The Top 10 Articles of 2020

I’d like to offer my warm thanks for your continued readership and support of the Apostolic Voice blog. And, for those that also listen to the new Apostolic Voice podcast, I’d like to thank you as well. It’s become a tradition at the beginning of each new year to post the top ten articles that trended in the previous year. Last year a few sleeper articles made a surge, and several staple pieces held steady in the rankings. Surprisingly, 2020 was, statistically speaking, our most dynamic year yet. Although, that probably shouldn’t have been a surprise considering all the quarantine time we all endured. I remain humbled that you would read and share my sincere rantings, beliefs, opinions, and insights.

The red marks every area of the globe Apostolic Voice reached in 2020.

For those who have been reading from the beginning, you’ve noticed I’ve made an effort to update and refresh the site. Hopefully, it is more user-friendly and easier to search for past articles. Initially, I intended to write predominantly about current events (and in the beginning, I did), but time has led me to write mostly about timeless truths. I pray you are blessed in this new year.

Should Christians Dye Their Hair?

I realize many people have never even paused to consider the possibility that God might care about any aspect of our outward appearance. Others understand that God does mandate a specific criteria of external holiness disciplines. Most sincere Christians have some awareness that God requires us to be modest, maintain gender distinctions, and avoid vanity in our attire. Among apostolics, there are certainly some disagreements regarding how those standards should be applied orthopraxically, but they are generally acknowledged as orthodoxically sound beliefs.

Many generations ago, hair dying was frowned upon and often outright forbidden across denominational lines. There was an almost ecumenical Christian stance against the practice of changing hair color. As with many other standards, over time, most denominations and religious affiliations softened or outright reversed their stance on the issue of hair dye.

I grew up in a holiness setting that strictly opposed the use of hair dye. I never had the slightest interest in dying my hair and didn’t think much about the issue at all (even though I grew up in the nineties when guys were obsessed with bleaching their hair). I vaguely remember being mildly surprised as a teenager when I realized no Bible verse says, “Thou shalt not dye thy hair.” But even with my limited teenage intellect, I knew I didn’t need a “Thou-shalt-not” verse for everything. More often than not, Scripture gives us a principle or a fundamental truth that should be practically applied to every area of our lives. Biblical principles should shape a Christian’s worldview and lifestyle.

More often than not, Scripture gives us a principle or a fundamental truth that should be practically applied to every area of our lives. Biblical principles should shape a Christian’s worldview and lifestyle.

Historically, apostolics have contended that our doctrine (orthodoxy) comes before and informs our behavior (orthopraxy). There’s an old saying, “You get what you preach.” Oddly, my denomination has stood against hair dye for many years, yet I can’t remember ever hearing a single sermon about it. I can’t even remember a passing reference to it in a sermon. So, it’s no wonder that hair dying is becoming more common and more controversial in holiness circles. In fact, this subject has become one of the most common questions I receive as a pastor and a blogger.

Regardless of your spiritual background or current view, please read with a prayerful and open mind to the Scriptures and principles presented below.

Scriptures Favorable View of Age and Gray Hair

“Thou shalt rise up before the hoary (gray) head, and honor the face of the old man, and fear thy God: I am the LORD (Leviticus 19:32).”

The entire book of Leviticus is a call for God’s people to be a holy (separated) people because we serve a holy God (Leviticus 19:2). The word “holy” is used 152 times in Leviticus. While some of Leviticus is strictly ceremonial, much of it is just as relevant to daily Christian life as the Ten Commandments. Many of the instructions found in Leviticus give practical guidance for properly obeying the Ten Commandments. For example, Leviticus 19:32 incapsulates a pragmatic way to obey commands number five and ten; “Honor thy father and thy mother… that thy days may be prolonged… (Deuteronomy 5:16)” and “Thou shalt not covet… (Exodus 20:17)”. By respecting elders, we automatically honor our aged parents. Interestingly, the fifth commandment is the only commandment with a blessing immediately attached. By respecting our parents (and elders), we access the blessing of prolonged life. If we honor age, we will not be tempted to covet our neighbor’s youthfulness.

If we honor age, we will not be tempted to covet our neighbor’s youthfulness.

Leviticus 19:32 connects the fear (reverence) of the Lord with respect for elders. To despise eldership is to disrespect the “Ancient of Days (Daniel 7:9)”. The mandate to stand when elders approach as a gesture of respect is still acknowledged in some modern cultures. Tragically, we primarily see this level of intentional outward respect being abandoned in American culture. Why? Because, like the ancient Greeks, American culture practically worships youth and beauty. Remember, the ancient Greeks popularized the mythical “Fountain of Youth.” Alexander the Great searched in vain for that mysterious wellspring of eternal youthfulness. Most people spend an astronomical amount of time and money trying to conceal any outward indications of aging: Hair dye, make-up, Botox, liposuction, topical serums, and on and on. All promise to conceal a person’s physical “flaws” and convolute their age. The billions of dollars happily paid for those products testify to the extreme vanity of our society. When a person intentionally conceals their age, they practice deception, reveal inward vanity, disrespect elders, and deprive younger generations of the ability to give that person the honor they deserve.

When a person intentionally conceals their age, they practice deception, reveal inward vanity, disrespect elders, and deprive younger generations of the ability to give that person the honor they deserve.

In one of Aesop’s fables, a man with black hair mixed with gray had two lovers, one old and one young. The old one wanted him to look old, so she pulled out his black hair, while the young one wanted him to look youthful and pull out his gray hair. As a result, he was left entirely bald. Many humorous observations and morals have been attributed to this fable, but it certainly illustrates the societal pressure to resist aging. But age is relentless, and it just can’t be denied in the end.

Biblically speaking, gray hair is an honored outward symbol of wisdom and maturity. Certain realms of wisdom can only be acquired by experience and by enduring trials that strip away youth’s immaturity and naivety. Artificially changing that gray hair (the sign of old age and experience) is a denial of the primary process by which wisdom is obtained.

Artificially changing gray hair (the sign of old age and experience) is a denial of the primary process by which wisdom is obtained.

Furthermore, masking God-given gray hair includes a rejection of the responsibility that is required by age and wisdom. Some people never grow in wisdom; therefore, they want their appearance to match their maturity level. Since they refuse to stop acting young, they want their appearance to match how they behave. This is dishonesty to self. When they look in the mirror at their dyed hair, it makes them feel better. Why? Because they hide the truth from themselves. However, it has the reverse effect. Dyed hair typically makes its wearer look synthetic and even older than the age they are trying to deny.

“The hoary head is a crown of glory if it be found in the way of righteousness (Proverbs 16:31).”

Gray hair, in the eyes of God, is a crown of glory. To be righteous and silver-haired is a God-given privilege. Just living long enough to acquire a single strand of gray hair is a blessing that should never be taken for granted. The person who dyes their hair has chosen to please the eyes of men rather than the eyes of God. They disrespected their own dignity and tossed aside God’s blessing. Again, this reveals a heart of vanity and pride that has spurned honor and humility. Why are these scriptures even in the Bible? If nothing else, it teaches us that God likes righteous people with gray hair. Of course, it means more than just that; however, even if that was all it revealed, that should be enough to give us pause before changing our natural hair color. Even more simplistically, changing hair color is like telling God he didn’t do a good job.

What else is a crown of glory in Scripture?

That’s an important question considering we know that gray hair is a crown of glory. Jesus Christ himself is a crown of glory for His people (Isaiah 28:5). Jesus Christ is a crown of glory to God (Isaiah 62:3). Remember, there was nothing about Jesus that was beautiful in the eyes of men (Isaiah 53:2). Yet, what was ugly in the eyes of men was beautiful to God. It’s critically important to remember that God’s definition and standards of beauty are often counterintuitive to us because we live in a corrupted carnal world. God-fearing people must always be wary of allowing the culture to dictate and define beauty for them. Here’s another verse that gives us insight into what God considers beautiful:

It’s critically important to remember that God’s definition and standards of beauty are often counterintuitive to us because we live in a corrupted carnal world.

God-fearing people must always be wary of allowing the culture to dictate and define beauty for them.

“The glory of young men is their strength: and the beauty of old men is the grey head (Proverbs 20:29).”

Once again, Scripture emphasizes God’s standard of beauty: Age and wisdom are desirable things that should clothe us with dignity. To reject that symbol is to reject God’s design for our lives.

“And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away (1 Peter 5:4).”

We receive a natural crown of glory (gray hair) through the process of old age and righteousness (Proverbs 16:31). We will receive a spiritual crown of glory when Jesus comes for His people. Righteous people with gray hair are a prophetic symbol of righteous people with their eternal crown. People who dye their hair break this spiritual and prophetic symbolism in their attempt to deny reality.

Righteous people with gray hair are a prophetic symbol of righteous people with their eternal crown. People who dye their hair break this spiritual and prophetic symbolism in their attempt to deny reality.

Modern Promotion of Hair Dye

The New Yorker has a fascinating article by Malcolm Gladwell entitled, True Colors: Hair Dye and the Hidden History of Postwar America. It’s a lengthy read but worth your time if you care to understand the original psychological mindset behind hair dye. It’s no secret that the now multi-billion-dollar hair dye industry first blossomed by promoting the reimagining (or reinventing) of self. The psychology of hair dye for women emerged like a rebellious monster from postwar feminism. Hair dye has become synonymous with vanity, sinful lifestyle changes, sensuality, sexuality, and dissatisfaction with God’s original artistry.

The psychology of hair dye for women emerged like a rebellious monster from postwar feminism. Hair dye has become synonymous with vanity, sinful lifestyle changes, sensuality, sexuality, and dissatisfaction with God’s original artistry.

Statistics indicate that a whopping 75% of American women dye their hair, while only about 11% of American men use hair dye. Those remarkable statistics give deep insights into the hyper-sexualized and fantasy induced psyche of the average American woman. On average, women feel intensely dissatisfied with their natural appearance. That’s a genuine tragedy with dangerous implications. The unstoppable rise of social media has only added to this ongoing problem. It would be tough to deny that the drastic increase of female depression and suicide is directly linked to the unrealistic expectations of so-called beauty our culture places on women (and young girls too).

It would be tough to deny that the drastic increase of female depression and suicide is directly linked to the unrealistic expectations of so-called beauty our culture places on women (and young girls too).

Hair dye is just one aspect of the overall pressure that women feel to cover their “flaws” or “enhance” their beauty. Of course, this is mostly because men and the media have objectified women ad nauseam. Also, many women place these unreal expectations on other women as well. Society puts overwhelming pressure on women to synthesize their appearance in the name of fashion and beauty. These standards of beauty are incompatible with God’s standards of holiness.

Society puts overwhelming pressure on women to synthesize their appearance in the name of fashion and beauty. These standards of beauty are incompatible with God’s standards of holiness.

The Beauty of Holiness

“O worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness… (Psalm 96:9)”.

Holiness is beautiful! God created every individual with unique beauty. To reject holiness and God’s artistry is an insult to God. Furthermore, men who do not view godly women as beautiful are carnal and corrupted by the world’s cheap enticements. Women who despise holiness are held captive by crushing societal peer pressure or their inward vanity. It’s essential to understand the duality of motives for synthesizing appearance; some women synthesize to fit in (peer pressure), while some synthesize to stand out (vanity). Both explanations are highly problematic for differing reasons.

Holiness is beautiful! God created every individual with unique beauty. To reject holiness and God’s artistry is an insult to God.

To be sure, men struggle in these areas as well. However, in the context of hair dye (and other body modifications), men feel less pressure and don’t battle these temptations nearly as often as women do. God desires men and women to be free from the shackles of envy, pride, vanity, objectification, insecurity, shame, and worldly expectations.

“I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made… (Psalm 139:14)”.

“As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’ (1 Peter 1:14-16, ESV)”.

Practical Objections to Hair Dye

Hair dying is a chemical process. Almost all hair dye requires bleaching before color is added. Typically, ammonia is used, which causes terrible (sometimes irreparable) damage to hair follicles. Ironically, many people who avoid chemicals in every other area of life infuse their hair with harsh chemicals regularly. Now, because of vanity or peer pressure, many people have violated another area of holiness, the significance of hair as a spiritual covering (1 Corinthians 11:3-16). Damaging the hair, which is tremendously spiritually crucial to God, demonstrates a callousness towards God’s natural order. We would never risk damaging something so spiritually precious unless: One, we don’t have a real revelation of the spiritual significance of hair. Two, we are blinded by vanity (or worldly pressure) and don’t care about things that matter to God.

Furthermore, studies indicate that hair dye is directly linked to cancer, especially among women, which makes sense because women use hair dye far more exclusively than men. Most effective hair dyes contain carcinogens, which are known to be cancer-causing. Increasingly, health experts are trying to steer women clear of hair dye. Notably, many doctors encourage pregnant women to discontinue the use of hair dye during pregnancy. The dangers of long-term hair dye use are known but mostly ignored by a culture obsessed with outward vanity.

The Biblical View of Vanity

The word vanity pops up a lot when talking about any form of outward holiness. Vanity is one of those catch-all words that people throw around without fully understanding what it means. Biblically, it has a spectrum of meanings that can be used differently in a variety of situations. In essence, the Bible gives lots of instructions on how to think about ourselves inwardly. That inward transformation will always be outwardly visible (clothing, body language, conversation, actions, ethics, morals, integrity, social interaction).

“Favor [is] deceitful, and beauty [is] vain: [but] a woman [that] feareth the LORD, she shall be praised (Proverbs 31:30)”.

Proverbs 31 gives the biblical template of a godly virtuous woman. In this God-ordained description of ideal femininity, the focus is not on outward vanities. Instead, the emphasis is placed on the condition of her heart and her relationship with God.

Here vanity means empty pleasure; vain pursuit; idle show; unsubstantial activity. Vanity is ostentatious, arrogant, and relishes outward showiness. Vanity is the inflation of the mind; empty pride, inspired by conceit and manifested by the flaunting of personal decorations. Vanity is haughty, gaudy, and relishes in drawing attention to self.

“For when they speak great swelling words of vanity, they allure through the lusts of the flesh, through much wantonness, those that were clean escaped from them who live in error (2 Peter 2:18).”

In the middle of Peter’s lengthy rebuke and description of false prophets, he mentions their “great swelling words of vanity.” False prophets use vain words to appeal to people’s baser instincts of carnal vanity. Vain words appeal to our lustful and vain sinful nature. This kind of preaching and thinking leads people back into the captivity of sin.

“And they rejected his statutes, and his covenant that he made with their fathers, and his testimonies which he testified against them; and they followed vanity, and became vain, and went after the heathen that were round about them, concerning whom the Lord had charged them, that they should not do like them (2 Kings 17:15).”

The Bible chronicles the frequent backsliding and restoration of the Israelites. The Israelites followed empty, vain things, and they became empty and vain. Empty vanity lays the groundwork for deeper and deeper sins. As they imitated the heathens around them, they became more and more debauched in their thinking and actions. All of this started because they ignored the warnings of their elders and ancestors. Vain thought always leads to sin and sorrow.

“Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory… (Philippians 2:3)”.

That word “vainglory” would probably be best translated in a modern context as “empty (or vain) conceit.” Hair dye falls into the category of empty conceit.

“And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Let us not be desirous of vain glory, provoking one another, envying one another (Galatians 5:24-26).”

Galatians chapter five lists the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23), which includes meekness, another important word for inward and outward holiness. Spirit-filled believers are mandated to crucify the affections and lusts of the flesh. We are to walk in the Spirit rather than the desires of the flesh. Spirit-led Christians do not desire “vainglory.” Meaning they aren’t conceited, and because they aren’t conceited, they aren’t envious of one another. By avoiding vanity, Christians keep themselves from envy, and they don’t provoke others to envy them either.

Genuine Christians aren’t conceited, and because they aren’t conceited, they aren’t envious of one another. By avoiding vanity, Christians keep themselves from envy, and they don’t provoke others to envy them either.

Biblical Instruction Concerning Outward Adornment

“Likewise, I want women to adorn themselves modestly and appropriately and discreetly in proper clothing, not with [elaborately] braided hair and gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but instead adorned by good deeds [helping others], as is proper for women who profess to worship God (1 Timothy 2:9-10, Amplified),”

Here, in Paul’s first letter to Timothy, he gives instructions for a godly woman’s outward appearance. There’s a lot to unpack in just those two verses, but for this study, there are two relevant focuses: Discreet adornment and the forbidding of hair decorations (a woman’s glory). These principles should be considered when determining whether hair dye is an appropriate option in God’s eyes.

“Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious (1 Peter 3:3-4, ESV).”

Peter’s first epistle echoes Paul’s apostolic commands regarding a godly woman’s adorning. If nothing else, these passages remind us that apostolic women of faith should allow their beauty to radiate from within. Synthetic, vain, ostentatious outward attempts to change God-given beauty originates from a godless dissatisfaction with the original Creator’s design. True beauty comes from a godly spirit. Every effort to cover the master strokes of our great Creator results in a shallowness that ultimately creates an inward emptiness.

Synthetic, vain, ostentatious outward attempts to change God-given beauty originates from a godless dissatisfaction with the original Creator’s design. True beauty comes from a godly spirit.

Every effort to cover the master strokes of our great Creator results in a shallowness that ultimately creates an inward emptiness.

Conclusion

In a nutshell, Christians should refrain from dying their hair because it violates several Scriptural principles. Hair dye rejects God’s chosen symbol of righteousness, wisdom, dignity, and honor. Hair dye is an insult to God’s artistry and a rejection of His design. Hair dye endangers the health of a woman’s spiritual covering. Hair dye may very well jeopardize an individual’s physical health. Hair dye is rooted in a history of rebellion and carnality. Hair dye is intrinsically vain. And, hair dye is not consistent with the godly outward adornment mandated in 1 Timothy 2:9-10 and 1 Peter 3:3-4

“Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black (Matthew 5:36).”

Obviously, this verse is not dealing with the issue of dyeing the hair. However, it is a startling revelation of the absence of hair dye in Jewish culture. I find it unlikely that Jesus would ever have said this if it was common practice to dye the hair black. It seems consistent with Scripture that the apostles and prophets of old would firmly oppose the ostentatious use of hair dye. As modern apostolics, I believe we should lovingly oppose it as well.

Huge thanks to my dear friend, Pastor Joe Campetella, for contributing to this article. His research and spiritual insight was crucial during the process of writing and reflection.

Relevant Links

TRUE COLORS: Hair Dye and the Hidden History of Postwar America by Malcolm Gladwell, The New Yorker

Are Hair Dyes Safe? by Ronnie Cohen, The Washington Post

Study links hair dye and hair straighteners to higher breast cancer risk, especially among black women by Scottie Andrew, CNN

Hair dye and chemical straightener use and breast cancer risk in large percentages of U.S. population of black and white women by Carolyn E. Eberle, Dale P. Sandler, Kyla W. Taylor, Alexandra J. White, International Journal of Cancer

Hair Dye: A History by Rebecca Guenard, The Atlantic

Concerns About Hair Dye, National Capital Poison Center

Do or Dye: Why women daren’t go grey (unless they’re very brave or very young) by Karen Kay, The Guardian

Church Hurt Doesn’t Excuse Backsliding

I should begin by expressing my sympathy to victims of genuine church hurt. It’s easy for me to empathize because I, too, have been hurt by “church” people. I’ve seen heroes up close only to find they were much less heroic than expected. I’ve watched in shock as brothers and sisters in the Lord acted more like devilish pawns in a cosmic game of chess. I’ve often felt lonely trying to do the right thing. Doing the right thing commonly goes unappreciated (or at least under-appreciated), and the unfairness of that can produce toxic levels of bitterness. Regardless, not one of the things mentioned above even slightly impacts my relationship with God or my commitment to righteousness. Still, church hurt seems to be the excuse of choice for backsliders, backstabbers, backbiters, and rabid bitterness these days. However, any excuse leading to self-justification rather than godly justification is spiritual suicide.

Any excuse leading to self-justification rather than godly justification is spiritual suicide.

Your Sin Doesn’t Make My Sin Ok

One of the great dangers Christians face is the temptation to justify their bad behavior because of someone else’s sin. Just because they’re drinking poison doesn’t mean you should too. Just because someone else is evil doesn’t excuse your favorite flavor of sin. Whether you’ve been hurt, let down, disappointed, disillusioned, or downright persecuted, your duty to God never changes. Jesus warned us outright persecution and disdain would be something His followers should expect to face (Matthew 5:10-12, Luke 6:22). If Jesus had a Judas, why wouldn’t you? It wasn’t Pilot the pagan who wanted Jesus dead it was the high priest Caiaphas who plotted His crucifixion. Truly, Jesus faced far more hurt from His own people than from the pagan world.

One of the great dangers Christians face is the temptation to justify their bad behavior because of someone else’s sin. Just because they’re drinking poison doesn’t mean you should too.

Just because someone else is evil doesn’t excuse your favorite flavor of sin. Whether you’ve been hurt, let down, disappointed, disillusioned, or downright persecuted, your duty to God never changes.

If Jesus had a Judas, why wouldn’t you? It wasn’t Pilot the pagan who wanted Jesus dead it was the high priest Caiaphas who plotted His crucifixion. Truly, Jesus faced far more hurt from His own people than from the pagan world.

The Reality of Church Hurt

Church hurt is genuine, and it should be prevented whenever possible. But in reality, if you live for God long enough, a wolf in sheep’s clothing is going to take a bite out of you. But I’d rather suffer persecution and be right with God than gain the whole world and lose my soul (Mark 8:36). Honestly, the logic of leaving church altogether because someone hurt me is just plain flawed. Do we quit a great job because of one lousy coworker? Do we abandon our dream home because of one horrible neighbor? Do we stop being Americans because of bad Americans? Do we stop going to our favorite coffee shop because of a rude barista? If we left every place or institution that hurt us at some point, we couldn’t go anywhere – including our homes!

Church hurt is genuine, and it should be prevented whenever possible. But in reality, if you live for God long enough, a wolf in sheep’s clothing is going to take a bite out of you.

If we left every place or institution that hurt us at some point, we couldn’t go anywhere – including our homes!

Excuses, Excuses

If we dig right down to the nitty-gritty, many people use church hurt as an excuse to do what they already wanted to do in their hearts; backslide. Furthermore, much of what some call church hurt is really just an easily offended spirit (Proverbs 19:11, Ecclesiastes 7:21-22, James 1:19, Luke 7:23, 2 Timothy 2:24). Correction is not church hurt. Disagreement is not church hurt. Oversight is not church hurt. Having your talents overlooked is not church hurt. Someone frowning at you is not church hurt. Strong preaching is not church hurt. Snowflake “Christians” are melting and calling the sun evil! Ironically, they usually hurt people while pointing to their hurt as justification for their bad behavior. It’s a smokescreen shielding their own carnality and spiritual immaturity.

Many people use church hurt as an excuse to do what they already wanted to do in their hearts; backslide. Furthermore, much of what some call church hurt is really just an easily offended spirit (Proverbs 19:11).

Correction is not church hurt. Disagreement is not church hurt. Oversight is not church hurt. Having your talents overlooked is not church hurt. Someone frowning at you is not church hurt. Strong preaching is not church hurt.

Snowflake “Christians” are melting and calling the sun evil! Ironically, they usually hurt people while pointing to their hurt as justification for their bad behavior. It’s a smokescreen shielding their own carnality and spiritual immaturity.

Real Relationship is the Key

Again, it grieves me to hear about Christians hurting Christians. We should be known by our love for one another (John 13:35). There’s nothing friendly about friendly fire! And yes, there are legitimate reasons to leave a church. Yes. There are times you have to expose a well-disguised wolf in sheep’s clothing. Sometimes you have to find a safer spiritual environment. But abandoning Truth because of hurt makes absolutely no sense at all. It’s like jumping off a bridge because someone pushed you to the ground or cutting off your foot because someone stepped on your toes. The real problem here is relationship. No. Not relationships between brothers and sisters in the Lord. The problem is a real relationship with God. You see, our relationship with God isn’t predicated on how others behave. I serve the Lord because He is my savior. Whatever others decide to do doesn’t change what Jesus has done for me. God’s Word doesn’t change because someone else failed. Sometimes we serve God with the help of others, and sometimes we serve God despite others. Either way, God is still God, and He is always good.

It grieves me to hear about Christians hurting Christians. We should be known by our love for one another (John 13:35). There’s nothing friendly about friendly fire!

Abandoning Truth because of hurt makes absolutely no sense at all. It’s like jumping off a bridge because someone pushed you to the ground or cutting off your foot because someone stepped on your toes.

Our relationship with God isn’t predicated on how others behave. I serve the Lord because He is my savior. Whatever others decide to do doesn’t change what Jesus has done for me. God’s Word doesn’t change because someone else failed.

Sometimes we serve God with the help of others, and sometimes we serve God despite others. Either way, God is still God, and He is always good.

Stay Near the Cross

The Psalmist spoke to this very issue when he said, “Great peace have those who love thy law; nothing can make them stumble (Psalm 119:165)”. Deeply loving the Lord and His Word will keep you from stumbling, mumbling, and bumbling when people let you down. Church hurt doesn’t excuse backsliding. Jesus didn’t call angels to take him off the cross because He loves us! No matter how difficult to endure, our crosses should never cause us to abandon our Savior who suffered for us.

Deeply loving the Lord and His Word will keep you from stumbling, mumbling, and bumbling when people let you down.

Church hurt doesn’t excuse backsliding. Jesus didn’t call angels to take him off the cross because He loves us! No matter how difficult to endure, our crosses should never cause us to abandon our Savior who suffered for us.

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.


Whataboutism (Why It’s Wrong)

Whataboutism is an old word gaining fresh attention primarily because of the obnoxious world of politics. Don’t worry; this isn’t a political post. Whataboutism is 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.”

Whataboutism is a debate technique that deflects criticism by pointing out the wrongdoings (whether real or perceived) of others.

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 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 wrong behavior by focusing on her brother’s wrong behavior. In doing so, she was trying to evade the question and shift the blame.

Essentially, whataboutism uses misdirection in the form of a rhetorical question.

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.”

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?” My response to them: 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.

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 a compelling 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, Eliab 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 allows us 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.

Christians are new creatures in Christ Jesus. 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.

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).”

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

Right, Righteous, and Self-Righteous Judgements (Knowing The Difference)

I’m ashamed to say that I was exposed in a moment of self-righteousness the other day. It was a moment of critical, mean-spiritedness over a situation that I knew little to nothing about. Ouch. It hurts to type those words. And then, as is often God’s way, I happened across two articles (here and here) that sent conviction running down my spine like an icy cold water challenge.

I frequently tell my church: Feeling conviction is not a bad thing. Uncomfortable? Yes. Fun? No. Necessary? Absolutely. The real danger isn’t feeling conviction but choosing to ignore conviction. Ignoring conviction for too long is essentially “quenching the Spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:19)” which leads to a hard and calloused heart, far removed from God. In fact, the ability to feel conviction is the hallmark of a true believer (consider King David’s confrontation with the prophet after his terrible sin with Bathsheba).

Let me clarify a few things right at the onset: I absolutely believe that a person must be confident and sure of their Christian faith. God, in no uncertain terms, has called believers to be holy (Ephesians 1:4, 1 Peter 1:15-16, 1 Peter 2:9) and righteous (1 John 2:29, 1 John 3:7, Matthew 5:20, Philippians 1:11). Furthermore, righteousness is not just a state of mind; it is manifested in lifestyle and actions. For example, Paul commands us to “Flee youthful lusts (action): but follow (another action) righteousness (2 Timothy 2:22)”. We can and must “…rightly divide (an action that demands an action) the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15)”, and “judge [with] righteous judgment (John 7:24)”. In other words, godly people have a right to discern right from wrong, righteousness from unrighteousness, good from evil, etc. To say otherwise is, well, unrighteous.

However, we all know immature Christians who use “judge not that ye be not judged (Matthew 7:1)” as a mantra to justify every sinful and sin accommodating action. It’s fairly safe to say that Matthew 7:1 has become modern Christianity’s favorite verse. The implication is simple, don’t tell me what to do because only God can do that. This drives sincere Christians crazy and gives others (sometimes unintentionally) a false sense of biblical authorization for all kinds of unrighteous behavior. Furthermore, the “only God can judge me” crowd should really let that thought sink in because God will judge our every action, that alone should cause us to carefully consider our lifestyles.

So, was Jesus really condoning bad behavior, spiritual timidity, or telling us that no one has a right to call a spade a spade? If that is the case, Jesus contradicted the entire Old Testament, every other relevant event of the New Testament, and his own actions to boot. Remember the overturned tables in the temple where Jesus made a righteous judgment saying “…ye have made it a den of thieves (Matthew 21:13)”?

Obviously, Jesus was not advocating turning a blind eye to sin or telling us that we cannot make spiritual judgment calls about ourselves and others. The verses immediately following bring clarity to the whole discussion: “For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye (Mathew 7:2-3)?”

The basic meaning here is that we are to judge ourselves before we judge others. There is an unrighteous and unholy brand of judgment that we can quickly allow to fester in our spirit that is harmful, hypocritical, and ungodly. If we condemn others for things that we are doing ourselves we bring condemnation upon ourselves (Romans 2:1-3). If we judge hastily, callously, contemptuously, carelessly, wrongfully, or prematurely we are guilty of judging with an unrighteous judgment. Those who judge others in such a way will be judged by God in that same way (Luke 6:36-38).

Here’s a difficult question that God often drops into my heart like an atomic bomb during prayer, “Do you want to be right for the sake of being right or for the sake of being righteous before Me?” Here’s another cringe-inducing thought; you can be right and unrighteous at the same time. In many ways, that is the very definition of being self-righteous. I want to be right for the sake of helping others and pleasing God not just to win arguments or rack up spiritual points. Yes, as a believer I have the right to make judgment calls, but I want to do so righteously for the right reasons with the right attitude. Sadly, I often fail. Thankfully, I have wonderful godly people surrounding me who make righteous judgments about my unrighteous judgments and aren’t afraid to tell me so.

Some introspective questions:

  • Do I enjoy it when others are harshly judged?
  • Do I enjoy arguing more than truly helping?
  • Am I quick to judgment without having all the relevant facts?
  • Do I elevate my opinions above the Bible?
  • Do I judge myself as harshly as I judge others?
  • Am I doing the same things that I criticize others for doing?
  • Do I pray for the judgment or for the conversion of sinners?
  • Am I willing to admit when I am wrong?
  • Do I make judgments from a place of humility or superiority?
  • Do I realize that all righteousness comes from God?
  • Do I care for sinners or callously condemn sinners?
  • Am I manufacturing self-righteousness or exampling godly righteousness?
  • Am I jumping to conclusions or executing godly discernment?
  • Do I judge from a place of knowledge or from a heart of wisdom?
  • Am I unwilling to make righteous judgments for fear of confrontation?
  • Am I justifying sin with my silence?
  • Does my unwillingness to righteously judge harm my witness?
  • Will I accept righteous judgment as easily as I dispense righteous judgment?
  • Do I exemplify godly mercy in my interactions with people?
  • Have I replaced mercy and grace with acceptance of sin?
  • Do I righteously judge sin or unrighteously justify sin in my own life and in the lives of others?