Top 10 Articles of 2017

It’s become a tradition of sorts to look back at the previous year’s ten most read articles. Last year was exciting for Apostolic Voice; I kept my vow to be more prolific (by a slim margin), our readership has expanded, and we launched the Apostolic Voice Podcast.

Since it’s the time of year for setting goals I’ll mention a few of mine regarding AV. I’ve heard your requests and I do plan to review more books this year. I’m currently finishing Whisper by Mark Batterson and the review is coming soon. I’ve also been humbled by all the requests to write a book. I plan to at least make a strong effort to do just that. I promise to say “um” less on the podcast. Similarly, I vow to never begin another podcast episode with the phrase, “the boys are back.” Ok, that’s not a firm promise, but I’ll try. Seriously though, I do plan to write more on the subjects of marriage, parenting, and family this year because so many of you have reached out wanting resources on those topics.

I truly appreciate your readership and your listenership. May God richly bless you in this new year. The articles are listed in descending order beginning with the tenth most read article and ending with the number one article of 2017.

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The Danger of Demonic Distractions

C.S. Lewis opens his classic work The Screwtape Letters with the tale of a fictitious demon named Screwtape detailing how he successfully kept “his patient (i.e. a mere human)” out of the clutches of “the Enemy (i.e. God)”. Screwtape is teaching an underling demon named Wormwood the art of keeping mankind distracted from the reality of God and that pesky thing called Truth. He cautions Wormwood away from arguing with his human “patient” because arguing promotes reasoning, and reasoning leads to logic, and logic ultimately leads to God. Screwtape slyly writes:

“By the very act of arguning, you awake the patient’s reason; and once it is awake, who can foresee the result? Even if a particular train of thought can be twisted so as to end in our favor, you will find that you have been strengthening in your patient the fatal habit of attending to universal issues and withdrawing his attention from the stream of immediate sense experiances. Your business is to fix his attention on the stream.”

Screwtape goes on to describe a scenario where one of his atheist patients once began seriously considering the reality of God while reading quietly in a museum. He gloatingly writes:

“Before I knew where I was I saw my twenty years’ work beginning to totter. If I had lost my head and begun to attempt a defence by argument I should have been undone. But I was not such a fool. I struck instantly at the part of the man which I had best under my control and suggested that it was just about time he had lunch.”

Lewis was creatively describing the satanic art of distraction, misdirection, and the subtle use of the mundane as a diversionary tactic. Lewis approached the issue from the standpoint of an atheist being demonically distracted from facing the reality of God. Likewise, I see this same demonic strategy being used against unwitting Christians with alarming frequency. Remember, Lewis wrote The Screwtape Letters in 1942, long before the advent of uber mundane distraction devices otherwise known as smartphones.

I realize that life is hectic, complicated, and a little overwhelming at times. It can be difficult to find time for prayer, busy church schedules, personal Bible study, devotions, and meditating on deep spiritual gems. In theory, most Christians genuinely want to grow deeper in their relationship with God. Yet, they get carried away by what Screwtape called, “the immediate stream of sense experiences”.

How many times have you been on the verge of bowing down to pray only to be interrupted by the ding, ding of an incoming text message? How many times have you looked over during a powerful sermon only to see your neighbor actively scrolling through their uber mundane distraction device otherwise known as a smartphone? How many times has something as trivial as eating dinner kept you from a church service?

I realize there are acceptable distractions; we have to work, we have to eat, we have to relax, and we have to sleep. But if you watch you will begin to notice little ordinary diversions that slip into your mind unexpectedly just as God is calling you to a moment of communion and Divine contemplation. Perhaps, these are not all demonically inspired as Lewis seems to suggest, however, they certainly impede our spiritual progress.

I’ve been picking on cell phones, probably because that’s my Achilles’ heel, but your Trojan horse (I might as well keep opening Pandora’s box of metaphors) might be something more like Edmund’s Turkish delight. For those who aren’t familiar with Lewis’ most commercially successful work, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Edmund is a young boy who happens across an evil White Witch in the mythical land of Narnia. She skillfully distracts him from her evil intentions with delicious morsels of Turkish delight.

That’s the thing about distractions; by themselves, they’re usually not all that sinister. There’s nothing inherently evil about Turkish delight. Although, I’ve tried it and it really is quite dreadful tasting. Regardless, cell phones aren’t evil. But if they keep us distracted from what Lewis called “the universal issues” they suddenly become nefarious. Your Turkish delight might be a job, a hobby, a relationship, video games (check out this disturbing article about male millennials and video games), sports, or whatever else casually draws your attention away from eternal Truths.

Even serving others can become a distraction if it’s not done properly. Luke 10:38-42 records the story of Jesus visiting Martha’s house. Naturally, He began teaching and instinctively Martha’s sister Mary abandoned her chores to sit at His feet. This placed the responsibility of providing a meal and making sure the house was in order solely on Martha’s shoulders. The ESV correctly states that Martha was “distracted with much serving” while Jesus was teaching. Evidently, a resentment towards Mary began to grow in Martha’s heart. She was working. She was serving. She was ministering to people’s needs while Mary was sitting at Jesus’ feet.

Finally, all that pent-up frustration was directed towards Jesus:

“Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? Bid her therefore that she help me (Luke 10:40).”

But Jesus gently admonished her saying:

“…Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her (Luke 10:41-42).”

Even our best intentions can become a distraction from the actual words of Jesus. Preachers can get so caught up in service they forget what really matters. Church singers and musicians can get so distracted ministering in music they become oblivious to the Word that is going forth. This is true in various different ways for all of us who are busy serving the Lord. So, the next time you find yourself being pulled away from the voice of the Lord, intentionally choose the good part, and don’t let anything take it away from you (Luke 10:42).

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Don’t Settle for an iTunes Version of the Gospel

My kids inherited their daddy’s deep love for music. Unfortunately, they’re also picky and opinionated about the music we listen to on a regular basis (also something they inherited from me). My iron-fisted reign over the music played in the car is being overthrown a little more each day. Complicating things even further, my kids aren’t in total unity about which songs are “super great”. So, when they both really like a particular singer a little shred of heavenly peace fills our daily commutes.

Recently, we accidentally discovered Matthew West, a Christian solo artist. His lyrics are godly and the kids are wild about it. Julia loves Becoming Me and Talmadge thinks Amen is the anthem of the ages. After about a week straight of playing the “Anthem of the Ages” and the “Sweetest Song Ever Penned” I simply couldn’t take it anymore. It turns out, you can have too much of a good thing. So today, I gathered the kiddos around my outdated iPhone, fired up the iTunes store and started sifting through all the Matthew West songs available. Fifteen dollars bought us all a little much-needed peace and sanity.

For those that don’t know, when you’re searching for music on the iTunes store it allows you to listen to short clips of the songs before making a purchase. This had my kids up in arms. They reasoned that people can’t possibly decide if they like a song in just a few seconds. Which is kinda true. Their recommendation was to just buy every song, but Matthew West has a big musical portfolio and that was out of the question. So, we settled for doing our best to sort out which songs we truly enjoyed with limited information.

This whole process conjured up all kinds of happy memories from my childhood. Memories I happily shared with my kids. They were shocked to hear that in the good old days you couldn’t buy one song at a time and store them on your phone. They gasped at the concept of having to buy an entire CD and needed a detailed explanation of the word cassette tape. My eyes probably shined with joy telling stories of running into the Family Christian Store to buy the newest Steven Curtis Chapman album and listening to the entire thing from beginning to end. Not only would I listen to every word of every song, I’d open that slipcover and read all the lyrics, credits, and thank you’s too. Yep. Those are some of my favorite childhood memories.

Those days are long gone. The only album I’ve purchased in full in the last several years is this one – and you should too. In fact, people typically buy one song per album. Usually, it’s a song they heard on the radio and anyone with any musical taste knows the radio hit is rarely the best song on the album (told you I was musically opinionated). We miss so much great music in the age of iTunes, Spotify, Pandora, and whatever the other newfangled digital platform is ascending nowadays. We bypass wonderful songs because the little five-second clip doesn’t do it justice. We totally ignore songs because they’re not on the local Christian radio charts. Charts that increasingly seem to only have about five songs in rotation.

I may be pining for the old days now but in reality, I love the convenience of not carrying 300 CD’s around in my car. Also, it’s nice having all my music available at the touch of a button. Music is much cheaper when you aren’t forced to buy the entire album. In other words, there’s no going back now. And musically speaking, maybe that’s fine.

Every cultural revolution and technological advancement has unintended (or at least corresponding) sociological consequences. For example, many people approach the Bible like an iTunes playlist. They get little biblical snippets here and there, mostly from easily accessible digital sources. They’re familiar with the top ten Bible verses, but rarely know the context or framework of their favorite scriptures. Their theology and resulting understanding of the Gospel is based on sound clips and abbreviated versions that sound great but lack depth and richness. This is evidenced by nationwide lagging attendance during midweek Bible study services. And further demonstrated by Christians who lack transformation and basic biblical knowledge. For unbelievers, they see and hear the lack of mainstream Christianity’s depth and want nothing to do with that slick, naive, cheap, polished brand of empty believe-ism.

It’s not possible to pick and choose the “highlights” or the “best of” moments of the Bible and leave the rest out. Jesus put it this way: “Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word the proceeds out of the mouth of God (Matthew 4:4).” Many churches are filled with sincere unsaved people who have not truly obeyed God’s Word because they unwittingly settled for an iTunes version of the Gospel. And the world is full of people who have rejected the iTunes version of the Gospel because they easily recognized it as inconsistent, indefensible, and unsatisfying. You see, cheapening the Gospel doesn’t make it more palatable, it actually renders it worthless to the world. A little fly in the perfume gives the whole bottle a bad smell (Ecclesiastes 10:1).

The saving power of the Gospel is more than mental assent, a moment of sincere belief, or an ecstatic emotional experience. Simply stated, the Gospel is the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. Before you can even enter into the plan of salvation you must believe that God exists and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him (Hebrews 11:6). Many people believe in the idea of God but reject Jesus. But to embrace the Gospel we first must believe that Jesus Christ is both Lord and Savior (Acts 16:31, John 3:18, John 4:42).

At the heart of the Gospel is the teaching that we must undergo our own spiritual death, burial, and resurrection just as Jesus did physically (Romans 6:3-8, Galatians 2:20, Colossians 2:12-13). There is one recorded instance in the Bible where bystanders clearly asked a question about salvation (Acts 2:37). Peter gives the most concise biblical answer in the following verse and everyone in the early Church followed that apostolic foundation for salvation. The apostle Peter preached: “…repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost (Acts 2:38).” That precise formula is the only way to be birthed (John 3:3, 1 Peter 1:23) into the Kingdom of God.

Essentially, repentance is our spiritual death (Galatians 5:24, Romans 6:11, Galatians 2:20, 1 Peter 2:24, Romans 6:6), baptism in Jesus’ name is our spiritual burial (Romans 6:3-4, Colossians 2:12-13), and the infilling of the Holy Ghost is our spiritual resurrection (Romans 6:5, Colossians 3:1, Romans 8:8-14). Furthermore, the infilling of the Holy Ghost is first evidenced by supernaturally speaking in unknown (previously unlearned) tongues (languages) just as they did in the book of Acts (Mark 16:17, Acts 2:4, Acts 10:46, Acts 19:6) and every time from then on. And, baptism is only salvific when done in the name of Jesus (Acts 4:12, Colossians 3:17, Acts 2:38, Acts 22:16, Galatians 3:27, Acts 10:48, Romans 6:3).

After we are obedient to the fullness of the Gospel all the old sinful things pass away and we become a new creation in Christ Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:17). We walk in agreement with the Spirit (Galatians 5:16). Meaning, God not only saves us from our past sin, He empowers us with His own Spirit to live righteously (2 Peter 1:3-4). The extra good news of the Gospel is that God doesn’t just save us and leave us the same: He saves us, changes us, dwells within us, and continues to strengthen us daily. Now that’s really good news, and we’ve only scratched the surface of what it means to be transformed by the power of God.

I know that isn’t the slick version of the Gospel many people have seen on TV or heard on the radio. It doesn’t fit nicely on a bumper sticker. God didn’t design the Gospel to blend in with our overly commercialized culture. No. The Gospel is timeless, changeless, and sacred. Please don’t settle for an iTunes version of the Gospel that doesn’t save or satisfy.

Whataboutism (Why It’s Wrong)

Whataboutism is an old word gaining fresh attention largely because of the obnoxious world of politics. Don’t worry, this isn’t a political post. Whataboutism is basically a debate technique that deflects criticism by pointing out the wrongdoings (whether real or perceived) of others.

Oxford Dictionaries defines it as “the technique or practice of responding to an accusation or difficult question by making a counter-accusation or raising a different issue.”

Essentially, whataboutism uses misdirection in the form of a rhetorical question. My kids use whataboutism all the time. Recently, while scolding my daughter because her room was a disaster she responded by asking, “What about Bubs?” At that point, she was smirking at the profundity of her own argument. She continued with what she considered to be the knockout punch, “You haven’t told him to clean his room, and it’s messier than mine.” And presto, she felt vindicated. In her mind, she had accomplished two things: 1) unveiled hypocrisy by pointing out a lack of consistency and 2) justified her own wrong behavior by focusing on her brother’s wrong behavior. In doing so, she was trying to evade the question and shift the blame.

Every kid I’ve ever known skillfully employs the whataboutism technique. I certainly did (I can hear my mother shouting “Amen”). It’s a childish artful dodge. And yet, whataboutism has become the rhetorical loophole of choice for adults who don’t want to discuss the merits of biblical morality. Whataboutism is the favorite self-justification of the average backslider. They shout, “What about all the Christian hypocrites?” And my response to them is the same response I gave my nine-year-old daughter, “Someone else’s wrongdoing doesn’t make your wrongdoing ok.”

As I’ve said before, many Christians embraced gay marriage because they saw Christians committing adultery, divorcing, and fornicating. They said and still say regularly, “You’re against gay marriage, but what about that TV preacher who cheated on his wife?” Well, what about it? Two things can be true at once: 1) homosexuality is a sin and 2) Christians can be sinful hypocrites. But finger pointing doesn’t make my sin or your sin somehow magically acceptable.

There’s an interesting case of whataboutism in the Bible involving David and his oldest brother Eliab (1 Samuel 17:22-29). David had just arrived at the battlefield with food for his brothers only to find the entire army of Israel hiding from Goliath. David started asking around about the situation. He rightfully felt indignation that a pagan giant was being allowed to defy the armies of the living God. But when Eliab overheard David’s questions he grew angry. Probably because he was feeling a surge of guilty humiliation. “What are you doing around here anyway?” he demanded. And then he dropped the hammer, “What about those few sheep you’re supposed to be watching?” And there it is, whataboutism on full display. Eliab didn’t stop there, “I know your pride and deceit. You just want to see the battle” he sputtered at his little brother.

Eliab resorted to a defensive posture when faced with his naked cowardice by insinuating that David was equally imperfect. He projected his own reprehensible character flaws onto his brother. Thankfully, David didn’t let that stop him from doing the right thing. Whataboutism always carries a whiff of resentment with a dash of accusation. If there isn’t any actual hypocrisy for a whataboutist to exploit they’ll simply make something up.

The argumentative whataboutism spirit of Eliab is alive and well today. Christians must resist the pressure to succumb to this toxic brand of self-justification. Jesus addressed the natural human desire to justify our bad behavior with someone else’s bad behavior. He said:

“Ye have heard that it hath been said, thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you (Matthew 5:43-44).”

The message is clear, just because your enemy was hateful first doesn’t mean you get to be hateful too or excuse hatefulness in others. Jesus wasn’t a hypocrite either. He talked it and lived it. Speaking of Calvary, the Apostle Peter wrote:

“Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously: Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness… (1 Peter 2:23-24).”

Although unjustly judged, Jesus left his case in the hands of God who always judges fairly. The work of the cross gives us the opportunity to live unto righteousness. Christians are new creatures in Christ Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:17). That means we don’t get to play the whataboutism game. We don’t get to say, “They did it first!” In other words, we aren’t reactionary. We stand stationary on the Rock that is Christ Jesus.

Oh, and the next time someone starts pointing out all the imperfect Christians to excuse their sin; just point them towards Jesus.

“For He hath made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him (2 Corinthians 5:21).”

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8 Preacher Traps – That Can Develop Over Time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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6 Dating Standards for Apostolic Singles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Charlie Gard and the Value of Human Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And they are simply shopping elsewhere.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Advice to Millennials

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

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

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

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

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A Oneness Pentecostal – Making A Difference by Ellington Haywood Ellis

I was pleasantly surprised to see an article in The Huffington Post by Ellington Haywood Ellis entitled A Oneness Pentecostal – Making A DifferenceI hope you will read the article for yourself. Ellis claims a direct correlation between the dynamic Oneness Pentecostal movement in Ethiopia and subsequent economic growth. Interestingly, Ellis mentions that the Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Hailemariam Desalegn, is a Oneness Pentecostal believer.

On a personal note, Ellis cites my father’s tremendous book at about the halfway point of the article. As many of you know, my father, Dr. Talmadge L. French is one of the premier scholars and historians within the Oneness Pentecostal movement. Here’s the quote:

“…the Oneness Pentecostal movement centered on a charismatic Leader, Garfield Thomas Haywood. According to Talmadge L. French in his book, “Early Interracial Oneness Pentecostalism (2014), the African American Leader, Garfield T. Haywood was its primary architect and figures most prominently into the movements history, not only as one of its leading proponents, but as its central interracial voice, as well as its most renowned leader.”

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Should We Still Dress Our Best for Church?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Praising The Lord In All Things

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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4 Reasons People Don’t Pray

6 Descriptors Of Genuine Worship

The Difference Between Praise & Worship

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9 Signs of a Prideful Heart

God resists the proud (James 4:6), which is bad news for a church if it is full of pride. Spiritually dry and deadlocked churches are usually filled with pride. They’re spiritually stuck because God is literally resisting their efforts. What they’re doing might seem good on the surface but their motivations are displeasing to God.

Scripture is very clear about proper motivations; God doesn’t just care what we do, He cares how and why we do it. For example, God doesn’t just want us to give, He wants us to give cheerfully (2 Corinthians 9:7). Jesus warned against displaying our righteousness just to be seen and admired by others, there’s no reward for that kind of conceited righteousness (Matthew 6:1). Paul even warned that preaching the Gospel must be done for the right reasons (1 Thessalonians 2:4). In a staggering display of immaturity, the disciples asked Jesus to decide who was the greatest in the kingdom; Jesus took it as an opportunity to teach them that without childlike humility they would never see the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 18:1-35).

In a generation obsessed with talent competitions and spotlights, it’s no surprise that the thirst for attention has crept into the Church. It’s evidenced in pulpits and in pews. It’s on full display if you know the signs. There are certain “tells” or “giveaways” so to speak. There really is no way to overemphasize the importance of guarding our churches against being infected with prideful leaders. Even more importantly, we should carefully monitor our own motivations and quickly adjust when and where needed. Below are nine sure signs of a prideful heart. I use this list to check my own motives and the motives of those seeking position or platform in my local church. Many of these principles are universal and can be translated into any paradigm or organization.  

  1. They want to SING but they don’t want to SERVE.

  2. They want to PREACH but they don’t want to PRAISE.

  3. They want to LEAD but they don’t like LEADERSHIP.

  4. They want to TAKE but they don’t want to GIVE.

  5. They want RESPECT but they don’t show RESPECT.

  6. They want the SPOTLIGHT but they resent SACRIFICE.

  7. They like PUBLIC EMOTIONS but they dislike PRIVATE DEVOTIONS.

  8. They are SELFISH rather than SELFLESS.

  9. They produce FOLLOWERS rather than DISCIPLES of Jesus.

Now read this list again, but this time replace “they” with “I” and be brutally honest with yourself.

Related articles: Overcoming Ministerial Insecurity, Ministerial Discouragment (And How To Handle It), You Cannot Be A Church Leader If… (Part 1), 5 Tips For Introverted Leaders, 5 Ministry Pitfalls, The Case For Yearly Preaching Plans, 14 Ways You Can Support Your Pastor, Clothed In Humility, Right, Righteous & Self-Righteous Judgements (Knowing The Difference), If We Are What We Post (What Are We Saying)?, You Might Be A Carnal Christian If…, Consistency (16 Keys To Great Leadership), Living Selflessly In A Selfie World

5 Areas Where Godly Fathers Should Shine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Top 10 Trending Articles

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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8. 7 Types of Church Services by Ryan French

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

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10. 5 Mistakes Every Worship Leader Makes by Nathan French

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The Development of Vision – Part 1

What is vision and how does one define such an abstract concept? Vision can speak of physical sight, divine premonitions, dreams, or abstract ideas and thoughts. Therefore, vision as a word can vacillate dependent upon its context and, for each user, can mean something completely different. For many, vision is merely a projected goal that serves to motivate either self or others. However, in the context of religious leadership, vision is often a dynamic projection of a seemingly unattainable possibility that challenges the status-quo.

Vision for the true spiritual leader, unlike the secular, is both horizontal and vertical. To best explain this, think of a ladder whose bottom feet are set upon the earth (horizontal) and whose top reach into the heavens (vertical). This best encapsulates vision as relates to the spiritual leader. Therefore, the success of the religious leader (the visionary) is the ability to connect the vertical to the horizontal. Think of vision as a seed. If vision is not cast into the soil of earthy ground, it can never take root and develop. Vision, by itself, is an unplanted seed whose germination depends upon its being sown in the fields of the horizontal. However, casting the seed of vertical vision into horizontal fields merely engages the process of germination. This is just the beginning.

Consider the human body. First, everything begins with conception and, from that point forward, the developmental stages of growth begin to occur. Vision is no different. First, vision must be conceived, yet too often, this is where failure occurs within the visionary process. Improper development of vision results in visionary stillbirth. Because of this, vision often remains static and results in an unchanging environment that returns to repeat an infinite cycle. Sadly, too many men desiring to act as visionaries do nothing more than proclaim the conception of vision as the actual breakthrough. Did breakthrough occur? No! To better illustrate this, there is a vast difference between promising technology and breakthrough technology. The former speaks of the potential of something in the future whereas the latter speaks of the actual realization of here and now results. Promising vision is a long way from the realization of vision but there is a bridge between the two called development.

When a child is conceived in the womb of the mother, conception is the initial stage and everything from that point forward leads toward the eventual breakthrough of a healthy child. The bridge between conception and breakthrough is development. The pregnancy itself is laborious, painful, and uncomfortable. Everything about the pregnancy and the anticipation of breakthrough demands changes in almost every area fathomable.  However, and this is crucial, breakthrough (birth) doesn’t end the narrative of development! Breakthrough is the beginning! Vision is no different!

Herein, in regards to vision, too many would excitedly pump their fists in the air and declare, “It’s happened!” The relief, after all those long weeks and months carrying around the weight of a developing vision, can become a lulling siren of complacency. Too many churches are stumbling over the headstones of infantile visions because they didn’t realize the work was just beginning. Let me make a statement, loud and clear: the devil has adopted way too many spiritual newborns that were left in the field due to the negligence of a mother (Ezekiel 16:4-5).

Newly birthed vision is exciting! It’s exciting to look around and see, touch, and partake in the labor of bringing the vision to realization. However, at this point, one should expect less sleep, less vacations, and less hobbies. The first moment that newly birthed vision is held in the arms of tangible realization the mindset of the church must go into a mother’s protective process. Ears must become attuned to the myriad of cries and eyes must watch for subtle signs of sickness or abnormalities that may arise. Call the visionary breakthrough revival, harvest, or a myriad of other religious pseudonyms; but I call it the beginning! Talk about having another baby (vision) only after you have secured the process of maturation in the current baby (vision)! Don’t develop malnourished visions!

Resources must be in place to ensure the proper development of the vision. This is why, all too often, long before the birth of a vision we put the proverbial cart before the horse! Many times, latching on to an Old Testament principle, we “build the extra room” but exhaust our resources so that we come up lacking the necessary staples of infancy development! A large room with a comfortable bed means nothing to a starving baby! Secure the horse before you buy the cart!

The strength of developing vision lies in its singularity. It is impossible to find a needle in a haystack…or is it? What if one were to take a very large magnet and place it alongside the haystack? Exactly! A concentrated, singular force would draw upon that needle, once deemed unfindable, and bring it to the surface!

This is why, when one gives birth to vision, peripheral issues seem to arise. The enemy recognizes that singular, committed focus on newly birthed vision is crucial! If the enemy can implement anything in our peripheral to break our alignment, he will succeed in potentially killing, stealing, or destroying what we have fought so hard to bring to breakthrough!

“No man”, Jesus declared, “having put his hand to the plough and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God!” In other words, don’t start the process without dedicating all of your time, treasure, and talent to the entire process! Consider what Jesus was saying! Those that aren’t committed to the entire process to ensure maximum development are not fit for the kingdom. Although the word in the Greek carries the connotation of not being “useful or prepared for” it literally means, “well-placed.” In other words, the man that doesn’t commit to the process of development with a singular, undivided focus is “out-of-place”! God doesn’t cut crooked paths, he straightens them!

Nothing stands out in Scripture more poignantly in regards to undeveloped vision than the condition of the house of God that Hosea confronted. “Is it time for you, O ye, to dwell in your ceiled houses, and this house lie waste? …. Consider your ways! Ye have sown much, and bring in little; ye eat, but ye have not enough; ye drink, but ye are not filled with drink, ye clothe you, but there is none warm; and he that earneth wages earneth wages to put it into a bag with holes.”

Note from Author

This concludes, in part, a greater portion of a larger treatise. Part two, which will serve as the conclusion of the matter, will deal with the three key things every church must have in order for vision to reach maturation. These three elements have served to turn the tide in many churches across the nation. In fact, if found in a local church, these three elements cannot lead to anything but success.

Timothy Hadden, happily married and the father of three young children, has spent the last six years traveling extensively, both in the United States and Internationally, as a sought after Apostolic evangelist. Many of his revivals, often spanning several months, focused on creating a spiritual environment that promoted a deep move of God thus enabling a spirit of revelation that further developed existing local ministries and empowered local church congregations to a greater dimension of Apostolic understanding and authority. The effects of these revivals are still being witnessed throughout many church congregations nationwide. Recently, having felt the call of God to leave the evangelistic field, he and his family have relocated to the Portland Oregon Metropolis where they are developing a church plant called Antioch Northwest. Already, less than two months on site, they are seeing unprecedented signs and miracles in one of the least churched cities in the Northwest. Currently, if he is not teaching Bible Studies, canvassing his city, investing in his family, or working on the demanding schedule of a church-planter, he is writing several books that he hopes to publish in the not-so-distant future. You can find more of his writings www.searchofkings.net or, for more information on the church-plant, visit www.antiochnorthwest.com.

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

Guard Dog or God’s Chosen?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Jennifer Mast

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A Biblical Response to Racial Tensions

It’s no secret that our country is in a tremendous state of turmoil. America is in religious, political, economic, and moral upheaval. We seem more divided than ever by class, creed, color, and culture. This ought not to be so, but ignoring reality is not an option. Let’s narrow down that massive list of generalities to the subject of the escalating racial tensions that have dominated the news over the past few weeks.

First, all racism is rooted in hatred and hatred is a sin. John didn’t pull any punches when he said, “If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also (1 John 19:20-21).”

You cannot claim to love God and hate others at the same time. In another place, John equates the sin of hatred with the sin of murder (1 John 3:14-15). If you study the Bible and human nature you will quickly find that hatred and murder are just a few short steps apart from one another. Christians of all races absolutely must resist the pressure to be subdued by racism or hatred of any kind.

Satan knows that a house divided against itself cannot stand (Mark 3:25). He works feverishly to divide and conquer. The Church must recognize and rebuke Satan’s handy work wherever hatred manifested as racism raises its murderous head.

We should also know that this proliferation of racial division is a clear indication of the soon coming of the Lord. While speaking about the end of time, Jesus said in Mark 13:8, “…nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom”. Recently, my friend Reverend Victor Jackson articulated that the word nation mentioned here finds it’s root in the Greek word meaning race. Therefore, it is accurate to say that in the last days, races will rise up against races and kingdoms will rise up against kingdoms. The Church recognizes that this is the spirit of the antichrist at work. If the Church allows the spirit of division (a spirit that is antithetical to the Holy Spirit) into its ranks it will cease to be the Church.

I believe that racial injustice is more prevalent than many want to acknowledge, and less than some who peddle division would lead us to believe. The Church must stand against injustice for people of every color, race, and creed (Proverbs 21:15, Isaiah 1:17, Proverbs 24:24-25, Psalm 106:3, Proverbs 21:3, Deuteronomy 10:18, Deuteronomy 27:19). The Bible intertwines the unfailing love of God with justice (Psalm 33:5). In other words, love and justice are closely connected attributes of God. If we are reflectors of God’s image then we must love people and love justice.

Jesus took it a step further by commanding us to love our enemies (Matthew 5:44). This might not be very compelling had Jesus not obeyed his own command by forgiving the very people who put him on the cross (Luke 23:34).

As racial tensions hang over our nation like storm clouds we must remember one key Scripture: For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places (Ephesians 6:12).

And so, as the Church stands against injustice, racism from every direction, hatred, violence, and class warfare we must be ever mindful that the battle will be won with spiritual weapons. Bullets are not the answer. Hatred and violence only instigate more hatred and violence. The words of Dr. Martin Luther King are more relevant today than ever before:

Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.

It is imperative that the Church models to this world what racial unity looks like in word and deed. We must stand in solidarity against violence and hatred. For the record, I believe that the vast majority of police officers do their jobs with excellence and integrity (there are always exceptions to the rule). The apostle Paul clearly admonished believers to give honor and respect to governmental authority (Romans 13:1-7). As a Christian, I grieve over every senseless loss of God-given life. I rigorously oppose violence against black lives, blue lives, and white lives. I know it sounds silly and sappy but the words of an old children’s song we used to sing in Sunday School keep ringing in my ears, “Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight”.

We know that our weapons are not carnal but mighty through God, to the pulling down of strongholds (2 Corinthians 10:4). Therefore, prayer is a powerful force of good in the fight against evil. Prayer is not a waste of time. Prayer is not just something that we do to make ourselves feel better. Prayer is not just a platitude that we talk about. Therefore, pray we must. I’m imploring everyone who loves the Lord to join me in prayer for the healing of our nation. Join me in prayer for the families who have recently lost loved ones to what seem to be unjustified acts of police violence. Pray for the families of the Dallas police officers who tragically lost their lives because of an injustice that they did not commit. Pray that the cycle of hate and violence will stop. And if you really want to be like Jesus; pray for your enemies too (Matthew 5:44).

Related articles: 4 Reasons People Don’t Pray, Pray For Orlando (What The Christians Comminity And The Gay Community Have In Common), Right, Righteous & Self Righteous Judgements (Knowing The Difference), The Death of Harambe (How Moral Relitavism Has Made It Controversial), A Pattern of Persecution (What Does Hollywood Have In Common With ISIS?), Love Or Hate, The Words We Speak

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Baptism “In Jesus’ Name” And the New Testament Greek

I am excited to introduce you to the first contribution to Apostolic Voice by a noted theologian, Dr. Talmadge French. He is my father, pastor, mentor, and friend.

Preliminary Considerations for the Defense of Baptism In the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ

Postmodern tendencies away from distinctive doctrinal, and thus competitive, views in the arena of theological ideas must be confronted with a renaissance of fresh affirmation and defense of New Testament baptism rooted in the conviction that Scripture alone, and thus the Apostle’s doctrine, is the sole rule of faith. Oneness Pentecostals have been consistent and “thoroughgoing restorationists” in this regard, insisting that Apostolic practice be followed, regardless of later formulations.  Indeed, at times, the Oneness movement is caricatured for this as exclusivistic and sectarian, not so much for insisting upon the originality of the Jesus’ name form, but for the insistence that it matters.

Of course, the Oneness position on baptism, the contention that the name of Jesus in baptism fulfills the Lord’s commission, is also an emphatic substantiation of the doctrine of the absolute Oneness of God and Jesus’ full, unshared Deity. Evidence of the unwarranted alteration in the formula of baptism, in order to accommodate Triune distinctions, is further indication that original doctrinal positions were modified.

But, while such distinctions currently matter to Oneness Pentecostals, perhaps the greatest challenge of our times is the formidable task of transferring a sincere passion for the truth to the next generation of Apostolics. Amidst the prevailing “who cares?” cultural and religious mentality, with its dominance of relative thought and the equality of all belief(s), the Oneness movement must not fail to stir anew that intense love for the name which has been its most distinguishing, promising, and resolute characteristic.

New Testament Significance of the Name

The postmodern shift in theological ideology intensifies the issue over baptism in varied and subtle ways. Historically, for example, attempts have been championed to separate the use, or speaking, of the name, from the authority and person of the one named. Such a view is without biblical support and reflects a minimizing of the import of the recurrent New Testament form, and use, of the name. An alleged lack of precise baptismal form is sometimes said to substantiate an assumption that “the name of Jesus” was merely an idiomatic way of speaking of one’s person or authority.  But to indicate that form was an imprecise variable, and thus unimportant, or even nonexistent, shifts the debate considerably.

It is true that the erroneous assumption—that, as long as the one named is intended as the authority of an act, it makes little or no difference what one says—would necessarily apply also to the Triune form. The subtle and increasingly accepted implication is that either no formula whatsoever existed, or that there was no set formula that mattered. This goes far beyond the creedal debate as to which is original, but ignores as irrelevant, or eradicates, any Apostolic precedent and practice, the basis of the Oneness contention.

But it also ignores the historical reality. Rigorous exception should be made to the rejection of the significance of the New Testament use of the phrase “in the name” with reference to baptism and the working of miracles as unique to the name of Jesus and Christian practice. These are core, not peripheral, issues to Jesus’ name theology. As such, the Oneness position takes strong issue with the assertion that the expression “in the name” has no actual reference to a name, but only to an authority.

The overwhelming sense is that the New Testament church was very literally a people of the name, who used Jesus’ name uniquely, prominently, and powerfully, and of whom God said: “upon GREEK 1 whom my name is called.” The use of “this name” was a prominent aspect of their “doctrine.” The issue was a specific name, unapologetically and boldly preached, for which they “hazarded their lives,” and for which they rejoiced “that they were counted worthy to suffer.” To magnify His name was to magnify Jesus.

The emphasis on the name makes no sense, theologically or historically, apart from the corresponding use of the name Jesus itself. It is not as though you can disregard the use of the name in baptism or elsewhere, and maintain the theological cohesion of the Apostolic intention and truth. Nor is it hair-splitting to insist upon the distinctive Apostolic doctrine and practice and resistance to the casual dismissal of Apostolic precedence.  There is simply no legitimacy to the assumption that the Apostles needed to speak the name, baptize in the name, and suffer for the name, but that others are exempt, superior, and without need of the same necessity.

For example, the power of God was manifest in the actual words–“in the name of Jesus”—as they were spoken. They did not just act in Christ’s authority, for in what other authority would they be acting?  But they said:  Silver and gold have I none, but such as I have give I thee: in (Greek 2) the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk. And, note, that Greek 2is used, not imprecisely, but interchangeably here with “by GREEK 1what name” in Acts 4:7.  In awe and “joy” they recognized that “the devils are subject unto us through (Greek 2) Thy name,” for their understanding of its power came from the Lord Himself. “Ye shall be hated of all nations,” Jesus said, “for (Greek 3, because of) my name’s sake.”

The Hebraic Influence Upon the Greek

The Jewish emphasis upon the name of the Lord, with all of its ramifications and usage, anticipated the New Testament invocation of the name of Jesus characteristic of the Book of Acts and the early church.  Certainly the Hebraic reverence for the name exceeded mere reference to authority: “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord your God in vain” has to do with the use of the name, etc. Such an emphasis, upon the use of the name, is intensified in the dynamic of New Testament name theology.

Perhaps it was the theological move away from single formula baptism that hindered the recognition of the obvious—the Apostolic use of the name followed the familiar Hebraic pattern regarding the name of God. This Jewish Christian usage of the Greek, had a determinative effect upon the Greek, the forms, the cases, and the varied prepositions when used with Greek 4 (in the name), as well as the almost interchangeable use of Greek 5and Greek 6.

The New Testament Greek paralleled the Septuagint, which in turn reflected the HebrewGreek 7. Due to this influence, as Bauer notes regarding the use of Greek 2, for example, “no corresponding use has been found in secular Greek.” And note the use of Greek 6 in the dative, which represents a unique Greek usage, as Bauer suggests, a use “only of the name of Jesus.” That usage is the actual invoking of the name Jesus – “in the name.”

The Hebraic, Old Testament influence upon the important issue of the name is seen, not only with respect to “in the name of,” “naming,” etc., but in “calling upon the name” – Greek 8, or varied compounds. “Call” is used “Hebraistically… to call upon by pronouncing the name Jehovah.” In the LXX, it is “used very often for Greek 9.” The New Testament usage of the expression “calling on the name” is often an exact parallel to the Hebraic Old Testament sense of calling out the sacred name – “O, Lord my God.”

“And they stoned Stephen, calling upon (Greek 10) God, and saying, Lord Jesus,” Acts 7:59. To “call upon the name of the Lord” often meant to literally call, or speak, or say the name Yahweh, in spite of the fact that centuries later Jews came to regard the name as ineffable. For example, God “proclaimed the name of the Lord” by invoking it over Moses: “The Lord passed by him, and proclaimed, The Lord, The Lord God.” “Then called I upon the name of the Lord; O Lord, I beseech Thee.”

The Hebraic Influence in Key Elements Relative to Baptism

The Apostles’ use of “in the name,” with the varied prepositional constructions, reflects the signifying of the actual words and the name spoken in baptism. Thus, “in the name” signified the invoking of the name:

“in (Greek 6) the name of Jesus Christ” (Acts 2:38); “in (Greek 5) the name of the Lord Jesus (8:16); “in     (Greek 2) the name of the Lord” (10:48); “in (Greek 5) the name of the Lord Jesus” (19:5).

Whether in baptism or works of miraculous power, the recurrent use of “in the name” signified both the means by which they used the name, actual invocation, and the power and authority of the One named.

Greek 11…some influence: ‘while naming’ or ‘calling on my name’…. An additional factor, to a degree, may be… ‘with mention of the name’…. Greek 12 of God or Jesus means in the great majority of cases with mention of the name, while naming or calling on the name (LXX no corresponding use has been found in secular Gk.) … Greek 13, and the dat. …when someone’s name is mentioned or called upon, or mentioning someone’s name…. in the NT only of the name of Jesus.

Baptism “In The Name” and the Question of Formula

The Oneness contention is that New Testament baptism was administered exclusively in the name of Jesus—signifying the original and the fixed formula, and that any alteration in the Apostolic mode and form of baptism for any reason is unwarranted and without biblical justification. Quite telling is the fact that the common recurrence of the “in the name” is used with respect to baptism, but without a single reference substituting “in the authority of.”  This attests to the fact that “in the name of Jesus” signifies the words of the actual form (or formula) used in the waters of baptism, always and exclusively with reference to the singular name of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The history of creedal development also suggests the originality of the single-name form as over against the tripartite form. Of course, the use of “in the name” in Matthew 28:19 reflects the singular form, but not the later claim to the originality of repeating the Matthean words. Calvin’s claim that the tripartite form is original, rejecting the preponderance of single form passages, represents the classic belief in the superiority of a Triune form: I maintain that Peter is not speaking in this passage [Acts 2:38] of the form of baptism. . . It is not a fixed formula of baptism that is being dealt with here.

A discrepancy does not exist between the Matthean text and the preponderance of texts relative to the Jesus’ name formula or between Jesus and His Apostles (Mt 16:13-20; Jn 17:30; Acts 2:37, 4).  The Apostles, in full agreement, invoked the name in baptism intended by the Matthean phrase—by invoking the name Jesus. Signifying a single reference (Mt 28:19) as the solitary formula—on the basis of divine titles or a corroboration of Triune dogma—ignores the preponderance of texts evidencing the single form.

A Triune form was simply not in use in the early church. Any later development, the alteration of the baptismal practice of the Apostles, and the supplanting and excluding the Jesus’ name formula, constitute unwarranted violations of Apostolic authority and cannot stand on par with Scriptural baptism.

Historical Evidence for the Originality of the Jesus’ Name Formula

Indeed, strong evidence and wide support for the acknowledgement of the originality of Jesus’ name baptism include the exclusive reference to Jesus in the earliest creeds, or kerygma, as noted by historians such as C. H. Dodd, J. N. D. Kelly, and others. The earliest creeds were clearly non-Triune, such as Greek 14, “Jesus is Lord.”

It will be noticed that the confessions which crop up most frequently in the New Testament are the single-clause christological ones. On the basis of this it has been argued that the single-clause creeds represent the authentic faith of the primitive Church.

In 1520, Luther wrote: Others, again, pedantic triflers, condemn the use of the words, ‘I baptize you in the name of Jesus Christ’ —Although it is certain that the Apostles used this formula in baptizing.

This is precisely the crux of the matter: “It is certain that the Apostles used this formula.”  Why, then, any debate, why any other mode or formula? “There is little doubt,” writes Lars Hartman, “that baptism was practiced by the first Christians… given ‘into the name of Jesus… If this be so, then the combination of baptism and the formula just quoted brings us down to a very primitive phase of the life of the early church.”

And, in his A History of Christian Thought, Heich stated: While this perfectly Trinitarian faith may be taken as a matrix from which a recognized formula . . . eventually issued, it does not mean that baptism was being administered in the name of the triune God at that time.  At first baptism was in the name of Christ.

A Consideration of the Textual Construction of Some Key Passages (The Name Above Every Name:  Phil 2:9-10)

One of the most significant passages concerning the name is Philippians 2:9-10. Some, including my own Greek language degree advisor, Gerald Hawthorne, have taken issue with “Jesus” being the name “above every name,” due to the use of the genitive. “At (Greek 2) the name of Jesus” (2:10) renders Greek 15 as a typical possessive genitive, implying that Jesus possesses an exalted name, other than “Jesus” itself, most probably “lord”(Greek 16).

But the Hebraic influence prevailed, so that “in the name of,” without the need for a specific dative, borrowing from the Hebrew sense, carried the force of the Greek dative.  Therefore, Jesus is used in the identical construction Greek 17 in which the name of Yahweh, or Lord, often meant the name Yahweh itself. This is apparent, for example, in the matter of fact usage of the genitive with the names Jesus Greek 18, Lord Greek 19, and Christ Greek 20, with no possessive intent. This is the obvious understanding in the Acts accounts of the name Jesus. If the dative were required, as with “for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ (each genitive), the implication would be that He possessed yet another name than Jesus, Lord, or Christ—for which they hazarded their lives!

The exalted name is Jesus, and not His title Lord Greek 19 or Christ Greek 20.  “Lord” is Who He is, but Jesus is His name. His name was so exalted, honored, and specific, that it could even be referred to simply as “the name” or “that worthy name.”

The tremendous Oneness implications should be noted in the fact that every knee bows to the Lord (Yahweh, Isa 45:23) God Himself “at the name of Jesus,” which is “to the glory of” Greek 21 the Father. The theology of the name was in direct keeping with the Old Testament: “Bless the Lord, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless His holy name; O Lord our Lord, how excellent is Thy name in all the earth,” (Psalm 8:1; 103:1). And, indeed, the name upon the lips of the impassioned first church was not Buddha, nor Allah, nor any other name than—the name Jesus itself.

Salvation Is In The Name:  Ac 4:12; Eph 1:21; 1 Pet 3:20-21

The Acts account places enormous emphasis upon the saving implications of the name, using a rare triple negative for stress: “Neither Greek 22 is there salvation in any Greek 23.PNGother: for there is none Greek 24 other.” This is hardly soft-peddling their stress on Jesus’ name. Rather, it precludes any name or salvation apart from Jesus, for His name is “above” all, and “far above” “every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come.” The use of the neuter, Greek 23, emphasizes that reference is to the name itself, which is stressed twice, “none other name” Greek 25. And “whereby” Greek 26 shows the agency of the name, or ‘by which’ salvation “must” come    Greek 27. Literally, ‘by which it is necessary for us to be saved.”

Strong language indeed, especially when taken with the baptismal references in Acts and the stress, elsewhere, upon the essentiality of the water. Peter places such strong emphasis upon the saving aspect of baptism that he refers to the “water,” not the Ark, as the element by which “eight souls were saved.” And the Flood and baptism are not both figures or types, but only one is a “like figure” Greek 28, or, literally, ‘which is even a figure.’ Noah’s salvation prefigured the reality that “baptism doth also now save us.”

Remission Of Sins Is In The Name:  1 Pet 3:20-21; Ac 2:38; Jn 3:5

The parallel elsewhere concerning the washing, cleansing, and remitting elements of baptism is consistent with Peter’s parenthetical statement that baptism is not an outward “putting away of the filth of the flesh” (contrasted with the inward washing). Rather than outwardly removing Greek 29, or dirt, baptism affects the inward man, as the “answer of a good conscience toward God.” Literally, ‘a plea Greek 30 to God for a good conscience,’ with the objective genitive.

Baptism, therefore, is not merely some outward symbol, but is “for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38), and, thus, an integral element in the New Birth experience of salvation. The use of the Greek preposition conjoined with remission, Greek 31.PNG, is the strongest statement as to the efficacy of baptism in the name of Jesus. “For” (Greek 5), with its forward directional implications, such as ‘to, into, toward,’ means ‘in order to (access)’ remission (i.e. the blood was shed “for the remission of sins,” Mt 26:28).  But Greek 5 never means ‘because of’ remission already received.

Jesus stated: “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.”  And, “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven.” The lack of the article (or anarthrous use, Greek 32) with either “water” or “Spirit” is consistent with reference to one new birth, with related elements of water and Spirit. The typical manner of indicating separate items joined with Greek 33, that is, two separate, unrelated births, one flesh, and the other Spirit, would be articular.

Invoking the Name of Jesus In Baptism:  Ac 22:16 and Ja 2:7

Every significant element regarding the relationship of baptism and the name of Jesus are highlighted in Acts 22:16: “Why tarriest thou? Arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord.” Most significant is the use of Greek 34 in the specific aorist middle participle Greek 35: invoke, call upon, call by name, appeal to, etc. The use of the middle, rather than the usual passive, parallels the two prior middles, Greek 36 and Greek 37, both aorist middle imperatives. The middles stress here the subject’s participatory role: not ‘baptize yourself,’ or ‘wash your own sins away,’ but ‘get yourself baptized and have your sins washed away.’ Therefore, the participle follows similarly: ‘have the name called over yourself!” Powerful wording in any language.

Clearly, “calling on the name,” has reference to the actual name used in baptism, in parallel to calling and invoking the name of God in the Old Testament. The power of the name rests in the power of the One so named. James could simply refer to it as “that worthy name,” even as Paul knew his hearers would know Who was crucified for them, and, thus, in Whose name they were baptized. Interestingly, unbelievers even tried to imitate calling Greek 38 of “the name of the Lord Jesus” overGREEK 1people.

James’ reference to “that worthy name,” certainly, is with respect to the name of Jesus, honored and reverenced, as well as invoked in water baptism. “Do not they blaspheme that worthy name by the which ye are called?” Again, the use of Greek 39, call or invoke, in the aorist passive participle form,  signifies the naming or speaking the actual name. But James adds Greek 40, actually stressing the idea of the invoking as being over or upon someone.

The idea is weakened, and misses the point of the prepositional construction, if the supposition is that one is named ‘by’ the name ‘Christ,’ as when called a Christian. Not ‘by you,’ but ‘over or upon you.’ The name “by GREEK 1the which ye are called” (Ja 2:7) is, literally, “which has been called over you!” Of course, a Christianity which no longer invoked the name over believers, nor was attentive to the significance of the name of Jesus, especially regarding baptism, would have missed the significance of James’ statement as well.

Addendum

From “A Response to Ockham’s Razor With A Vengeance”

The Significance of ‘In the Name of Jesus’ As a Formula.  “Ockham’s Razor” indicts Oneness Pentecostals for accepting the formula for baptism ‘in the name of Jesus’ by con-tending that, undoubtedly, there is no formula for baptism, or at least not a fixed formula. In order to sustain this conclusion two crucial assertions are advanced: (1) the form ‘in the name’ does not represent an invoking of the name ‘Jesus’ and (2) the term ‘in the name’ is to be comprehended as merely idiomatic. The Greek text, it is asserted, validates both propositions.

First, the essence of the meaning of ‘formula’, if it can be applied to baptism (and in-deed it has been and is so applied), implies a fixity. That is to say, if baptism has a form, that essential form is therefore not open to alteration. And, scholarship concerning creedal development indicates, decidedly, that the form of baptism with reference to Jesus, ‘in the name of Jesus,’ came to be replaced by baptism in the name of the Trinity.

Therefore, it appears that the shift occurred toward a Trinitarian emphasis and away from the christological emphasis. The evidence of the patristics and the long history of Christianity itself reveal considerable development of dogma and creed. But what is fundamental here is the development of baptismal formulae, and especially the tripartite formula. Schlink suggests that the triune development was “an important supplement to the name of Jesus” and “this unfolding of the name of Jesus became all the more necessary with the more the Gospel advanced beyond Palestine to other areas where faith in the one God was unknown.”

“Most probably Baptism was originally performed upon (in) the name of Christ and this was later expanded, as in the expansion of the Christological confession into the tripartite creeds.” Bousset, in Kyrios Christos, and H. A. Wolfson, The Philosophy of the Church Fathers, state concurring conclusions, with Wolfson adding: “Undoubtedly then the baptismal formula originally consisted of one part and it gradually developed into its tripartite form.”

As to the question of the Greek text relevant to baptism ‘in the name’ and the invoking of the name Jesus, again, the issue is two-fold. First, does the use of ‘in the name’ in the baptism statements intend to represent instructions for the actual words that were to be called over the baptismal candidate? Or, does it represent only idiomatic phraseology referring to authority, a synecdoche simply meaning Jesus Himself ownership, and/or other linguistic meanings?

The idiomatic significance and connotation apropos to the understanding and translation of the text is very important, allowing insight into meanings and nuances intended by the original writer. And Oneness writers adequately take this into consideration, for a wealth of scholarship exists with respect to the Greek language, idiomatic aspects included. But idiomatic nuances with respect to the baptismal statements are neither sufficient explanations of the repeated use of the form ‘in the name,’ nor are they taken to represent the primary meaning of the use of ‘in the name’.

Idiomatic understanding of the phrase is inadequate to explain the total import of the baptism rite as described in the New Testament. Rather, the significant, primary under-standing of ‘in the name’ is that it represents the form of that which was spoken in the rite of baptism.  Such a conclusion is consistent with the witness of the New Testament.

This article originally appeared in the Journal of the Apostolic Theological Forum published by the Apostolic Theological Forum in 2006, click here if you would like to purchase the journal. The article in its original form contains a wealth of footnotes, far too complicated and numerous for this blog’s format. I am happy to pass those on to anyone who is interested. My father, Dr. Talmadge French, has also written a wonderfully helpful, best-selling, and concise tract on Jesus’ name baptism as well as several other great works. I have included a link for those here. Please note, if you Greek scholars find any discrepencies in the Greek text it is likely an error on my part, transitioning the text into this blog format was tedious to say the least.

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

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

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

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

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

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

14. You cannot be a church leader without wisdom.

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

15. You cannot be a church leader without vision.

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

16. You cannot be a church leader without faith.

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

17. You cannot be a church leader without anointing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What would you add to this list?

 

 

You Cannot Be A Church Leader If… (Part 1)

I am regularly asked questions about how to become either a leader within the church or the pastor of a church. This post is designed as the starting point for answering those questions. This is by no means an exhaustive list and it applies to lay ministries and pastoral ministries. I have chosen not to focus on the important aspects of having a divine calling in this post (maybe another time).

So here are a few prerequisites for church leadership that are a combination of common sense and basic biblical guidelines. Many people disqualify themselves from any possibility of church leadership (or they start and fizzle out) because they fail to maintain these standards.

1. You cannot be a church leader if you consistently miss services.

Aside from the spiritual implications, this is a practical guideline as well. You can’t contribute if you’re not there. You can’t encourage and inspire faithfulness in others if you’re not faithful. Try telling your job, or a team membership that you want to lead without being consistently present. It doesn’t work. Not only is it a spiritual concern it’s a dependability problem.

2. You cannot be a church leader if you’re consistently late.

This is closely related to the above point. For the record, everyone is late from time to time, but I’m referring to a consistent pattern of lateness. Again, this is a dependability factor. If no one ever knows when you’re going to show up you are unreliable, and that applies to every facet of your life.

3. You cannot be a church leader if you are rebellious towards spiritual authority.

To have authority, you must be under authority. If you want respect you must model how to give respect. And I mean genuine respect, many give lip service to respectfulness in public and display their true rebelliousness in private conversations. Many people fake respect but demonstrate rebellion through passive aggressive actions. They do not realize how transparent their heart really appears to godly leadership. When you undermine the authority over you then you undermine your own authority as well. Give the kind of loyalty that you would expect from others. Remember, there is a key difference between obedience and submission; obedience will often do the right thing with a wrong spirit, submission is obedience with a right spirit.

4. You cannot be in church leadership if you are in sin.

The blind cannot lead the blind. All the talent in the world is no substitute for righteousness when it comes to the Kingdom of God.

5. You cannot be in church leadership if you have a “me first” mentality.

The Church, like all organized institutions, functions on the power of unity. Church leadership requires a “team” mentality, not a “me” mentality.

6. You cannot be in church leadership if you are unwilling to make sacrifices.

Here’s where most people fall off the wagon. Church leadership requires sacrifice as all truly spiritual things do. It requires sacrifices of time, energy, finance, and resources. For example (and this also falls under the heading of sin), you are automatically disqualified from church leadership if you refuse to give tithes and offerings.

7. You cannot be in church leadership if you are easily offended, easily angered, and cling to grudges.

You might think leadership brings accolades and honor, but for every kind word received you’ll receive at least as much criticism and cynicism. Leadership comes with as much resistance as it does assistance. You will have to rise above negativity, critique, ungratefulness, hostility, apathy, complacency, disloyalty, and sometimes outright attack. Mostly this will come from expected places but the most hurtful will be from Christians who ought to know better.

8. You cannot be in church leadership if you do not love God and people.

Love God first and ask him to help you truly love people. If you do not truly love people the point made in the above post will burn you out faster than a firecracker on the Fourth of July. Also, if you lead out of any motivation other than godly love you are leading out of selfish and carnal motivations. That always ends badly.

9. You cannot be in church leadership if you lack personal spiritual discipline.

You wouldn’t want an overweight guy teaching you how to lose weight. You wouldn’t want a weak guy teaching you how to get strong. And you wouldn’t want someone who doesn’t pray teaching you how to pray. Prayer, fasting, Bible reading, Bible study, evangelism, and faithfulness are mandatory prerequisites for church leadership.

10. You cannot be in church leadership if your personal life is in shambles.

This one might sound harsh, but it is a biblical principle and a common sense principle as well. Bottom line, if you can’t manage your own business you shouldn’t be trying to manage other people’s business, and certainly not God’s business. This includes your family, your finances, your emotions, your spirituality, etc.

11. You cannot be in church leadership without integrity.

This final point is technically covered under the point about sin, but I think this one deserves a deeper look. Integrity, honesty, and core convictions are essential to godly leadership. Without them, your leadership will ring hollow and your influence will run shallow.

Click here to read part 2 of You Cannot Be In Church Leadership If…

Similar articles: Overcoming Ministerial Insecurity, Ministerial Discouragement (And How To Handle It), An Echo Experience, 5 Tips For Introverted Leaders, Ministry Pitfalls, 14 Ways You Can Support Your Pastor

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It’s Time For A Resolution

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

4 Reasons People Don’t Pray

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



The Upside Of Loneliness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Do So Many Christians Support Same-Sex Marriage?

The recent controversial Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage has given rise to jubilation among many. This is my generation’s version of a sexual revolution, which leaves many of us wondering how many sexual revolutions must we have before we realize that promiscuity does not bring happiness (check out this article)? And, what will the next sexual revolution bring? Speculation abounds, but if history is any indication it will be the very things that we say are impossible right now.

Any Christian whose head wasn’t firmly planted in the sand knew this day was coming. Cultural winds have been blowing this direction for decades. Gay pride celebrations, which included spitting on a priest, mock crucifixions, and severely underage boys dancing provocatively in the streets went into hyper drive. Rainbow signs and #lovewins filled the Twitterverse. This was expected, even understandable, but shocking to many was the amount of people who self-identify as Christians who enthusiastically joined in the celebration.

We expect the world to be the world, but we are most hurt when the Church ceases to be the Church. Many felt betrayed by their own allies. Sadly, this development should not have taken us by surprise. Here is a list of reasons why many Christians now happily support same-sex marriage.

Christians have ingested decades of movies and television shows with gay agendas until the lifestyle became normalized and they grew desensitized (or at the very least indifferent) to the sin. The same is true for divorce, premarital sex, infidelity, and now the disturbing rise of Fifty Shades of Gray style violence.

For decades, American churches have weakened on their stances against heterosexual immorality, embraced casual divorce, and haplessly lamented the decline of the traditional family unit. Millennials easily spotted the hypocrisy of winking at one sin and not the other.

Many Christians have bought into the deception that says in order to truly love someone you must agree with, affirm, and fully embrace everything they do. Disagreement has been portrayed as synonymous with hatred, which is absolutely not true.

For some, they are simply following the path of least resistance. It’s always easier to go with the flow. They fear retaliation. They fear marginalization. They fear losing status. They fear appearing hateful. The spirit of fear has gripped entire churches and communities.

For the most part, our public schools and state-sponsored universities have become intolerably anti-Christian. In many cases they have morphed into propaganda pulpits where professors preach instead of teach, they indoctrinate rather than educate, and they enforce a hypocritical brand of intolerant tolerance that bullies those who don’t agree into submission. This has shaped the vulnerable minds of young Christians for several decades.

This rabid indoctrination has convinced many that it is ethically wrong (ironic I know) to mix faith with morality, faith with politics, faith with government, faith with education, faith with family, faith with well… anything. Historians are busy revising the history books to eliminate all traces of our nation’s Christian heritage and biblical underpinnings. Separation of church and state was intended to protect the church and the state not to sanction the suppression of the church by the state.

Strangely, gay activists hijacked the civil rights movement, successfully comparing themselves to the plight of African Americans. Christians have not and are not advocating for the harm or oppression of homosexuals or anyone else for that matter. Neither are we conniving to withhold freedoms from the homosexual community. Regardless, gay activists portrayed those who opposed the radical redefinition of marriage as something akin to racists. Many Christians confused the issue and believed that by defending traditional marriage they were betraying human rights. Now they are left with the stark reality that all definitions, traditions, and institution are up for redefinition including things like parenthood. Who’s to say who or what a parent actually is or isn’t? Just because you gave birth doesn’t make it your child does it? Sound crazy? Yes. But all definitions and institutions are up for grabs in a mixed up society like this.

Christians forgot that marriage is a sacred vow before God not a piece of paper from the state. Marriage is for all intents and purposes a religious institution. Thus, the understandable offense that this ruling has caused for millions of Christians here in the US (not to mention other religious persuasions). Marriage is a type of Christ and His relationship to the Church. If the Supreme Court outlawed heterosexual marriages tomorrow it would not change my marital status before God. I didn’t get married for the supposed tax breaks or because I desperately needed a faceless bureaucracies stamp of approval. My commitment rises and falls on the hallowed covenant between my wife and God. Interestingly, polls suggest that an overwhelming majority of homosexuals don’t even believe in the institution of marriage, and certainly not lifetime monogamy; further underscoring the reality that this ruling has never been about civil rights but destroying yet another traditional institution.

Christians also lost sight of the fact that holy matrimony was not designed by God solely for pleasure or to produce happiness, although it can and does. It was crafted to be the ideal environment to produce and care for children. This raises yet another moral dilemma for Christians waving the rainbow flag; is God’s plan for parents to consist of a loving mother and father best or not? Now children will be caught in the crosshairs of the struggle and they will be the ones (as they always do when morality is abandoned) who pay the price.

In spite of the fact that Scripture repeatedly warns us that our feelings cannot be trusted (Jeremiah 17:9; Matthew 15:19; Luke 6:45; Proverbs 28:26) many Christians adhere to feelings based theologies rather than Bible-based theologies. Never has this been more apparent than now. The pro-gay arguments from the average Christian revisionists conveniently ignore clear biblical instruction choosing rather, to elevate their own feelings above God’s commands. For the more theologically inclined revisionists, they are forced to destroy the authenticity, veracity, accuracy, and inerrancy of their own textbook (the Bible) to fit their beliefs. Of course, this is not a new problem; liberal scholars have been shaping the Bible to fit their beliefs rather than shaping their beliefs to fit the Bible for nearly two thousand years.

As we settle into a new normal it is important to remember that we Christians who remain committed to biblical imperatives must be firm not shrill, strong not harsh, hopeful not hateful, stationary not reactionary, graceful not distasteful, and full of godly love. We must prepare for the refugees who will emerge battered and broken from this sexual revolution.

For further reading, I encourage you to check out this article entitled 40 Questions For Christians Now Waving Rainbow Flags by one of my favorite authors and bloggers Kevin DeYoung.

Further reading and citations: Getting The Facts: Same Sex-Marriage, Open Monogamy, Comparing The Lifestyles of Homosexual Couples to Married Couples, New European Studies Show Homosexual Marriage Harms Marriage In General, A Non-Religious Case Against Same-Sex Marriage, The Myth of ‘Gay’ Male Monogamy, 9 Responses to the Supreme Court, Same Sex Marriage, and Christians, A Reformation the Church Doesn’t Need: Answering Revisionist Pro-Gay Theology – Part I

Resist Irrelevant Relevance

Called to Be Culture Warriors

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

Holiness Matters

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

Holiness in Action (God Begins the Process)

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

Holiness (the Process)

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

We Are More than Mere Bystanders

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

God Is Holy

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

What does it mean for us to be holy?

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

Resist Irrelevant Relevance 

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

 

Spiritual Stockholm Syndrome

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fiery Evangelism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





7 Ways To Help Your Youth Group Backslide

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

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

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

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

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

You Might Be A Carnal Christian If…

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

You might be a carnal Christian if…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…God is not the first priority in your life.

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

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

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

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

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

…you put you first rather than others.

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

…humility is a word that makes you uncomfortable.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6 Descriptors of Genuine Worship

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Difference Between Praise & Worship

Understanding the difference between praise and worship brings a new depth to the way we honor the Lord. All throughout the Bible, we are commanded to praise the Lord. Angels and the heavenly hosts are commanded to praise the Lord (Psalms 103:20, Psalm 19:1).  All inhabitants of the earth are instructed to praise the Lord (Psalm 150:6). We can praise Him with singing, and with shouting, and with the dance, and with musical instruments of all types. We are even instructed to simply make a joyful noise (Psalm 98:4). The Bible seems to imply that sometimes singing just isn’t enough, sometimes shouting just isn’t adequate, sometimes dancing is out of the question, sometimes words fail, and in those moments you should simply make a joyful noise.

Praise: from the Hebrew verb HALAL (where we get the word hallelujah); means to praise, celebrate, glory, sing, or to boast. Praise is in fact, the joyful recounting of all that God has done for us. It is closely intertwined with thanksgiving as we offer back to God appreciation for His mighty works on our behalf. Praise is universal and can be applied to other relationships as well. We can praise our family, our friends, our boss, and on and on. Worship, however, comes from a different place within our spirits. Worship should be reserved for God alone (Luke 4:8). Praise can be a part of worship, but worship goes beyond praise. Praise is easy; worship is not. Worship gets to the heart of who we are. To truly worship God, we must let go of our self-worship. Worshipers humble themselves before God, surrender every part of their lives to His control, and adore Him for who He is, not just what He has done. Worship is a lifestyle; not an occasional activity. Jesus said, “…the Father is seeking those who will worship Him in spirit and in truth” (John 4:23).

In Scripture, praise is usually presented as boisterous, joyful, and uninhibited. God invites praise of all kinds from His creation. Jesus said that if people don’t praise God, even the “stones will cry out” (Luke 19:40). But when the Bible mentions worship the tone changes. We read verses like, “Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness” (Psalm 96:9).  And, “Come let us worship and bow down” (Psalm 95:6). Often, worship is coupled with the act of bowing or kneeling, which shows humility and contrition. It is through true worship that we invite the Holy Spirit to speak to us, convict us, and comfort us. Through worship, we realign our priorities with God’s and acknowledge Him once more as the rightful Lord of our lives. Praise is intertwined with thanksgiving. Worship is intertwined with surrender. It is impossible to worship God and anything else at the same time (Luke 4:8). The physical acts often associated with worship—bowing, kneeling, lifting hands—help to create the necessary attitude of humility required for real worship.

Often the differences between praise and worship are described in this way: Praise is about God, and worship is to God. Praise is opening up, worship is entering in. Praise is boldly declaring, worship is humbly bowing in the presence of a Holy God. Praise applauds what God has done, worship is honoring God for who He is.”

Worship is an attitude of the heart. A person can go through the outward motions of praise and not be worshiping. God sees the heart, and He desires and deserves sincere, heartfelt praise and worship.

The Pros and Cons of Facebook (Part 2)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Pros and Cons of Facebook (Part 1)

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

1. It can be a time drain.

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

2. It can hinder your relationships with real people.

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

3. One moment of carelessness can do irreparable harm.

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

4. It can open doors to inappropriate relationships.

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

5. It can destroy your witness.

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

6. It can be depressing.

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

7. It can produce narcissism in your heart.

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

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5 Tips for Introverted Leaders

Pastors and leaders come in all shapes, sizes, and personality types. I definitely fall into the introverted category (here’s a great article for inward pastors entitled 7 Ways to Thrive As an Introverted Pastor by Ron Edmondson). I was a shy kid and I kept pretty quiet in college too. I am one of those strange people who actually likes to read and study. But budding leaders are usually pushed out of their comfort zones into a more outgoing demeanor. For the most part, this is a positive progression but at times, it can be taxing on the spirit of an introvert.  Here are five tips that have helped me overcome the weaknesses and maximize the strengths of my introverted leadership style.

1. Resist the pressure to be something that you’re not. There’s a lot of pressure on pastors and leaders of all kinds to be dynamic. However, it’s important to remember that outgoing, highly extroverted leaders are not necessarily dynamic by virtue of their personality alone. In fact, those personality types come with their own set of struggles and weaknesses. Early on in ministry, I found myself trying to imitate leaders whose personalities were miles apart from mine. Before long I was miserable and felt like a complete failure. Did I need to mature and address a few character flaws? Yes. Did my entire personality need to be discarded before God could use me? Certainly not. In the Bible, you will find various leaders who had very different temperaments and yet they were all mightily used of God. And yes, many of them were introverts.

2. Resist the temptation to retreat within when under pressure. I would be lying if I told you that I had this little piece of advice down pat. I don’t. It’s normal for us introverts to pull away and become very inward when we are hurting, stressed, attacked, or feeling pressured. Grandma always said, “Isolation is the Devil’s playground.” She was right.

3. Surround yourself with people who understand and value you and your personality.  Because it’s my default setting to retreat inwardly at unhealthy moments I strive to surround myself with people who understand my personality and respond accordingly. I thank God for Rachel (my wife) who helps keep me balanced and pulls me back into the land of the living. Cultivate relationships with friends and family that sustain you. Keep people close who will lovingly remind you to set the book down and leave the office from time to time. People who truly love and care about you will walk the healthy line between respecting your temperament and helping you adjust the flaws.

4. Know your personality limitations. I purposely didn’t call them weaknesses because not all limitations are weaknesses. Every leader should have a good measure of self-awareness. If understanding the personalities of others is important; understanding what makes you tick is paramount. For introverts, we can’t maintain the steady social schedules that our highly extroverted friends can. Find a balance that is healthy for you and learn your limits. Just as importantly, learn when to break out of your personality and be what is needed for the moment. For example, there are times when even the quietest individual must speak up, speak out, and speak long.

5. Know your personality strengths. We introverts do have strengths that we should use and we should use them often. Because our minds never quite seem to shut down we can be very thoughtful and considerate. We have a greater capacity for compassion than most, and we make good listeners when needed. We’re less likely to say something foolish in the heat of the moment. Our love for study and meditation makes the fundamental spiritual disciplines of prayer and Bible reading a natural part of our daily routines. We speak with conviction and sincerity. When we are loud, forceful, energetic, or angry it gets people’s attention because it is never contrived or overblown.

9 Types of Church Services

I really enjoy bouncing my posts off of writings that I run across during my own study times. I want to connect you to an article entitled Understanding the 6 Kinds of Church Services by Mark Driscoll. Driscoll touches on the interesting subject of what his paradigm refers to as the “emotional tone” of a church service. He asserts that the theology and the emotional tone of a service must coincide or they will clash leaving the saints feeling dazed and confused. In an Apostolic paradigm, we would be more comfortable speaking in terms of understanding the flow of the Spirit in every service.

Many people approach church with preconceived ideas or expectations about what makes a great service. Rather than allowing God and the ministry the liberty to lead us we stand (or sit) in judgment if God doesn’t “show up” in the way we expect Him to. In the Old Testament God revealed Himself in a myriad of ways: burning bush, cloud by day & pillar of fire by night, whispering, thundering, and the list could go on and on. The moving of the Spirit is more than just a dance (and I’m all for dancing in the Spirit), and it’s more than just a time of blissful silence (and I’m all for those quiet and deep moves of the Spirit). Verse number two in our Bible’s gives a clue as to how the Spirit operates; “…And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters (Genesis 1:2).” John 3:8 compares the Spirit to the wind that blows where and when it wants to blow. My point is simply that the Spirit of God is not predictable, controllable, fully understandable, and it is certainly not able to be manipulated by you or me.

It seems counterintuitive for an Apostolic to say that the moving of the Spirit is more than emotional (although it can be and often is emotional). It’s foolish to relegate the operation of the Holy Ghost to mere emotion because our emotions often play tricks on us. The Holy Ghost can and should cause us to celebrate, speak in tongues, sing, shout, become demonstrative, and extravagant in our praise. However, we should also be receptive when the Spirit convicts, corrects, rebukes, teaches, perfects, and other various things that are sometimes painful. In other words, if we are truly seeking after God’s will every time we gather together as the children of God we will lay aside our manmade expectations and sincerely ask God to have His way. With this in mind, I have compiled a list of 8 types of church services.

  1. Comforting Services (John 14:26). Some church services are simply meant to bring comfort to our hearts. This can happen in many ways but the Holy Ghost is indeed the great Comforter (John 15:26, John 16:7).
  2. Evangelistic Services (Acts 2:38). Often church services are designed to evangelize the lost and answer the question, “…what shall we do (Acts 2:37)?” When the Spirit moves to reach the lost it is vitally important that those of us who are already saved remain involved in the process. Spiritually mature Christians are ok when a service isn’t aimed specifically at their needs. If you emotionally check out of evangelistic services you need to check your Holy Ghost pulse.
  3. Reminder Services (John 14:26, Jude 1:5). Regardless of how long we have been following Jesus we still become forgetful. Even worse, sometimes we slip into complacency and so the Spirit often moves in our church services to remind us of things that we should already know.
  4. Proclamation of Truth Services (John 16:13). When the Spirit moves it guides us into truth. Proclaiming truth is one of the primary functions of the Church and all of its activities should lead to the Truth.
  5. Prophetic Services (John 16:13). Apostolic churches must be comfortable with the reality that God has not changed and the gift of prophecy is still very real. I know that prophetic gifts are sometimes abused, but so is everything else. The Church as a whole profoundly needs genuine prophetic gifts to be in operation.
  6. Family Reunion Services (Galatians 4:6). God is our Heavenly Father and that makes us brothers and sisters in the Lord (Galatians 3:28). Therefore, it is appropriate that we gather together and honor our family heritage. I think of this as a family reunion because the Church is not just one congregation. The Church is comprised of a massive number of congregations from all over the world. There should be times when we connect, refresh, uplift, and encourage one another.
  7. Teaching Services (Ephesians 4:11). It’s important to remember that the apostle Paul included teaching within the parameters of the Five Fold Ministry. Teaching services equip, train, and solidify our minds. Mature Christians covet good teaching.
  8. Celebration Services (Exodus 15:19-21). We should celebrate the goodness of God all the time, but when God does something especially tremendous we should focus our celebration around it. Some services will simply celebrate the goodness of God.
  9. Giving Services (1 Chronicles 29:9, 2 Corinthians 8:1-5). Although, consistent giving is needed, sometimes a spirit of sacrificial giving is required for the advancement of the Church’s mission. This is the type of service that usually meets the most resistance. Even pastors fear this kind of service. Don’t let fear or carnality keep you from reaping the blessings birthed out of sacrificial giving.

Conclusion: Healthy churches experience a blend and balance of the nine types of services mentioned above. Furthermore, healthy Christians are comfortable with each of these service types. Unhealthy churches get stuck overemphasizing two or three types of services to the exclusion of the rest. This creates spiritual imbalance. Obviously, every church service contains some elements of the things mentioned above, but most times there is an overarching theme that God is directing us towards. Learning to be sensitive to the Spirit is one of the most important spiritual disciplines that a believer can cultivate.

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9 Signs That You Might Be Weary In Well Doing

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

Be-Not-Weary

1. Lack of Prayer

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

2. Half-Hearted Praise

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

3. Habitually Missing Church

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

4. Murmuring & Complaining

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

5. Spiked Levels of Temptation & Intensified Longings For Worldliness 

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

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

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

7. Unwillingness to Participate In the Kingdom of God  

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

8. Bitterness 

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

9. Rebellion

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

7 Things That Make Us Weary In Well Doing

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

1. Discouragement 

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

2. Murmuring 

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

3. Giants (Obstacles)

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

4. Hypocrites 

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

5. Slow Moving Miracles

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

6. Strange Miracles

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

7. Reoccurring Enemies & Familiar Battles 

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

 





Is Faith Absurd?

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Robin Williams, Suicide & Hope

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Building The Kingdom

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

TO DO LIST

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

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

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

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

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

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

Faith Shakers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Case for Yearly Preaching Plans

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

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

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

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

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