3 Revival Killers

The Christmas season is upon us with all the hustle and bustle that it brings. The busyness of the season can distract us from the important work of the Church that Jesus came to establish in the first place. From the moment that Jesus was born the institutions of this world have been trying to snuff Him and the message that He brings out. But the message of Jesus is not a candle in the wind it is a raging fire that no human can destroy. When they couldn’t kill his message they settled for killing Him instead. Unwittingly, they had fulfilled the ancient prophecies and made the Gospel complete by enabling a powerful resurrection.

The forces of darkness are still intent upon killing the work of the Gospel at every opportunity and will use whatever means necessary to do so. It is the high calling of the Church to protect, preserve, and promote the Gospel, especially during the Christmas season when commercialism seeks to compete with the true reason for the season. And so rather than be distracted, we must keep revival ever at the forefront of our thinking.

People who’ve experienced real revival know that revival is hard work. I had a wonderful godly man confide in me one time that he felt guilty because he didn’t really want to see his church grow. I asked him why and he said, “Because I have lived through one revival and it wore me out.” I knew what he was trying to say. If you visit the birthing wing on a busy day at any hospital, you’ll see a perfect illustration of revival. A church goes through the process of pregnancy, and the pain of labor, and finally gives birth to spiritual babies in the Lord. All those babies need constant care and constant attention or they’ll perish. Let me share with you three things will kill revival just as surely as Herod tried to kill baby Jesus.

  1. CONFLICT & COMPETITION

Technically these are two things, however, usually conflict within the Church is directly related to competition. That’s why Scripture instructs us to prefer our brethren over ourselves (Romans 12:10). Pride, self-promotion, a heart that is easily and quickly offended, and competition will destroy the work of revival and hinder the flow of the Spirit. Refuse to participate or fall into the trap of these revival killers.

  1. COMPLACENCY

Complacency is the state of being satisfied with how things are and lacking any desire to make them better. In a spiritual sense, there are varying degrees of complacency, but the bottom line is that the Church is mandated to be constantly reaching, reaping, preaching, and growing. We can be satisfied with nothing less. Laziness, selfishness, self-righteousness, lack of passion, lack of compassion, and small-mindedness are all contributors to the dangerous prevalence of spiritual complacency.

  1. COMPROMISE

There is an overwhelming trend towards diluting the Gospel placing a stranglehold on churches around the world. Tragically, when you dilute the Gospel it ceases to be the Gospel. Cafeteria Christianity does not save, it does not deliver, and although it will initially attract crowds it ultimately fails to sustain. Easy believe-ism does not endure when the rubber meets the road. Those unwilling to buy the truth and sell it not (Proverbs 23:23) will abandon the cross like a child discarding a broken toy on Christmas night.

 

Church Growth (Practical and Spiritual Insights) – Part 2

If you missed part one, just click the picture below.

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Take the pulse of your congregation to determine if they want to grow and reach the lost. Most churches that aren’t growing simply don’t want to grow. Perhaps the pastor wants it to grow but the saints don’t share the vision or feel the burden. There are numerous reasons that churches don’t want to grow; laziness, complacency, fear of losing position or control, anti-social tendencies, fear of change, less access to the pastor, and more. Getting a true sense of whether or not the church is sharing in the burden to reach the lost is paramount. If the church doesn’t share in the burden all efforts will be sabotaged and in vain.

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Have big events. There are built in big events that happen naturally in every church paradigm. Easter and Christmas are perfect examples, although more could certainly be identified. Let’s break it down this way, if you divide the calendar year into quarters you should be hosting at least one big event per quarter. That’s a minimum of four big church events a year. Find events that mobilize and energize your congregation. This creates a buy-in that produces the kind of excitement that propels saints to invite people to something that they are passionate about.

The key to doing this well is choosing the right kind of events that generate excitement in your local church and community. Also, if you do too many big events you will likely burn out your members (these things take lots of work) and you will choose quantity over quality. If you do too few big events, you will lose momentum (and spiritual momentum is very important).

I’m not referring to simply bringing in a guest speaker (although that certainly can play a large role in the process); I am talking about doing things on a fairly large scale that generate excitement and garner the attention of your community. It’s very difficult to tell you what that should be in your local setting. It should be something for which you can create quality mailers to help promote the event. Getting something in the hands of church members that they can easily give to people is key.

A few ideas: back to school giveaways, revivals, fall festivals, concerts, dramas, conferences, kid’s programs, banquets, lady’s events, men’s outings, youth activities, anything involving good food, church anniversary celebrations, and on and on. Creativity, understanding of your local culture, awareness of your church’s strengths and weaknesses, and strong sensitivity to the Spirit is essential to identifying what big events will be best for your church. After committing to a big event, plan, plan, plan, plan, and plan some more. Invite, invite, invite, and invite some more. If nothing else, Easter and Christmas should be seasons where you go all out.

Make the altar call a part of the service. Once again, this point is all about a shift in mindset. When a minister gives the invitation to gather around the altar this is not the end of the service but rather the beginning of the altar service. This is the culmination of everything that has taken place so far in the service. This is where the saints rededicate, sinners find salvation, and prodigals rejoice in their restoration. Yes. I realize that God can move anywhere and at any time, but the altar service is a faith charged atmosphere that must be taken seriously. Empty altars result in empty pews. Quiet altars equal a church in need of revival. Remind the church over and over again that the end of the sermon is the beginning of something powerful not just the stepping stone to grabbing a bite to eat.

Be multicultural. I have briefly written about the concerns of racial tensions here. Just let me say, Heaven will not be white, black, brown, or yellow. It will be filled with people from every nation, tribe, and tongue (Revelation 7:9). Heaven isn’t going to be one big southern gospel singing-along or even a black gospel convocation. Nope. It will be multicultural and the Church should be a natural reflection of that diversity. If your community just happens to be predominately one culture fine, but if not, your church should be welcoming and inclusive to every ethnicity. If that bothers you, you’ll really dislike Heaven (if you make it).

Respect, honor, and support the ministry (Romans 12:10, Hebrews 13:7, 17, 24, 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13, 1 Corinthians 9:7-11, Matthew 10:40, Galatians 6:6). We live in a culture of dishonor and that bleeds its way into the Church. It subtly impacts the way we view, treat, and interact with ministry. Churches that refuse to properly honor, respect and provide for ministry to the best of their ability are by default dishonoring God. We know that the office of pastor is an under-shepherd (Jeremiah 3:15) to the Great Shepherd (John 10:11). Therefore, churches that refuse to give honor to that which God honors are in a precarious place, to say the least. Obviously, pastors are not called to “lord” over the flock (1 Peter 5:2-3), but they are worthy of the honor due a God-ordained office. If they lead well, they are worthy of double honor (1 Timothy 5:17-18).     

It would be foolish to assume that honoring the ministry has little to do with church growth. Having a biblical view of ministry unleashes anointing, unshackles the pastorate, fosters unity, develops trust, invites the favor of the Lord, demonstrates integrity to the community, and is absolutely apostolic. Giving honor is not about stroking ego’s or flattery, it should not be perfunctory, nor should it originate from a place of pride. Rather, honor should radiate from our relationship with God to the spiritual authority that He has placed over us. Show me a church that hesitates to honor ministry and I’ll show you a dying church. Having said that, I know that all pastors are not honorable. I’ve written about that subject here. But godly ministry is always worthy of high honor.

Covet the gifts of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 14:39, 1 Corinthians 12:31). The Berean Study Bible says to “…eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy (1 Corinthians 14:1)”. A quick study of Scripture makes it clear that we should genuinely desire and anticipate the operation of spiritual gifts in our church services and beyond. There is no substitute for the work of the Spirit in our churches. We can only do so much with our own ingenuity, programming, and preplanning. All our efforts are in vain without the Spirit.

Combat carnality. I’ve outlined some snapshots of what a carnal Christian looks like here. As my dad often says, “You won’t win the world golfing, playing video games, and watching television.” That’s not to say that golfing is wrong or inherently sinful, the larger point is that it’s about priorities. Churches that develop a top down lust for pleasure and entertainment grow stale and lukewarm. They lose their sense of urgency and grow powerless. Like Esau, they sell their birthright for immediate gratification. To be clear, I’m not against relaxing and setting aside time for fun, but when the quest for fun overwhelms the work of the Kingdom there is a fundamental problem that must be addressed.

Call people to repentance over and over and over again. This is not just for the unchurched, even the Church needs to be continually called back to a place of repentance. 2 Chronicles 7:14 is the quintessential verse quoted to call people to prayer, but many fail to notice that God is speaking directly to His people in this passage. Notice, the language “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways…”. These are commands that we usually direct towards the unchurched, but God makes it clear that repentance must begin within His own family. Churches have a way of passive-aggressively superimposing convicting sermons and calls to repentance upon unbelievers. Church growth will always be out of reach until a local congregation humbles itself through prayer and repentance.

Have good church. Every service matters. Every altar call matters. Every song matters. Every sermon matters. Every lesson matters. Every note played matters. Every iota of praise lifted towards Heaven matters. Make every service count. Make every moment count. Refuse to phone it in or go through the motions. Of course, some services will be more memorable and impacting than others, but every service matters. Pour passion, energy, and resources into every service.

The Church is not a building. Announce that loud and long. A church house is simply a gathering place for the church. The church is a collection of believers who are striving to walk with Christ and grow in spiritual maturity. View the physical building as nothing more than a resource. This simple shift in focus can mean the difference between treating people correctly or incorrectly. For example, if preserving a building is more important than treating people correctly the building has become an idol. People are the church the building is an instrument designed to help people. Sadly, we sometimes place more emphasis on our place of worship than the people who make it a place of worship.

Lead people don’t beat people. Leadership can be incredibly frustrating and exasperation leads to ministerial burnout. People will disappoint, fall down, rebel, attack, and cause incredible amounts of unnecessary pain. This can be mega taxing on the pastor and every other minister working within the church. The temptation can be to verbally beat people into submission. Although, there is a time and place for godly correction a sustained culture of negativity from pastoral leadership becomes toxic over time. In the end, people will not respond to being constantly berated regardless of how deserving of said “chewing out” they might be. Lead people with love and by example. Harsh correction should be the exception, not the rule.

Take care of your building. I know buildings are expensive and keeping them nice can be a real financial strain, but there is simply no excuse for trash and bad odors in a place of worship. It subliminally signals to visitors that a church just doesn’t care so why should they? However, beautiful buildings do not guarantee growth and growth does not guarantee beautiful buildings. And while I whole heartedly believe that you can grow anywhere with the help of the Lord, we must be good stewards of whatever place of worship the Lord has provided for us.

Refuse to be swayed by every wind of criticism but don’t dismiss criticism off hand. Every church leader from pastors to Sunday School teachers know the painful sting of criticism. Oddly, it tends to be worship leaders and soundmen who suffer the most brutal assaults and opinionated rampages. Sometimes it’s outright criticism or it might be of the passive aggressive “people have been saying” variety. No matter “how” or “who” it’s coming from criticism hurts. It’s almost paradoxical but there are two extreme responses to criticism that are counterproductive. On the one hand, some leaders are swayed and gyrated by every wind of criticism rendering them completely incapable of leadership. On the other hand, some leaders inoculate themselves from criticism so carefully that they never accept constructive criticism. There is healthy disagreement and there is unhealthy disagreement. The ability to discern the difference is a vital component of leadership and church growth.

Foster a prodigal welcoming environment. Yes. It’s biblical. When prodigals come home it should be a celebration. not a time for telling them how bad they messed up. You might be surprised by how many churches get a bad attitude towards prodigals. Don’t be like the angry brother, be like the celebrating father.

Grassroots word of mouth is still paramount. This goes hand in hand with our previously stated goal of emphasizing a lifestyle of evangelism. There is simply no substitute for personally inviting people to church. If everyone in your church would invite as many people to church on a weekly basis as possible the results would be staggering. Studies suggest that the average church member rarely invites anyone to be their guest at church. Out of all the expensive outreach pushes that we have ever done the most impactful has been simply printing up business card sized invitations and making them easily available to our church members. We ask our members to take two and invite two on a weekly basis. Invite friends, family, and co-workers because they are the most likely to accept. But don’t stop there, invite the waiter, the girl ringing up your groceries, the family in the doctor’s office, and everyone else that you possibly can. This takes intentionality and a change of mindset. Talk about it all the time. Keep the cards out front where people can pick them up on their way in and out of the church. Make it really convenient for your church members to get their hands on those invitation cards. Take away all their excuses. Talk to them about how to invite people. Give them encouragement, tips, and pointers. This sounds too simple but it is extremely powerful.

Connect with evangelists who are anointed and gifted harvesters. There’s not much commentary needed here, but I can tell you that a pastor can preach an evangelistic sermon one week with little response. The evangelist can come the next week and preach the same message and the Holy Ghost will fall like rain. It does not mean that the pastor is not anointed. It means that God anoints people in different ways for different seasons of ministry.

Don’t major in minor doctrines. I’m amazed by pastors who spend large amounts of time teaching and preaching candy stick doctrines that have almost no practical application or spiritual benefit. I’m not necessarily talking about false doctrine, but who really cares if the final trumpet will be one long blast or an upbeat medley. I’m sort of joking, but you get my drift. People won’t work all day, rush home to freshen up, and drag the kids to church over and over for midweek Bible study if they aren’t receiving teaching that is applicable to their lives. Right or wrong, they just won’t. I know of a church that ran a month long series discussing whether or not there are female angels. Not only is that kind of thing totally irrelevant, but it takes valuable time away from legitimate subjects that desperately need to be preached. Warning, this is going to sound harsh so if you’re really sensitive just skip down to the next point; preachers who regularly major in minor doctrines are either totally out of touch with the needs of their church, self-absorbed, or spiritually tone deaf. I know for myself, it’s often tempting to preach about obscure and unimportant things simply because it interests me. But that’s not my purpose or calling as a preacher, and it’s not yours either. If you really need to get it out of your system; write a book, or a blog, or talk it out with a peer but please don’t waste the church’s time.

Stop doing embarrassing things! Just stop it. I know embarrassing things are going to happen occasionally and that’s okay. But chronic public spectacles of awkwardness and blush-inducing moments are a sure growth killer. Some examples, it’s not really necessary to read out loud the prayer request for so and so’s bowel congestion, don’t make the congregation suffer through long rebukes couched as a testimony, and if the church isn’t equipped to play a video clip smoothly just don’t try to play a video clip (it goes back to a previous point that it’s better to do a few things well than to do a ton of things poorly). Some of you are reading this and it sounds petty or even elitist to your sensibilities, but I assure you that these types of things heaped together become a profound problem. A culture of embarrassing awkwardness will weigh heavily upon a congregation and repulse guests. It rests fully on the ministries shoulders to eliminate as many of these situations as possible. Once again, embarrassing things are going to happen from time to time, I am referring to frequent issues that are left unrestricted or even exacerbated by the leadership culture of a church.

Bonus thought: your church is not called to be an extension of a political party. Many years ago a pastor friend of mine endorsed and helped campaign for a local politician. He even had the official speak at his church. A few weeks later the news broke that the politician had been accepting bribes, visiting prostitutes, and selling drugs out of his campaign office. Bottom line, politicians are not the remedy for societies woes; Jesus is the answer to our local and national problems. When communities have apostolic revival they will naturally elect solid leaders. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t vote or have strong opinions, but don’t intentionally turn your church into a political battleground.

Related articles: Church Growth (Practical and Spiritual Insights) – Part 1Is Technology Killing Theology, 5 Mistakes Every Worship Leader Makes, 3 Revival Killers, Fire Then Rain, Evangelism By Fire, The Development of Vision – Part 1

The Myth of Once Saved, Always Saved – Debunking False Doctrines

Debunking False Doctrines will be a reoccuring theme where we address well-known and widely-believed dangerous theologies.

There are few false doctrines more dangerous than the Calvinistic assertion of “eternal security” or “once saved, always saved.” This belief has become pervasive far beyond the reaches of theological academia and “once saved, always saved” is a popular mantra for the average “low information” Christian. It crosses denominational lines, bleeds between theological spectrums, and slips into everyday dogmas.

The doctrine of eternal security essentially states that once a person is saved nothing can cause them to be disfellowshipped from God. Without going too deep, it should be noted that there are numerous variations and machinations of this doctrine. In its most extreme form a person could theoretically be saved and go on to murder his wife while remaining “unconditionally” saved. Others would assert that if someone were to commit such a heinous act he was never “truly” saved in the first place.

Sadly, this perilous doctrine flatly contradicts Scripture and it is commonly used as a smokescreen to justify sinful lifestyles. In other words, “once saved, always saved” appeals to the most carnal leanings of our humanity. It gives false legitimacy for sin, false comfort to sinners, and builds a pseudo-biblical barrier between countless sinners and repentance.

It’s eerie how the Calvinistic notion of eternal security shares similarities with Satan’s seduction of Eve in the garden of Eden. The serpent assured Eve, “…Ye shall not surely die (Genesis 3:4).” The satanic implication being that Eve could live in disobedience without fear of Divine consequences. The doctrine of eternal security makes the same false claim and it originates from the same satanic source.

Here’s the primary passage of Scripture used to prop up the concept of O.S.A.S., “35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. 37 Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. 38 For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, 39 Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:35-39).”

First of all, this is a tremendously encouraging passage of Scripture, but it’s talking about God’s unconditional love, not unconditional salvation. With close examination, you’ll find that sin is not once mentioned in the context of this promise. As with other passages used to support O.S.A.S. (John 3:15, John 5:24, John 10:28, Romans 8:1, 1 Corinthians 10:13), the emphasis is always on external forces having no authority over your personal responsibilities towards God.

Let’s put it this way, nothing can force you to separate yourself from God except you. Satan can’t make you do it any more than he made Eve do it. Eve exercised her free will. Adam exercised his free will. And they both suffered the consequences of their actions. Furthermore, sin separates us from a right relationship with God but it does not remove us from the love of God. For example, “…God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).” Clearly, God loves us even while we are in sin, but to say that the cross made sin acceptable is to completely undermine the necessity of the cross in the first place. The phrasing “while we were yet sinners” shows Paul’s assumption that believers would naturally understand sinful lifestyles must be discarded after salvation. Furthermore, the apostle Peter calls us to follow in the footsteps of Jesus “Who did no sin (1 Peter 2:21-22).” A few verses down he underscores that Jesus “bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls (1 Peter 2:24-25).”

But we still haven’t sufficiently debunked the doctrine of eternal security. Few people would argue against the Scriptural emphasis on living above sin. Many would argue that righteous living is the best way but not a requirement for Heaven after obedience to the Gospel. So let’s take a look at several Scriptures that prove that it is possible to throw away our own salvation and trample upon the grace of God.

The parable of the sower gives us insight into the issue at hand. Jesus speaks of individuals who receive the Gospel immediately with joy but when affliction or persecution arises because of the Word they fall away (Mark 4:16, Luke 8:13).

Consider these self-explanatory Scriptures from the book of Hebrews:

For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame (Hebrews 6:4-6).”

For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries (Hebrews 10:26-27).”

“Now the just shall live by faith: but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him. But we are not of them who draw back unto perdition (destruction); but of them that believe to the saving of the soul (Hebrews 10:38-39).”

Additionally, Peter speaks plainly of people who return and are “overcome” by the “pollutions of the world” stating that it would be better if they had never known the “way of righteousness” in the first place (2 Peter 2:20-22). But the words of Jesus are the most potent, “Not everyone that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity (Matthew 7:21-23).”

We could go on and on demonstrating the Scriptural imperative that we must not depart from the faith post salvation or risk Divine judgement. I’ll leave you with a list of Scriptures that demonstrate that saved individuals must continue to “work out… salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12).”

Children of God Can:

  1. “Fall from grace” – Galatians 5:1-4,13
  1. “Be led away with error” – 2 Peter 3:17
  1. “Err from the truth” – James 5:19-20
  1. “Weak brother may perish” – 1 Corinthians 8:11
  1. “Fall into condemnation” – James 5:12
  1. “Be moved away from the hope” – Colossians 1:21-23
  1. “Deny the Lord who bought them” – 2 Peter 2:1
  1. “Depart from the living God” – Hebrews 3:12
  1. “Can be a castaway” – 1 Corinthians 9:27
  1. “Can become accursed children” – 2 Peter 2:14

Related articles: Right, Righteous & Self-Righteous Judgements (Knowing The Difference), Baptism In “Jesus’ Name” And The New Testament Greek, Why We’re Not Emergent (By Two Guys Who Should Be) – Book Review, Is Technology Killing Theology?Paths Of Righteousness (Psalms 23:3), Why Do So Many Christians Support Same-Sex Marriage?, 7 Ways To Help Your Youth Group Backslide, You Might Be A Carnal Christian If…

Guard Dog or God’s Chosen?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Jennifer Mast

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

A Biblical Response to Racial Tensions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Overcoming Ministerial Insecurities

This article first appeared as a guest posting on the blog www.searchofkings.net curated by Evangelist Timothy Hadden. The Search of Kings is a tremendous site full of well-articulated Apostolic content. Incidentally, Rev. Timothy Hadden is one of the premier evangelists of our day and the founder of Transition Ministries. Be sure to follow him on Twitter with the  handle @T_C_hadden for daily inspiration.

The Bible emphatically declares that the meek will inherit the earth (Mark 5:5). As many before me have pointed out, meekness is not weakness. In fact, meekness can only be actuated from a place of inner strength. We might even say that meekness grows in the garden of godly confidence. And make no mistake, although we are to avoid pride like the Ebola virus, ministers must walk in confidence.

A quick biblical study of the word confidence produces a wealth of commands like Proverbs 14:26, “In the fear of the LORD there is strong confidence, and his children will have refuge.” Our confidence is not built upon ourselves but rather upon our faith in God. It took confidence for Moses to stand before Pharaoh over and over again. It took confidence for Joshua to march his army around an impenetrable city. It took confidence for Elijah to challenge the prophets of Baal. It took confidence for Gideon to send thousands of able-bodied soldiers home. It took confidence for Noah to build an ark having never seen rain. It took confidence for a fisherman to preach on the Day of Pentecost. It took confidence for Paul to plant dozens of churches in unfriendly environments. The list could go on and on, but you get the point.

We are using the word confidence because it is almost interchangeable with the word faith. Faithful confidence is the antithesis of insecurity. We know that without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6). Without faith mountains will remain firmly planted (Matthew 17:20). Without faith revival will not occur, chains will not be broken, and the work of the Kingdom will be diminished. And yet, ministers are often afflicted with insecurity and plagued by depression.

If I sound judgmental or accusatory it’s certainly not my intention. As I have outlined in a previous article (Ministerial Depression – And How To Handle It), ministerial depression is usually a direct result of ministerial insecurity.

It may sound strange, but the first step to overcoming insecurity and discouragement is knowing that you’re not alone. Almost every great man of God in Scripture faced strong feelings of discouragement; a cursory examination of the Psalms makes that fact crystal clear. Even Jesus had moments of intense frustration that could easily be described as discouragement. How else would you describe weeping and lamenting over a faithless people (Luke 19:41-44)? Elijah literally watched fire fall from heaven only to enter into a severe season of discouragement. Gideon worked while hiding from the Midianites and scoffed when the angel called him a mighty man of valor. He was so discouraged that even angelic visitation didn’t invigorate him immediately.

Biblical examples aside, you may look across town and assume some other ministry is floating on air without a care in the world; nothing could be further from the truth. They have their own problems, failures, obstacles, and fears that you may never see. In fact, the higher you go within any leadership paradigm the more terrifying the view. If you’re mountain climbing the higher you go the more success you achieve, but you’re also facing new complexities and dangers at the same time. In fact, the danger becomes palpable.

With that in mind, comparison is often the culprit that ignites ministerial insecurity. My friend Mark Brown says, “A spirit of comparison comes from a spirit of competition, and competition comes from a prideful desire to be better than others. God resists the proud.” When we are proud God resists us, starting the cycle of insecurity and discouragement all over again. Prideful comparison is fundamentally ungodly and always leads to unnecessary discouragement. Remember when David disobeyed God and took a census of the people for the sake of comparison? It stirred God’s immediate anger. Resist comparison at all times.

Similarly, the pressure to compromise and the pressure to produce results also instigates insecurity. There is a disturbing trend festering that approaches ministry like a business, and pastoring like coaching. Preachers are increasingly pressured to lead their churches like a business and lead people like a corporate CEO. While ministry does contain aspects of business, shares traits of coaching, and even benefits from secular leadership skills it ultimately cannot be confined into those worldly paradigms. Trying to do so produces dissidence, dissatisfaction, spiritual anemia, and insecurity.

For example, if you measure spiritual success purely in terms of numbers, spreadsheets, and bottom lines you will always fall short. If you measure the success of a worship experience purely by talent, ambiance, and skill you will always be less than something or someone else. If you are led by trends, social winds, surveys, and opinions rather than convictions, doctrines, values, and timeless principles you will never lead with confidence.

Godly leaders understand that God does not measure success in the same way that businesses measure success. It’s not just about filling buildings, deep bank accounts, and slick productions. No. Ministry is about righteousness, truth, anointing, changed lives, transformed hearts, and right relationship with God and others. I would rather have a storefront church with two genuinely saved souls than a mega-church full of lost tithers. So the next time you feel the pressure to compromise for the sake of so-called success, remember that God does not measure success in the same way that carnal minds measure success.

With that in mind, one of the great deceptions of our time is the belief that compromise always produces growth. Consider this, the average church (across all denominational lines) runs about 75. The vast majority of those churches consistently compromise without any numeric growth at all. Clearly, compromise and abandoning biblical foundations does not produce automatic numeric growth (even if it did it would not justify watering down the Gospel). When apostolic ministers accept that lie, whether publically or secretly, they lead from a fixed position of insecurity. They live with the same Grasshopper Complex the ten spies articulated when they told Moses that the Promise Land was unconquerable (Numbers 13). In other words, they are defeated without ever going into battle. That’s the real tragedy of insecurity, we are defeated on the battlefield of our own minds before even attempting to accomplish what God has called us to accomplish.

Flashes of insecurity are not sinful nor are they unusual, but living there is toxic. Prolonged insecurity is really a reflection of an inner lack of faith in God’s power, purpose, plan, and process. Remember, insecurity is the source of negativity. Choose faith over fear and lead with godly confidence.

5 T rust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.6 In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.7 Be not wise in thine own eyes: fear the Lord, and depart from evil (Proverbs 3:5-7).

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Testament Significance of the Name

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Hebraic Influence Upon the Greek

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

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

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

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

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

The Hebraic Influence in Key Elements Relative to Baptism

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

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

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

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

Baptism “In The Name” and the Question of Formula

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

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

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

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

Historical Evidence for the Originality of the Jesus’ Name Formula

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Addendum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Pattern of Persecution (What Does Hollywood Have In Common With ISIS?)

It’s not unusual for politicians to let us down. In fact, I have come to expect the worst. When a politician actually does the right thing I am pleasantly surprised. I’m very rarely surprised. When governor Nathan Deal vetoed Georgia’s (my home state) religious liberty bill (HB 757) it was not a great shock to my system. It did, however, catch many of my fellow Georgians and the rest of the country off guard.

Governor Deal has, for the most part, been friendly to the faith community. The bill itself was fairly straightforward, basically protecting religious institutions from having to perform same-sex marriages. Nevertheless, the LGBT community portrayed the bill as hateful and discriminatory. It was not.

Just because you are opposed to same-sex marriage does not mean that you hate homosexuals. You can be strongly opposed to an action and not hate the person. For example, I oppose alcoholism but I don’t hate alcoholics. I also reserve the right to keep my church campus alcohol free. I reserve the right to keep weddings performed at my church campus free of alcohol. That stance does not make me (or anyone else) hateful.

Truthfully, the bill itself is not what concerns me, but the pattern of persecution that its denial represents is of great concern. In the days leading up to the veto, Georgia was browbeaten into submission. National media outlets launched threats like a bully on a school playground. The NFL threatened to remove Georgia from any possibility of hosting a Super Bowl. The Atlanta area, which has become the Hollywood of the south, was threatened by industry heavyweights like Disney and AMC with dire repercussions if the bill was signed into law. We will never know whether or not they would have made good on those threats. It’s highly unlikely that they would have thrown Georgia’s massive tax subsidies out the window. It was a political game of chicken and Deal lost.

It’s these kinds of nationally recognized situations that put the building anti-Christian venom fully on display for all to see. Honestly, HB 757 would also have protected the religious liberties of Muslims, but it was framed as a Christian hate bill. Can you even fathom the NFL, Disney, or AMC giving the slightest opposition to a bill that gave religious protection to the Muslim faith? It would never happen. Everyone from the president on down would be lecturing us about the need for tolerance towards the great religion of peace. And yet, when bombs go off in Europe, not one person wonders if it was a Christian extremist behind the violence (Check out this article by Matt Walsh entitled It’s Time To Stop Pretending All Religions Are Equal).

Why so much animosity towards Christians and so much tolerance towards Muslims? Why do the leftist, secularist, socialistic, and aristocratic stand in solidarity with a religion fraught with hatred and violence, while simultaneously opposing a religion of love and peace? Let’s break it down into a smaller question? What does much of the Hollywood elite have in common with ISIS? It’s not a shared love of bombs or beheadings. It’s not a mutual stance against homosexuality; Hollywood has singlehandedly popularized the LGBT lifestyle. It’s not the systematic abuse of woman; to its credit, even morally bankrupt Hollywood deplores the abuse of women. It’s certainly not a shared belief in modesty; just about any movie ever made makes that abundantly clear. I think the answer is relatively simple; the only common ground between Hollywood and Islam is their mutual hatred of Christianity. This makes them strange and unlikely bedfellows.

And yet, Christians aren’t faultless either. Many of the same evangelicals that boycotted Starbucks over a coffee cup watch every vile thing that Hollywood spews out. We make the stars rich and the industry execs richer. Hypocritical to say the least. But we’re not alone in our hypocrisy; Hollywood makes billions on movies filled with gun violence and then leads the charge against the second amendment. Outspoken stars like Liam Neeson walk around with armed body guards while arrogantly preaching that the rest of the world has no right to defend itself. Yes, there’s plenty of hypocrisy to go around.

So giant popular industries like the NFL, Disney, and AMC can hold religious liberty hostage with only the threat of taking their business and money elsewhere. This is dire news for the future of freedom. What would happen if Christians took their money elsewhere in protest? Why make stars of people who despise us? Why make the people who not only oppose us but loath us rich? But we won’t. We’ll take the beating until it’s too late, and then we’ll blame politicians, or the Devil, or some other boogieman. Call me crazy, but this is only the beginning of very dark days for people of the Christian faith. The world already turns a blind eye to the genocide of our brothers and sisters around the world. America remains the last bastion of freedom, but it will not remain so if we don’t stand up for truth and freedom right now. Just because governor Deal lost his courage doesn’t mean that we can’t find ours.

Let me give a few disclaimers in the hopes of blocking some of the hate mail at the pass. I fully realize that there are millions of perfectly peaceful Muslims. However, so-called “radical Muslims” have not perverted a peaceful religion. The Islamic faith is inherently violent, nihilistic, and theocratic. This is why peaceful Muslims are hated by Islamic fundamentalists. Islam is not just a religion it is a government. One of the great differences between Islam and Christianity is the mode of conversion. The Koran teaches conversion by any means necessary; the Bible teaches an evangelistic method of love. The Bible rejects the concept of forced conversion or servitude, the Koran does not. The Bible teaches followers of Christ to be at peace with unbelievers, the Koran does not. I highly recommend the book Killing Christians by Tom Doyle for further reading on the subject. I am also aware that not everyone in Hollywood hates Christianity. When referencing Hollywood I am referring to the entertainment industry as a whole, not just the physical location in California. It should not be shocking to anyone paying the slightest bit of attention that the majority of the entertainment industry has been increasingly hostile to Christianity and traditional American values almost from its inception. For those who need more proof, I recommend the classic book by Michael Medved called Hollywood vs. America. Finally, I realize that not all Christians (including this one) willingly ingest everything that the entertainment industry produces. Sadly, statistics tell us that the majority, however, do. To make matters worse, more than half of Christian men admit to watching pornography (and those are just the ones who admit it).





Why We’re Not Emergent (By Two Guys Who Should Be) – Book Review

This is a quick book review of Why We’re Not Emergent (By Two Guys Who Should Be). Click here to purchase on Amazon.

EMERGENT
Purchase

There has been and continues to be a movement emerging (thus the moniker “emergents”) from traditional evangelicalism for several decades now. This group, mostly comprised of youngish Christians has been referred to and often refers to itself as emerging or emergent. Co-authors Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck address this phenomenon of the emerging church movement in the book Why We’re Not Emergent (By Two Guys Who Should Be).

DeYoung has become one of my favorite authors and bloggers over the years. I was first introduced to his writings through this book. As you can see from the title, the book relies heavily on wit and humor making the depth of academia easier to digest for the non-bookish types. DeYoung and Kluck write from a Reformed Church paradigm which means that I don’t always see eye to eye with them theologically. Nonetheless, their perspective is rooted in a love for the Bible. We share a mutual desire to stay rooted in absolutes and avoid the squishy gray areas that typify the emergent movement. For example, DeYoung has written a tremendous book on the biblical view regarding homosexuality and the defense of traditional marriage (I highly recommend that you read What Does The Bible Really Teach About Homosexuality), a stance the emergent movement finds outlandish.

The Layout of the book is unique, conversational, and consistently interesting. DeYoung and Kluck alternate chapters and carry on separate conversations that dovetail into one another intentionally. DeYoung, who is a pastor and a brilliant theologian writes from that perspective. Kluck, is a sports writer who approaches this topic from the perspective of a thoughtful church member. They are both fairly young, slightly hip (in a geeky way), smart, intellectual, engaged in culture, and Christian; all typical attributes of budding emergents (thus the title …By Two Guys Who Should Be). Yet, they are decidedly devoted to biblical truth, and although they value relevance, they sincerely believe that the Gospel is indeed the height of relevance. They hold to biblical moorings to underpin their values system in an increasingly post-modern and post-Christian world. In a nutshell, the emergent movement is the embodiment of a Christian culture leaving it’s biblical roots.

I realize that some people are still struggling to identify and understand the emergent movement because it’s not a denomination with any single leader. Some people don’t care to understand it but they should. Realize it or not, we have all likely been impacted by a friend, family member, or church leader who has drifted into this dangerous dogma to some degree or another. By its own definition, the emergent movement defies definition; their only real absolute is that there are no absolutes. Let me quote a lengthy portion of DeYoungs introduction where he struggles to accurately define the emergent movement:

“When we talk about the emerging church, we are not simply refering to what is new, postmodern, culturally with-it, or generationally up and coming. Neither are we referring solely to the officail Emergent organization. …We are talking about a movement led and inspired by a cadre of authors and pastors, who express many of the same concerns with the evangelical church, hit on many of the same themes, and often speak as the most influential voices in the emergent conversation.”

He goes on to describe the common emergent leader methodology of using self-depreciation as a form of teaching. Rather than calling their theological writings a theology or a doctrine, they call them an ongoing conversation or an evolving exploration. It makes for interesting reading filled with false humility. It also makes them impossible to pin down on the issues (because they’re always fluid). All the while, they subtly undermine the Gospel, the Bible, the Church, traditional values, and Jesus. In a further attempt to describe the emerging church DeYoung quotes Andy Crouch from Christianity Today saying emerging churches are “frequently urban, disproportionally young, overwhelmingly white, and very new.” This makes Kluck’s first chapter entitled Maybe – The New Yes especially interesting where he describes himself as a regular target of emergent evangelism. In case you’re curious, emergent evangelism usually begins as a seemingly benign conversation about how outdated traditional leaning churches and church leaders are these days.

Here’s a quick overview of the topics that DeYoung and Kluck defend: the importance and the uniqueness of Jesus, the authority and the authenticity of the Bible, the necessity of the Church, the importance of orthodoxy (right doctrine), the importance of being relative but not at the expense of orthodoxy, the importance of orthopraxy (right living as informed by right doctrine), and the ethical ramifications of creating doubt for the sake of doubt.

Although this book was written in 2008 it remains just as relevant as it was upon first release. Why We’re Not Emergent… helped me solidify my thoughts and beliefs during a turbulent time in my younger ministry. At the time, Rob Bell and his book Velvit Elvis – Repainting The Christian Faith (one of the first mainstream emergent books) was all the rage. It sent many of my peers into a tailspin. Rob Bell pastored a massive church in Michigan and was selling books by the bus load. Since then, Bell has given up his mega-church pastorate, thrown the Bible under the bus, and started consulting with Oprah (among other things). He leveraged his church leadership for secular fame and fortune. Most people influenced by his ramblings probably didn’t go that far into the woods, however, many did venture into the shady gray spaces. The intentional and unintentional consequences of emergent doctrines (or conversations as they would say) are impacting us today in large and small ways. This book is a great starting point for leaders and saints to solidify their own minds and to help them help others who are struggling with the allure of dangerous doctrines.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

14. You cannot be a church leader without wisdom.

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

15. You cannot be a church leader without vision.

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

16. You cannot be a church leader without faith.

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

17. You cannot be a church leader without anointing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What would you add to this list?

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

11. You cannot be in church leadership without integrity.

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

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

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

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Fire Then Rain

For me personally there is probably no passage of Scripture that has given more inspiration to me than the epic story of Elijah calling down fire from Heaven on Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18:36-39). It’s inspirational on many levels because it shows how one person of faith can change the course of a nation. It shows that we are not alone even when we think that we’re alone. It shows that God works all things together for good to those that love and trust Him. It shows that evil does not have to prevail. It shows that you don’t have to be in the majority to win if God is on your side. It demonstrates that God is all powerful and willing to reveal His glory when the time is right. And beyond all of that it’s just an awesome story. Who among us would not want to witness God putting the skeptics to shame with an outpouring of fire? In fact, it’s easy to get so focused on the falling fire that we forget they still needed rain even after they experienced the fire.

Elijah lived and prophesied in dark days. King Ahab and Queen Jezebel had ushered in an era of idolatry. It seemed that everyone was a backslider in Elijah’s early years of ministry. Jezebel was a murderous queen who introduced Israel to a brand of sensual religious paganism. Evil was rampant in the kingdom. The culture buckled under the pressure of compromise and lasciviousness. Good and decent people were forced into hiding, godly people became the outcasts of their society simply because they would not conform to popular culture. Babies and children were the most vulnerable in the culture that Jezebel shaped because they were offered as living sacrifices to the pagan god known as Baal. If all of this sounds familiar it’s probably because I could just as easily be describing today’s culture where good is called evil and evil is called good, where righteousness is considered stupid and sensuality is the norm, where false religion is prevalent but true religion is scarce, where compromise is cool and steadfastness is underrated, and over 55 million defenseless babies have been murdered since Roe vs. Wade (watch this powerful pro-life video if you dare). It is the single most atrocious genocide in the history of mankind, and yet they sip their wine and eat their salads completely undisturbed. What have we become as a nation? What will we become without revival? How much longer will God allow mercy to hold back the hand judgment? And yet, as bad as things are now it was just as bad in Elijah’s day.

In a moment of exasperation, Elijah prayed for God to withhold the rain and for three and a half years not one drop of rain fell to the ground. It was a brutal famine. People were desperate for life-giving rain. They were perishing slowly but surely. Yet, Elijah remained sensitive to the voice of the Lord and he realized that there needed to be an outpouring of fire before there could be an outpouring of rain. The fire represented death the rain represented life; Elijah understood that you can’t have new life until you put the old life to death. This generation will not have an outpouring of rain until we first have an outpouring of fire.

And so I echo the words of Elijah, “How long halt ye between two opinions? If the Lord be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him (1 Kings 18:21).” You can’t serve God and the world at the same time. You can’t gain new life and keep your old life at the same time. If we ever want to see a deluge of the Holy Ghost than we must first experience the purging of the falling fire. But Ryan you’re stuck in the Old Testament. Let me take you to the New Testament:

1 And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.2 And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.3 And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them.4 And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance (Acts 2:1-4).

So how do you get the fire to fall? First, you’ve got to get yourself to an altar. Second, you’ve got to be willing to sacrifice. Third, you’ve got to pray and then pray some more. And then just step back and watch God do His thing! We would have more rain if we would be willing to experience the fire. There are too many Christians who want rain, but they don’t want fire because fire takes sacrifice. Fire takes consecration. Fire takes perseverance. Fire takes dedication. Fire takes courage. Fire takes prayer and more prayer. Fire takes confrontation. Fire will not fall if we’re just doing business as usual. Fire will not fall if we’re just going through the motions. Fire will not fall while the altar is in disrepair. But there is a spiritual famine in our society today that is so prevalent that it cannot be ignored any longer. And if the Church will not call down the fire the rain will not fall.

The Holy Spirit is powerful and it moves in mysterious ways. Anyone who tells you they fully understand every interworking of the Holy Ghost is either a liar or extremely foolish. But I can tell you that the Holy Spirit manifests itself in many different ways. It convicts us and yet it saves us to the uttermost. It brings joy and consternation. It reveals our weakness and empowers us at the same time. Sometimes it falls like a gentle shower and sometimes it burns like a holy flame. It heals and it makes whole. It breaks us and reshapes us. It molds us and makes us better than we were before. It fills us and surrounds us, and it goes before us. When the Holy Ghost falls like rain it brings growth just like physical rain brings growth to the natural world. In the natural rain brings strength, refreshing, and cleansing and so it is in the Spirit as well. Our culture desperately needs the Spirit to fall like rain. But remember, the way God operates is fire first, then rain. When the Holy Ghost falls like fire it purifies.

For He is like a refiner’s fire, and like fullers’ soap: And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness (Malachi 3:2-3).

You can’t get to the rain until you go through the purification process. However, you can’t offer a bull as Elijah did on Mount Caramel. No. We must present ourselves to God on the altar of sacrifice. When we give ourselves wholly and completely to Him the Holy Ghost will fall like a refiner’s fire.

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service (Romans 12:1).

And it came to pass in the mean while, that the heaven was black with clouds and wind, and there was a great rain… (1 Kings 18:45).




4 Reasons People Don’t Pray

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



An Echo Experience

“This charge I commit unto thee, son Timothy, according to the prophecies which went before on thee, that thou by them mightest war a good warfare; holding faith, and a good conscience; which some having put away concerning faith have made shipwreck:” (I Timothy 1:18-19)

Today, we live in the world of the MP3. Gone are the days of 8-tracks, audio cassettes, and hand-held radios. When it comes to music, our response tends to be, “there’s an app for that.” The Walkman has gone the way of the dinosaur and CDs will be there soon, if not already. But before the medium completely disappears, there’s an awesome lesson we can learn from the humble compact disc.

It’s interesting that in the music recording industry there are 2 primary options for burning a CD. The first is duplication. When a CD is duplicated, it contains the songs that are saved onto it. Put it into a player and it will play. But at a later time, if another album comes out or if the CD is needed for another purpose, with the touch of a few buttons and the right software, it can easily be over-written. That’s duplication.

The other method is called replication. And, here’s the difference: When a CD is replicated, the data, the music, the message, whatever it is…is “burned” so deeply into the CD that it becomes a permanent part of its identity. At that moment, the entire identity of that element has changed. You can try to reburn it and rebrand it a million times, but the result will always be the same. The outcome will stand. Truth be told, it’s more likely that the CD will give out, wear down, break apart, and effectively die before even considering taking on a new message.

In the above verses, Paul is instructing Timothy, his mentee, his protégé, his son in the Lord. Timothy is young. He’s effective. He’s a hard worker and is steadfast. And even then, knowing how faithful Timothy has been and how faithful Timothy will be, Paul encourages him to hold fast.

Hold. Fast.

In fact, the word Paul uses for “holding” is the Greek word “echo.” It means “to have; to own; to possess; to hold to one’s self; to adhere or cling to; to be closely joined.” It’s tied to the idea of never letting go, but it goes beyond that. It’s also understood that holding—echo—is the idea of identifying with something so closely that it becomes a part of you. It’s the moment something is burned into your being. It’s the moment where the element changes and replication takes place.

As youth workers and youth leaders, I hope and I pray that we have an Echo Experience when it comes to truth. I hope that in our hearts of hearts, we’re replicating truth and not just duplicating it. I also hope that we aren’t just replicating truth in our own lives, but in the lives of the young people we work with as well. I know that’s a concept that’s been coming up again and again in my personal prayer time: “Lord, let our young people have an Echo Experience, let them fall in love with this truth, and let it become a part of them.”

I don’t want this truth, this Apostolic Identity, to just be written over when something new comes down the pike. But instead, let it be replicated. Let it go forward. Let it be passed on. Don’t let the message stop with our fathers, the Paul’s in our lives, or with us. Because this truth is more than a list of core doctrines and ideas. It’s more than a deeper understanding of Scripture. It’s more than a vision, purpose, or mission statement. It’s an identity…one that’s meant to be passed on.

I’m thankful for this precious truth and I love this life-changing message. As we lead, let us remember that youth group isn’t meant to be the holding tank or awkward waiting period between Sunday School and regular church. It’s the place where foundations are laid, where decisions are made, and ministries are born. It’s the place where one of our tasks, second only to presenting the gospel, is to encourage our young people to fall in love with this truth and to create an atmosphere for an Echo Experience; to see this truth, this message, this identity, not just duplicated, but replicated in their lives.

GOVE

Jeremy Gove

Husband of Sarah. GDYD Section One Youth Director. Writer. Teacher. Preacher. IT Admin. Graphic Designer…at the end of the day: Nothing outside of my Savior.

Jeremy Gove is an ordained minister with the United Pentecostal Church International and the Section One Youth Director for the Georgia District. Prior to 2014, Jeremy served as the Assistant Pastor at Midtown Tabernacle in Middletown, Delaware. He accepted the position in 2008, the same year he graduated from the University of Delaware with a B.S. in Management Information Systems. As a fan of Jewish culture, Jeremy became involved in the Jewish Studies program at UD, taking various courses in Jewish theology, philosophy, and ideology. He ultimately became one of the first business students to hold a minor in that field of study. Jeremy was first licensed with the United Pentecostal Church International in 2008, ordained in 2011, and officially installed in 2012. In September of 2014, Jeremy moved to Claxton, Georgia and married Sarah, the editor of the local paper and love of his life, shortly after.

Professionally, Jeremy works as the Information Systems Administrator for Evans County, Georgia and freelances as a graphic designer and brand consultant. He also preaches, teaches, heads up HYPHEN (college and career), and handles A/V and several aspects of promotion at his home church, Truth Tabernacle, in Blackshear, GA; his wife, Sarah, also serves on youth staff and is the Minister of Music at Truth. Jeremy is a gifted speaker who teaches with passion and with the goal of applying the Bible’s truths and concepts to everyday life. When not teaching, studying, designing, or doing “church work,” you can usually find Jeremy sitting down with a good book or spending time with his family.

www.jeremygove.com

Paths of Righteousness (Psalms 23:3)

He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake (Psalm 23:3).

The 23rd Psalm is beautiful and arguably the most recited passage of Scripture. I have found that most people focus primarily on verses one and two, but verse three is filled with a wealth of powerful truths. So let’s dig in.

HE RESTORES MY SOUL (What Does That Mean?) I always thought it meant that God strengthens us when we are weak (and that’s exactly how some people translate this phrase), but the meaning goes much deeper than just a physical strengthening. It literally means that God will bring our soul back from its wanderings or wrongdoings. Nothing is more ready to wander astray than sheep, and nothing has more trouble finding its way back than sheep. All we like sheep have gone astrayand we are always vulnerable to failure and backsliding; we are prone to leaving the right way, the way of truth, and the way of duty, and detouring onto the familiar, brightly lit paths of unrighteousness. That’s exactly what Jesus meant when He said, “Wide is the way the leads to destruction, but narrow is the way that leads to life (Matthew 7:13-14).” It’s easy to get off course. It’s easy to get lost.  It’s easy to get on the busy highway that leads to destruction and just follow the traffic. It’s easy to let the Devil take the wheel. And in those moments remember that God is merciful. He is a God of restoration. Cry out to Jesus, and He will find you even when you have abandoned Him.

When God restores our souls, He shows us our errors, He brings us to repentance, He calls us back to our duty, He forgives, He forgets; and if he did not do so, we would wander endlessly and we would be undone. The Bible indicates that God can heal our backsliding (Jeremiah 3:22). That word “healing” is interesting because it signifies that God views backsliding like a disease that needs immediate care. We can take our weakness, our doubt, our unbelief, our failure, and our sin to the Lord. And just as surely as God can open blinded eyes he can heal a hardened heart.  Just as surely as God can heal the lame, he can mend a wounded soul. He can and will heal our backsliding if we turn to Him.

HE LEADS Once God restores us He will be our leader. In fact, he will demand to be our leader. Sometimes we try to lead God. We try to manipulate God’s will to fit our desires, but all of those efforts end in pain. God is all-powerful; we cannot share in His Lordship. We could end a lot of difficult lessons right now by simply allowing God to lead us in all things. That means God leads our finances, our time, our entertainment, our appearance, our conversations, our futures, our relationships, our families; everything.

HE LEADS US IN PATHS OF RIGHTEOUSNESS (What are paths of righteousness?) Paths indicate well-walked trails that others have blazed. It’s a trail that goes off the paved roads, well worn by travelers who created natural paths through difficult terrains.  In the prophet Jeremiah’s days, Israel rejected the Lord’s ways and began following whatever roads looked good to them. Look at the command that God gave to the people in Jeremiah 6:16.

Thus saith the Lord: “Stand ye in the highways and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way; and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls. But they said, ‘We will not walk therein.

They willingly disobeyed the Word of the Lord and invited judgment into their lives. Let’s not make the same mistake. Remeber, “In the way of righteousness is life; and in the pathway thereof there is no death (Proverbs 12:28)”.

FOR HIS NAME’S SAKE He restores and he leads us into righteousness because it brings honor to His name. That’s not to say that He doesn’t do so out of love for us because He certainly does. But just like a parent experiences dishonor when a child refuses to be obedient, God is dishonored by our tantrums. When we enter back into covenant with God it restores honor to us and Him.



Love or Hate?

Stop and think, does what you say some come from a place of love or hate? If love then great. If hate, stop and pray. Pray for your inward state. Because without grace this life is a waste. If you offend from a place of grace than you’ve stated your case in a godly way. But if hate is hidden behind fake grace you lose faith. And worse your neighbors lose faith in the words you say. Regardless of whether you’re right or wrong; no one wants to hear an angry song played out of key with broken strings. That’s what hate sounds like; out of sync. The beat, the rhyme, the melody all collide, it shrieks. Loud and shrill it rolls off your tongue, like honey filled with glass, it cuts deep. So be careful not only of the words you speak but of the heart that beats. Say hard truths, that’s ok, but always with love and not with hate.

The Upside Of Loneliness

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

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

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

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

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

The Words We Speak

Click here to watch The Words We Speak visual blog.

I think sometimes that time stands still when we’re facing judges and holding grudges. Like old knives, we sharpen our remarks into thinly veiled slices that dice and splice until nothing is left but pain and violence. Nothing cuts deeper than pointed remarks that open up scars, they bury straight to the heart of the matter, and all of this chatter makes friendships scatter, faster than rats on a sinking ship.

I wish we could all just skip these unnecessary scripts where we demolish our friendships and burn down bridges. When will we ever learn to tame our tongues, turn the other cheek, and keep the peace? Because our words create a world of hurt that does not heal with a thrill or a cheap pain pill, it takes real determination to keep our mouths closed tight and avoid the fight, but take every unkind name throw it away and speak peace into a brand new day.

Remember, every critical remark creates a spark that burns into a raging blaze that spreads out of control until the heat is more than anyone can take. What a tangled web we weave when at first we fail to see that careless words march on like unseen armies. They crush and they break and they alienate, until families no longer speak, friendships litter the streets like war-torn causalities.

When will we learn to tame our tongues, turn the other cheek, and keep the peace, take inventory of the words we speak? Think of the difference we could make just by thinking before we say what pops into our heads on any given day. It’s safe to say the world would be a better place. Less hate, less pain, less heartbreak. Lay down your daggers and defenses, trade them in for tools that mend fences; tear down walls and build up bridges.

I think sometimes that time stands still when we’re facing judges and holding grudges. Like old knives, we sharpen our remarks into thinly veiled slices that dice and splice until nothing is left but pain and violence.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Do So Many Christians Support Same-Sex Marriage?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Resist Irrelevant Relevance

Called to Be Culture Warriors

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

Holiness Matters

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

Holiness in Action (God Begins the Process)

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

Holiness (the Process)

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

We Are More than Mere Bystanders

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

God Is Holy

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

What does it mean for us to be holy?

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

Resist Irrelevant Relevance 

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

 

Spiritual Stockholm Syndrome

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fiery Evangelism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





What You Should Do After the Storm

Mark 4:35-41; 5:1-6

35 And the same day, when the even was come, he saith unto them, Let us pass over unto the other side.
36 And when they had sent away the multitude, they took him even as he was in the ship. And there were also with him other little ships.
37 And there arose a great storm of wind, and the waves beat into the ship, so that it was now full.
38 And he was in the hinder part of the ship, asleep on a pillow: and they awake him, and say unto him, Master, carest thou not that we perish?
39 And he arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace, be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.
40 And he said unto them, Why are ye so fearful? how is it that ye have no faith?
41 And they feared exceedingly, and said one to another, What manner of man is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?
1 And they came over unto the other side of the sea, into the country of the Gadarenes.
2 And when he was come out of the ship, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit,
3 Who had his dwelling among the tombs; and no man could bind him, no, not with chains:
4 Because that he had been often bound with fetters and chains, and the chains had been plucked asunder by him, and the fetters broken in pieces: neither could any man tame him.
5 And always, night and day, he was in the mountains, and in the tombs, crying, and cutting himself with stones.
6 But when he saw Jesus afar off, he ran and worshipped him.

If it had not been for a storm Jonah would still be a backslider and all the people of Nineveh would be lost. If it had not been for a storm Elijah would not have known Elisha. If it had not been for a storm Peter could not have walked on the waves. If it had not been for a storm the disciples would not have witnessed the miracle of peace as Jesus spoke gently into a wild situation. If it had not been for a storm Paul could not have preached the Gospel on the island of Malta. When we come out on the other side of a storm we can say of God as Job did, “He knoweth the way that I take: when He hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold (Job 23:10).” So, even though storms are frightening, and they are painful, and they are unpredictable, they are necessary for our spiritual growth.

Storms have a way of sending people to their knees in prayer. Nobody has time for prayer but when the waves start crashing people suddenly have a little room in their schedule for time with Jesus. Everyone is content to let Jesus sleep in the back of the boat until danger strikes. We’re all content with the “this” and the “that” until pain comes crashing in on us like a tidal wave and then we’re all in the back of the boat screaming, “Master, carest not thou that we perish (Mark 4:38)?

It’s been my experience that most people instinctively turn to Jesus during the storms of life, and much of what we do in church and around church is designed to help people stay strong through the storms. We sing and preach about dancing in the rain and praising in the storm. All of that is good and necessary; but what about after the storm is over?

I think sometimes we put so much emphasis on the storm itself that we forget about life after the drama. We spend so much time being afraid and reactionary that we don’t have any strength left once it’s over, and it will be over! The gospel of Mark spends five entire verses describing the storm and how the disciples were afraid and then Jesus gets up and simply says, “PEACE, BE STILL (Mark 4:39)” and the whole thing is over just like that. Storms are no big deal for Jesus. He is far more concerned about our lack of faith than he is about the storm (Hebrews 11:6).

What I find most noteworthy about this whole story is not the storm or that Jesus calmed the storm or that Jesus was angered by their lack of faith or that they marveled. It’s what did not happen that makes me sit up and take notice. These disciples who were a part Jesus’ closest inner circle did not worship Him or offer up a word of thanksgiving even after He miraculously calmed the tempest. Wow. I think that’s a big deal and I think it was a big deal to Jesus as well.

It sounds strange to say it out loud, but I’ve witnessed more people slip away from a right relationship with God in the good times then in the bad times. It’s almost as if the waves push us into the arms of Jesus but the calm lulls us into a state of complacency. We might experience fewer storms if we could remain focused on the Master in the good times.

Take King Saul, for example; God gave him a great victory over his most dangerous enemy and immediately afterwards He allowed rebellion to take root in his heart (1 Samuel 15). His downward spiral didn’t happen during the battle it happened after the danger had already passed. His worship is where the corruption first became apparent. When the process of backsliding begins it is usually first manifested externally in our worship. With that in mind, here are three things that we must do after the storm is over.

1. OFFER THANKSGIVING. After Jesus healed the ten lepers in Luke 17 He sent them off to show themselves to the priest. And then the unthinkable happened, only one of them returned to thank Jesus after realizing that he had indeed been healed. That one leper was immediately made whole by Jesus. In other words, he was not only healed of the leprosy but of the previous effects of the leprosy.

Some people will never see another miracle until they learn how to be thankful for the first miracle. Those other nine lepers made it through a storm, but they forgot that Jesus is more than the Lord of the storm, Jesus is the King of kings and Lord of lords (1 Timothy 6:15). Jesus wants more than our frenzied cries of desperation He demands our gratitude (Psalm 100:4).

2. BUILD AN ALTAR OF SACRIFICE. I think we can all agree that Noah endured a genuine, big time storm. After he made it through to the other side he provided an example for us all to follow; he quickly built an altar of sacrifice unto the Lord (Genesis 8:20-21). God was so moved by this gesture that He promised to never again smite the earth with a storm of that magnitude. If you want to avoid going through the same type of storm over and over again start building an altar of sacrifice unto the Lord. In this New Testament era, you should present your body as a living sacrifice unto the Lord (Romans 12:1; Hebrews 13:15).

3. GIVE HIM WORSHIP. When the disciples got out on the other side of the storm they were immediately approached by a man who was literally possessed with not one or two but by a legion of demons (Mark 5:9). A man so tormented, so outcast, so messed up that he lived among the tombs. He terrorized the towns nearby.

They tried to bind him with ropes and chains, but he could not be bound. They tried to subdue him, but it was humanly impossible. Ironically, the world tries to fix bondage with more bondage, but He who the Son hath set free is free indeed (John 8:36)! The townspeople could hear this wild man crying in the tombs and cutting himself (that’s how unbearable his physical and spiritual agony was). This man was unwanted, he was wild, he was an embarrassment, he was demonic, he was sinful, and yet when he saw Jesus afar off he ran and worshipped him. Ironically, it took a messed up, tore up, broken up man who was possessed with a legion of demons to show those disciples what to do after the storm is over.

Psalm 107:29-31
29 He maketh the storm a calm, so that the waves thereof are still.
30 Then are they glad because they be quiet; so he bringeth them unto their desired haven.
31 Oh that men would praise the Lord for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men!

7 Ways To Help Your Youth Group Backslide

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

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

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

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

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

You Might Be A Carnal Christian If…

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

You might be a carnal Christian if…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…God is not the first priority in your life.

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

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

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

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

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

…you put you first rather than others.

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

…humility is a word that makes you uncomfortable.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Don’t Play Past The Bike (Common Sense Theology)

Recently my 4-year-old son was happily playing outside when I noticed that he had drifted down to the end of our driveway precariously close to the road. Hastily, I ran to him full of worry induced anger, and loudly reminded him that he is not allowed to play near the road. During my lecture, I noticed that his bike was conveniently located about halfway down the driveway between the house and the road.  In a moment of inspiration, I yelled, “Bubs, don’t play past the bike!” I repeated myself several times for emphasis and stepped away confident that he would stay on the right side of the bike, safely away from the dangers of the road. Not more than five minutes passed before I checked on him a second time and was shocked to see him standing at the edge of the driveway yet again. Frustrated that he had ignored my instructions and fearing for his safety I yelled, “Son, what do you think you are doing?  I said not to play past the bike.” He looked at me with big, innocent eyes and said defensively, “Daddy, I didn’t play past the bike!” It was then I noticed that technically, he had not played past the bike. Rather, he had cleverly moved it to the road keeping it in front of him the whole time.

My son had found what he thought to be an acceptable loophole in the system. In his mind, he had found a clever plan to get his way and keep me happy too. At the very least, he hoped to avoid getting in big trouble. I appeared to be the mean Daddy who didn’t want him to have any fun. But he forgot that there was a very important reason for the bike boundary; safety. My responsibility as a parent is to keep him safe first and happy second.

Like my son, we too try to cleverly move the boundaries that God has placed in our lives. We don’t want to be in direct defiance against God so we passively aggressively pick up the boundaries and carry them with us right into the very danger zone that God was trying to keep us from entering in the first place. It’s important to remember that God loves us (Click to read 7 Inspiring Verses About God’s Love For Us). When God places boundaries in our lives He does it out of love. When God tells us to forgive our enemies (Matthew 5:44, Romans 12:17-21) it’s not meant to harm us; God knows that hatred and bitterness are cancers that will destroy our lives. When God commands us not to commit adultery (1 Corinthians 6:9, Matthew 5:27-28) and to maintain moral purity (Click to read 55 Verses About Moral Purity) He is not trying to keep us from happiness; He knows that immorality produces great heartache and faithfulness and commitment bring a lifetime of joy.Most of the time we know deep down that moving the landmark isn’t ok, but we do it anyway hoping that God won’t notice our disobedience. As we move into a new year let’s commit to obeying the voice of God rather than playing around with technicalities and looking for clever loopholes. Let’s remember the biblical admonition, “Remove not the ancient landmark, which thy fathers have set (Proverbs 22:28).”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6 Descriptors of Genuine Worship

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Pros and Cons of Facebook (Part 1)

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

1. It can be a time drain.

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

2. It can hinder your relationships with real people.

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

3. One moment of carelessness can do irreparable harm.

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

4. It can open doors to inappropriate relationships.

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

5. It can destroy your witness.

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

6. It can be depressing.

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

7. It can produce narcissism in your heart.

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

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9 Signs That You Might Be Weary In Well Doing

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

Be-Not-Weary

1. Lack of Prayer

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

2. Half-Hearted Praise

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

3. Habitually Missing Church

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

4. Murmuring & Complaining

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

5. Spiked Levels of Temptation & Intensified Longings For Worldliness 

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

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

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

7. Unwillingness to Participate In the Kingdom of God  

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

8. Bitterness 

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

9. Rebellion

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

Faith Shakers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Living Selflessly In a Selfie World

I recently saw a report claiming that the average teenager takes a minimum of 20 selfies a day. This seems narcissistic at best and narcotic at worst and we aren’t even discussing the closely related issue of highly sexualized selfies that clog up social media venues. This is a unique problem and it will likely take us several years to fully realize the consequences of a world with no sense of modesty, privacy, and dare I say, decency.

Selfie

Now obviously in Bible times smart phones were yet to be invented, but I think that Philippians 2:3-5 speaks directly to our selfie culture, “Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:” When we have the mind of Christ we are constantly taking the focus off of ourselves (which goes against our fallen nature) and redirecting it on others and on Jesus.

On several occasions Jesus makes a point to warn us against having the spirit of the Pharisees. The Pharisees loved to wear attention grabbing clothing and they walked through the marketplaces demanding that people look at them (Luke 20:46-47). Anything to draw attention to themselves. They were obsessed with self-promotion and the outward was highly cultivated while the inward was sadly neglected. At one point Jesus said that they were like white washed tombs, clean on the outside but filthy on the inside (Matthew 23:27).

So is a well-timed selfie a grave sin? Certainly not, but is an attitude of constant focus on self and the outward a sin? Yes. Understanding the difference is extremely important.

Cute selfie