Feeling Disconnected From Your Church? Think About This…

POST ALERT – this won’t help if you’re not willing to look at it objectively.

“I don’t feel connected and a part of the church…”

As a pastor, one of the things I hear often is, “I’m thinking about leaving because I don’t have any friends and I don’t feel connected to the church.”

I agree that there’re some churches that don’t have a healthy culture and it makes it hard to connect. However, I want to approach this from the one perspective that we have the power to change, and that is we may be the reason why we’re feeling disconnected.

What I want to say is not to offend anyone, but if you are offended it may be that there’s a hurt that needs to be healed or it may be an indication of something in you that needs to be changed.

Things that affect our ability to connect…

1. Personalities – if you’re shy and don’t push yourself to get out of your comfort zone and be friendly it will affect how connected you feel.

2. Time – if you don’t make the time to stay and fellowship you’re never going to build relationships.

3. Involvement – if you’re not involved in any ministry in the church you’re never going to feel connected to it.

4. Faithfulness – if you’re always hit and miss and rarely come to church you’re more of a visitor than a member and you’ll have a difficult time connecting.

5. Attitude – if you allow yourself to always be the victim you’ll for sure feel disconnected and it will affect the way people perceive you (full-time victims are a drain and are hard to connect with).

6. Mindset – if you’re resistant to church culture and don’t operate outside of your few friends it will be difficult to feel a part.

7. Doctrine – if you don’t align your life with what the church teaches and believes you’ll naturally struggle to fit in with the rest of the body (how can two walk together except they agree?).

Hard questions that require honest answers…

1. Are you faithful to church? Be honest.

2. Do you come late and leave early?

3. When you’re there do you show yourself friendly?

4. Do you go out of your way to talk to people or wait for them to come talk to you?

5. Do you ever invite anyone out to eat after church or decline when others invite you?

6. Are you involved in any ministry?

7. Do you attend church dinners and fellowships or avoid them?

8. Do you go to any church events outside of regularly scheduled services?

9. Will you fellowship with anyone or does it have to be a certain select group of people or no one at all?

10. Do you wear your feelings on your shoulder and are you easily offended?

Observations about friendships and connections in the church

1. Everyone, at times, due to circumstances and changes in life, will not feel as connected as they want to be – this even includes pastors and pastor’s wives – but don’t quit.

2. Friendships, and feeling a part, requires time and effort on our part – we can’t refuse to work at relationships and expect them to just happen on their own.

3. Getting connected will only go as far as you’re willing to go – the church has many opportunities for people to fellowship and get involved, we just have to do it.

4. People who leave a church because they don’t feel a part will almost always get to the next place and feel the same way – the truth is, in spite of all our excuses of why it’s not us, we’re usually the problem.

5. All our arguments and justifications of why we don’t feel connected don’t change the facts – it may or may not be us, but whatever it is we need to be willing to look at it objectively if it’s ever going to get better.

6. The church is full of people just like you that would love to be connected – believe the best in yourself and in others and I promise you’ll start to feel like you belong.

Brian Labat is Lead Pastor at Calvary United Pentecostal Church, a vibrant apostolic church in Addison, IL. You can follow his articulate posts on Facebook and Twitter.

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 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.”

In essence, anything that comes between us and the one true God is idolatry (1 Corinthians 10:7-22). Or, we could 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.

The Idolatry of Godless Wisdom

Leaning on our own 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 literally suppress the truth with their own 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 really 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 found in our hearts.

10 Signs You Might Be Guilty of Self-Idolatry

  1. You search you 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 simulataniously 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 inside the Church. If you study the Old and the New Testaments you find that the most grievous forms of idolatry came from within the camps of God’s own 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).

Related Articles:

6 Reasons We Think God Is Silent When He Is Speaking

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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How Freakish Faith & Desperate Dilemmas Lead to the Miraculous

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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. For me, this year has been the hardest of my life in terms of personal hurt. Of course, when we use a generic term like hurt it can mean physical, emotional, or spiritual hurt. It can even be a potent combination of the three. In fact, it usually is a blending 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. Certainly, 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.

1. You’re not the only one hurting.

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

3. All hurts can be healed.

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

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

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

7. Anointing is forged and perfected in fiery furnaces.

8. Hiding from helpers only makes hurting hurt worse.

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

Finally, if you need prayer don’t hesitate to write. You are not alone. You are not forgotten. You are going to make it.

Support Your Local Pastor’s Wife

Arguably, pastor’s wives are the most under-appreciated, stereotyped, overworked, unpaid people within any church paradigm. Pastor’s wives are especially vulnerable to criticism, attack, disrespect, and general impoliteness. And we aren’t even talking about the stresses her husband faces that bleed over into their marriage.

Far too often, Pastor’s wives live under the umbrella of insinuated and sometimes overtly stated congregational demands. Unrealistic expectations abound along with contradictory requests that defy logic. Dress to perfection, raise impeccable children, always smile, be the church secretary, have unlimited time for everyone, lead every ladies ministry, attend every nuanced church function, host lavishly, entertain pleasantly, sing, play an instrument, teach Sunday School, be the ideal wife to the pastor, remember every detail, work, clean, organize, decorate the church, keep a model home, babysit, teach, and in some cases they are expected (or forced by necessity) to work a secular job as well.

Pastor’s wives dwell in a glass house and live with the constant realization that their every move is scrutinized. Beyond that, they are criticized by people with opposing judgments. For example, if they dress too fancy they are unapproachable, but if they dress too plain they are embarrassing. Those same conflated standards are usually applied to their house, their car, and their children’s clothing. Furthermore, if they lead too many programs they are accused of not making room for other leaders, but if they don’t lead enough programs they aren’t pulling their weight according to the critics. This is especially true if they are musical. Most of this negative information is filtered back to pastor’s wives via the “well-meaning” grapevine.

To be clear, there are blessings and benefits that come along with being a pastor’s wife. In ideal situations, they are treated with extra courtesy, respect, kindness, generosity, grace, understanding, and consideration.

Usually, there is a mixed bag of goodness from some and ugliness from others towards the pastor’s wife. Hopefully, kindness outweighs the critical or tremendous emotional pain is inflicted on her heart. It goes without saying, this will also adversely impact her husband’s ability to minister effectively.

The spoken and unspoken pressures take a toll. Usually with very little external evidence. I’ve spent my whole life in and around ministry so I know this to be true instinctively, however, surveys corroborate my anecdotal experiences

Most of this tension comes from a general lack of biblical understanding regarding pastor’s wives. Furthermore, I believe this stems from the startling reality that the Bible has almost nothing to say directly about the role of a pastor’s wife. Leaving many to simply insert their own version of what they believe a pastor’s wife should be into their churches culture, structure, and tradition. This creates a rigid performance template that many pastor’s wives find soul-crushing because it doesn’t take their individual giftings into consideration.

Although the Bible doesn’t provide explicit teaching directed to the role of pastor’s wife, it does not deny a pastor’s wife a ministry role within the church. Certainly, there are other important ministry roles in local churches that the Bible doesn’t spell out instructions for, like Outreach Director, Youth Pastor, Sunday School Director, or Children’s Ministry Director just to name a few.

The Biblical role of being a pastor’s wife is best understood from what Scripture teaches about being a woman, a wife and mother, and a Christ-follower with God-given gifts.

Biblically speaking, a pastor’s wife’s main role is to be the wife of the pastor. I know, that sounds a little too simplistic, but that is her first role in God’s eyes.

“And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him. (Genesis 2:18)

“Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh. (Genesis 2:24)

In Hebrew, the word for “helper” used in Genesis 2:18 is ezer (pronounced “ay-zer”), and it is always used in the Old Testament in the context of vitally important and powerful acts of rescue and support. The majority of its twenty-one occurrences in the Old Testament depict God helping human beings. Since God Himself can be a “helper” it is clear that neither the word ezer nor the role of “helper” implies any sort of inherent inferiority (Exodus 18:4, Deuteronomy 33:7, Psalm 33:20, Hosea 13:9). What it does imply is that the “helper” plays a supporting role, rather than bearing primary responsibility for a task.

In the Hebrew text, “helper” is modified by the “suitable for him” (kenegdo), which seems to express the notion of complementarity rather than identity. The help looked for is not just assistance in his daily work or in the procreation of children, though these aspects may be included, but the mutual support companionship provides. The word denotes function: Designed as the perfect counterpart for the man, the woman was neither inferior nor superior, but she was alike and equal to the man in her personhood while different and unique in her function. The function of Eve is not less valuable to the maintenance of the Garden or to the furthering of humankind, but the shared responsibilities involve each accomplishing complimentary tasks.

The usage of the Hebrew term ezer denotes far more than the English term helper can offer. The term indicates an “indispensable companion”. Defining the specific divinely inspired purpose for a woman is vital for understanding her role as a wife because the two are unmistakably intertwined.

In light of Genesis 2:18, a pastor’s wife is called to be an indispensable companion and helper to her husband. Meaning, the role of a pastor’s wife will gradate based on the particular strengths, needs, and personalities of the couple (read more about pastoral personalities and styles here).

Of course, a pastor’s wife must adhere to the same biblical standards as all other Christian women. She serves God and family while leading in various influential roles (Proverbs 31:10-31). Her virtue is praiseworthy (Proverbs 31:28-31). Most importantly, she is one who “fears the Lord” (Proverbs 31:30). Because she reverences the Lord she will walk in the “beauty of holiness” (Psalm 96:9). Godly women must be “given to hospitality” (1 Peter 4:9). She must “walk in the Spirit” and not the flesh (Romans 8:1).

Now that we have a basic biblical understanding of womanhood we can discuss nine ways to support your local pastor’s wife.

1. Graciously allow her to prioritize her family. Although she loves you and cares for your soul the needs of her family are and should be her primary concern. Don’t resent her for concentrating on the needs of her family above yours.

2. Appreciate her for who she is in Christ. Avoid the painful trap of comparison. God has given her gifts and abilities that are specific to her and her alone. Don’t constantly hold her up against someone else or against some elusive idea of the perfect pastor’s wife.

3. Celebrate her strengths and be understanding of her weaknesses. She strives for perfection and excellence, but like everyone else, she will not always obtain it. Rather than exploit or criticize her weaknesses do your best to lift burdens off her shoulders that do not fall within her areas of expertise.

4. Give her the benefit of the doubt just as you would have others do for you (Luke 6:31).

5. Love her children and/or grandchildren in spite of their imperfections (read more about how to help preacher’s kids here).

6. Do not belittle or speak critically about her husband to her or anyone else. If you have a problem with the pastor speak with the pastor.

7. Refuse to speak critically about her behind her back. If someone else tries to engage in negativity kindly remove yourself from the conversation. Idle words almost always filter back to the offended party. If you have a legitimate grievance, constructive suggestion, or concern broach it with her privately.

8. Advocate on her behalf and speak positively into her life at every possible opportunity. I promise you, she doesn’t receive nearly as much positive affirmation as you might assume. Choose to be an encourager, not a discourager.

9. Pray for her on a regular basis and intercede with God to give her strength. Your prayer cover will have a tremendous spiritual impact on her heart (Ephesians 6:18).

By supporting your pastor’s wife you are creating an atmosphere of peace and unity. It encourages your pastor and gives him a sense of stability. All of this contributes to a climate of revival and goodwill. God will bless you because you are a blessing (Proverbs 11:25).

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Dear Preacher – They’re Rejecting Jesus, Not You

American preachers don’t receive much up-front, in-your-face rejection. Sure, the occasional person might get up and walk out during a sermon. People walk in and out so much during preaching these days it’s hard to know if they are upset or just running to the water fountain.

People who study these things are finding that if someone walks through the doors of your church they have already researched your beliefs online pretty thoroughly. Meaning, if they were really likely to be overtly offended they probably just wouldn’t attend in the first place.

While people may not be throwing rotten eggs at us, preachers do experience rejection in more indirect ways. The visitor who never returns. The saints who skip across town because we refuse to reinterpret the Bible for their favorite sin. The subtle crossed arms and slanted eyebrows that glare back at us while preaching a particularly convicting passage of Scripture. The tragic altar call where the sinner leans back rather than running to repent. Passive aggressive anonymous letters of disapproval.

Experienced preachers develop the ability to glance around a congregation and discern immediately who is rejecting and who is receiving the message God has given them for that service. That ability can become either a motivation, a distraction, or a discouragement. In worst case scenarios, one person rejecting the Word can mentally overshadow a room full of people who are receiving the Word with gladness.

Frankly, there are times after preaching that I leave incredibly discouraged because I couldn’t reach that one person. That preoccupation sometimes keeps me from rejoicing over other lives that were deeply touched by God.

I was discussing this weakness in my personality with a friend recently and he promptly dropped a little conviction grenade right into my psychological bunker. He said, “Ryan, don’t you hear the arrogance in your statement?” I was a little stunned and self-righteous until he repeated my words back verbatim, “…I leave incredibly discouraged because I couldn’t reach…” Then he paused and let the grenade explode, “Ryan you’re saying a lot of me’s and I’s, don’t you know that you just plant the seed and God gives the increase?”

How quickly preachers can forget that we are just the messengers. We aren’t the attraction. Sometimes we are a distraction, but we certainly are not the attraction. The Word is the seed and all we can do is cast the seed and pray that it takes root on good ground (Matthew 13:1-23). Often my discouragement is rooted in my own hubris rather than anything truly sincere. Don’t get me wrong, I want to preach as compellingly as possible. I want to be persuasive like the apostle Paul and passionate like the apostle Peter. But in the end, my abilities can’t save a single soul.

The apostle Paul taught that we are simply ambassadors of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20). We represent reconciliation between God and man (2 Corinthians 5:19). We speak on behalf of God. The message is not ours. The Gospel was not our idea. It’s not a commodity with a sales quota attached. When the Word is rejected they aren’t rejecting us they are rejecting Jesus.

Jesus knew that His ambassadors would be tempted to judge the success or failure of ministry by the metric of popularity. He knew that rejection would feel like a personal failure. He knew that we would struggle with our own unique blends of pride and insecurity. He knew that we would be prone to despiritualizing the Gospel and relegating it down to humanistic abilities. So, Jesus gathered the twelve disciples together and sat them down to tell them, and by extension us, when they reject you they are really rejecting Me. Look at this uncomfortable reminder from Jesus:

“Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you (Matthew 5:10-12).”

You can’t be truly Christlike unless you are willing to suffer rejection for His sake. In fact, if you haven’t been rejected or reviled in a while you’re probably not a true ambassador.

Please don’t take me out of context, I’m not advocating running around trying to prove how spiritual we are based on how many people reject the Gospel. But it is freeing to know that as ambassadors we can only proclaim what we have been given by our King to proclaim. If we are rejected it is for His sake, and we must shake the dust from our feet (Matthew 10:5-15) and keep preaching the Good News.

How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things (Romans 10:14-15)!”

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Top 10 Articles of 2017

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

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

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

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The Idolatry of the ‘Perfect’ Past

Some of you may be tiring of my incessant Screwtape inspired ramblings, and you are forgiven for those feelings. But allow this one last dalliance through The Screwtape Letters and the creative genius of C.S. Lewis. I’m pulling my thoughts from letter seventeen where the sly demon Screwtape describes an elderly woman who is manipulated by a demon named Glubose. Screwtape mischievously writes:

“The woman is in what may be called the ‘All-I-Want’ state of mind. All she wants is a cup of tea properly made, or an egg properly boiled, or a slice of bread properly toasted. But she never finds any servants or any friend who can do these things ‘properly’—because her ‘properly’ conceals an insatiable demand for the exact, and almost impossible, palatable pleasures which she imagines she remembers from the past; a past described by her as ‘the days when you could get good servants’ but known only to us as the days when her senses were more easily pleased and she had pleasures of other kinds which made her less dependent on those of the table. Meanwhile, the daily disappointment produces daily ill temper: cooks give notice and friendships are cooled.”

Lewis imaginatively strikes upon the demonic tactic of encouraging humans to idolize the past and trivialize the present, which jeopardizes the future. I call it the idolatry of the perfect past. This can be actualized in dozens of little ways. For some, it is manifested as a longing for a better time that actually never existed. We, humans, have a tendency to remember things through the fuzzy lens of what we wish they had been. This often obscures the painful realities of the distant past and ignores the fact that we too have changed. If you don’t believe me, imagine living without heat in the winter and air conditioning in the summer.

Undoubtedly, some things were better in the past, but they certainly were not perfect. Furthermore, different doesn’t always equal bad in the same way that new doesn’t always equal better. In essence, what we call perfection is usually a preference or a philosophical proposition. And there’s nothing wrong with having preferences unless our preferences become an idol.

Lewis speaks of an elderly woman who can’t enjoy food or fellowship because she perceives that nothing is prepared as perfectly as it was in the ‘good old days’. This may or may not have been the case. But her sin had nothing to do with her preferences, she had a right to those opinions up to a point. Rather, her sin was realized in the resulting mistreatment of the people around her due to her displeasure with the present. In other words, her idol made her ‘ill-tempered’. Beyond that, idolatry had blocked her vision so effectively she was incapable of recognizing the good or even—dare I say—the better things of the present.

Nasty temperament is the primary way you can tell that a preference has become an idol. Let’s take this discussion to church for just a moment: If you can’t worship in a service because your favorite song from yesteryear wasn’t featured you’ve probably turned the past into an idol. And, if it makes you mad and ill-tempered check your spiritual temperature because you have a fever. And, if you just threw your computer across the room its time to pray through. Now, having said that, you might be right! The new song you don’t like might not be as good as the old song you do like. We all have preferences, partialities aren’t the problem. However, if we can’t enjoy the good things or —dare I say—the less good things of the present because of the past we are in serious trouble.

I feel compelled to pause and state clearly that I love many things from my past. I even love things that predate my lifespan by hundreds of years. For those of you who might be wondering, I am not a hymn hater. In fact, I’m an old soul. I’m hopelessly old-fashioned. I have all kinds of preferences that go unmet on a regular basis, in and out of church settings. Let’s be honest, my preferences are better than your preferences. I’m just kidding. The point being, I’ve learned not to elevate my preferences above unity and personal relationships. The only exception to this rule is when my preferences are properly aligned with God’s Word and someone else’s preferences violate Scripture.

Let’s stir the pot and complicate the conversation for a moment: there are other similar types of idolatry that are equally dangerous. Brad Titus capably identifies one as The Idolatry of the Future. In this variation, peace can never be found in the present because something better is always in the future.

There is yet another variant, I call it the ‘idolatry of the present’. This mindset idolizes the new, the current, the ‘latest thing’ above all else. It marginalizes the past and robs the future of the depth and richness that can only be found in a healthy reverence for the good things of the past.

Young people who carry this idol exacerbate ‘the idolatry of the past’ within the hearts of elders. Their derision for the ‘old fashioned’ inflames reactionary passions. Meanwhile, those suffering under the miserable weight of ‘future idolatry’ sit around and long for better days that always seem just out of reach.

As you can see, disunity and strife are the real demonic agendas behind these three particular brands of idolatry. When saints elevate petty preferences above maintaining right relationships with people; churches become war zones rather than houses of worship. And, when people idolize what lies ahead nothing of value is accomplished in the present.

We smash these idols by honoring the past, celebrating the present, and embracing the future. This can be done. It must be done for the sake of unity and revival. Thriving churches honor the past without living there, celebrate new things that are good, and intentionally prepare for the future. 

“But foolish and unlearned questions avoid, knowing that they do gender strifes. And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient. In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth; And that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will (2 Timothy 2:23-26).”

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The Danger of Demonic Distractions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But Jesus gently admonished her saying:

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

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

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