When Lot made that fateful decision to lead his family towards and eventually into Sodom it began because of the blessings of God (Genesis 13:6-12); the trend towards Sodom began during the good times. It is extremely important that we constantly check our direction and our desires.  Sometimes we need to desperately pray as the Psalmist did, “Create in me a clean heart, O God and renew a right spirit within me (Psalm 51:10).”

6. Quick to Anger, Quick to Offense & Quick to Speak 

On at least five separate occasions, Scripture describes God as being slow to anger (Nehemiah 9:17; Psalm 103:8; Psalm 145:8; Joel 2:13; Jonah 4:2). When we display the opposite characteristics of God we should always take a spiritual inventory.

7. Unwillingness to Participate In the Kingdom of God  

1 Peter 4:10-11 makes it clear that every Christian has a calling to be involved in the Kingdom of God according to their specific gifts. Refusal to participate or stay involved is usually indicative of a deeper problem.

8. Bitterness 

The apostle Paul acknowledged the defiling power of bitterness in Hebrews 12:15.  The subject of bitterness alone could fill volumes and volumes but just know that it is one of the most dangerous warning signs of all.  Bitterness starts out small and quickly grows into an unavoidable problem if left unhindered.  It is possible to be right the wrong way, and one of the most common ways to be right the wrong way is to be right and bitter at the same time.

9. Rebellion

Rebellion against God or God-given authority is never ok and it never ends well; if you remain unconvinced just consider King Saul, Lucifer, or Judas.

7 Things That Make Us Weary In Well Doing

Paul encourages us in Galatians 6:9 to not be weary in well doing; I know, I know, easier said than done. I’ve identified seven culprits that can cause us to be weary of doing good even in the good times. Next week I will follow up with a list of 9 Signs That You Might Be Weary In Well Doing. Certainly these lists could be much longer but they are a good starting point. So, here are seven things that make us weary in well doing:

1. Discouragement 

I think it’s interesting that Elijah found himself in his darkest moment of depression immediately after witnessing fire fall from heaven (1 Kings 19:4).

2. Murmuring 

Time and time again Moses had to deal with a murmuring congregation that would not trust God’s plan. It took a toll on Moses (Numbers 14:27). Be careful about spending too much time with murmurers and complainers because eventually it will impact your spirit.

3. Giants (Obstacles)

The entire Israelite army was reduced to hiding in fear because of one Goliath (1 Samuel 17). Scary obstacles still paralyze people today, and they will keep us from living victoriously if we aren’t careful.

4. Hypocrites 

We all know them! And they wear us out if we get too focused on them. Often they come and go as if they are genuine and just the weight of knowing who and what they really are causes frustration in the sincere Christians life. Don’t allow hypocrites to distract you from the genuine.

5. Slow Moving Miracles

When Jesus healed the ten lepers he told them to go and show themselves to the priest, but their miracle was not yet apparent (Luke 17:11-19). As they walked in obedience, it became clear to them that a miracle had occurred in their bodies. Sometimes miracles are slow moving and we have to walk in obedience for a season without any real proof of God’s power. This can be discouraging but if we keep walking we will see the miracle come to pass.

6. Strange Miracles

Jesus was often unorthodox in his methodology. It must have seemed strange when he spit in the mud and rubbed it on a blind man’s face (John 9:6). I mean, who wants to walk around city walls for seven days straight? But God sometimes does things in ways that seem odd to us. How many people have missed out on what God has for them because they faltered at His instructions?

7. Reoccurring Enemies & Familiar Battles 

The Philistines alone are mentioned 217 times in the Bible. Even after David killed Goliath and routed the Philistines he had to fight them many times thereafter. Enemies and battles that seem to resurface over and over again will wear us down over time. That temptation that you keep beating down only to face it again will cause discouragement. But remember, if God delivered you then He can deliver you now.

 





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.