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

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

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

To understand the role of prophecy today, we must begin by understanding the ancient prophets’ role. Otherwise, it’s like trying to understand algebra without a rudimentary knowledge of addition.

It doesn’t take much casual browsing through Scripture to realize that biblical prophets were intensely controversial, mostly misunderstood, extremely negative, and overwhelmingly politically incorrect.

The Role of Biblical Prophets

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

God despises false prophets who invoke His authority to speak lies or manipulate people to their own will (Jeremiah 23:9-40).

Deuteronomy 18:20-22 was the backdrop that framed the mindset of true men of God. They feared the judgment of God and eschewed the opinions of men. To be sure, that nobility of heart and strength of moral character took a toll. Habakkuk felt abandoned by God (Habakkuk 1:2-11). Jeremiah mourned the prosperity of the wicked and felt the loneliness of being discounted (Jeremiah 12:1-4, Jeremiah 20:8). Elijah longed for death (1 Kings 19:4). Noah succumbed to strong drink after the fulfillment of his prophecy of worldwide judgment (9:21). And, God instructed Hosea to marry an unloving prostitute (Hosea 1:2) and endure a lifetime of heartbreak. Their difficulties and struggles don’t make the prophetic calling particularly compelling. Modern readers glamorize the prophetic life, but the reality described in Scripture is sacred, scary, and sacrosanct. To put it mildly, most people claiming the prophetic gifting have more in common with Balaam than Elisha.

To put it mildly, most people claiming the prophetic gifting have more in common with Balaam than Elisha.

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

Old Testament prophets did more than predict the future. They bubbled forth the Word of the Lord. They were God’s mouthpiece. They spoke what God spoke regardless of the personal repercussions.

The Role of Apostolic Prophecy

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

Every New Testament preacher operates with a blending of the five-fold ministries. The prophetic mantle rests on the shoulders of every God-called preacher of the Gospel regardless of official title or position.

Modern preachers should be fountains that bubble forth the pure Word of God. They are keepers of the Word and carriers of the cross. They are the original truth to power brokers. Tweaking the Word for convenience is unacceptable in the eyes of God. Refusing to speak the full revelation of God’s Word is a perversion of the prophetic office. To pollute, dilute, or exclude any God-given words for profit is detestable and stirs God’s wrath. I am genuinely concerned that many apostolic preachers are losing the courage to remain righteously counter-cultural and unavoidably politically incorrect. I say “unavoidably” because it’s not possible to be biblically correct and politically correct at the same time. Politically correct preachers are really just biblically incorrect preachers.

Modern preachers should be fountains that bubble forth the pure Word of God. They are keepers of the Word and carriers of the cross. They are the original truth to power brokers

Tweaking the Word for convenience is unacceptable. Refusing to speak the full revelation of God’s Word is a perversion of the prophetic office. To pollute, dilute, or exclude any God-given words for profit stirs God’s wrath.

Politically correct preachers are really just biblically incorrect preachers.

Six Prophetic Tensions

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

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

Truth is rarely mainstream, annoyingly inconvenient, and stubbornly unchanging. The world desperately needs courageous modern godly mouthpieces that will speak the truth in an age of timidity.

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

1. Truth vs. Timidity

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

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

2. Clarity vs. Confusion

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

False prophets confuse and convolute. Genuine preachers aren’t vague, cryptic, or overly speculative in their preaching. If a prophetic preacher generates more confusion than revelation, he’s more than likely a false prophet.

3. Conviction vs. Compromise

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

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

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

Jesus said the Holy Spirit would convict people of their sin, reveal their need for righteousness, and warn them of the coming judgment.

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

Compromising eventually places preachers in the position of actively resisting the work of the Spirit. Essentially, they become an enemy of God.

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

4. Faith vs. Fear

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

Faith and fear are not compatible. One eventually pushes the other out. True prophets allow faith to cast out their fears, and they inspire their followers to do the same.

5. Reverence vs. Irreverence

There is a growing sense of irreverence towards spiritual things, even among “religious” people. I believe this is reflected in many ways, including how people dress for church (check out Should We Still Dress Our Best For Church?). Ancient prophets brimmed with righteous reverence for the things of God. They demanded the same from those listening to their divinely inspired words. Modern Christianity must overcome the growing tension between reverence and irreverence in our culture. God will not accept irreverent sacrifices in His name. British theologian Thomas Smail gives an interesting warning in his book The Forgotten Father:

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

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

Modern Christianity must overcome the growing tension between reverence and irreverence in our culture. God will not accept irreverent sacrifices in His name.

6. Power vs. Prosperity

Perhaps, the worst degrading of prophecy has come from the proponents of prosperity theology. The “God will double your money if you send me a thousand dollars right now” crowd. These charlatans, either genuinely or disingenuously, believe that wealth, health, and fame are spiritual success measures. But, ancient biblical prophets were far more concerned with spiritual power than earthly power. They called down fire from heaven while barely having enough food to eat or a place to live. If prosperity theology is correct, the ancient prophets were wildly out of the will of God.

Most people reading this have long ago rejected prosperity theology; however, there is a lingering (unspoken) assumption that struggling preachers are somehow out of God’s favor. This assumption is a subtle trick of the enemy. It’s just another way to shame godly preachers into conforming to the will of the carnal majority. The real measuring stick of apostolic authority isn’t bank accounts. Instead, it’s the manifested power of God. Interestingly, as materialism grows, manifestations of the Spirit decline. Men of God should seek the power of God, not positions or materialistic prosperity. I’m all for the blessings of God, but never at the expense of the power of God.

Conclusion

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

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

God is calling a fresh generation of preachers who are willing to be completely unashamed of the Word of God. They will preach without thought for their safety or societal security.

Apostolic Voice Podcast

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Praising the Lord in All Things

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 undoubtedly 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 same 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 incredibly 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 Associate Pastor and Jon as a vital part of our youth and music ministry. To God be the glory.

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.


Podcast Episode with Mom (Rebecca French

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

9 Things to Remember When You’re Hurting

Hurt comes to everyone’s life in one way or another. For some, it’s more severe than others. Of course, when we use a generic term like hurt, it can mean physical, emotional, or spiritual damage. It can even be a potent combination of the three. It usually becomes a blend of the three because when we are hurting in one area, it bleeds into the other two eventually. A friend once said, “Don’t let your pain go to waste.” That’s stuck with me for many years. Every hardship has a lesson (or multiple lessons) embedded within it. Indeed, this is the essence of Paul’s anointed thinking when he wrote of learning to be content in every situation. (Philippians 4:11) Below are nine things to remember when hurting humbly written from one hurt person to another.

Below are nine things to remember when hurting humbly written from one hurt person to another.

1. You’re not the only one hurting.

Pain has a way of causing us to turn inward and become unintentionally selfish. It’s easy to forget that others are hurting too. Understanding others have pain, too, doesn’t minimize or detract from what we’re going through. But it keeps our pain in perspective when we realize others have their own unique hurts and problems. There are extreme times of trauma when we need those closest to us to drop everything and be available. However, those moments can’t and won’t last forever. It’s intensely selfish to assume our hurt is the worst hurt. It’s also incredibly freeing to know that we are not alone in our pain. Finding someone who has experienced similar difficulties and recovered is often the most encouraging thing we can do.

Pain has a way of causing us to turn inward and become unintentionally selfish. It’s easy to forget that others are hurting too.

It’s intensely selfish to assume our hurt is the worst hurt. It’s also incredibly freeing to know that we are not alone in our pain. Finding someone who has experienced similar difficulties and recovered is often the most encouraging thing we can do.

I had to undergo four open-heart surgeries as a child. I was six when they operated on my heart the fourth time. Not too many years after my recovery, Jonathan, my younger brother, was diagnosed with leukemia and underwent years of treatment (you can read more about those testimonies here). My family spent lots of time in and around hospitals. Huge chunks of my childhood memories revolve around painful medical procedures. I have a vivid memory of being very young, lying in a hospital bed with tubes in and around my body, feeling like the most hurt kid on earth. Suddenly, the door flung open, and two nurses wheeled in a young boy missing both his legs. He was groaning with pain, and at that moment, the realization dawned on me that my pain was not the only pain in the world. To this day, if I start to feel like my pain is the only pain in the world, I walk into a children’s hospital and remember that hurt is a universal human condition.

2. Hurt doesn’t give anyone a license to be a jerk.

Years ago, I heard an old farmer tell the story of how one of his prized Tennessee walkers managed to escape his stable on a warm summer afternoon. After hours of searching, the old man found his treasured horse hopelessly tangled in rusty old barbed wire fencing. It broke the farmer’s heart watching that majestic beast trying in vain to break free, but with every effort, the shards of barbed wire embedded themselves deeper into the bloody wounds. With soothing words and a cautious step, the old farmer inched his way towards the grand animal with wire cutters in hand. But he wasn’t careful enough; from the corner of his eye, he saw the hoof coming, but it was too late. He felt an explosive sensation in his head, and everything went black. When he awoke, the horse was almost dead, and he was too.

The old axiom is true that hurting people hurt people. Sadly, this creates a cycle of pain in the hurting person’s life. Hurting people isolate themselves by constructing self-imposed barriers between themselves and those who care about them the most. It’s difficult not to be caustic, sarcastic, and just a little narcissistic when hurting deeply. Truly hurting people may lash out at random strangers or their closest friends and family members at any given moment, alienating them further and intensifying their pain. Like the horribly mangled Tennessee walker, hurting people don’t necessarily mean to lash out or act like a jerk; sometimes, it’s just a reflexive reaction. Regardless, pain doesn’t give us the right to attack the people around us. And it only makes the situation worse.

Hurting people don’t necessarily mean to lash out or act like a jerk; sometimes, it’s just a reflexive reaction. Regardless, pain doesn’t give us the right to attack the people around us. And it only makes the situation worse.

3. All hurts can be healed.

There might be scars that never quite disappear. The healing may not come when and how we want it to appear, but God will send healing if we remain righteous. One of the most encouraging passages in the Bible is Psalm 37:17-19:

“The righteous cry, and the Lord heareth, and delivereth them out of all their troubles. The Lord is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous: but the Lord delivereth him out of them all.”

The Bible never tries to sugarcoat the reality that the righteous will be afflicted, yet God will deliver the righteous from all their troubles. That little word all is so important because it encompasses physical, spiritual, and emotional hurt. There is no hurt that God cannot heal. There is no wound so deep that God cannot mend. And the righteous are never closer to God than when they are brokenhearted. Even while we are waiting for the healing, the Healer is with us.

There might be scars that never quite disappear. The healing may not come when and how we want it to appear, but God will send healing if we remain righteous (Psalm 37:17-19).

There is no hurt that God cannot heal. There is no wound so deep that God cannot mend. And the righteous are never closer to God than when they are brokenhearted. Even while we are waiting for the healing, the Healer is with us.

4. God is present even when you don’t feel Him.

The greatest saints in the Bible often felt as if God was absent in their trouble. Isaiah lamented, “God, where are your dramatic, awe-inspiring works of in my day?” He had heard of “times past” when God would “rend the heavens and come down,” when people “quaked in God’s presence.” But where was that God now, Isaiah asked? He shouted in dismay, “You have hidden your face from us.” (Isaiah 64:1-7) The psalmist Asaph cried, “We are given no signs from God; no prophets are left, and none of us knows how long this will be” (Psalm 74:9). And Gideon, right before God used him to destroy an entire Midianite army with only three hundred men, said to an angelic messenger, “If the Lord is really with us… where are all His wonderful deeds like the ones our fathers told us about?” (Judges 6:13)

If you want to learn powerful lessons about finding purpose in pain, read The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom. It’s the true story of Corrie’s life during World War II and her family’s efforts to hide Jews from the Nazis. Eventually, the Nazis caught Corrie and her sister, Betsie, and threw them into a concentration camp. In Hitler’s death camp, they experienced unspeakable horrors. A little gem in the story is the recounting of Corrie and Betsie’s first night in Nazi barracks. The bunk beds were stacked three levels high and barely offered enough room for a person to squeeze into them. Usually, two or three ladies were forced to share single four-foot-wide rancid straw mattresses. While laying there fighting nausea because of the stench and claustrophobia, Corrie felt something bite her leg. “Fleas,” she cried! Looking closely, Corrie and Betsie realized the entire room was swarming with fleas.

“How can we live in such a place?” Corrie moaned. Betsie began to pray and ask the Lord to show them how they could endure this nightmare. Suddenly, a Scripture came to her mind that she had been reading:

“Comfort the frightened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all. Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus …” (1 Thessalonians 5:14-18)

Betsie was firm, “we must thank God for the fleas.” Understandably, Corrie was shocked and annoyed at the idea of thanking God for the fleas. Corrie couldn’t find it in her heart to thank God for something so awful.

As the weeks passed, Betsie’s health weakened to the point that, rather than needing to go out on work duty each day, she was permitted to remain in the barracks and knit socks together with other seriously-ill prisoners. She was a lightning-fast knitter and usually had her daily sock quota completed by noon. As a result, she had hours each day she could spend moving from platform to platform reading the Bible to fellow prisoners. She was able to do this undetected as the guards never seemed to venture far into the barracks.

One evening when Corrie arrived back at the barracks, Betsie’s eyes were twinkling. “You’re looking extraordinarily pleased with yourself,” Corrie told her.

“You know we’ve never understood why we had so much freedom in the big room,” Betsie said, referring to the part of the barracks where the sleeping platforms were. “Well—I’ve found out. This afternoon there was confusion in my knitting group about sock sizes, so we asked the supervisor to come and settle it. But she wouldn’t. She wouldn’t step through the door, and neither would the guards. And you know why?” Betsie could not keep the triumph from her voice as she exclaimed, “Because of the fleas! That’s what she said: ‘That place is crawling with fleas!’ ” God had a purpose for the fleas that Corrie could not see. She couldn’t see or feel God in that situation. But He was there all along!

5. Your response to hurt will determine whether you come out stronger or weaker.

Job lost everything: children, health, and wealth, but he refused to sin or charge God foolishly. (Job 1:12-22) Because of his righteous response, God gave Job more abundant blessings than he had previously. Joseph had visions and dreams from God, but his jealous brothers sold him into slavery. He was persecuted, falsely accused, tossed into prison, forgotten, ignored, but Joseph never stopped trusting the Lord. Not only was he restored, but God elevated Joseph to places he could not have imagined. (Genesis 41) Learning how to react correctly to hurt is possibly the most essential life skill we can learn.

Learning how to react correctly to hurt is possibly the most essential life skill we can learn.

Two thieves hung on crosses next to Jesus. It isn’t possible to adequately describe the agony of crucifixion. But crucifixion is one of the most excruciating and traumatic ways to die. Both thieves were suffering in precisely the same way. But one thief scoffed Jesus, and the other begged Jesus to remember him. (Luke 23:32-43) Beautifully, Jesus responded to the tormented thief begging for remembrance and promised him a place in paradise. (Luke 23:43) Our response to God while hurting can mean the difference between Heaven and Hell.

6. There are valuable lessons to be learned while hurting.

In his classic work The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis wrestled openly with the big questions of human suffering. He offers insights into revelations received during the most painful seasons of his life. Lewis wrote:

“I should very much like to live in a universe which was governed by such lines [where happiness and kindness abound and they always lead to good things]. But since it is abundantly clear that I don’t, and since I have reason to believe, nevertheless, that God is Love, I conclude that my conception of love needs correction… Love is something more stern and splendid than mere kindness. … Kindness, merely as such, cares not whether its object becomes good or bad, provided only that it escapes suffering.”

Only through suffering could Lewis gain such insight into the nature of God. In my own life, I have only traversed the deepest wellsprings of revelation through grief. Some insights can only be achieved through pain. Some depths can only be explored in the darkest places. Some epiphany’s flash like lightning in the middle of terrible storms. Learn to look for lessons strewn about in the tempests of suffering, and you will find priceless gems sparkling in the mud.

Some insights can only be achieved through pain. Some epiphany’s flash like lightning in the middle of terrible storms. Learn to look for lessons strewn about in the tempests of suffering, and you will find priceless gems sparkling in the mud.

7. Anointing is forged and perfected in fiery furnaces.

In yet another definitive work, Beyond The Shadowlands, C.S. Lewis wrote:

“God loves us, so He makes us the gift of suffering. Through suffering, we release our hold on the toys of this world… We’re like blocks of stone, out of which the sculptor carves the forms of men. The blows of his chisel, which hurt us so much, are what make us perfect. The suffering in this world is not the failure of God’s love for us; it is that love in action.”

Be careful praying for God to give you anointing; He will do it, but it will be painful. God will place you in situations where you will be forced to stand when everyone else is bowing down, and He will ask you to bow when everyone else is standing. The anointing will take you to the furnaces and fires of decision and sacrifice. The process is difficult, but the refining is worth it.

The anointing will take you to the furnaces and fires of decision and sacrifice. The process is difficult, but the refining is worth it.

8. Hiding from helpers only makes hurting hurt worse.

When Jonathan, my brother, was battling leukemia, I met a little boy in the children’s hospital. His name was Jordan, and he was very young and as you can imagine he was very scared. The doctors and nurses seemed to him very large and imposing, so he would try to hide from them when possible. This, of course, was extremely disturbing to his parents, who wanted him to get good treatment. But it was impossible to make that little boy understand why doctors sometimes do things that hurt so we can heal. He turned hiding from his helpers into a game of cat and mouse.

We, humans, tend to be like Jordan when we’re hurting. Like Adam and Eve in the garden, we hide from the One and the ones who want to help us the most. However, this can cause serious damage and keep us from getting the help we so desperately need. Resist the urge to isolate and hide when pain is acute. Please don’t let fear, or pride, or shame, or anything else keep you from allowing helpers to help fix your hurt.

Resist the urge to isolate and hide when pain is acute. Please don’t let fear, or pride, or shame, or anything else keep you from allowing helpers to help fix your hurt.

9. Hurt is only a season that will soon pass.

According to Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, there is a time and a season for everything under the sun. There is a time for life and death, planting and reaping, killing and healing, destroying and building, mourning and laughter, there’s even a time for losing and winning. But there is one season the Bible never mentions, and that is a season for quitting. Because in the economy of God, there is no giving up. Quitting is not an option. Human reasoning says failure is not an option. But that isn’t so. God can handle our failures as long as we don’t quit.

The Bible never mentions a season for quitting. Because in the economy of God, there is no giving up. Quitting is not an option. Human reasoning says failure is not an option. But that isn’t so. God can handle our failures as long as we don’t quit.

The great thing about understanding that life operates in seasons is the accompanying knowledge that painful seasons will pass. Seasons are, by definition, temporary. Winter seems eternal, but it’s not. All the death gives way to life, and Spring bursts forth. So, never give up. Take courage and keep your faith because good things are coming your way.

The great thing about understanding that life operates in seasons is the accompanying knowledge that painful seasons will pass. Seasons are, by definition, temporary.

Winter seems eternal, but it’s not. All the death gives way to life, and Spring bursts forth. So, never give up. Take courage and keep your faith because good things are coming your way.

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Connection vs. Carnality – In Student Ministry

It would be prudent, to begin with, this statement of belief: I believe in solid connection with students while being connected to each student in a unique and individually specific way. I believe and am an advocate for personal, one on one connection. Yet, I think we (student pastors, youth pastors, youth workers) are in danger of blurring the lines of connection and crossing into carnality. Let’s talk about it.

The Field and the Pressure

If we look at student ministry, we will find one of the most significant evangelism fields in the world. In the United States alone, there are 74 million people under the age of 18, which accounts for nearly 25% of the population. It’s not a stretch to say students make up a substantial part and are the driving force of our culture. As adults, we look to teenagers to see what is new, trendy, or popular. While pre-teens look to the 15 to 18-year-old group to see what aspirations they should be entertaining. This reality places a powerful burden of influence in the hands of teenagers.

I have no problem with the fact teenagers can help define and shape culture. In fact, as youth pastors, we should capitalize on this fact and use it to our advantage. If we gather teens and connect with them, if we can help them connect with a spiritual walk with God, then we will, in turn, affect both younger and older generations. However, there is a disturbing trend of blurred lines on how to connect with the current generation. In prayer recently, the Lord put this thought in my mind: “The danger of student ministry is justifying carnality and calling it connection.”

If we gather teens and connect with them, if we can help them connect with a spiritual walk with God, then we will, in turn, affect both younger and older generations.

The danger of student ministry is justifying carnality and calling it connection.

The Danger of Social Media Mirroring

One of the dangers of blurring the line between connection and carnality is social media mirroring. Allow me to explain. I served as an assistant and full-time youth pastor for eight years. During this incredible season of life, my wife, Jessica, and I were privileged to be youth pastor to some of the most amazing students. As we transitioned to Youth Pastor, we felt excitement but also horror in our position. We were committed to reaching our students but also totally “out of touch” with our role as their youth pastor. Our predecessor, Rev. Chadwick Craft, was a phenomenal leader and spiritual guide. We knew we couldn’t fill his shoes, nor were we supposed to fill them. We would need to walk “OUR” path with our giftings and abilities. So, despite Paul warning us about comparison (2 Corinthians 10:1-11), I looked at other student ministry social media accounts and felt instantly demoralized.

I discovered incredible graphics, mind-blowing stage designs, relevant lesson plans, and youth pastors who looked incredibly; yes, I’m old enough to use the word “cool”. My goal was to immediately mirror these ministries by being in schools at lunchtime and being at their events and recitals. I wanted to post pictures of myself with students to prove my connection, my impact on their lives. It was a rush to mirror the “social media success” stories posted daily.

Obviously, there is nothing wrong with wanting connection, but here is where the danger came into play. In the rush to mirror student ministry, we became very uncomfortable with the “connection” moments we were seeing and felt pressured to perform. Lunch was a great time to connect with new students, so this continued for us. However, other events began to weigh heavily on us spiritually. As pressure to post and “connect” increased, we joined in, trying to conform to other groups’ pressure, even though they were in other cities with different church cultures. In doing so, we realized our purpose, worship, and witness would quickly become compromised and carnal if we followed these trends.

The Crossroads of Connection and Carnality

The purpose of spending time with a student to witness was quickly becoming time spent at school functions with no spiritual depth. Connection meant being pressured to attend ballgames, chaperone dances, and have student movie nights in place of youth services. The pressure was unreal. I was told, “This is how you do student ministry,” “This is the way to connect with students,” “Meet them where they are… be in the environment they are in, encourage them in the endeavors of school athletics and programs.” “Dress casual.” “Don’t yell so much” (this was in reference to preaching). That pressure to be like other student pastors left me feeling drained spiritually. It felt wrong. It felt carnal.

Daily I was doing my best to have the right haircut, to wear trendy clothes, listen to the right music, and play the right games on my phone. Yet what was happening was wholesale accepting a culture of carnality. My pressured changes were disingenuous and created a false narrative of who I was and what an apostolic youth group should become. It was time to take a step back and review where we were as a group, where we were spiritually, and where God wanted us to go. We began to search diligently for authentic connection, and in doing so, realized several truths:

  • Students do not care about trendy clothes, as long as someone cares about them.
  • Students do not care if I play the games they play, as long as I spend time with them.
  • Students didn’t care if I was at a sporting event if we were there to weep with them while in an altar.
  • The only person who cared if I was “cool” was other youth workers.
  • Carnal connection was not what God intended; Spiritual connection is what was going to be the difference-maker in their lives.

Students do not care about trendy clothes, as long as someone cares about them.

Students do not care if you play the games they play, as long as you spend time with them.

Students don’t care if you are at a sporting event if you are there to weep with them in an altar.

Genuine connection comes from sitting down and connecting over shared interests. If the interest is carnal, then the connection by proxy will also be carnal. How, then, could real connection happen in carnal environments?

The Case for Genuinly Apostolic Connection

Please receive this in the spirit in which it’s written. We need apostolic student pastors to be apostolic. The wholesale acceptance of involvement in sports, proms, accepting worldly artists who are suddenly “Christian” is not only dangerous but flies in the face of the Scriptures command: Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you (2 Corinthians 6:17).

Do you see the danger? It starts so simply, “I am trying to connect with them. I am trying to connect them to Jesus. If I host a movie night, we have common ground. If we listen to traditionally ungodly artists who suddenly find salvation, we show them how to accept new converts. We must dress casually so they will be comfortable. We must like their posts, so they know we approve.”

While all of these arguments seem valid, each of them draws a very fine line between connection and simply being carnal. We should connect with students. We should lead them to Jesus. We should teach them to accept new converts. But, to do these things without maintaining a clear apostolic voice is simply justifying carnal behavior under the guise of connection. 

It is time. We must shift our focus and become more focused on SPIRITUAL connection, not carnal connection. Should we be present when we can? Should we have P7 clubs and CMI chapters? Should we visit students at school during lunches or breaks? Absolutely, YES! Should we be at their ballgames, dances, and carnal events? Decidedly, the answer would be no. Because in doing so, we are giving permission for their involvement in these carnal events. Our presence equals permission in the minds of teens.

We must shift our focus and become more focused on SPIRITUAL connection, not carnal connection.

Student ministers are pressured on so many fronts: Host movie nights, institute casual approaches to dress codes in service, accept secular artists’ new Christian albums, like posts on Facebook of students going to prom while dressed ungodly and involved in unacceptable activities. Liking carnal posts (pics of ungodly dress or worldly music in an IG story) is like giving a high five to a drowning person. It says I see you drowning, but I don’t love you enough to make you uncomfortable by pulling you out.

Liking carnal posts (pics of ungodly dress or worldly music in an IG story) is like giving a high five to a drowning person. It says I see you drowning, but I don’t love you enough to make you uncomfortable by pulling you out.

Youth group movie night should never happen in an apostolic youth group. It is shocking to see movie nights’ acceptance as not just a fringe idea but being accepted and lauded by many student pastors. In an effort to connect with students by watching movies, we are teaching them to look towards the world for their spiritual lessons and morality. This thinking is a significant error because the Bible is the only guidebook we should use to find our moral compass.

Connecting with students by watching movies, teaches them to look towards the world for their spiritual lessons and morality. This is a significant error because the Bible is the only guidebook we should use to find our moral compass.

Snoop and Kanye suddenly becoming “Christian” does not mean we should immediately play their music in youth service. I’m thankful they are moving in the right direction; their private lives reflect their true nature. Smoking weed, calling themselves yeezus, and the other filthy and frankly barbaric lifestyles they entertain should be reason enough to keep them blacklisted from Apostolic environments.

Apostolic Precedence Over Pressure

Paul connected not by taking new converts to the coliseum or the Olympic games, but by prayer, fasting, and house to house studying the Word of God together. He got them involved in the field! As student pastors, we only get 45-50 hours of connection with them each year in youth service. If you are lucky and have a small group on Sundays, then maybe another 45-50 hours. Above all else, our connections must be viewed as the single most important hour of their lives. That connection must be apostolic.

Paul connected not by taking new converts to the coliseum or the Olympic games, but by prayer, fasting, and house to house studying the Word of God together.

So, what does true apostolic connection look like? It starts with daily prayer and study personally. Daily prayer and Bible study sets the mind and spirit on a path of biblical connection personally and focuses your vision through a spiritual lens. As a gentle reminder, you get what you preach, but who you are is what you produce. This personal devotion aligns you with God as you move through the day. Once you have prayed through, next, you must be honest. Honest with yourself. Is there anything slipping in which promotes carnality and not Christ? If so, be honest with yourself… and change it.

Daily prayer and Bible study sets the mind and spirit on a path of biblical connection personally and focuses your vision through a spiritual lens.

As a gentle reminder, you get what you preach, but who you are is what you produce.

Our Experience and Positive Change

We cut out all of the fluff. We stopped trying to be the “textbook” student pastor. Instead, we began to focus on prayer. Our group was running 79 students when we decided to do an event we called The Hunger Event. It was a simple call to fasting and prayer. We would fast together as a group from Friday at 7 am until Saturday at 7 am. We would meet at the church and pray from 7 pm until 7 am and break our fast together.

We announced this: If you want to play basketball, that will happen next week. If you want to play video games, please don’t be offended, but we won’t be playing games. If you aren’t serious about growth, no worries, we love you… but this event isn’t for you.

The night of the event, we had a sign-in sheet. Ninety-three students signed in by 7 pm. (remember, we were averaging 79 in service). I cannot adequately describe the move of God we experienced. From this meeting, we began a very intentional plan to connect. We promoted prayer as the premier event on our calendar. It was our way of common connection. We preached about prayer. We preached about being apostolic. We promoted prayer and apostolic lifestyle as we would a giveaway. It became the fundamental pressure applied by our team.

We would meet one on one with students and be honest with them about music, lifestyle changes needed but also the importance of being a disciple. We didn’t run an errand alone. If we had to go out of our way to pick up a student to pick up dry cleaning, we did. We became rabid in our connection. We were staying in their texts, calling them, showing up at school or work. Always, every meeting was an encouragement for them to stay connected to God and us.  

It was during this season we began to tell them how God wanted to use them. We shifted all connection, all narrative, to being a worshipper and a witness. Every action had to fit those criteria in some way. It was tough. It was different. But in eight months, we grew from 79 in youth service to 135. We taught a dozen bible studies a month because our connection was based on their spiritual growth. True connection focuses on their spiritual growth and accepting the responsibility to be the Apostolic Voice in their lives.

True student ministry connection focuses on their spiritual growth and accepting the responsibility to be the Apostolic Voice in their lives.

Final Word and Witness

Titus 1:16 is, frankly, very heavy. But it’s a Scripture that stands out. It defines or should define our interactions and connection. It warns about blurring the line between carnality and connection. Paul says (and I’m paraphrasing), they say its connection in relationship, but actually what they are doing is in opposition to His nature; it is unthinkable and unlawful. It makes their work worthless.

They profess that they know God; but in works they deny him, being abominable, and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate.

Titus 1:16

It is in us to fall into the trap of carnal connections. It is an easy snare to fall into, yet it is my desire for someone to read this and realize our connection to students can be deeper and more impactful. I beg you, evaluate how you connect. Filter it through the fact; you have a biblical mandate to be unapologetically apostolic. If you connect them to the Spirit first, God will honor this and bring multiplication to the ministry you serve.

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Darrell Bates is married to his incredible and sweet wife, Jessica. They have been married twelve years. Currently, they serve as Youth President of the UPCI Mississippi District and evangelize full-time. They served in Youth Ministry for nearly fifteen years at First Pentecostal Church in Jackson, MS, and eight years in the MS District Youth department. They both love coffee, reading, and being with students. You can connect with them on Facebook here.

15 Ways to Win the Battle Within

You can find the Apostolic Voice podcast link based on this article at the bottom of this page.


I like statistics. But I know from the glazed looks people give me when I bring them up that most people aren’t like me. So, rather than bore you with the minutia of details, let’s just say folks are battling depression on an epic scale. Indeed, in general, temptation is an ever-present problem, and even Christians seem to be struggling with feelings of despair. Not to mention other emotional issues like fear, anger, bitterness, unforgiveness, lust (including pornography), greed, envy, jealousy, and the list goes on. And those are just the natural issues that human beings face; demonic attacks are prevalent as well. Sadly, many people don’t even realize they’re entangled in a spiritual battle.

Each of the above problems begins in the mind. Every sin starts with a thought, and if that thought is not dealt with properly, it will produce a sinful action or reaction. The battle for peace is fought in the mind. The battle for joy is fought in the mind. The battle for purity is fought in the mind. Satan engages your mind first because what you think about the most is what you will eventually do. If you engage your mind with darkness, you will be drawn towards darkness. If you engage your mind with righteousness, you will be drawn towards righteousness (Philippians 4:8). That’s what Paul meant when he said, “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind… (Romans 12:2)”. Again, in Ephesians 4:22-24, Paul refers to the mind’s battle in relation to holiness and overcoming the old “sinful” way of life. The old mind produces old sins, but a renewed mind produces holiness. In verse 25, Paul illustrates the first fruit of that new mind is truthfulness with our neighbors. The state of our mind informs the status of our actions. In other words, garbage in, garbage out, and vice versa.

Every sin starts with a thought, and if that thought is not dealt with properly, it will produce a sinful action or reaction.

If you engage your mind with darkness, you will be drawn towards darkness. If you engage your mind with righteousness, you will be drawn towards righteousness (Philippians 4:8).

My personality is very susceptible to depression. That’s not easy to say because many Christians are so used to emotionally faking it that they think they’re making it. They’re kicking the emotional can down the road until the inevitable day of reckoning. Hands down, the number one question posed to me when counseling: How can I win the battle that’s raging in my mind (or some variation of that)? The answer is not a simple one. Most people want a silver bullet that makes all the struggles go away immediately. To be sure, there are powerful offensive weapons, but none of them are lasting without a strong defensive shield. You can rebuke the Devil, but he’ll just come back around if you leave your defenses vulnerable.

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

1. Get some rest (Psalm 4:8).

Have you ever been so tired you didn’t care about anything anymore? Exhaustion has a way of draining us physically and emotionally. There are times it can’t be avoided, but there are also times when we simply haven’t made rest a priority.

2. Help somebody (Hebrews 13:16).

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

3. Only listen to Christian music.

Fill your mind with godly music that is uplifting. Yep, and the more it talks about Jesus, the better. Listen to it a lot. Nothing has more ability to impact your mind and mood than music. Everything about music is designed to lower your guard and capture your attention. When you fill your mind with sinful lyrics, you’ve opened yourself up to spiritual attack. You’d be hard-pressed to find a popular secular song that doesn’t glorify either casual sex, cursing, violence, drinking, drugs, cheating, lying, greed, lust, godlessness, hopelessness, despair, or divorce. That list could be a lot longer, but you get the idea. By listening to that kind of music, you are handing your mind over to the enemy. If it walks like the world and talks like the world, it probably is the world. Oh, and if you’re in the world, your prayers lose their power: The prayers of a righteous man avail much (James 5:16).

Everything about music is designed to lower your guard and capture your attention. When you fill your mind with sinful lyrics, you’ve opened yourself up to spiritual attack.

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

4. Spend time daily reading the Bible.

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

5. Pray, really pray (1 Thessalonians 5:17).

Sincerely, pray, and ask God for strength. Pray until the Holy Ghost falls. Pray when you don’t feel like praying. That’s usually when you need to pray the most. Pray for the Lord’s will (Luke 22:42, Matthew 6:9-13). Pray your way through the Psalms. It’s good to get alone with God in a private place, but some of my best prayer meetings happened in my car driving down the road. That’s what it means to pray without ceasing, being ready to pray at a moment’s notice.

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

Don’t just pray when you need something. Pray because you want to be close to God. Put some praise in your prayers.

6. Remain obedient to the Bible in your personal life (even when no one is looking).

Disobedience invites the demonic (1 Samuel 13:14). Even worse, disobedience stirs God’s wrath (Ephesians 5:6). Disobedient Christians are miserable because they are fighting demons and suffering the Lord’s anger at the same time. Disobedience produces guilt, condemnation, pain, and spiritual resistance. The pain that we suffer while in disobedience is intended to draw us back to repentance. Much like the prodigal son who needed a pig pen before realizing he needed to go back home. If you’re living in disobedience, things will get progressively worse until you repent and make things right with God.

The pain that we suffer while in disobedience is intended to draw us back to repentance. Much like the prodigal son who needed a pig pen before realizing he needed to go back home.

7. Spend time talking with godly, Holy Ghost filled people who will encourage you, not discourage you (Proverbs 13:20-25).

Choose your inner circle wisely. Those closest to you will impact your attitude and your mind the most. Your most intimate friendships should not be with unwise or ungodly people. Be kind to everyone, but your deep friendships should be with Holy Ghost filled encouragers who aren’t afraid to tell you the truth even when it hurts.

Your most intimate friendships should not be with unwise or ungodly people. Be kind to everyone, but your deep friendships should be with Holy Ghost filled encouragers who aren’t afraid to tell you the truth even when it hurts.

8. Avoid people, places, and things that will trigger a spiritual attack, temptation, or depression (when possible).

Eve would have been far less likely to eat the fruit if she hadn’t been near the fruit. The serpent didn’t show up until she showed up where she shouldn’t have been. Don’t set yourself up for failure by hanging around people and places that pull your mind in dangerous directions. Some things aren’t sinful by themselves, but they have emotional connections in your mind that trigger unhealthy thoughts. Avoid those things. For example, I have a friend who was addicted to heroin before he received the Holy Ghost. Every time he shot up, he would listen to instrumental jazz music and wait for the drugs to take over. Whenever he hears jazz music, all kinds of negative emotions come crashing down on him. If possible, he avoids jazz. That’s called wisdom.

Eve would have been far less likely to eat the fruit if she hadn’t been near the fruit. Don’t set yourself up for failure by hanging around people and places that pull your mind in dangerous directions.

Some things aren’t sinful by themselves, but they have emotional connections in your mind that trigger unhealthy thoughts. Avoid those things.

9. Get to church as soon as possible and grab the altar until God touches you (Psalm 84:3, Psalm 92:13).

There’s a reason we are instructed not to forsake the gathering together of godly people (Hebrews 10:25). It’s a blessing for our benefit (Mark 2:27). Even the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13) is written in the plural, not the singular: Give us this day our daily bread. We thrive as a community of believers. We were not made to walk alone. Faith feeds faith. Worship breeds worship. Joy is contagious. When we are weak, we need fellow believers’ strengths, and when we are strong weak believers need our encouragement.

We were not made to walk alone. Faith feeds faith. Worship breeds worship. Joy is contagious. When we are weak, we need fellow believers’ strengths, and when we are strong weak believers need our encouragement.

There is safety in numbers. The Bible refers to Satan as a lion looking for a person to devour (1 Peter 5:8). Lions are known for stalking enormous prey. They follow a herd and wait for one member of the pack to lag behind or become separated from the others. That’s when the lion pounces. A herd can defend itself from the lion’s attack, but a single animal becomes an easy victim. Years of ministry have taught me that many people avoid church when struggling to win the battle for their minds. That’s the worst thing a person can do in that situation. If you have to take a boat, train, plane, or walk in the rain: do what you have to do to get to church.

10. Worship the Lord all the time, even when you’re alone (Psalm 34:1).

This one might sound silly at first, but you should spontaneously worship the Lord throughout your day. If you love and appreciate the Lord, you won’t wait until Sunday to tell Him.

11. Add fasting to your prayers.

In Matthew 17:14-21, a father brought his demon-possessed son to Jesus for deliverance. The King James Version refers to the son as a “lunatic,” inferring that the possession and oppression were so strong it had destroyed the boy’s mind. The father had already taken his son to the disciples, but they could not cast the demon out. Of course, Jesus cast the devil out immediately, leaving the disciples wondering why they had been powerless. In verse 19, Jesus rebukes them for their unbelief (lack of faith), and in verse 21, He reveals the reason for their unbelief; lack of prayer combined with fasting. This demon was so strong that it required prayer and fasting to overpower it.

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

There are situations, attacks, oppressions, and spirits that require prayer and fasting to overcome. Fasting brings our mind and body into subjection. It cultivates spiritual awareness and sensitivity.

12. Keep a prayer journal.

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

We humans have a terrible habit of fixating on what we need God to do and forgetting what he has already done. This forgetfulness leads to anxiety. Remembering what God has done builds faith.

13. Study a specific subject in the Bible.

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

Find a subject that you don’t fully understand dig deeply until you understand it inside and out. Knowledge is power in the Spirit (Proverbs 24:5). Satan operates best in confusion.

14. Stay busy.

Boredom is the Devil’s playground (1 Timothy 5:13). Too much free time will create a vacuum that trouble quickly fills.

Too much free time will create a vacuum that trouble quickly fills.

15. Listen to a lot of good anointed Apostolic preaching.

I highly recommend downloading the Holy Ghost Radio app and the Revival Radio app. They’re free, and they’re fantastic. You can catch my church Podcast here or on iTunes here. Of course, I’ve got to plug the Apostolic Voice podcast, but there are many great podcasts these days: My brother Nathan hosts a weekly podcast called Noteworthy, and it’s incredibly encouraging. Also, check out The Restorationist by Adam Shaw, Kingdom Speak by Pastor Daniel McKillop, and Simplify by LJ Harry.

Final Thought

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

The Devil attacks people’s minds immediately after powerful spiritual events. It was right after Jesus’ baptism that He was carried into the wilderness and tempted by the Devil (Matthew 4:1-11).

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The Adversity Advantage

I don’t like adversity! I like things to go as planned. I like all the ducks to be in nice neat little orderly rows. My heart sinks when adversity comes because my gut reaction assumes that adversity is always an enormous disadvantage. We don’t want to be the underdog or feel like we picked the short straw in life.

Sadly, by viewing adversity as a tremendous negative, we often create self-fulfilling prophecies. We lose because we think we’re going to lose. We fail because we believe adversaries have the advantage. In reality, the reverse is true. Adversity can be a tremendous advantage in life. I know it sounds crazy, but adversity can actually be the catalyst for your greatest achievements. Lots of anxiety can be avoided by merely recalibrating the way we think about and react to adversity.

By viewing adversity as a negative, we create self-fulfilling prophecies. We lose because we think we’re going to lose. We fail because we believe adversaries have the advantage. The reverse is true. Adversity can be an advantage in life.

Adversity Reveals the Heart

Adversity serves to sharpen and reveal what was already inside of you in the first place. If you are faithless, adversity pushes that to the surface. If you are fearful, adversity pushes that to the surface. If you lack integrity, adversity reveals it. If you are strong, adversity reveals strengths you didn’t even know you had. If you are anointed, adversity forces you to dig deep into wells you didn’t know existed. If you are prayerful, adversity takes you to places in prayer you did not know were possible. For example, Gideon didn’t think he was a mighty man of valor until adversity combined with the voice of God revealed what was already inside of him (Judges 6:12). People don’t backslide because of adversity. They backslide because adversity revealed their heart. People aren’t anointed because of adversity. Adversity just reveals what was already in them.

Adversity sharpens and reveals what was already inside of you. If you are faithless, adversity pushes that to the surface. If you are fearful, adversity pushes it to the surface. If you lack integrity, adversity reveals it.

If you’re strong, adversity reveals strengths you didn’t know you had. If you’re anointed, it forces you to dig deep into wells you didn’t know existed. If you’re prayerful, it takes you to places in prayer you didn’t know were possible.

God Strategically Prepares Underdogs

In Malcolm Gladwell’s book David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants, Gladwell makes several observations about the biblical account of David’s victory over Goliath. He points out that most readers have understandably incorrect misconceptions about David’s underdog status in that conflict. Yes. Goliath was bigger and stronger and heavily armed with powerful conventional weapons. Certainly, Goliath was intimidating and imposing; he had the appearance of advantage. However, any modern battle strategist would tell you that being light, fast, mobile, and having a long-range weapon constitutes a distinct advantage over a big, slow, cumbersome opponent carrying a close-range weapon. David was viewed as the underdog, but he would likely be considered the favorite in that fight in a modern context.

Gladwell misses a crucial point in his book, a point that makes all the difference. While it’s true that David might not have been quite the underdog most people considered him to be, he was only equipped for that victory because of the adversity God had allowed in his life while tending his father’s sheep. In other words, God was preparing him for victory with every season of difficulty he endured. Every adversity God allows you to endure prepares you for a greater victory in the future.

David was only equipped for victory over Goliath because of the adversity God allowed in his life while tending his father’s sheep. In other words, God was preparing him for victory with every season of difficulty he endured.

Every adversity God allows you to endure prepares you for a greater victory in the future.

It’s hard in the difficult moments to see Goliath as anything but terrible adversity. But, adversity (Goliath) is really a God-given opportunity. David only escaped the obscurity of tending sheep by successfully facing off against adversity. He was equipped for Goliath because of precious adversities (killing the lion and the bear). His life was forever changed for the good because of adversity. That trial wasn’t his last trial, but it was the trial that opened the door for continued opportunity and growth as a leader and a man of God.

It’s hard in the difficult moments to see Goliath as anything but terrible adversity. But, adversity is really a God-given opportunity. David only escaped the obscurity of tending sheep by successfully facing off against adversity.

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

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

Top 10 Articles of 2019

At the end of every year, I enjoy reviewing the most read posts of the past twelve months. I’ve included links to all ten of them below. Just click the pictures and it’ll take you to the articles. Interestingly, the top three haven’t changed in several years. I haven’t written much new content in 2019 (I plan to change that in 2020). Oddly, this has still been an exciting year for Apostolic Voice; we leaped over the million click mark, gained a tremendous number of new readers, and made progress on relaunching the podcast. I deeply appreciate your confidence and support. Thank you for allowing my writings into your life. God bless you all, and may 2020 be your best year yet. If you’re new to the Apostolic Voice family, welcome and I hope you find something helpful, inspiring, or at least mildly interesting.

Should We Still Dress Our Best For Church (En Español)?

The original article Should We Still Dress Our Best For Church has been circulated hundreds of thousands of times. Shockingly, it’s quickly approaching the million click mark!

Recently the article has been translated into Spanish. You can read that article HERE. I wanted to make it available for my Spanish speaking friends and family.

10 Signs You Might Be Guilty of Self-Idolatry

What Is Idolatry?

Like so many things in Scripture, we can trace much of theology all the way back to the book of Genesis. Self-idolatry or self-worship is no exception. The serpent enticed Eve with words of self-exaltation: “For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods…” (Genesis 3:5). Becoming a god unto ourselves has always been the greatest temptation that Satan lays before humankind. He subtly emboldens us to take the authority that belongs to God into our own hands. We often define this as rebellion, but it is far more than just rebellion; it is self-idolatry.

Becoming a god unto ourselves has always been the greatest temptation that Satan lays before humankind. He subtly emboldens us to take the authority that belongs to God into our own hands.

In essence, anything that comes between the one true God and us is idolatry (1 Corinthians 10:7-22). We could also narrow it down even further and say that anything we love more than the Lord is an idol. God demands that we offer ourselves to Him as living sacrifices for His glory (Romans 12:1-2). Anything that hinders that self-sacrifice becomes idolatrous.

Anything that comes between the one true God and us is idolatry. anything we love more than the Lord is an idol. Anything that hinders that self-sacrifice becomes idolatrous.

The Idolatry of Godless Wisdom

Leaning on our wisdom is another form of self-idolatry (Romans 1:20-25). Paul speaks of those who hold the truth in unrighteousness (Romans 1:18). They suppress the truth with their sense of self-righteousness. This kind of self-idolatry leads to worthless thinking, and God eventually gives this type of person over to complete foolishness and depravity (Romans 1:21-30).

An Idolatrous Conundrum!

Psalm 115 is probably the most poetically profound condemnation of idolatry found in Scripture. In an epic biblical smackdown, the psalmist describes idols as useless and those who make them and trust them as being just as ridiculous (Psalm 115:4-8). In other words, idolators become eerily like their idols. They make the idols and become like their own creation. They trust in idols and become like the demonic idols they trust. This begs the question: Are self-idolators worshipping themselves? Or, have they just worshipped another idol for so long they have become like the ungodly object of their affection? Either way, it would be wise for us all to recognize the signs of self-idolatry and remove any hint of it that might be in our hearts.

Idolators become eerily like their idols. They make the idols and become like their own creation.

10 Signs You Might Be Guilty of Self-Idolatry

  1. You search your heart before you search the Bible (Jeremiah 17:9, Psalm 18:30).
  2. Your feelings matter more to you than your faithfulness (Proverbs 28:26, Luke 12:42).
  3. You are overly obsessed with outward beauty and vanity (Jeremiah 4:30, Proverbs 31:30, Galatians 5:19-30, 1 Peter 3:3-4, 1 Timothy 2:9-10, Deuteronomy 22:5, Leviticus 19:28, Isaiah 3:16-26, Exodus 20:26).
  4. You routinely reject Apostolic pastoral authority (Hebrews 13:7, Hebrews 13:17, 1 Thessalonians 5:12).
  5. You crave flattery but recoil at conviction (Proverbs 27:6).
  6. You lack compassion for those less fortunate than you (Colossians 3:12).
  7. You maintain a double standard; you consider some things acceptable for you but not for others (Proverbs 20:10, Romans 2:11).
  8. You use and manipulate people while simultaneously wanting their admiration (Luke 11:42).
  9. Your prayers are primarily focused on your own wants and needs; you rarely pray selflessly for others (Philippians 2:3-4).
  10. You view church as being all about your blessing; your opinions, wants, and needs are always the main focus (Philippians 2:3-4).

Idolatry Inside the Church

I know some of you are thinking that idolatry is an outside problem. No. The worst versions of idolatry are inside problems: Inside the “saints” and the Church. If you study the Old and the New Testaments, you’ll find the most grievous forms of idolatry came from within the camps of God’s people. It’s time to stop viewing idolatry as a problem far removed from the Church or something that was just an Old Testament problem. Idolatry is alive and well today. Thankfully, God is still on the throne, and He still draws near to those who seek Him and Him alone (James 4:8).

The worst versions of idolatry are inside problems: Inside the “saints” and the Church. If you study the Old and the New Testaments, you’ll find the most grievous forms of idolatry came from within the camps of God’s people.