Three Trees

The Beauty of Biblical Symbolism

One of the many things I love about Scripture is the symbolism stretched across its pages. It’s everywhere. Of course, it’s all meant to conjure imagery and teach lessons within lessons. Almost every story in the Bible contains a message within a lesson within another moral. I realize we can get carried away and start imagining things that aren’t actually there. We might extract beliefs that aren’t divinely intended without careful consideration, which can be dangerous. And many of my friends are understandably wary of focusing too much on biblical symbolism. I get that. However, avoiding biblical symbolism altogether robs us of vast, awe-inspiring realms of beauty that God intended for us to experience.

The Juxtaposition of Jesus’ Rhetoric

One thing many anti-symbolists forget is that Jesus alternated between straightforward and intensely parabolic teachings. What is a parable exactly? It uses imagery, stories, and symbols to illustrate a moral truth. Jesus is perhaps best known for His use of parables. And they weren’t always immediately understandable because the parables were peppered with prophetic meanings. Quite literally, many of the implications of the parables could not be understood because they weren’t intended to be comprehended at that moment. Like full-fledged prophecy, many parables only made sense in the future as events unfolded. It shouldn’t be surprising that Jesus interacted this way because God has always used signs, symbols, parables, types, and shadows in His communication with us. For example, when God rebuked Satan in the Garden after The Fall, He spoke cryptically: “And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:15).

The First Good News

Genesis 3:15 is sometimes referred to as the “first good news” because it’s the first foretelling of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. God announced that a male descendant—He—would someday deal the serpent (meaning Satan) a fatal blow. The New Testament writers understood Jesus Christ to have fulfilled this prophecy (Hebrews 2:14, 1 John 3:8). In an extended sense, the New Testament also indicates that God would work through the Church—those indwelt by the Spirit of Christ—to destroy the works of the Devil (Romans 16:20).

The Significance of Symbolism

It’s worth considering why God would employ so much symbolism throughout Scripture. As best I can tell, there are three reasons: One, because Satan does not know the future, prophecy is purposefully vague to keep Satan confused. Two, if humanity knew the exact details of future events, we might be tempted to help them along when we need to get out of the way. Three, it builds faith when humans look back through the lens of history and see the puzzle pieces clicking into place.

The uninformed might assume the Bible is a carefully orchestrated body of literature. Perhaps, like an epic Tolkein novel, all the little loose ends are skillfully tied up in the mind of a genius for our consumption. However, the Bible is a library of individual books, with over thirty-three inspired writers spanning 1,500 years, written in different places, cultures, millennia, and perspectives. The only constant across the Bible’s pages is God’s inspiration. It would have been impossible, unthinkable, and unmanageable for mere humans to coordinate such a thing without the divine breath of God.

Therefore, when we see various symbols popping up throughout the inspired Book, we see glimpses of the marvelous mind of God. The magnificent consistency of eternal Truth peeks out from Genesis to Revelation offering fresh illuminations of ancient revelations. And while we should be careful not to build beliefs entirely on symbolism, it certainly can reinforce clearly defined doctrines. Powerful inspiration comes from recognizing that these symbols come from God’s throne, not men’s mere imaginations.

A Tale of Three Trees

It’s no exaggeration to say that trees are necessary for life to exist. They suck carbon dioxide out of the air and release the oxygen we need to breathe. Historically, trees have provided food, shelter, energy, sustenance, biodiversity, beauty, and soil preservation. We literally cannot survive without what trees provide for us daily. It’s also not an exaggeration to say a single tree was at the center of the utter destruction of God’s original created world.

Tree One: The Tree of the Knowledge of Good & Evil

And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die (Genesis 2:16-17).

In God’s interaction with Adam, He begins by offering a level of freedom that you and I have never seen or experienced. “Of every tree,” He said, “thou mayest freely eat.” Adam had unparalleled autonomy to do as he pleased. He had comfort, ease, authority, abundance, creativity, beauty, and eternality. The nature of God was to lead with freedom before establishing the first human law. This almost imperceptible detail allows us to glimpse the goodness of God towards humanity. We tend to view God’s laws as burdensome without taking the time to appreciate the freedoms God provides. God’s privileges and benefits far outweigh the weight of the laws He levies upon us. We also think it would be easier serving God if we had fewer rules and regulations. However, humanity’s first sin proves that God’s rules aren’t the problem. The frailty of our flesh and the pervasiveness of evil are the problems. The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was not evil by its nature. There was nothing wicked about the tree. To claim this would imply that God created something evil, which would contradict Genesis 1:31. The tree was not the source of sin; humanity was. The tree didn’t contribute to man’s sinfulness beyond providing him with an opportunity to obey or disobey.

In Jewish tradition, the Tree of Knowledge and the eating of its fruit represents the beginning of the mixture of good and evil together. Before that time, the two were separate, and evil had only a nebulous existence in potential. While free choice did exist before eating the fruit, evil existed as an entity separate from the human psyche, and it was not in human nature to desire it. Eating and internalizing the forbidden fruit changed this, and thus was born the yetzer hara, the evil inclination. The closest comparison we have is the sadness of watching a child lose the sweet innocence of youth. No wonder Jesus commands us to be “born again” (John 3:5-7). It also sheds light on Jesus’ mysterious charge, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:1-5).

In Rashi’s notes on Genesis 3:3, the first sin came about because Eve added an additional clause to the divine command: “Neither shall you touch it.” By saying this, Eve added to God’s command and thereby came to detract from it, as it is written: “Do not add to His Words” (Proverbs 30:6). However, evil already existed in the heart of Lucifer. Adam and Eve’s first sin offended God in three ways: One, by rejecting God’s authority (we typically call that rebellion). Two, by distorting His instructions (His holy Word). Three, probably most offensive to God, by accepting Satan’s influence. All subsequent sins follow that same threefold pattern of offense against God.

Tree Two: The Cross on Golgotha’s Hill

Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed (1 Peter 2:24).

Because a tree became the symbol of condemnation looming before humanity in constant judgment. It’s fitting that a tree roughly formed into a cross by sinful hands would become the universal symbol of hope and salvation. In His infinite foreknowledge, God knew that He would become the sacrifice for our sins. Furthermore, God formed the tree that would become His mode of execution. When Lucifer slithered into Eve’s presence and convinced her to taste the fruit of the Forbidden Tree, he couldn’t have known that the mind of God had already formed the tree that would become crucial to the remedy. Only God can so thoroughly turn things around in such a beautifully poetic way.

Tree Three: The Tree of Life

22 And the LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever: 23 Therefore the LORD God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken. 24 So he drove out the man, and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubim’s, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life (Genesis 3:22-24).

Contrary to popular belief, the Tree of Life did not predate God. The Tree of Life received its life-sustaining properties from the Lord: “And out of the ground made the Lord God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden…” (Genesis 2:9). Mankind lost the privilege of accessing the Tree of Life by eating from the Forbidden Tree. In that instant, death became a looming inescapable aspect of human existence. Physical and spiritual pain throbbed into the hearts of the First Father and the First Mother and has been passed down to every subsequent family tree.

Every teardrop, every disappointment, every disease, and every act of unspeakable horror is a direct result of that first sin. Even worse, humanity lost connection and relationship with its Maker. Consequently, losing purpose, fulfillment, direction, inward peace, and intrinsic joy. In a symbolic gesture of finality, God placed an angel with a flaming sword at the entrance of the Garden to keep guard over the invaluable Tree of Life. Humanity was cast into a cruel cursed world. Yet, it’s sublimely splendid how God allowed Himself to be nailed onto the same roughly hewn materials central to humanity’s first sin. While that splintered tree bore Christ, He bore our sins in His own body (1 Peter 2:24). A tree for a tree, a perfect sacrifice in place of hopelessly flawed sacrifices, that’s what Christ did for us. And if we take up our crosses and follow Him in this fallen earthly realm, we will taste the Tree of Life’s exquisite fruit when we step into that faraway country beyond this kingdom.

He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God (Revelation 2:7).

The Lynching of Leo Frank

An innocent Jew hung unjustly from a tree to the great delight of an onlooking crowd. Only a handful of quietly spoken words crossed his lips before he died. His accusers craved his death long before it occurred. He wasn’t given a fair trial. An actual murderer went free. And history will forever grieve the tragedy. Although the details are similar in many ways, I’m not referring to Jesus Christ. Instead, I’m referencing the undeserved lynching of Leo Frank.

The Tragic Death of Mary Phagan

For the sake of time, I can only give the highlights of a story that sparked national attention in the Atlanta area in 1913. “Little Mary Phagan,” as she became known, left home on the morning of April 26 to pick up her wages at the pencil factory in Marietta and view Atlanta’s Confederate Day parade. She never returned home.

The next day, the factory night watchman found her bloody, sawdust-covered body in the factory basement. When the police asked Leo Frank to view her body, Frank became agitated. He confirmed personally paying Mary her wages but could not say where she went next. Frank, the last to admit seeing Mary alive, became the prime suspect. Sadly for Frank, he was a Northern-born, college-educated, wealthy Jewish man, making him the easy target of intense bias and hatred.

A Sham Trial

Cobb county prosecutor Hugh Dorsey painted Leo Frank as a pervert who was both a homosexual and also preyed on young girls. What he did not tell the grand jury was that a janitor at the factory, Jim Conley, had been arrested two days after Frank when he was seen washing blood off his shirt. Conley then admitted writing two notes found by Mary Phagan’s body. The police correctly assumed at the time that, as the author of those notes, Conley was the murderer, but Conley claimed, after coaching from Dorsey, that Leo Frank had confessed to murdering Mary in the tool room and then paid Conley to write the notes and help him move Mary’s body to the basement.

Even after Frank’s housekeeper placed him at home, having lunch at the time of the murder, and despite gross inconsistencies in Conley’s story, both the grand and trial jury chose to believe Conley. In August 1913, the jury found Frank guilty in less than four hours. Crowds outside the courthouse shouted, “Hang the Jew.”

Historian Leonard Dinnerstein reports that one juror had been overheard saying before his selection for the jury, “I am glad they indicted the… Jew. They ought to take him out and lynch him. And if I get on that jury, I’ll hang that Jew for sure.”

Facing intimidation and mob rule, the trial judge sentenced Frank to death. He barred Frank from the courtroom because, had he been acquitted, Frank might have been lynched by the crowd outside.

A Brave Man Tries

Georgia’s higher courts rejected Frank’s appeals despite these breaches of due process, and shockingly the U. S. Supreme Court voted, 7-2, against reopening the case. Frank’s survival depended on then Georgia Governor Frank Slaton. After a 12-day review of the evidence, Slaton commuted Frank’s sentence to life imprisonment. He hoped to allow Leo Frank time to clear his name and for further evidence to come forward as tempers abated. Governor Slaton told his wife on the day he decided to commute Leo Frank’s sentence, “My conscience is forcing me to commute Leo Frank’s sentence, but that means I can’t possibly run for a second term as governor, my life will be in constant danger, and our reputations will be ruined in this state.” Without hesitation, she responded, “I’d rather be married to a dead hero than a living coward.”

That night, state police kept a protesting crowd of 5,000 from the governor’s mansion. Wary Jewish families fled Atlanta. Slaton held firm. “Two thousand years ago,” he wrote a few days later, “another Governor washed his hands and turned over a Jew to a mob. For two thousand years, that governor’s name has been accursed. If today another Jew were lying in his grave because I had failed to do my duty, I would all through life find his blood on my hands and would consider myself an assassin through cowardice.”

A Midnight Lynching

On August 17, 1915, 28 men — described by peers as “sober, intelligent, of established good name and character”— stormed the Milledgeville, GA prison hospital where Leo Frank was recovering from having his throat slashed by a fellow inmate. They kidnapped Frank, drove him more than 100 miles to Mary Phagan’s hometown of Marietta, Georgia, and hanged him from a tree at the stroke of midnight. The Cobb county’s mayor and sheriff and former Georgia governor Joseph Brown were among the 28 vigilantes.

Frank conducted himself with dignity, calmly proclaiming his innocence.

Townsfolk were proudly photographed beneath Frank’s swinging corpse, pictures you can find with a quick online Google search today. When his term expired a year later, Slaton did not run for reelection, and the dishonest prosecutor, Dorsey, easily won the election to the governor’s office. None of the vigilantes were ever arrested or convicted of any crime. This story has gone down in the pages of history as Georgia’s Great Shame.

The Deadly Silence of a Good Man

In 1982, a death bed confession by a former office boy at National Pencil, along with hosts of other pieces of evidence, confirmed what many suspected. Alonzo Mann, 83 at the time he came forward, said he witnessed Jim Conley carrying Mary Phagan’s body to the factory’s basement on the day of her death. He kept silent, he said, because Conley threatened to kill him and his family.

Self-Righteous Vigilantes

Fascinatingly, from all the accounts I’ve read, the men who hanged Leo Frank for the murder of Mary Phagan did not go about it with a spirit of lawlessness or vindictiveness. They felt a duty to their state and commonwealth and a responsibility to the memory of Mary Phagan. In other words, they really thought they were correcting a breach of justice and doing the right thing. Now. Did their biased prejudice blind them to their own inconsistencies? Absolutely. Did they have their own sins and hypocrisies to deal with? Yes. Those men, who were otherwise upstanding citizens, committed a horrific act of unspeakable evil. They committed an atrocity while wearing self-aggrandizing badges of righteousness. They even called themselves the Nights of Mary Phagan. They died believing they’d done the right thing, and because they paid no earthly consequences, it seemed like a confirmation of righteousness.

Crucify Him

The people who screamed for the crucifixion of Jesus were the Old Testament equivalents of good church folks. They went to Temple services, paid their tithes, offered their sacrifices, and dressed right. The religious elites stirred them up, but the average saint got caught in the current of opinion and outrage. They believed in half-truths, complete falsehoods, and total misnomers. Folks otherwise considered “good” people released a murderer and killed their savior. This odd ability to consider ourselves good while being thoroughly evil is a product of The Fall. And therein lies the lesson within the lesson from the events leading to the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. Within each of us, “good” people reside carefully masked malevolence, unrealized potential for evil, and thinly veiled hypocrisy.

The Lie of Innate Goodness

The Western preoccupation with people’s (especially our own) relative goodness is astonishing and spiritually toxic. It’s harmful because when we think of ourselves as relatively “good” or “descent,” we compare ourselves to other sinful human beings. Thus, creating a hierarchy of acceptable and unacceptable sins based on our feelings, current culture, upbringing, socioeconomics, and personality. Historically, Christianity has endeavored to walk the fine line between radically affirming the value of all human life because it is created in the image of God while concurrently rejecting the humanistic philosophy which presupposes people are innately good. Muddying the waters, even more, is the fact that even if we accept that people are not inherently good, we easily exempt ourselves (and our loved ones) from that incriminatory viewpoint and reckon that we are good deep down. We hear of horrible things individuals did in the distant past and, with the delightful advantage of hindsight, assume we would never have participated in such a terrible thing. But truthfully, we don’t really know that to be a fact.

Why Do You Call Me Good?

In Mark 10:17-23, a wealthy young ruler came running to Jesus and offered a greeting he never intended to be controversial. He asked, “Good Master, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” As usual, Jesus responded to a question with another question, “Why do you call me good? There is none good but one, and that is God?” The man called Jesus “good.” The Greek word the young man used is agathos, meaning “intrinsically good.” This word was not used lightly nor for every good thing. Had the man made the leap that Jesus was indeed God, who was intrinsically good? Was he prepared to accept the full weight of his pronouncements?

It became clear as the conversation continued that the young man considered himself quite good based on his actions. Maybe even intrinsically good. But Jesus zeroed in on the man’s secret sins: pride, love of money, and lack of generosity. And because he loved his money more than Jesus, he missed the opportunity to become a disciple. Or perhaps, we might assume the young man missed the broader point Jesus was inferring, which was that He was God manifest in the flesh and that alone made Him intrinsically good.

Capable of Good & Evil

To summarize a weighty biblical theme from this little interaction: Human beings are capable of both good and evil at any given time. Because we are capable of evil and often do bad things, we are not primarily good deep down. In fact, the deeper we go, the more malevolence we find within the human heart. To view ourselves and others as mostly good is to deny the reality and the seriousness of sin. Only God is good all the time. Only God is utterly incapable of evil. To think anything less of God is heresy. If humanity is essentially good, the cross was unnecessary, and the Bible is a colossal waste of time. Most Christians know this to be true but live as if it is not. We accept the grace and mercy of God and slowly begin to lean on our own goodness. And that’s the trap because once humans believe they’ve become thoroughly good, they do awful things without a hint of conviction or remorse. That is the very definition of self-righteousness.

How Can It Be So Wrong When I’m So Good?

Furthermore, most unsaved people believe their perceived goodness will buy them a ticket to Heaven. “After all,” they think to themselves, “only terrible people need saving, but I’m a decent person.” Meanwhile, they point fingers at other people’s splinters while ignoring the log poking out of their eyes. Self-justification says, “If I’m doing it, it can’t be so dreadfully wrong because I’m so good.” It’s sort of like the parent who criticizes everyone else’s kids but winks when their kids do the same things. How can that be? Well, their kids are innately better than your kids in their eyes.

A Flawed Pentecostal Preacher

I think it’s so interesting that God chose Peter to preach the first Gospel sermon on the Day of Pentecost. Of all the disciples, Peter was far from the most exemplary. By my hasty count, Peter failed twelve times before preaching that sermon. Of course, some of those failures were more severe than others. But some of them were pretty significant. Even outright sinful. To name a few, Peter, filled with selfish ambition, argued with the other disciples about who would be the greatest in the Kingdom of God. He rebuked Jesus for talking about His soon-to-be crucifixion and had to be severely corrected. He failed to stay alert in prayer during Jesus’ greatest hour of need. He denied Jesus with “oaths” and “curses” in the public arena. And after being completely overwhelmed by his sins and the self-discovery of his weaknesses, he abandoned the Apostolic Team and returned to his former life as a fisherman.

Yet, Peter was still allowed to preach the first apostolic declaration of the Gospel. I don’t think that was coincidental. In God’s grand design, a man thoroughly acquainted with his internal badness faithfully preached the convicting of sins to a self-righteous crowd. Peter didn’t waver when he declared (and I’m paraphrasing), “You have taken Jesus with wicked hands and have crucified Him and slain Him (Acts 2:23).” He didn’t stop there, “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God has made the same Jesus, whom you have crucified, both Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36).” Only a man fully convinced of his own capacity for badness could preach with such convicting fervor. Because Peter had faced his personal heart trouble, he could see the disease in others who couldn’t see it for themselves.

Convicts Always Recognize Convicts

An individual who’d spent a great deal of time in prison once told me he could always spot someone who had served jail time in any setting. And they could spot him too. I witnessed that very thing several times while with him. It was intriguing to watch. You might assume it was because of tattoos, stern expressions, or something obvious. But it wasn’t. Two perfectly normal-looking people could walk past each other and instantly know they’d served time somewhere. Besides, tattoos are so common now that you’d hardly assume they’re prison-related.  

When Peter called otherwise normal-looking people sinful cold-blooded murderers, it was a convict recognizing convicts. Because he acknowledged his sin, he could see there’s too. Peter’s conviction gave him the anointing to preach conviction. Notice the crowd’s response in Acts 2:37, “…When they heard this, they were pricked in their heart and said… ‘what shall we do?’” Peter didn’t convict them; they were already convicted and pronounced guilty by God. They just didn’t realize it until Peter made it clear. Thankfully, the burden of guilt doesn’t have to end with the punishment we deserve if we’ll obey the way of escape Peter preached. He said with God-given authority:

…Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost (Acts 2:38).

Reaching the Religious

Nearly everyone Peter preached to that day was religious. They didn’t consider themselves bad or lost. Every preacher knows the most challenging crowd to reach is a group of smugly religious people. People who can lynch an innocent man in cold blood in the name of God. People who’ve tasted the loaves and fishes yet still shouted: “crucify him.” Or people who once were blind but now see after one touch from Jesus who now use those healed eyes to find fault in the one who gave them sight. Or folks who had no voice until Jesus touched them, and now their voices are lifted in gossip and slander. Somehow, Peter had to reach these people and show them their spiritual blindness. That’s still the mission of the Church today. However, we won’t fulfill that mandate until we attend to our sin and then call others to do the same.

You Can’t Skip the Grave

We love to tell the story of the resurrection. And that’s a good thing, but we can’t skip over the grave to get to it. There’s no resurrection without a painful death and a dark grave. We modern Christians are far more comfortable with the celebration than with the necessary conviction that must precede that celebration. We don’t like to think about it, but we’re no better than the crowds that shouted for Jesus’ death. Our sin put him on the cross just as their sin did. We’re full of corruption too. Evil is always crouched at the door, waiting to pounce on us. We might even be the modern equivalent of a Sadducee or Pharisee. We might have been photographed standing under Leo Frank’s swinging body with smug grins in a different time and place.

Most folks want to skip right past the painful death-to-self repentance brings. But the apostle Paul, another flawed sinner turned preacher, called that death-to-self a daily process. Calvary brings graphic clarity to a twofold revelation: First, humanity is desperately sinful and deserves punishment. Second, God loves us so much that He took that punishment on our behalf and now offers pardon for our depravity. We aren’t good. Not even close. But He’s good—more good than we know. His blood can cleanse us from all unrighteousness, but first, we must face the ugly truth about ourselves. Letting the old you die hurts. It hurts a lot. But the resurrection that follows is worth it.

My Opinionated Opinion About Opinions

Your Opinion Matters

We’ve all received an email after visiting a retail or eating establishment titled something along the lines of Your Opinion Matters inviting us to give our feedback. Similar emails and text messages request our all-important answers for special surveys where our opinions are espoused to be desperately needed. I’ve even noticed this phenomenon at the beginning of a simple phone call. They ask right from the beginning if you’d be willing to stick around after the call for a brief survey—again, giving the illusion of an actual dependency on our opinions. In the latter case, I’ve been told by involved sources that those phone surveys don’t particularly care about our specific feedback as they claim. But companies know that if we’ve had a frustrating phone experience, we’re wired to feel better after complaining in a short survey, which means that we’re less likely to express our anger in some public way that might put the company in a bad light. In other words, we’re so prone to giving our opinion that we’ve become predictably naive and manipulatable. That’s one side of the equation.

Opinionated Opinions

On the other hand, I’ve noticed an ongoing social media trope declaring: People need your love more than your opinion. That statement may or may not be correct, depending on the circumstances. There are situations where I’d prefer my doctor to have valid opinions far more than lovingly offered incorrect opinions. Still, there are times I need a correct loving opinion. But who expects nuance in social media wisdom these days? However, let’s not let the irony pass us by that the statement, “People need your love more than your opinion,” is an opinionated opinion about having opinions. Perhaps it would be more correct to say make sure when giving your opinion you do so with love. But that doesn’t fit as easily in Instagram’s square box.

The Opinion that Cried Wolf

There’s a tug of war in our nature that does need reconciling. We do love to give our opinion. Even introverts can’t resist hinting at their firmly held opinions, even if they do so passive-aggressively or in coded language. Sometimes we are so loose with our opinions that we lose influence because people learn to tune us out. Sort of like the little boy who cried wolf when there was no wolf and when a wolf really did show up, no one believed the little boy’s warning. Similarly, many people waste their influence by spouting their opinion over myopic subjects that matter very little in the grand scheme of life. When their opinion really could make a difference, no one is listening.

The Facts Don’t Care About Your Opinion

To complicate things even more, we naturally enjoy giving our opinion much more than hearing the opinions of others. And that includes hearing the opinions of people who know more than we know about the topic at hand. No one likes a know-it-all, and no one wants to appear ignorant. It’s a conundrum that creates all kinds of problems. We like to feel as though we secretly or overtly know more than others. Of course, this is exacerbated by social media and the internet because we all have access to information that may or may not be correct. Let alone helpful. If you need an example, mess around on a medical self-diagnosing website for a few minutes. You’ll be convinced you have some rare condition you previously did not know existed.

Wisdom & Opinion

Because of my ministerial calling, the subject of opinions intrigues me deeply. The word alone is complicated to unpack because the question of how to separate opinion from fact (or truth) becomes paramount to this whole discussion. It’s easier to dismiss something as an “opinion” than to face it as an inconvenient fact we just don’t want to hear. Even the word opinion comes weighted with the “your truth” versus “my truth” connotation. Frequently we dump unwanted truth in the it’s-just-their-opinion basket. While other times, opinion givers package their unnecessary bias as a fact when it would be better to frame that thought as a personal opinion. Or better yet, leave the thought unstated altogether. That’s where wisdom comes into play. Oh, and humility too.

It would be misleading for me to infer I’ve perfected the art of knowing when and how to give my opinion. I’m certainly a work in progress. But I am slowly learning and struggling to grow in wisdom and humility. A case could be made that ministry and all forms of leadership revolve around the perfecting of opinions. Hopefully, those opinions are grounded in timeless biblical truths, Spirit-led wisdom, and intentional humility. Nonetheless, leadership in all its various forms is steeped in the wellspring of opinion. Indeed, preaching is divinely designed to shape, change, and rearrange fleshly views. Much of ministry encompasses the dispensing of opinion or offering wisdom to others.

The Difference Between Sacred & Secular Opinion

Ministry is dramatically unique from almost every secular leadership environment. Every opinion turned policy must be followed in the corporate leadership world, or you lose your job. That’s even more true in military leadership structures. All federal and local government jobs are that way too. There are typically immediate consequences for ignoring leaders’ opinions in secular leadership structures. But although ministers have God-given authority (and we could argue another time about how absolute that authority should be according to Scripture), that authority cannot and should not be imposed forcefully. The Bible is clear; shepherds must not lord over the flock (1 Peter 5:3). In this instance, I prefer the English Standard Version’s translation, “not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock (1 Peter 5:3).”

Influence: The Currency of the Ministry

The harsh reality of ministry is that you spend more time counseling and comforting people after they discarded your opinion (wise counsel) than just about anything else. And after a couple of hundred hours of those sad sessions where you bite your tongue half off to keep from saying I-told-you-so, authoritarianism seems awfully appealing. Or, you might be tempted never to offer a wise opinion and just live and let live. Countless burned-out ministers have expressed that very feeling to me in private. I understand and relate to their emotions. The currency of ministry is influence, and that’s challenging to maintain ethically, especially when staying true to complex yet fundamental principles. Everything in this world is striving to gain influence over the people under a shepherd’s care. Most of those opinionated influences seek to undermine spiritual guidance, and a shepherd can’t use his staff to beat sheep into submission. That sounds like a no-brainer, but it’s less obvious when a shepherd sees one of his sheep following a wolf into the wilderness. So, let me offer my opinionated opinions about dispensing opinions, most of which are things I’ve learned through trial and error.

More Listening and Less Speaking

James 1:19 instructs us to be quick to hear and slow to speak. Ecclesiastes 3:7 reminds us there is a time for silence and a time to speak. And Proverbs 17:27 in the English Standard Version says, “Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding.” Again, in the English Standard Version, Proverbs 18:13 declares, “If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.” These, along with many other relevant Scriptures, underscore an important implied lesson about how every Christian should approach offering their opinions. Mainly, we should do less speaking and more listening.

There’s more wisdom in this little principle than we might recognize immediately. First, less speaking gives us more time to gather our thoughts and offer a well-worded opinion. Second, it allows us to hear all the relevant information before jumping to the wrong conclusion or getting ahead of the facts. Third, it enables us to maintain a calm demeanor that projects wisdom and understanding rather than impatience and impetuousness. There is a time to speak our opinion but learning to listen long enough is a discipline many leaders lack. I’ve found that many people will tell things they didn’t intend to reveal if I let them speak long enough, allowing me to understand what I’m really dealing with under the surface. If I’d spoken sooner, my advice would not have been helpful because I lacked awareness.

More Building Up and Less Tearing Down

Colossians 4:6 says, “Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man.” Similarly, Ephesians 4:29 in the English Standard Version says, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”

It’s easy to focus on other people’s failures, negatives, and downright stupidity when offering opinions—that mindset results in an offensive, critical, condescending, and prideful demeanor. That doesn’t mean constructive criticism or outright correction is never warranted. Warnings and disapproval must be seasoned with grace and should fit the occasion. Don’t do a disapproval dump of the, and-while-I’m-at-it-let-me-say-this, variety. Most people can only handle so much constructive criticism at one time. If they feel like you’ve been waiting to pounce, it can be crushing to the heartiest of spirits. A good rule of thumb is to temper each negative statement with at least one or two positive comments. Never tear down without building up at the same time. Never lance an infection without applying ointment and bandaging it with care.

More Praying Before Answering

Numbers 9:1-14 recounts a fascinating leadership lesson from the early days of Moses’ ministry. The Israelites had been in the wilderness for one year after leaving Egypt, and God gave specific instructions on what day to celebrate the Passover. Moses dutifully passed the instructions along to the people, and preparations seemed to be going smoothly until a few men approached Moses with a problem. They had come into contact with a dead body rendering them ceremonially unclean which meant they were technically disqualified from celebrating the Passover at the God-ordained time. This might sound silly to our New Testament way of thinking, but this was a big deal with no obvious solution. And the way Moses responded to these men is an example for us all. He said, “Wait here until I have received instructions for you from the Lord (Numbers 9:8).” If we all prayed more before giving opinions, everyone would be in better shape. We’d likely throw our opinions out less often but with better results. Why? Because prayer forces us to make sure our opinion is actually God’s opinion, which makes all the difference.

More Replying and Less Coercing

One day King Zedekiah called for the prophet Jeremiah to come and speak with him. “I want to ask you something,” he said firmly. “And don’t try to hide the truth,” he demanded. Jeremiah’s response contains a lesson for us about when and how to handle knowledge. The prophet’s response is found in Jeremiah 38:15, and I’m using the English Standard Version, “If I tell you the truth, you will kill me. And if I give you advice, you won’t listen to me anyway.” Most people can’t wait to give their opinion, and they would be beside themselves if a king wanted their advice. Yet, Jeremiah knew opinions are a dime a dozen, and wasting advice on people who won’t receive it can produce more damage than good. After some back and forth, Jeremiah eventually did offer his opinion, but only after ensuring the king was sincerely ready to receive it.

Proverbs 1:5 in the English Standard Version declares, “Let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understands obtain guidance.” Again, in the English Standard Version, Proverbs 15:12 asserts, “A scoffer does not like to be reproved; he will not go to the wise.” Here’s the harsh point, if you have to chase people down to give them your opinion (or advice), you’re wasting your time. The moment you find yourself trying to coerce people into enduring your opinion, the struggle for influence has already been lost. That doesn’t mean you can’t regain it, but the timing is off. People ready to receive counsel will come to you. And those who never seek wise opinions would do well to consider Ecclesiastes 4:13 (English Standard Version), “Better was a poor and wise youth than an old and foolish king who no longer knew how to take advice.”

More Love and Less of Everything Else

I know it gets taken out of context quite a bit, but it would be foolish to have this discussion without referencing the admonition of Ephesians 4:15 to speak the truth with love. The old saying is true: People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. Beyond that, some people will never care how much you care or how much you know. Love them anyway, but save your breath for those willing to listen. But remember, even people willing to listen will reject your opinion if you give it without love. Let’s commit ourselves to the hard work of loving more than spouting off opinions. Cold-hearted leaders harm the truth with their actions despite their correct words—cloak hard facts in the softness of love. If they reject your wisdom and leadership, you can stand before the Lord with a blameless heart.

More Wisdom and Less Foolishness

Let’s switch gears from the subject of giving opinions to the importance of receiving correct views from others. Regardless of status, we all need wise counsel, or we will descend into foolishness. Fyodor Dostoevsky, the legendary author of Crime & Punishment, once said, “The cleverest of all, in my opinion, is the man who calls himself a fool at least once a month.” President John F. Kennedy is noted as saying, “Too often we enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.” Those two quotes are self-deprecating ways of articulating that even the wisest among us still need the wisdom of those more discerning. Intelligent people know their weaknesses and acknowledge their blind spots. Foolish people insist on trusting their insufficiencies to their detriment.

The psalmist promised, “Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly (Psalm 1:1).” And Proverbs 13:20 warned, “He that walketh with wise men shall be wise: but a companion of fools shall be destroyed (Proverbs 13:20).” The apostle Paul cautioned the church in Colossians 2:8, “Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.” It’s not enough to know you need the opinions of others. Having the prudence to find good godly counsel is the key that unlocks the door to sagacity. Astute people seek advice from wise people, and silly people glean from the opinions of foolish people.

More Peace and Less Drama

James 3:17-18 is one of my favorite passages of Scripture (I’m quoting from the English Standard Version):

But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.

If you’re wondering how to decipher the difference between righteous opinions and fleshly opinions, the above passage should be circled and boldly highlighted in your Bible. Pious opinions are always seeking peace. That doesn’t mean they’re weak or watered down. It simply means they’re working hard to be peaceful, merciful, sincere, and impartial. Each one of those four things takes courage, effort, and intentionality. Things like contentiousness, cantankerousness, condescension, and downright divisiveness don’t require much exertion because they’re baked into our sinful nature. Look for leaders who strive to keep peace and attempt to be that kind of leader yourself. And if you do, you will reap a harvest of righteousness.

My Interview With Bishop T.L. Craft

Life Impact

It’s impossible to adequately articulate how Bishop T.L. Craft has impacted my life and ministry. He is best known around the world as the Bishop of First United Pentecostal Church of Jackson, MS. To thousands like my mother, who attended Jackson College of Ministry, he left an indelible imprint as JCM’s founder and president. Many think of Bishop Craft as a pastor’s pastor and a friend’s friend. He’s the definition of a scholar and a gentleman. Untold numbers of ministers, preachers, teachers, pastors, evangelists, and missionaries found their start under T.L. Craft’s kindhearted tutelage. Furthermore, hundreds of dynamic women of God, like my precious wife, credit Bishop Craft as the pastor that enabled them to launch out successfully into life and ministry. But if you ramble past the thick haze of accolades and success, you see a man who is steadfastly apostolic, warm, sincere, and imminently approachable.

90

Bishop Craft recently turned ninety, although he seems much younger. His mind is sharp, and his thirst for knowledge remains unquenchable. When I walked into his home a few days ago for a podcast recording session, he was well-dressed and just as dapper as always. The only hint of aging was the residual pain and mobility issues associated with a minor stroke. While talking with or observing Bishop Craft, I’ve always felt that he could have been wildly successful within any vocation. He has an enviable knack for making anyone feel totally at ease within seconds. It’s not a show or a put-on. It’s just who he is at the core. He genuinely likes people, and they really want to like him right back because of it. His consistent, approachable demeanor is a refreshing departure from the unfortunate arms-length attitude many high-profile preachers adopt towards people outside their inner circle. After spending just a few minutes with Bishop Craft, it’s easy to see why he’s had to build lots of new buildings over the years to accommodate church growth.

Season 2, Episode 6

The other day I had the opportunity to sit down in Bishop’s home and record a conversation for Apostolic Voice (listen to the whole conversation below or wherever you enjoy podcasts). But I wanted to give a few highlights from that conversation and links to books Bishop mentioned during the episode. As always, if you’d like to support this ministry, please leave an iTunes rating and review. And if you’d like to help financially for as little as $0.99 per month, follow this link.

The Criticism Flip

Christians, especially ministers, tend to feel above criticism. Or at least, we avoid criticism like the plague. I think that’s universal to the human condition. Even “so-called” constructive criticism hurts, particularly when it’s given without an invitation. However, Bishop Craft echoes the sentiment of the CEO of Tesla Motors, Elon Musk, by inviting criticism from outsiders and insiders alike. Bishop Craft smiled and said, “You’ll never hear more honesty than when you invite a visitor to give you honest feedback about things you’re church could be doing better.” “Ignore that honest feedback to your detriment,” he said somberly. He continued, “Inviting criticism is a great way to witness and teach a Bible study.” “You wouldn’t think so,” he said wryly. He explained with a twinkle in his eyes, “By giving them the upper hand, they don’t feel defensive, and you can defend your faith without seeming pushy or overbearing.” You can invite criticism and flip it to your advantage with kindness and open dialogue in countless areas of life.

Advice to Ministers

I’m adding a few bonuses that Bishop Craft mentioned when the microphones were off. I specifically asked Bishop for some ministerial advice. I’m summarizing it in bullet points for quick reference:

  • Always be in service. Don’t miss church.
  • If you’re traveling, let people know where you’re going and what you’re doing.
  • Read voraciously.
  • Be a well-rounded reader by engaging in books on theology, Christian living, history, philosophy, leadership, business, biography, science, culture, and politics.
  • Give your phone number to everyone.
  • Don’t prioritize a secular job over the work of ministry. If you must work a secular job, don’t allow it to become your first priority and define you.
  • Take vacations.

Book & Commentary Recommendations

Apostolic Voice

An Open Letter to Dr. Jordan B. Peterson

Dear Dr. Peterson

Please forgive the gimmicky aspect of this letter. Your immense popularity or repulsiveness (depending on whom you’re talking to) renders you unreachable by normal means. I’m under no illusion that you will see this letter. However, I sincerely hope this reaches you at some point. Allow me to begin by expressing my sincere earnestness in praying for your health and for the health and safety of your family, whom you seem to love dearly. Also, I’d like to thank you for your thoughtful, meaningful, and life-impacting contributions to national conversations. 12 Rules for Life has roused many forgotten young men to rally to the challenges of existence with courage, integrity, and goodness.

Beyond Refreshing

Along with millions, I’ve enjoyed listening to your podcast and following your lectures. I’ve cheered in admiration as you’ve resolutely refused to be cowed by woke media personalities or bullied into submission by cultural fads. You are a voice of reason, logic, and morality. That’s beyond refreshing in this post-postmodern or metamodernist culture (I’d love to hear your thoughts on post versus post-post versus metamodernism). It must be strange navigating the complexities of fame on a worldwide platform. I, for one, am appreciative that you do so with grace and kindness even when in strong disagreement.

Your Popularity Among Christians

I’ve heard you ponder the question of why you are so popular among Christians several times. And why your lectures on Genesis garnered overwhelming positive attention. Even though you are not a theologian, I thoroughly enjoy your religious conversations. Your influence has impacted me to take a renewed interest in Jungian psychology. I’m indebted to you for that as I quote Jung several times in a soon-to-be-released book that takes a biblical look at alcohol. Anyway, most people you speak with lean more philosophical than evangelical. Although you remain cautiously critical of “orthodox” Christianity, the liturgical influence on your religious (or philosophical) thinking is obvious.

A Brief Context

For the sake of transparency, I am a minister within a marginalized segment of Christianity. Interestingly, postmodernism helped and hurt us at the same time. It hurt in the sense that culture moved away from seeking or even believing in absolutes or Truth. Yet, it helped because we are less ostracized due to our beliefs (we were severely persecuted at the turn of the twentieth century). These words might sound a little foreign; I am a Oneness Apostolic Pentecostal Christian. We’re the fastest-growing religious movement in the world, even as liturgical churches are shrinking. In the past one hundred-plus years, we have exploded to the tune of approximately fifty million worldwide. Even though we are technically evangelical by definition, historically, our evangelical brethren have been loath to allow us that title.

Answering the Question

I mention my beliefs not because I expect you to find my theology particularly interesting (although you might). But because I believe my perspective allows a unique insight into your immense popularity among Christians of all stripes. You are tremendously popular in my circles and the converging circles of Christianity. And here’s why: You intellectually articulate the defense of our existence. That’s the nutshell version. Beyond that, you are the most intelligent person using your influence to help us maintain space and have a voice in the public space. Even when you don’t agree with everything we say or believe, you brilliantly defend our right to hold those thoughts and speak them out loud, whether in our churches, public forums, or the universities. Your unique one-foot in Christianity and one-foot outside Christianity stance gives you gravitas blatantly religious leaders can’t wield.  

The Woke Wave

Sincere Christians saw the woke wave coming decades before it hit culture full force. We were silenced and demonized in the public schools. Our children were bullied into submission by Stalin-like totalitarian tactics. The universities turned Christian shaming into an art form. I’ve been forbidden to open up city council meetings by praying in the name of Jesus. And that’s in the Bible Belt of the United States. That’s only one small aspect of the anti-free speech overreach directed at Christians in public forums. We’ve watched our cities covered in graffiti while the Ten Commandments were removed from our courtrooms. We’ve had to fight like mad to keep the government from forcing us to fund abortions for people on our payrolls. Same-sex couples who’ve never darkened the doors of our churches routinely try to force us to marry them in our buildings, hanging legal action over our heads if we don’t comply. If we dare try to help children suffering from gender dysphoria overcome their confusion lovingly, we’re called hate-mongers and worse. I could go on and on.

You’re the Voice We Could Not Use

We’re subjugated to name-calling constantly while being told to keep our mouths shut. Free speech is only allowed for certain woke groups these days. All this seemed to go from a simmer to a boil when the transgender movement began doing its best to force us into ignoring science and radically changing definitions. Then you stepped onto the scene and became the voice we could not use in that arena. Your brilliance, coupled with genuine humility, captured our consciousness. As we got to know you, we realized you were a true friend and a sincere moralist. And while we may approach morality from divergent directions, we hold it dear nonetheless.

You’re Much Like Aaron

In some ways, your notoriety reminds me of Aaron (greatly anticipating your book and lectures on Exodus). As you know, much has been assumed about the Bible’s description of Moses as being “slow of speech and slow of tongue (Exodus 4:10).” Was Moses simply inarticulate? Did he have a stutter? I’ve always leaned towards the theory that Moses had a speech impediment of some kind. Whatever it was, God wanted Moses to overcome it and speak. But Moses resisted God and failed to use his voice. God relented and sent Aaron to be Moses’ spokesman before Pharaoh and often before the people. Moses’ failure to speak up created a vacuum (particularly in the political and secular realm) that Aaron naturally filled. God even acknowledged that Aaron was intelligent and eloquent compared to Moses (Exodus 4:14-16). It seems you have become the confident voice the Church was too afraid or perhaps unable to use. You’re the unofficial spokesperson, if you will.

The Overlooked Experience of Glossolalia

Admittedly, my primary motivation for writing is a burning desire to humbly add something to an ongoing thread that permeates your conversations. First, you have mentioned a particular mystical religious encounter that was personal to you. Also, the question of transcendent, mysterious occurrences, their origins, and repeatability comes up periodically. Lately, I’ve been noticing more and more scientific questions involving the use of psychedelics to replicate (or achieve) a spiritually transformative experience. I find myself talking to your podcast through my air pods when these topics arise. Mainly because the transformative encounter described in these conversations, although rare in liturgical circles, are frequent experiences for Pentecostals. We experience many types of transcendent encounters with God, but most notable is what the book of Acts refers to as speaking in other tongues. Which can be a known language (although previously unlearned) or a heavenly language, but it produces an ecstasy and clarity like nothing in this world can offer. This biblical phenomenon is commonly referred to as glossolalia in academic circles. Apostolics consider it to be a necessary element in the process of redemption.

Glossolalia’s Transformative Narrative

Regardless, I’ve witnessed countless individuals give up smoking, various drugs, and alcohol without any withdrawal symptoms after experiencing glossolalia (we would refer to it as receiving the Holy Spirit). It’s that well-documented transformative religious experience you’ve mentioned at various times. I know how strange this can sound to a person unfamiliar with it. However, is it stranger than looking for answers in psychedelics? Having witnessed your intellectual curiosity at play, I’m reasonably confident you would find the data interesting at the very least. Hundreds of millions have experienced glossolalia. Many of those millions have been permanently changed for the good. If this sounds overly preachy, I apologize. I am a preacher, and there’s nothing I can do to change that reality. Believe it or not, I’ve tried very hard to avoid inserting gobs of theology, dogma, and personal opinions into this letter. My only hope is that perhaps you will use a measure of your vast intellect to investigate glossolalia with a level of openness. Whatever else, it can’t just be discarded outright or ignored with any genuine intellectual honesty. Just the plethora of historical biblical accounts (Isaiah 28:11-12, Mark 16:17, Acts 2:1-47, Acts 10:46, Acts 19:6) set a narrative that’s difficult to reject off-hand.

Encouragement in Exodus

Please continue to speak against impending malevolence courageously. May you and your family be blessed. I pray your body remains as strong as your mind. I’ll bid farewell with one of my favorite passages from the book of Exodus:

8 Now there arose up a new king over Egypt, which knew not Joseph. 9 And he said unto his people, Behold, the people of the children of Israel are more and mightier than we: 10 Come on, let us deal wisely with them; lest they multiply, and it come to pass, that, when there falleth out any war, they join also unto our enemies, and fight against us, and so get them up out of the land. 11 Therefore they did set over them taskmasters to afflict them with their burdens. And they built for Pharaoh treasure cities, Pithom and Raamses. 12 But the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and grew. And they were grieved because of the children of Israel (Exodus 1:8-12).

This passage encourages me when I’m feeling weak and insignificant, and adversaries seem intensely overwhelming. It’s a reminder that even enemies perceive the strengths that I can’t see. Furthermore, affliction placed upon righteous people is a precursor to growth and eventual deliverance.

Sincerely, Ryan French

The Anatomy of a Failure (A Scriptural Survey of Why Sincere Souls Fail God) – Article + Podcast

The Anatomy of a Failure

During several formative years of my life, Bishop Douglas White ministered to my soul at camp meetings, conferences, and seminars. Time and time again, his stirring sermons send me running to an altar to touch God. His dynamic preaching ministry is in constant demand and has been for as long as I can remember. He has a way of preaching hard truths with love and urgency that compels you to respond. I’m grateful for his ministry. So, when I discovered his newest book, The Anatomy of a Failure: A Scriptural Survey of Why Sincere Souls Fail God, I purchased it faster than you can say “Visa.” Links to buy The Anatomy of a Failure are listed below. I suggest ordering several of them to give away.

Common Heartache

Every Apostolic reading this shares the familiar heartache of knowing friends and family members that have forfeited their salvation. And for those of us who genuinely believe what the Bible teaches about salvation and Hell, we agonize over the condition of their souls and the wasted earthly potential. We’ve all seen as White says:

A beautiful soul rushing back to a hideous condition. A victorious spirit tumbling back to a tortured existence. An honorable life stumbling to a dishonorable lifestyle. A blessed home collapsing into a cursed abode.

How does this happen? That’s the question White strives to answer in The Anatomy of a Failure. The book is a spiritual autopsy. A posthumous examination of dead souls that once thrived in the Spirit. More than that, however, White somberly reminds us that we too have the potential to fail God. This book equips us with defensive weapons and understanding that might be vital to finishing the race. Another byproduct of this book is the light it sheds on the process of backsliding. I finished reading The Anatomy of a Failure with a greater understanding of why good, and I mean “genuinely” good people, abandon Truth. My prayer is that by understanding backsliders better, I might assist them in finding restoration.

Losing Salvation is Possible

Grace is probably the most misunderstood, misconstrued, and misused doctrine in the Bible (I’ve written more about that here). It’s at least up there in the top five. With that in mind, White tackles that issue in the prologue titled The Fallacies of a Failing Soul. In what becomes the underlying text for the entire book, White cites Hebrews 12:14-15:

Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord: looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God.

Because grace is often tragically misrepresented as a Divine blank check enabling us to sin freely without consequence, White doubles down on the meaning of Hebrews 12:14-15, saying, “God’s grace never fails – but people can fail.” And he continues:

Nobody will ever stand before God, look Him in the eye, and say that His grace was anything but glorious and forgiving. However, when an individual spurns the grace that God is offering and continues in his sinful lifestyle, it is he who is failing God’s miraculous grace. It is one of the fallacies of a failing soul to think otherwise.

Nobody will ever stand before God and say His grace was anything but glorious and forgiving. However, when an individual spurns the grace God is offering and continues in a sinful lifestyle, it is he who is failing God’s miraculous grace. -Doug White

White moves on to address the most common objection to the reality that good people can fail the grace of God, “A loving God wouldn’t send anyone to Hell (I’ve written an in-depth study on the biblical doctrine of Hell here).” For me, White’s response was revelatory:

A loving God would not send anyone to Hell. But the moment a person dies, Jesus no longer sees him or her through the eyes of a loving God but through the eyes of a righteous judge that must judge every person by the same standard: Did they walk in obedience to God’s Word?

When a person dies, Jesus no longer sees through the eyes of a loving God but through the eyes of a righteous judge that must judge every person by the same standard: Did they walk in obedience to God’s Word? -Doug White

Ultimately, when sheep refuse to follow God’s ways, they forfeit the benefits and protections of the Great Shepherd. White says it best, “Offering salvation is God’s task; maintaining salvation is our task.” Later he rephrases it like this, “A sinful nature and a saved nature cannot coexist in your life.” It’s important to remember that not every falling away from God is accompanied by a dramatic, loud exodus from the church. Of course, some do, and we remember those moments the best. But more often than not, people slip silently away from God while quietly justifying themselves and ultimately convincing themselves they’re just as saved as ever. That’s the fallacy of a failing soul.

When sheep refuse to follow God’s ways, they forfeit the benefits and protections of the Great Shepherd.

Offering salvation is God’s task; maintaining salvation is our task. A sinful nature and a saved nature cannot coexist in your life. -Doug White

Not every falling away from God is accompanied by a dramatic, loud exodus from the church. People slip silently away from God while quietly justifying themselves and ultimately convincing themselves they’re just as saved as ever.

Four Main Reasons Good People Make Bad Mistakes

Bishop White identifies the initial source or the root of every backslider’s eventual failure. He insightfully leans on forty years of ministry to pinpoint four common trouble areas that fit into the anatomy of a body. The four bodily diseased areas that rip people away from the Body of Christ are feet, stomach, head, and heart. Learning to protect, heal, defend, and cultivate these areas is the key to successfully serving God for a lifetime.

Feet: The Instability of an Unsure Foundation

White reminds us that “the only hope we have of standing firm in living for God is determined by the quality of our foundation.” He makes a classic reference to the parable of the man who built his house on the rock compared to the man who built his life upon the sand (Luke 6:48-49). Everything else in our spiritual life is built on our initial foundation. This is perhaps the most crucial area to get right early on in the spiritual journey.

The only hope we have of standing firm in living for God is determined by the quality of our foundation. -Doug White

Perhaps you’ve heard of the Millennium Tower located in downtown San Francisco. The luxury condominium cost a whopping 350 million dollars to build in early 2002. It’s a beautiful structure, made chiefly of elegant glass that towers high into the horizon, reflecting the radiant hues of the sun. Until 2015 everything went precisely as planned. The building became a status symbol of wealthy city living and garnered several awards. It became the residence of choice for affluent San Franciscans. But that all changed when residents began to report loud popping noises and large panes of glass started cracking unexpectedly. And worse, experts noticed the building was sinking and tilting drastically. So far, it has fallen nearly eighteen inches into the ground and tilted another fifteen inches to the northwest. All that lurching, turning, and twisting is breaking all kinds of things from the top of the structure to the bottom. Even after pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into the effort, the renovations have done little to stop the problem. Groundwater loss from adjacent construction has been blamed for the issue by the tower’s developers, while geotechnical experts say the key is that its foundation is not rooted in bedrock. You see, where I’m going, it doesn’t matter how incredible the exterior looks if your spiritual foundation isn’t rooted in bedrock.

It doesn’t matter how incredible the exterior looks if your spiritual foundation isn’t rooted in bedrock.

White points to three crucial materials that must form every spiritual foundation: The Bible, faithfulness, and integrity. He says:

Far too many individuals walking through those spiritual realms struggle with being ‘tossed to and fro,’ in and out of righteousness because their feet are not firmly planted on the sure foundation that is provided by God’s Word.

Too many individuals walking through spiritual realms struggle with being ‘tossed to and fro,’ in and out of righteousness because their feet are not firmly planted on the sure foundation that is provided by God’s Word. -Doug White

In our podcast conversation, Bishop White made a profound statement, “The person in most danger of failing God in your church is the one who loves the music, loves the preaching, loves the worship, loves the fellowship but never settles doctrinal absolutes in their minds.” Without using the words, White spends a great deal of time pushing back against universalism and ecumenicalism, both of which are prevailing heresies of our age. While there might be room for disagreement on some biblical points, central salvific doctrines like the oneness of God, baptism in Jesus’ name, the necessity of the infilling of the Holy Ghost, holiness, and righteous living must become the bedrock of faith.

The person in most danger of failing God in your church is the one who loves the music, loves the preaching, loves the worship, loves the fellowship but never settles doctrinal absolutes in their minds. -Doug White

The second element in the threefold mixture that forms a sure spiritual foundation is deep, abiding faithfulness. White describes it this way:

It is faithfulness that refuses to negotiate with sin or temptation or even emotional upheavals. Those who live on a sure, solid foundation are the individuals who choose daily to live a life of faithfulness to God: Faithful involvement with God’s kingdom. Faithful gathering together with the saints. Steadfast in our walk with God. Authentic in our representation of God to our world. Regardless of how much you claim to believe in biblical truth, this truth is rendered completely ineffective in your life if you don’t baptize it with faithfulness… Your belief in truth is null and void if you don’t act faithfully upon the principles of that truth.

Regardless of how much you claim to believe in biblical truth, truth is rendered completely ineffective in your life if you don’t baptize it with faithfulness. -Doug White

The third and final element in the foundation mixture is unshakable integrity. White defines integrity as “having the ability to see yourself the way God sees you, not the way you would like to be seen.” A life of integrity is devoid of hypocrisy and infused with humility. I consider this to be White’s most impactful quote in the first chapter:

In most cases pertaining to spiritual stability, if you let your feet provide your direction, you won’t have to worry about problems your head could cause.

In most cases pertaining to spiritual stability, if you let your feet provide your direction, you won’t have to worry about problems your head could cause. -Doug White

Stomach: The Pull of an Unholy Consumption

If you could only read one chapter of The Anatomy of a Failure for some strange reason, it should be this one. I consider unholy consumption to be the primary reason the average person falls prey to the enemy. Because our highly advanced, super technological culture allows for instant and nearly unlimited access to the consumption of carnal things, countless Christians develop a habitual taste for dainties that slowly pushes out their desire for holy things. Just like the eunuch thought Daniel would be weakened by abstaining from defiling foods from the king’s table, society views our restrictive lifestyle of purity as fanatical and unsustainable. But our separated lifestyle is the key to our power. Sadly, some have come to view it as a hindrance because they desire to fill their bellies with unrighteousness. Hungering and thirsting after righteousness includes separation from immodest appearance, fleshly vices, worldly entertainment, and unholy speech. White says:

Hungering and thirsting after righteousness includes separation from immodest appearance, fleshly vices, worldly entertainment, and unholy speech.

While the story of Daniel is old, the principle it promotes is just as true today: The spiritual life of a child of God will either excel or decline depending on what their appetites are… If you fit into the category of someone who constantly struggles in your walk with God, I suggest you take an immediate inventory of what you are putting in your spiritual stomach. Such an inventory is necessary because allowing your spiritual man to exist in perpetual struggle eventually eliminates vital elements like joy, passion, zeal, and even a desire to continue serving God.

The spiritual life of a child of God will either excel or decline depending on what their appetites are. -Doug White

What you consume will affect you spiritually just as surely as the physical things you consume will affect you physically. It’s also important to realize that it’s not just sinful things that can potentially harm you. But if consuming hobbies or benignly distracting things pull you away from faithfulness, you will eventually fail God. White gives a good measuring stick for measuring the quality of your consumption, “Anytime you start feeling a fondness for a former slavery, it is a sure sign of partaking in questionable consumption.”

It’s not just sinful things that can potentially harm you. But if consuming hobbies or benignly distracting things pull you away from faithfulness, you will eventually fail God.

Anytime you start feeling a fondness for a former slavery, it is a sure sign of partaking in questionable consumption. -Doug White

The conversation surrounding what is acceptable for Christians to consume and still be saved is always fraught with disagreement. At the core of this conversation is wisdom. It takes wisdom to know what is healthy, benign, and unhealthy for a Christian to ingest. Sadly, I’ve been around many conversations revolving around how much junk a Christian can devour and still be saved. White mirrors those questions, “How much poison can I consume and still stay alive? How much filth can I eat without getting sick? How much rottenness can I devour without suffering the consequences?” He continues, “Knowing the challenges every individual has to contend with to serve God with integrity, why would anybody challenge themselves further by deliberately empowering their flesh?”

There’s an old Indian story of a grandfather telling his grandson about two wolves that live inside us all. One wolf is good, loyal, pure, and full of integrity. The other wolf is violent, angry, evil, and dishonest. “Each day, these two wolves fight inside of me,” said the grandfather to his young grandson. Wide-eyed, the boy asked, “Which one will win?” “The one I feed,” replied the wise grandfather.

Head: The Hindrance of an Unbridled Mind

This issue is so important that the Bible speaks of our thoughts 138 times and refers to our minds 137 times. White emphasizes how the battle for our soul begins in the mind. And while temptation is not sin, a runaway thought can morph into an unholy intention if it isn’t taken into captivity and cast down. White puts it succinctly, “Sadly, over time those thoughts became temptations, which eventually developed intentions. Those intentions eventually found an occasion to sin.”

While temptation is not sin, a runaway thought can morph into an unholy intention if it isn’t taken into captivity and cast down.

The old-timers used to say, “You can’t keep a bird from flying over your head, but you can keep it from settling in and building a nest there.” We can’t keep unholy thoughts from flying through our minds, but we can make sure they don’t make a home there. As White wisely states, “Your mind will either assist you or assassinate you.” Gaining the self-control needed to retrain your mind from dwelling on ungodly things is paramount to every believer. White says it best:

To stop the catastrophic loss of salvation, your unbridled mind is hurling you toward; you must become spiritually mature enough to turn off the flow valve of the deadly sewage of unholy thoughts.

Your mind will either assist you or assassinate you. Gaining the self-control needed to retrain your mind from dwelling on ungodly things is paramount to every believer. -Doug White

Heart: The Delusion of Misplaced Passions

White comes out swinging in this chapter, “Our heart can either be our greatest advantage or our greatest adversary.” It’s eerily possible to be faithful, worship, praise, and go through the motions of godliness without engaging the heart thoroughly. White teaches that passion is the gauge for measuring spiritual heart health, “Passion is the tell-tale sign that our heart is involved; without passion, any work we do has ceased to be a matter of the heart.”

Our heart can either be our greatest advantage or our greatest adversary. It’s eerily possible to be faithful, worship, praise, and go through the motions of godliness without engaging the heart thoroughly.

This chapter revealed something that had perplexed me for a long time: How can people seem to love God but not serve him passionately? White reminds us that we are commanded to love God with all our hearts in no uncertain terms. He says:

Any time this commandment is casually diminished by placing a greater passion on something else, we have become the victim of a divided heart. The obvious way to tell if an all-the-way-salvation has become a divided-heart situation is to compare your passion for God with your passion for other things.

And here is the revelation that greatly enhanced my understanding:

Most people who backslide don’t fall out of love with God; they just fall in love with something else, leaving a divided heart.

Most people who backslide don’t fall out of love with God; they just fall in love with something else, leaving a divided heart. -Doug White

Conclusion & Summary

Pay prayerful attention, and you will find that everyone you have seen fail God fits into the four categories as defined by Bishop White:

  • They had spiritual feet that lacked a sure foundation, leaving them unstable and quick to fall.
  • They had a spiritual stomach that consistently fed on unholy things, leaving them weak and defenseless against the adversary.
  • They had a spiritual head that refused to restrain their unholy thoughts, allowing temptations to become sinful intentions, which led them to sin.
  • They had a spiritual heart that became careless, allowing them to misplace their passion in carnal things, deluding them with the idea that “selling-out” wasn’t as important as merely “claiming salvation.”

We are all susceptible to failing in these areas if we aren’t on guard. Awareness is half the battle. Viewing these anatomical areas invigorates my desire to put on the whole armor of God. Years ago, the Lord gave me a dream of thousands of Christians rushing into battle with incomplete armor. Some had everything but a helmet, while others had a sword. One by one, they fell to the enemy. In that graphic visual, the problem seemed so obvious. But Christians do this all the time, yet they feel safe because they have almost all the armor they need. They have an allusion of safety but lack the fullness of God’s necessary resources. I pray this is not so for you and for me too.

Our God Is One with Dr. Talmadge French (Article + Podcast)

Sweet Heat Skittles

My father, Dr. Talmadge French and I, just finished recording America and End Time Prophecy, the Oneness of God & Miracle Mission’s Moments for the podcast (linked below). You absolutely do not want to miss that episode. Dad recounted major miracles he’s witnessed and experienced from his missions trips around the world. We talk prophecy, rapture stuff, and think about where America fits into all of that. And dad gives an updated count of the number of oneness Pentecostal believers worldwide. We taste and rate Sweet Heat Skittles at the end. That was fun!

Our God Is One

We mentioned the release of his best-selling book Our God Is One: The Story of the Oneness Pentecostals in the Serbian language during that conversation. Dad originally released Our God Is One in 1999. It’s incredible to think that twenty-three years later, it’s impacting the Serbian work of God and has become an instrument to bring trinitarian churches into the oneness movement! Which inspired me to summarize Our God Is One in this format. Usually, I would include the link to purchase the book, but it’s been out of print for several months. Thankfully, it will be reprinted, rebranded, and updated in the near future. Our God Is One is a unique blending of oneness Pentecostal history, theology, methodology, and statistical analysis. This summary is not a replacement for the book itself but rather a complementarian, precursor, or refresher for those who have already read it. From this point forward, I will refer to dad as Dr. French for the sake of readability.

It’s All in Him!

Most apostolics are familiar with George Farrow’s classic song penned in 1920, “It’s All in Him.” It isn’t shocking to hear lyrics like that now, but there was a time at the turn of the twentieth century when lyrics like “For in Him Dwells All the Fullness of the Godhead and Lord of All is He” would have reeked of heresy to most Christians. Dr. French opens by quoting that and several other notable self-designated Jesus’ Name Pentecostal anthems. In those early days of the oneness movement, songs like that were an expression of separation and a brave exclamation of revelation. George Farrow and others differentiated themselves from their trinitarian counterparts with rhythms and rhymes.

Dr. French opens the book by quoting that great song in homage to those early oneness Pentecostal pioneers. Those first leaders couldn’t have imagined the phenomenal growth their movement would experience over the next one-hundred-plus years. In what Dr. French calls “those early, unassuming days of the movement,” their focus wasn’t on growth but correct doctrine and pleasing God.

In the early, unassuming days of the Oneness Pentecostal movement, their focus wasn’t on growth but correct doctrine and pleasing God. -Dr. Talmadge French

Important Definitions

It would be challenging to follow Our God Is One or this article without clarifying definitions. Thankfully, Dr. French gives two helpful definitions right away. He defines Oneness Pentecostalism below:

Oneness Pentecostalism is that theologically distinctive branch of the Pentecostal movement which emphasizes what it views as the Scriptural formula for water baptism – baptism ‘in the name of Jesus’ – and the absolute, indivisible ‘Oneness’ of God revealed in the full Deity of Jesus Christ. It emerged within the context of the fervor of restorationism and “back to the Bible” literalism at the turn of the century. Classical Pentecostalism’s argumentation for a return to “the Bible” regarding speaking with tongues and spiritual gifts was simply applied to the issues of baptism and the Godhead.

Notice the term Dr. French used in the above quote, “Classical Pentecostalism.” For some, that might not be a familiar term, so he goes on to explain further:

Oneness Pentecostals have usually been categorized as ‘classical’ Pentecostals, referring not only to their roots in the early movement but their shared belief in the essentiality of tongues as the “initial evidence” of the Spirit baptism.

Doctrinal Distinctives

The explosive growth of the oneness movement is intrinsically linked with its doctrinal distinctives. Dr. French gives a succinct overview of classical oneness theology:

In its rejection of the classical conception of the Trinity, it embraced, in actuality, a highly Christocentric, simultaneous modalism of the Father, Son, and Spirit, in which Jesus is God. Jesus is the Yahweh of the Old Testament, the one and only God in totality, incarnate in the New Testament. The ‘Oneness of God’ is an all-encompassing Jesus-centrism in which Father, Son, and Spirit are not conceived as separate, distinct ‘persons’ within the Godhead, but rather as ‘modes’ or ‘manifestations’ of God.

The explosive growth of the oneness movement is intrinsically linked with its doctrinal distinctives.

The Oneness of God is an all-encompassing Jesus-centrism in which Father, Son, and Spirit are not conceived as separate, distinct persons within the Godhead, but rather as modes or manifestations of God. -Dr. Talmadge French

Not unlike the theological constructs of early Jewish Christianity, Oneness theology link the Shema, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is One,” with the most primitive of the kerygmatic confessions of the early church – “Jesus is Lord.” That is, Jesus is the one and only Lord, the ‘totality’ of the Godhead, incarnate. Thus, He is not a part, or a second part, or second person, but God in totality, manifest in human form as the unique God-man. “Father” and “Son” are viewed simply as incarnational terms necessary for the discussion of God in His dual nature, God and man. Likewise, “Holy Spirit” is the distinguishing expression for “Christ in,” God indwelling, the believer at and after Pentecost, in the unique manner made possible only by the reality of the resurrection.

Not unlike the theological constructs of early Jewish Christianity, Oneness theology link the Shema: Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is One, with the most primitive of the kerygmatic confessions of the early church – Jesus is Lord. -Dr. Talmadge French

Oneness Roots

Interestingly, Dr. French clarifies an often-asked question: Are oneness Pentecostal evangelical? And the answer to that is “yes.” The oneness movement is rooted in a passion for Jesus Christ, Scripture, life-changing new birth experiences, and evangelism. But that doesn’t mean mainstream Evangelicalism embraces the oneness movement. Dr. French mentions J.I. Packer, who referred to Pentecostalism as Evangelicalism’s “half-sister.” Sadly, that kind of pejorative, and worse, is historically typical. But oneness Pentecostalism traces its roots back to the holiness and restorationist movements of the nineteenth century, which, as Dr. French points out, “is sometimes referred to as ‘radical’ Evangelicalism.”

At its onset, the oneness movement was shunned, ostracized, criticized, and belittled by Evangelicals and classical trinitarian Pentecostals. The oneness movement’s explicit rejection of Trinitarian doctrine combined with its strong holiness underpinnings has made it a target for charges of cultism, bigotry, and heresy. And while Dr. French acknowledges that the oneness movement has become more widely accepted, “mainstream” Christianity still views it derisively. Especially in light of Evangelicalism’s rapid drift away from moral absolutes, biblical inerrancy, and godly living. This creates what Dr. French calls the “dilemma and paradox” of the oneness movement. He boils it down in this statement:

Their (the oneness movement’s) distinctive theological identity is, at one and the same time, both rooted in Pentecostal-Evangelicalism, and yet at enormous tension with it.

Though rooted in the holiness movement and budding trinitarian Pentecostalism, the oneness movement is best described as restorationism. Dr. French describes it this way:

Oneness Pentecostalism, within a dozen years of the rise of Pentecostalism, was birthed in a rekindling of restorationist fervor which swept through the entire movement, vigorously promoting a return to the New Testament baptismal formula and understanding of the Godhead.

Oneness Pentecostalism was birthed in a rekindling of restorationist fervor which swept through the entire movement, vigorously promoting a return to the New Testament baptismal formula and understanding of the Godhead. -Dr. Talmadge French

Pentecost In My Soul

Few things capture the essence of oneness theology as accurately and concisely as the songs birthed in those early days. To illustrate this, Dr. French highlights the famous Black Holiness songwriter Thoro Harris who, after converting to Pentecostalism, penned “Pentecost In My Soul” in 1914. He wrote many beloved Pentecostal hymns such as “Jesus Only” and “All That Thrills My Soul Is Jesus.” Those songs and many others encapsulate the highly Christocentric pietism that made the oneness movement radically distinct from its counterparts. And it was enormously successful. But that doesn’t mean it was easy, Dr. French notes:

Pentecostals were struggling with an inevitable clash with historic Christianity, the heritage of the Protestant Reformation, and their own spiritual identity. Central to this struggle was the conviction that the historic church, largely apostatized, required restoration to primitive Christian faith.

To be sure, there was some disagreement about what primitive Christianity was in practice and theology. However, Pentecostals genuinely believed they were experiencing a ‘latter day’ restoration. And they viewed the Reformation as a steppingstone towards restorationism. Dr. French summarizes those early views this way:

Pentecostalism, in this way, perceived the period from the Reformation forward as restoration, from Luther’s sola scriptura to Wesley’s holiness to Seymour’s Azusa revival. Oneness adherents have also identified elements within the Radical Reformation, especially Michael Servetus and the immersion and anti-Trinitarianism of the Anabaptists, as evidence of glimmers of restoration.

Pentecostalism, perceived the period from the Reformation forward as restoration, from Luther’s sola scriptura to Wesley’s holiness to Seymour’s Azusa revival. Dr. Talmadge French

Fundamentalist Influences

It would be incorrect to say that Pentecostalism is rooted in Fundamentalism. However, it is substantially influenced by it. Dr. French is quick to mention there is “considerable” debate about “the extent and precise nature of Fundamentalism’s influence upon Pentecostalism.” He clarifies the distinctions and the influences, stating:

Fundamentalism, like Pentecostalism, embraced premillennialism, dispensationalism, and the verbally inerrant inspiration of Scripture. At the turn of the century, as Pentecostalism was emerging, Fundamentalism was the point conservative force opposing the higher critics and the modernist attacks on the miracles of the Bible. Although these were issues with which Pentecostalism readily identified, it was tenuous indeed, for Fundamentalism opposed with equal rigor Pentecostalism’s belief in modern miracles and tongues.

Regardless, Pentecostalism often utilized Fundamentalist arguments to further the points they agreed with. And even found Fundamentalist writers who openly favored oneness doctrinal positions.

Higher Life Influences

In 1875, the Keswick movement formed a holiness group that emphasized “higher life” and promoted “experiential holiness.” Dr. French states:

Important themes included enduement with power and the infilling of the Spirit, stressed by such leaders as R.A. Torrey and D.L. Moody. Yet it rejected the phenomenon of emerging Pentecostalism.

If I understand correctly, it seems John Wesley’s Methodism, including its holiness beliefs and emphasis on Spirit baptism, greatly influenced the Keswick movement, which influenced the early Oneness Pentecostals. Dr. French says it like this:

As did their forerunners in the holiness movement, the Pentecostals emphasized holiness, enthusiastically and with restorationist zeal, as separation from sin and worldliness. And, due perhaps to the intensity of the restorationist motif as the dominant influence within Oneness Pentecostalism, the emphasis upon strict standards of holiness remains a prominent feature of the movement. Apart from the issue of the means of sanctification, holiness was considered a restored, essential element in the life of a believer. “A holiness preacher?” wrote D.C.O. Opperman, “God has no other kind. Might as well say `wet water’ as to say `holiness preacher.’”

As did their forerunners in the holiness movement, the Pentecostals emphasized holiness, enthusiastically and with restorationist zeal, as separation from sin and worldliness. -Dr. Talmadge French

Holiness was considered a restored, essential element in the life of a believer. A holiness preacher? wrote D.C.O. Opperman, God has no other kind. Might as well say wet water as to say holiness preacher.

The Predominant Impulse of Oneness Pentecostalism

Indeed, all of the above-mentioned theological strands converged at the dawning of the twentieth century to form the oneness movement. Even early healing movements helped weave conditions for Oneness Pentecostalism to emerge successfully. But Dr. French views restorationism as “the dominant and overarching influence amidst other significant streams which intermingled in important ways.” Unique to Oneness Pentecostalism was a predominant restorationist impulse that viewed the entire New Testament through the lens of the book of Acts. In doing so, they made the book of Acts accounts typical experiences for all believers.

The Founding of Pentecostalism

In addition to the “latter rain” metaphor, Pentecostal founders like Howard Goss referred to the movement as “the winds of God.” They spoke of tongues as falling “suddenly from Heaven.” And although glossolalia had occurred among earlier holiness movements sporadically, it was Charles Fox Parham that, as Dr. French says, “provided the spark which ignited Pentecostalism as a distinctive movement by theologically linking `tongues’ with the baptism of the Spirit.” Parham was the first to articulate that tongues were the evidence of Spirit baptism. Although he still considered tongues a “second work of grace.” Dr. French describes the early oneness movements preferences regarding their identity:

Interestingly, Oneness Pentecostals tended to self-identify most readily with Parham’s original designation for the movement, “Apostolic,” even more so than the term “Pentecostal.” “Pentecostal” related mostly to the experience of Spirit baptism, whereas “Apostolic” was a more direct identification with the restoration of the doctrine, faith, and experience of the New Testament witness of the apostles.

Early Pentecostal Controversies

Like every movement, the early Pentecostal movement was plagued with controversies and fraught with disagreements. Dr. French describes debates that surrounded the issue of sanctification:

William H. Durham, a Baptist minister from Chicago who experienced tongues at Azusa in 1907, opposed the commonly accepted holiness view of sanctification as a separate, second crisis experience, or a “second work of grace” distinct from salvation. Instead, Durham espoused a view that posited the work of sanctification in the single experience of conversion, not subsequent to conversion. This view was predicated on the sufficiency of Calvary to ascribe sanctification to the believer at the time of conversion but experienced as a spiritual process throughout life. Durham referred to this as the “finished work of Calvary” view of sanctification.

But the sanctification issue paled in comparison to the Oneness controversy. Dr. French summarizes the debate saying:

At issue in the Oneness controversy was the centrality of the name of Jesus in baptism, the soteriological significance of Spirit baptism, and the nature of the unity of the Godhead. The Oneness issue was commonly referred to as the “new issue” by its opponents, not for its novelty, but to distinguish the issue from the recent controversy over salvation.

The early Pentecostal movement prayed in the name of Jesus, claimed healing in Jesus’ name, sang Christocentric songs, and “largely ignored” the precision of Trinitarian faith. So, it shouldn’t have been all that shocking that many would eventually desire to be baptized in Jesus’ name. Dr. French quotes Charles F. Parham on this subject:

We were waiting upon God that we might know the Scriptural teaching of water baptism. Finally, the Spirit of God said: “We are buried by baptism into His death.” …Then how quickly we recognized the fact that we could not be buried by baptism in the name of the Father and in the name of the Holy Ghost because it stood for nothing as they never died or were resurrected.

The Spark That Lit the Flame

A Pentecostal camp meeting called the World-Wide Apostolic Camp Meeting took place in April of 1913. It was a much-anticipated meeting lauded as a great unifier. Yet, in actuality, it was the initial spark that lit the flame of the oneness movement, eventually separating it from Trinitarian Pentecostalism altogether. Canadian minister R.E. McAlister wasn’t the main speaker or even on the program. McAlister simply gave a short sermon as they were preparing for a baptismal service “in a pool near the big tent.” Dr. French describes the intense and pivotal moment this way:

In a cursory defense of single immersion, McAlister noted that apostolic baptism was administered as a single immersion in a single name, Jesus Christ. “The words Father, Son, and Holy Ghost were never used in Christian baptism.”

History records an “audible shudder” swept the preachers at the mention that the name Jesus was used exclusively in apostolic baptism. Of course, they tried to stop and sensor him, but the inspired words had already been spoken. The impact of that little sermon was far more significant than McAlister could have ever dreamed. Dr. French states:

The implications concerning Jesus’ name baptism raised at Arroyo Seco fueled the theological flame within many who attended. John G. Sharpe, a young minister, was so moved that, after praying and reading the Bible all night, he ran through the camp the following morning shouting that he’d received a “revelation” of the power of Jesus’ name. Frank J. Ewart, G.T. Haywood, Harry Morse, John G. Schaepe, R.J. Scott, George Studd, R.E. McAlister, Andrew D. Urshan, Homer L. Faulkner, and Frank Denny… would soon enthusiastically embrace baptism in the name of Jesus as the exclusive apostolic formula.

In Conclusion

Our God Is One goes on in far more detail concerning various splits among Pentecostal groups, eventually forming oneness groups like the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World and the United Pentecostal Church International, and many others. He recounts the stories of now-infamous pastors who were hepatized in Jesus’ name and branded as heretics by their peers. Many of those pastors went on to rebaptize entire congregations in Jesus’ name as revival swept the world. But Dr. French is most acclaimed for his unparalleled documentation of modern Oneness Pentecostalism worldwide. In 1999, it was staggering when Dr. French provided careful documentation of twenty million Oneness Pentecostals. He updates the number on the podcast episode below, but you’ll have to listen for yourself to hear that.

Radically Apostolic! with Charles G. Robinette (Article + Podcast)

A Radically Apostolic Review

I recently had the opportunity to interview International Evangelist Charles G. Robinette about his new book, Radically Apostolic! The Reality, the Journey, and the Reward of the Call of God on the Apostolic Voice Podcast (which is linked below). Conversations like that always take on a life of their own, and that’s precisely what makes them so cool. However, it’s impossible to capture the essence of a book in a conversation format. So, even if you’ve listened to the episode with Rev. Robinette, this book review explores new territories. In my opinion, every believer should own a copy of Radically Apostolic (amazon.com links are included below). And if you would be so kind, leave a radically apostolic review of Radically Apostolic on Amazon, Goodreads, or wherever you buy books. It’s a blessing to the author and moves the book up in rankings and availability so others can find it and be blessed too.

More than High-Powered Testimonies

There’s been an exciting surge in apostolic books over the past few years. For a book nerd like me, that’s terrific news. But only a handful cover overtly apostolic topics. That’s not intended to be a criticism. There’s a great need for generic lifestyle, inspirational, and fiction books written by apostolics even if they don’t explicitly hit on hot button Pentecostal issues. However, we shouldn’t be afraid or shy away from writing blatantly unapologetic apostolic books chalked full of faith and Holy Ghost truth grenades. And that’s what Rev. Robinette has accomplished with Radically Apostolic! It will make you want to run the aisles, talk in tongues, and find a prayer meeting. You’ll probably even feel some good old-fashioned radical conviction. I did for sure. And that’s ok. We probably need a lot more of that. But the beauty of Rev. Robinette’s ministry style, which comes through in his writing as well, is that every truth bomb is tempered with the balm of love and genuine passion for the work of God.

When I purchased Radically Apostolic, I expected it to be filled with high-powered testimonies of revival, miracles, and mind-blowing God moments. I also anticipated chapters designed to be enormous faith builders for the reader. And it was! However, I was pleased to find the book full of deep wells of insight and instruction intended to take the reader from casual encounters with God to radically Apostolic encounters with God. Furthermore, the principles outlined in this book are for ministers and saints alike. Every apostolic believer is given the promise of Holy Ghost authority and to see demonstrations of Divine power in their lives. Radically Apostolic is not a quick microwave plan for walking in radical faith. Instead, it’s an honest outlining of biblical tried and true principles that work if implemented. If you’re looking for an easy three-step process, Radically Apostolic isn’t the book for you.

Radically Apostolic Defined

In the prologue, Robinette defines what it means to be radically apostolic this way:

To be radically apostolic means to be unreservedly committed to the teachings, doctrine, examples, and actions of the first apostles. It means to live a life that is in alignment with the first church in the book of Acts!

To me, it’s sad that we are forced to think of that definition as radical. Because in actuality, that is the description of being apostolic in general. We now call radical what the first church would have considered minimal. Or, at the very least, normal. Regardless, many of our beloved brothers and sisters are unacquainted with a genuine book of Acts experiences. But as Robinette pointed out in our podcast discussion, “There is a great thirst in this hour for apostolic demonstrations of the Spirit.”

To be radically apostolic means to be unreservedly committed to the teachings, doctrine, examples, and actions of the first apostles. It means to live a life that is in alignment with the first church in the book of Acts! -Charles G. Robinette

We now call radical what the first church would have considered minimal. Or, at the very least, normal.

If We Want What They Had…

Once a person has decided they want what the book of Acts church had, they must dedicate themselves to doing what the book of Acts church did. Robinette gives five convincing albeit challenging chapters that, if mirrored, accomplish that worthy goal: Radical apostolic exposure and impartation, radical prayer, radical submission, radical humility, and radical, sacrificial giving. Chapter six sums up the radical reality of employing those apostolic principles. Chapter seven is a soul-inspiring collection of radical testimonies that alone are worth the book’s price. As I read the book, the reality washed over me that God will always have a radically apostolic church; it’s just a matter of who will be a part of it.  

Once a person has decided they want what the book of Acts church had, they must dedicate themselves to doing what the book of Acts church did.

Radical Exposure & Impartation

While sharing his own early life story, Robinette describes the plethora of apostolic giants he was exposed to even in his teenage years. Primarily because of the tremendous leadership of his pastor, the late Rev. Bill Nix. Great men of God like Rev. Billy Cole, Rev. Lee Stoneking, the late Rev, R.L. Mitchel, Sis. Vests Mangun and many others imparted into Rev. Robinette’s life. There’s no substitute for radical apostolic exposure and impartation in a person’s life. And that exposure and impartation should inspire gratitude in our hearts. Radical exposure leads to radical opportunities and encounters with God. You might think that sounds too… well, radical. But I’m reminded of the book of Acts saints who were so desperate for impartation they only needed the apostle Peter’s shadow to pass over them to be healed (Acts 5:15-16).

Like Robinette, I was also blessed to have been naturally exposed to powerful ministries in my formative years. That’s one of the benefits of being a pastor’s kid. But even in my early ministry years, I learned a difficult lesson about exposure, impartation, and mentorship: It’s not the responsibility of a potential mentor to mentor you. Every mentor worth having, and every person who has something worth imparting is too busy to mentor and impart into your life. It’s the mentee’s responsibility to get close to the man of God. That means Elisha might have to quit a job to work with Elijah. It might mean mowing your pastor’s grass to be near him. It means offering to drive a man of God somewhere. Do whatever radical thing you have to do to get in the presence of great men of God. Get in a position to receive radical apostolic exposure and impartation.

Every mentor worth having, and every person who has something worth imparting is too busy to mentor and impart into your life. It’s the mentee’s responsibility to get close to the man of God.

Radical Prayer

This chapter begins by pointing out a simple but often overlooked reality:

We must never forget that the inaugural apostolic outpouring was the result of a ten-day prayer meeting. Everything radically apostolic in God’s kingdom begins with prayer!

We must never forget that the inaugural apostolic outpouring was the result of a ten-day prayer meeting. Everything radically apostolic in God’s kingdom begins with prayer! -Charles G. Robinette

Beware! You’re sure to be convicted by this chapter on prayer. For example, Robinette makes this observation:

The devil is not the primary problem of the Church. The primary problem of the Church is not worldliness, carnality, or people. The absence of radical prayer is the Church’s biggest problem!

The devil is not the primary problem of the Church. The primary problem of the Church is not worldliness, carnality, or people. The absence of radical prayer is the Church’s biggest problem! -Charles. G. Robinette

That statement resonates with my observations of the Church I love and care about so deeply. It’s not that we don’t battle carnality and worldliness in our churches. We do. But those things are symptoms of prayerlessness. Could it be that the simple remedy for all the woes of the Church is a renewal of radical prayer? I think it just might be the case. Robinette moves from corporate conviction and makes it personal to each of us:

Serving the Lord without a radical prayer life is like going to war without a weapon. Without prayer, you could actually become a weapon in the enemy’s hands. Yes, the tragedy of prayerless believers is not only the eternal damage they bring upon themselves but rather the damage they perpetrate against other believers and the kingdom of God.

  • A prayerless father or mother leaves the door of their spiritual house unlocked for the enemy to prey upon their children.
  • A prayerless apostolic preacher operates without power and authority. His congregation will never see the Spirit of the Lord confirming His Word.
  • The prayerless leader soon falls into the deception of trusting the arm of the flesh and man’s wisdom. He or she is soon choked out with pride.
  • The prayerless church becomes a stagnant pool where bacteria and disease hide. People are given infection rather than a remedy.

Serving the Lord without a radical prayer life is like going to war without a weapon. Without prayer, you could actually become a weapon in the enemy’s hands. -Charles G. Robinette

The spiritual and physical catastrophe of prayerlessness is immeasurable. Prayer is the life source of the Church. It is the primary instrument we have for an intimate connection with God. Prayer keeps us from mistakes our flesh would naturally make. Prayer gives us insight and wisdom we would not have on our own. Prayer might put you in a lion’s den, but it will also shut the mouths of those same lions. Prayer will unlock doors you couldn’t force open in the flesh. And prayer brings favor that prayerless praise will never produce.

Here’s another startling revelation from Robinette, “The failure of every fallen apostolic leader was first a failure to pray.” He goes on to say, “You don’t want to be a leader with big dreams but a small prayer life.” When you see the wreckage of a failed apostolic leader of any kind, let that be your reminder to engage in daily radical prayer. Otherwise, you could be the next tragic statistic leaving a legacy of brokenness in your wake.

The failure of every fallen apostolic leader was first a failure to pray. You don’t want to be a leader with big dreams but a small prayer life. -Charles G. Robinette

Radical Submission

Perhaps, this is the most critical and controversial chapter in Robinette’s book. He made this statement during our Apostolic Voice interview, “Everything else hinges on our commitment to radical apostolic submission.” In my youth, culture was at the tail end of enjoying a season of general respect for authority. It certainly wasn’t normal or common to challenge pastoral authority. Church hopping and pastor shopping for the right “brand” of preacher was unusual and severely frowned upon by most. Unfortunately, the antichrist spirit of the world has infiltrated the Church. It’s an anti-authority, anti-correction, anti-rebuke, and anti-accountability spirit. It often hides under the thin guise of maintaining accountability to peers or a panel of leaders. But all that does is give a person a license to shop around from peer to peer until someone validates their opinions or desires. That isn’t even close to the biblical idea of spiritual authority, submission, and accountability to leadership.

The antichrist spirit of the world has infiltrated the Church. It’s an anti-authority, anti-correction, anti-rebuke, and anti-accountability spirit.

The Buck Must Stop Somewhere

I stand behind Robinette’s robust endorsement of apostolic pastoral authority. He defends it vigorously and effectively below:

While it is permissible to have mentors who (with your pastor’s permission) impart methodology or expose you to greater apostolic understanding, there must be one spiritual leader: a pastor who has the final say. You need a pastor in your life whom you will not resist because they have veto power. There is no place in God’s kingdom for those who will not submit to spiritual authority.

You need a pastor in your life whom you will not resist because they have veto power. There is no place in God’s kingdom for those who will not submit to spiritual authority. -Charles G. Robinette

Admittedly, radical submission isn’t always easy. If it were easy, it wouldn’t be submission. It can be downright hard and even frustrating at times. Robinette acknowledges that reality by stating:

We may not enjoy the personality of everyone God places over us. We may not agree with everyone that God places over us. But we will never find a single scripture that encourages us to resist, reject or rebel against the spiritual authority God placed in our life!

Even when our spiritual authority is wrong. Even when our spiritual authority makes a bad judgment call. Even if they offend us with their words, actions, or attitudes. There is no scripture for packing our bags, finding a new pastor, or finding another church! There are lots of scriptures that would tell us to go to them and be reconciled, to speak truth in love, and to do the hard work of peacemaking.

Radical Consequences for Rebellion

Under the subtitle labeled The Good, the Bad, and Ugly, Robinette gives solid biblical examples that corroborate God’s displeasure with people who rebel against the man of God placed over them. In particular, I would insert that my generation has lost the understanding that when you rebel against a man of God, you are rebelling against God. Of those three stories, one that stood out the most is from Numbers 12:1, “And Miriam and Aaron spake against Moses.” The details don’t matter. It doesn’t necessarily matter who was right or wrong; when you read the details of God’s wrath towards Miriam and Aaron in Numbers 12:5-11, it’s terrifying. It’s a somber reminder that God backs up his man. Robinette makes a significant point about that story:

Notice they didn’t raise a hand against Moses; they just opened their mouths. There is no area where we systematically violate God’s standards of submission more than in our ethics of speech. We pick up the phone, sit around restaurant tables, go on our favorite online forums, and commit the same sin as Miriam and Aaron.

There is no area where we violate God’s standards of submission more than in our speech. We pick up the phone, sit around restaurants, go to online forums, and commit the same sin as Miriam and Aaron. -Charles G. Robinette

Lifting Leaders Hands

Aside from the scary consequences of walking away from apostolic authority, Robinette passionately describes the benefits that only come through radical submission. He points out the blessings, protections, anointings, giftings, and associations that only come from submission. And then he pivots to further describe submission as a willingness to lift the hands of our leader as Hur and Aaron did for Moses in Exodus 17:8-16. And the paradoxical reality of radical submission is that it affords us authority that otherwise would be unavailable. To many, that seems counterintuitive, but it is the reality. If we could reincorporate that mentality into our collective minds, it would reinvigorate revival worldwide.

Radical Humility

It’s almost impossible to maintain radical humility without radical submission. So, having established that fact Robinette offers a biblical definition of humility this way: Humility is knowing who you are, knowing who God is, and never getting confused about who is who.” He lists three tests God brings into our lives to authenticate our humility or reveal our pride: 1) How we handle promotions in our lives and in the lives of others. 2) How we respond to correction and demotions in our lives and in the lives of others. 3) How we respond to gossip, slander, and criticism directed at ourselves and our family. Robinette makes a key point reminding us of the importance of humility:

Self-promotion is the fruit of an independent spirit. There’s no room for anyone else. Some people try to sanctify their independent spirit by convincing themselves that they are too spiritual to be understood and everyone else is too carnal. Independence is over-rated. We need a revival of apostolic codependency. We need God and each other.

We need a revival of apostolic codependency. We need God and each other. -Charles G. Robinette

Of all the gems in this chapter, Robinette’s comments regarding humility while under unfair attack shined the brightest. Because if you live a radically apostolic life long enough, you will be maligned, criticized, condemned, undermined, and worse. And the temptation will be to accept Saul’s armor and fight on Goliath’s terms instead of with the weapons God has approved. But as Robinette said, “If you rightly react to hurtful words, the experience will become a refining tool God uses to perfect his instruments.” Robinette encourages those under undue attack to hold their peace and say not a word. He continued, “The enemy is only victorious if we take on the same nature of those assaulting us.” I cannot win battles if I fight for myself. Instead, I must stand still and let God fight my battles.

If you rightly react to hurtful words, the experience will become a refining tool God uses to perfect his instruments. -Charles G. Robinette

The enemy is only victorious if we take on the same nature of those assaulting us. I cannot win battles if I fight for myself. Instead, I must stand still and let God fight my battles. -Charles G. Robinette

Radical Sacrificial Giving

Robinette offers dozens of real-life examples of radical giving and radical blessings afforded to the giver. And again, he takes us back to the book of Acts example by reminding us that the first Church sold all their possessions and lands and gave to those who had needs (Acts 2:44, Acts 4:32). Also, the early Church didn’t just give out of abundance or from extreme wealth. They gave sacrificially to the work of the Lord even when suffering poverty themselves (2 Corinthians 8:2). Like the widow who gave her last meal to the prophet Elijah and received unlimited supernatural provision from God, we too can tap into that type of radical favor through radical giving (1 Kings 17:13).

Like the widow who gave her last meal to the prophet Elijah and received unlimited supernatural provision from God, we too can tap into that type of radical favor through radical giving.

It’s impossible to overstate the blessings Scripture promises to those who give sacrificially. And many of those blessings are financial. However, I appreciate how Robinette carefully points out that not all gifts from God in response to our giving are monetary. Often, the blessings associated with giving are things like peace, joy, happiness, contentment, spiritual authority, relationship blessings, familial blessings, favor, health, healing, and stability, to name a few. Many of the most amazing gifts in my life in response to giving were not financial. Why? Because all the money in the world can’t bring joy, peace, or health. No amount of money will heal cancer, but one touch from God can!

Radical Apostolic Reality

The book culminates with a radical reminder that we will experience a revolutionary book of Acts-style apostolic reality if we live out the previously mentioned apostolic principles. Robinette asks this challenging question, “Which reality are you obsessing over, the kingdom of this world on the kingdom of God?” He then says:

Paul warns us in Colossians 3:2 to set our affections on things above, not on things of this world. Choose which reality you will live by. Choose to feed your faith, not your fears. If your life mantra is that the world is bad and getting worse, you’re not wrong. If you choose to believe that God is good and He is at work, you’re not wrong. Choose your reality.

Feed your faith, not your fears. If your life mantra is that the world is bad and getting worse, you’re not wrong. If you choose to believe that God is good and He is at work, you’re not wrong. Choose your reality. -Charles G. Robinette

Ultimately, Robinette beckons each of us to “accept the call” to live a radically apostolic life. And it is a lifestyle that demands our time, attention, and dedication. The world has yet to see the kind of revival that would take place if every professing apostolic became radically apostolic beyond mere verbiage. You can lay hands on the sick and see them recover in Jesus’ name! You can see mighty outpouring of the Holy Ghost in Jesus’ name! You can resist temptation and ungodliness in Jesus’ name? You can witness and be instrumental in seeing radical deliverances in Jesus’ name.

Left Wanting More

I finished the book wanting more from it. And that’s a good thing. If you’re relieved to finish a book, that’s a bad sign. However, the book left me longing for additional chapters titled Radical Suffering, Radical Sacrifice, Radical Rejection, and Radical Holiness. Oh, what an excellent sequel that would make! Let me say once more, the testimonies scattered throughout the book alone make it worth the price. I hope you’ll click the link below and purchase a copy for yourself. Hey, buy a couple of copies and give them away.

Controlling Our Emotional Beast with Ed Snyder (Article + Podcast)

Apostolic Voice, Episode 54

I recently had the opportunity to speak with pastor (Solid Rock Church of Irving, TX), podcaster (True North Podcast), and author Ed Snyder about his recent book publication called Control the Beast (A Guide to Managing Your Emotions) on the Apostolic Voice Podcast. It was a memorable episode, and I hope you’ll have the opportunity to listen to it (the episode is linked below). Control the Beast (A Guide to Managing Your Emotions) is linked below as well. It’s worth a lot more than $10, and I highly recommend adding it to your reading list. Below is a summary of my conversation with Pastor Snyder and the book.

A Guide to Managing Your Emotions

The book’s premise is that we all have an emotional beast lurking in the dark recesses of our hearts. It manifests itself as anger, but it builds to rage if left unchecked. In worst-case scenarios, that anger can become blind rage wreaking destruction on everything in its wake. We all have different fuse lengths before anger explodes outwardly. Or we might say that we all have different tolerance levels before simmering emotions manifest as anger. Regardless, whether you have a short fuse or a long fuse, anger in all its ugly appearances is a beast that needs managing. I happen to have a very long fuse, but it’s not a pretty sight when the beast ignites.

Where Does the Beast Come From?

There’s a long-standing debate about whether we’re products of our surroundings or genetics. What shapes our personality the most, our environment or engrained DNA? We’ll never settle that debate here. However, the most plausible answer seems to be that each individual is uniquely shaped by a blend of the two. The key for each of us is to identify what shaped our emotional beast. We don’t have control over the atmosphere of our childhood or our ongoing extended family conditions. At least, we have minimal control, especially when we’re young and dependent.

So many things happen to us in life that shape personalities. And we’re born with certain propensities and proclivities too. So, before we can confront and control the beast in our basement, we’ll need to take some time figuring out where and why it started growing in the first place. That process is painful because it requires revisiting dark, hurtful places that we’ve tucked away deep in our subconscious minds. So, we’ve got to figure out when the beast was born? Did we feed it, or did our environment feed it or both? How big is that beast in the basement? Just because it rarely comes out doesn’t mean it isn’t a problem. Sadly, we usually keep our beast tightly leashed in public and only loose it on the people we love the most. Maybe you’re one of those people whose beast follows you everywhere and attacks everyone around you, including strangers. Regardless, its origins must be identified to get that beast under control.

Before we can confront and control the beast in our basement, we’ll need to take some time figuring out where and why it started growing in the first place. That process is painful because it requires revisiting dark, hurtful places.

Sadly, we usually keep our beast tightly leashed in public and only loose it on the people we love the most.

Anger is a Secondary Emotion

Anger is often called a secondary emotion because we tend to resort to anger in order to protect ourselves from or cover up other vulnerable feelings. A primary feeling is what is felt immediately before we feel anger. We almost always feel something else first before we get angry. We might first feel afraid, attacked, offended, disrespected, forced, trapped, or pressured. If any of these feelings are intense enough, we think of the emotion as anger. So much like an iceberg, all the primary emotions leading to anger sit just out of view in the water. Anger is just the tip of that iceberg. It gets the most attention because that’s what everyone can see, but the real problems are hidden beneath the surface. Therefore, it becomes our responsibility to identify those hidden trigger emotions. The same is true for sadness, anxiety, and fear. They are often secondary emotions with hidden emotions piled underneath them.

Anger is often called a secondary emotion because we tend to resort to anger in order to protect ourselves from or cover up other vulnerable feelings. A primary feeling is what is felt immediately before we feel anger.

We might first feel afraid, attacked, offended, disrespected, forced, trapped, or pressured. If any of these feelings are intense enough, we think of the emotion as anger.

Much like an iceberg, all the primary emotions leading to anger sit just out of view in the water. Anger is just the tip of that iceberg. It gets the most attention because that’s what everyone can see, but the real problems are hidden beneath the surface.

The 10/90 Rule

Charles Swindoll asserts that life is 10% what happens to us and 90% how we react to what happens to us. We can’t control the 10%, but we can take responsibility for the 90%. However, significant problems arise when we obsess over the 10% and ignore the 90%. In Control the Beast, Snyder gives an excellent illustration of how healthy emotions work using a car battery. A car battery needs a negative and a positive connection to work correctly. Fascinatingly, we need negative and positive emotions to function healthily. Too many positive emotions and a person might become conceited or prideful. Too many negative emotions and a person might become angry or depressed. Emotional wellbeing doesn’t require eliminating negative feelings altogether. That’s not possible. Maintaining a balanced connection between the two is the goal.

Life is 10% what happens to us and 90% how we react to what happens to us. We can’t control the 10%, but we can take responsibility for the 90%.

A car battery needs a negative and a positive connection to work correctly. Fascinatingly, we need negative and positive emotions to function healthily.

Too many positive emotions and a person might become conceited or prideful. Too many negative emotions and a person might become angry or depressed.

Emotional wellbeing doesn’t require eliminating negative feelings altogether. That’s not possible. Maintaining a balanced connection between the two is the goal.

Too Much Negativity

When we are angry, frustrated, sad, or depressed, it means something is wrong with our positive connection. The negative charge is dominating the positive charge disrupting our ability to function. It takes a conscious effort to reconnect ourselves to the positive. Overwhelming negative emotions blind us to the good around us. I’m reminded of when David and his army returned home only to find their families had been taken captive by the Amalekites (1 Samuel 30:1-18). David and his men had no idea if their families were alive or dead. They didn’t know where they were or where they were going. David’s men were even thinking about stoning their leader in their grief. It didn’t look hopeful at all. David wept and stressed and all the rest. It was just a pure negative connection with no positives in view. But then David instinctively did something we all must learn to do. He encouraged himself in the Lord his God (1 Samuel 30:6).

What does that mean exactly? It sounds mystically spiritual, but actually, it’s pretty simple. David forced his mind, specifically in prayer, to remember good things that God had done in the past. He was reconnecting to the positive charge so he could be in the right frame of mind to make decisions and move forward. Often, the key to gaining control of the emotional beast is to stop, pray, refresh, think, remember good things, and then react. If David had responded without encouraging himself in the Lord, things probably would have turned out differently. Instead, David recaptured everything the enemy took from him and more. Things may not always turn out for us as perfectly as they did in that example, but the proper emotional response always mitigates the damages.

Often, the key to gaining control of the emotional beast is to stop, pray, refresh, think, remember good things, and then react.

Starving the Beast

In chapter two of Control the Beast, Snyder highlights the importance of cleaning up our environment. We starve the beast by keeping all the things that feed it out of our personal space. As already mentioned, we can’t control our childhood environment. Also, we can’t control the setting the world creates when we walk outside our homes. But we can keep our house beast food free. Snyder lists common triggers that we should keep out of our immediate surroundings: Pornography, violent visual media, bad reading choices, foul language, and negative music. We could add tons of things to this list. We could also add lists of things we should bring into our daily environment to stay connected to positive emotions like prayer, fasting, Bible reading, worshipful music, preaching, good books, uplifting language, and godly media. Starve the bad and feed the good (I’ve written extensively about this in an article called 15 Ways to Win the Battle Within).

Accountability Breeds Responsibility

Once we’ve identified the beast and begun the process of starving it to death, it’s time to make ourselves accountable and responsible for our actions. Several times in Control the Beast, Snyder emphasizes the importance of remaining accountable to others. We’re often blinded to the severity of our emotional reactions, and it takes a willingness to listen to others before we can resolve beastly appearances. We should all be accountable to a pastor, ministry team, elders, and fellow believers on the spiritual side. We’ve got to be accountable to spouses, co-workers, non-toxic family members, children, and friends in our daily lives. As we receive constructive criticism and learn to recognize problems on our own, it’s vital to take responsibility for our emotional failings.

We’re often blinded to the severity of our emotional reactions, and it takes a willingness to listen to others before we can resolve beastly appearances.

As we receive constructive criticism and learn to recognize problems on our own, it’s vital to take responsibility for our emotional failings.

That’s incredibly hard for most of us because it’s natural to shift blame onto other people or circumstances. After all, we’re basically prewired with that tendency. But we can reprogram ourselves out of that bad habit over time if we work hard at it. Refuse to internalize the mindset that says, “This is just how I am, and there’s nothing I can do about it.” Not true. We can be made new, transformed, revitalized, and reprogrammed with the help of the Lord and others. But only if we take ownership of our outward reactions, outbursts, displays, and blowups.

Be Encouraged

I’ve barely scratched the surface of the content covered in the Podcast conversation, and that conversation is only a fraction of the contents of Control the Beast. The highlights are here, but many more valuable bits of help and resources are found in the Podcast and the book itself. If you’ve read this far into the article, you’re probably someone who needs to click on the links below to listen and buy. Don’t allow guilt, shame, or pride to keep you from pursuing the help you need. Seasons of life stir up emotions previously hidden carefully in the basement. For example, those moments you feel like you’re losing your mind or feel like you’ve suddenly become a different person than you used to be. You’re not crazy or changing; something unlocked the beast. Be encouraged. You’ll learn skills in those challenging seasons that will make the next season much easier to endure. You’re in the right place. Things are better than they seem right now. Mix some work with faith and God will come through for you.

Ep. 54 | Controlling Our Emotional Beast with Ed Snyder and Christmas French Family Edition of Gross-Good-Great Apostolic Voice with Ryan French

Ed Snyder joins the program to discuss his new book Control the Beast (A Guide to Manage Your Emotions). Ed Snyder pastors Solid Rock Church in Irving, Texas, and hosts a program called TRUE NORTH PODCAST. Ryan talks with Pastor Snyder about identifying emotions, primary and secondary emotions, starving destructive emotions, the relationship between positive and negative emotions, taking ownership of emotions, our emotional environment, common anger triggers, and how to take control of our feelings daily. For notes and more information, visit http://www.ryanafrench.com. Then, stick around to the end for another French Family Christmas Edition of Gross-Good-Great. The family tastes and rates Smartfood's Cap'n Cring Mix Berry Popcorn and Hershey's Chocolate Mint Candy Canes.  — Send in a voice message: https://anchor.fm/apostolicvoice/message Support this podcast: https://anchor.fm/apostolicvoice/support
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Prayer, Revival & Spiritual Warfare with Joe Campetella (Article + Podcast)

All Credit Belongs to Joe Campetella

For the sake of readability, I’m summarizing the conversation with my dear friend, Rev. Joe Campetella, as if they are my own words. But for the record, nearly 100% of these thoughts originated with Joe as he articulated them on Episode 53 of the Apostolic Voice Podcast called Prayer, Revival & Spiritual Warfare. That entire conversation is featured at the end of this article, and you can find it wherever you enjoy podcasts. Undoubtedly, many nuggets in that hour-long exchange will not be included in this article. However, it’s worth encapsulating that discussion in written form for those of you who prefer to read.

Prayer: Desiring a Deeper Dimension

Most Christians desire to pray more often. Pray more effectively. Pray with greater passion. And connect with God in deeper, more profound ways through prayer. We’ve all experienced slumps in our prayer life where we just don’t feel the connectedness we once felt with the Lord. Or we’ve battled that struggle to pray for a particular length of time only to catch ourselves checking our watches to see if we’ve fulfilled our “obligation.” It’s admirable to pray even when we don’t feel the thrills and chills. But, of course, we don’t want to stay in that mode. We want to “breakthrough,” as we often say in Pentecostal circles. We want to know and experience God intimately through prayer. We want to leave times of prayer refreshed and renewed. So, how do we move into that higher dimension in prayer?

Prayer: Outer Court, Inner Court, and the Holy of Holies

Joe Campetella answered this question by painting a word picture of the Tabernacle’s construction. The Israelites were instructed to pitch their tents facing the Tabernacle (Exodus 33:7). The arrangement of the camp forced them to view the outer court of the Tabernacle day and night. They saw the smoke, heard the bleating of sacrifices, and smelled the putrid stench of burning flesh. The average worshipper could access and view the outer court of the Tabernacle. But only a select few could ever journey deeper into the presence of the Lord.

In like manner, many Christians never go beyond this unpleasant outer court of sacrifice and death. That outer court symbolizes the fleshly sacrificial element of prayer and spiritual discipline that stinks. This common area is only the outward machinations of worship, and we aren’t ministering to God until we step further into the inner court. Our New Testament covenant with God invites and mandates that we go further into His presence. Specifically, we should go all the way past the Brazen Alter into the Holy of Holies. So, we must start looking for entrances rather than exits in prayer.

Many Christians never go beyond this unpleasant outer court of sacrifice and death. That outer court symbolizes the fleshly sacrificial element of prayer and spiritual discipline that stinks.

Look for Entrances Rather than Exits

Essentially the Tabernacle design contained three entrances, and each one took an individual closer to the Most Holy Place. An easily accessible curtain protected the outer court. A slightly more inaccessible curtain separated the outer court from the inner court (the Holy Place). But between the Holy Place and the Holiest Place stood a massive curtain that contained no visible entrance. Some scholars surmise this curtain to have been anywhere between four to twelve inches thick. Scripture does not indicate how the high priest could move this curtain and gain entrance into the Holy of Holies. It seems the high priest was required to wait until he was supernaturally ushered into God’s presence. In other words, the high priests had to wait on the Lord and look for that entrance to manifest.

How different is that from how we typically approach God in prayer? Naturally, we are more concerned with our exit. We have a timeframe, and if God doesn’t usher us into the Holy of Holies in that time frame, we leave disappointed. But what if we shifted our perspective and started looking for and anticipating a supernatural entrance into God’s presence? How often have we missed out because we were looking for an exit instead of an opening?

What if we shifted our perspective and started looking for and anticipating a supernatural entrance into God’s presence? How often have we missed out because we were looking for an exit instead of an opening?

Joe Campetella gave two real-life prayer examples of looking for an entrance. First, he spoke of a season of life where he had to be broken and weep in prayer before entering fully into God’s presence. Secondly, he mentioned transitioning out of that season into a season of praying authoritatively before entering into the Holy Place. In my recent experience, I’ve noticed that I have to force myself to be silent and meditate in prayer before gaining entrance into the Holy of Holies. It might be different for you depending on your season and how God is shaping you. But the key is to look for that entrance, whatever it is, and go through it. If you find yourself stagnant in prayer, it might be that God is shifting direction and desiring you to seek until you find the entrance. So, don’t look for an exit until you find the entryway.

If you find yourself stagnant in prayer, it might be that God is shifting direction and desiring you to seek until you find the entrance. So, don’t look for an exit until you find the entryway.

The Inseparable Duo: Prayer & Revival

Revival isn’t possible without prayer. But for the sake of clarity, we need to define the word revival. We often think of revival as an influx of lost people obeying the Gospel for the first time. However, for something to be revived, it must have been alive at some point. Therefore, revival is for the Church, and evangelism (or harvest) is for the lost. Thankfully, the harvest will naturally follow when a church has revival (is revived). In fact, that harvest will be almost effortless. Reaping the crop is easy for a church in revival but caring for and nourishing that harvest is extremely hard (that’s another topic for another day).

For something to be revived, it must have been alive at some point. Therefore, revival is for the Church, and evangelism (or harvest) is for the lost.

Why Should Revival Precede a Harvest?

Because churches have become proficient at bringing in evangelistic harvesters, churches that are not in revival can gather a harvest. But, again, keeping that harvest is another story. However, a church in revival will yield a harvest naturally. If a revived church knows how to pray and operate in the Spirit, it will remain impervious to new demonic spirits that follow new people into the church. Even individuals who receive the Holy Ghost will need to grow in sanctification and gain permanent victory over spirits that have plagued them for a lifetime. If a church is not ready to deal with those new demonic spirits, they can wreak havoc in a congregation. This is why it’s so crucial for revival to precede a harvest.

If a revived church knows how to pray and operate in the Spirit, it will remain impervious to new demonic spirits that follow new people into the church.

Spiritual Warfare: Identifying Evil Spirits

With that in mind, I asked Joe Campetella the obvious question: How can we identify what kind of evil spirit we are dealing with in a church, city, or individual? Sometimes we know we’re bumping up against a spirit, but we aren’t exactly sure what it is. He gave a short answer and a longer answer, and both stretched my mind. So, I’ll begin with Joe’s short answer: Whatever temptations and thoughts are harassing your mind out of the blue will reveal the spirit or spirits you’re facing. The biblical underpinning for this assertion comes from 2 Corinthians 10:3-5:

3 For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: 4 (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds;) 5 Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.

Whatever temptations and thoughts are harassing your mind out of the blue will reveal the spirit or spirits you’re facing.

It seems the enemy tries to exalt itself against God in the arena of our mind. Evil spirits attempt to capture our imaginations and pull us away from righteousness. Temptation is an element of this demonic strategy. If you find yourself thinking, struggling, or tempted in a new or unusual way, that’s a strong indication that you are battling a spirit. If you can pinpoint and capture that thought, you can identify that spirit. In a way, this is encouraging because new temptations or imaginations aren’t necessarily a symptom of carnality (assuming you’re staying connected to God and His Kingdom). So, it might be the reverse. Your connection to God is making you a target for a demonic attack. Thankfully, you have the authority to capture and cast down every wicked imagination, and in doing so, you have classified the enemy.

If you find yourself thinking, struggling, or tempted in a new or unusual way, that’s a strong indication that you are battling a spirit. If you can pinpoint and capture that thought, you can identify that spirit.

Have We Been Overcomplicating Spiritual Warfare?

In Joe Campetella’s longer answer regarding identifying spirits, he proposed a perception-altering opinion regarding spiritual warfare: We don’t need to identify the spirits! Most Pentecostals have been overcomplicating and emphasizing unimportant aspects of spiritual warfare. Could it be that we are too concerned with naming demons? Have we deemphasized crucifying our flesh daily? We want to bind and loose things so badly, but are we crucifying our flesh and just loving Jesus with everything we have? In reality, if our flesh is crucified through prayer, fasting, praise, and consecrated living, it doesn’t matter if Lucifer walks in the room because God will fight the battle on our behalf.

In reality, if our flesh is crucified through prayer, fasting, praise, and consecrated living, it doesn’t matter if Lucifer walks in the room because God will fight the battle on our behalf.

God Fights Without Our Knowledge

If our flesh is sufficiently crucified, demons will scatter, and we won’t even know it’s happening. This revelation focuses on God’s ability to fight rather than ours. How many times has God fought a battle that we didn’t even know was taking place? Likely, it happens every single day on some level. Because of this new understanding, I feel less pressured to fight, rebuke, bind, correct, and identify problems. The only combat I’m deeply concerned about is the battleground of my flesh. Everything else will fall into place if I can just crucify my stinking flesh daily and stay deeply connected to God. As Joe said, “Become so focused on Who you serve that the devil becomes irrelevant.”

Become so focused on Who you serve that the devil becomes irrelevant.” -Joe Campetella

The Leavenworth Lesson

Years ago, a much younger version of me preached a revival in Leavenworth, Kansas, for Pastor William Chalfont (who has authored many incredible books, which I will link below). That church traces its history back to the early 20th century Pentecostal outpourings. I had been reading several church growth books at the time, and in my naivety, I asked Pastor Chalfont what programs they had utilized to spark such exciting church growth. He looked at me like I was crazy and invited me to go on a quick drive. I got in the car a little uneasily because he seemed to be ignoring my question. A few minutes later, we were standing in front of a little house. More like a shack, really. He told me how a lady who lived in that home over 100 years ago decided she wanted to receive the Holy Ghost just like they did in the book of Acts. She did the only things she knew to do. So, she started a nightly prayer meeting in her home. Eventually, she and dozens of other people received the Holy Ghost speaking in other tongues.

Prayer sparked that first outpouring, and prayer is the only program the Leavenworth church has used for growth since. And I can testify after staying in that church’s evangelist housing for many weeks; people are praying in that building twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Interestingly, every member has a key so they can pray at the church day and night. Interestingly, a warlock followed me around in that city, trying to intimidate me for weeks. He even showed up at the church at midnight while I was praying and burned a small cross on the lawn. A group of warlocks and witches visited the services and caused disturbances, including vomiting profusely during an alter call. I even received a threatening note and disturbing phone calls from private numbers. Yet, it did not hinder an outpouring of the Holy Ghost and powerful demonstrations of healing and deliverance. The more they resisted, the more God persisted in blessing that church.

I didn’t have any special knowledge or Divine wisdom for that intense situation. I was young and inexperienced. I could barely get a sermon together for the next service. If we could go back and dig up those sermons, they were probably embarrassingly unpolished and simplistic. But my upbringing had prepared me with the one necessary thing to overcome that encounter. My parents taught me how to pray and stay in love with Jesus. I felt so inadequate for that battle, and you know what, I still do. But I did know that spooky warlocks or chanting witches did not threaten God. I was pretty scared at times, but God was not, and that was all I needed to know.

Keep Things Simple

I’m still walking through demonic attacks and spiritual strongholds that are way beyond my ability to comprehend. But it’s comforting to know that if I get my flesh out of the way, God will do the rest. I’m not against programs, identifying spirits, or taking authority in the name of Jesus. I believe we have the power to bind things and loose things in Jesus’ name. So many programs are excellent and helpful. But I’m challenging myself to stop obsessing over the enemy’s manifestations. Instead, I’m planning to keep things simple. I’m going back to the basics of prayer, fasting, and self-crucifixion. If I can just get into that Holy Place, God will scatter my enemies before I even have to ask.


Ep. 53 | Prayer, Revival & Spiritual Warfare with Joe Campetella (Christmas Edition of Gross-Good-Great with Talmadge) Apostolic Voice with Ryan French

International Evangelist and Pastor of Christian Life Center (www.clcflagler.com) in Palm Coast, Florida, Joe Campetella joins Ryan for a dimension shifting conversation about prayer, revival & spiritual warfare. This episode will help take your prayer life beyond checking your watch every five minutes to really entering the presence of God. Ryan and Joe define revival and give achievable steps to get to it. And Joe gives a perception-changing answer on how to best engage in spiritual warfare and walk-in Apostolic authority. The Holy Ghost literally moved during this discussion between friends. Finally, Ryan and Bubs taste and rate White Chedder Snowflake Cheetos and Ghirardelli White Chocolate Sugar Cookie Squares for a brand new Christmas edition of Gross-Good-Great. Program Note: Joe Campetalla and Ryan co-wrote the popular Apostolic Voice article titled Should Christians Dye Their Hair? which you can read here. Also, show notes and a related article are available here at http://www.ryanafrench.com. — Send in a voice message: https://anchor.fm/apostolicvoice/message Support this podcast: https://anchor.fm/apostolicvoice/support
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