Poetry is an art form that has the ability to excite our imaginations and expand our thinking with rhythm and rhyme. Honestly though, too often I wade through one-hundred awfully dull poems before finding one little golden nugget. Understandably, the awkwardness, vagaries, and eccentricities of poetry ensures it will never achieve the mainstream popularity of its cousin art form; songwriting.
In my humble opinion (and I mean that sincerely), good poetry should have a meaningful message. And, though the message might be slightly obscured by artistic nuance and emotional flourish it ultimately shines through and becomes comprehensible to the reader. From King David to right now spiritually minded people have gravitated to poetry as a means of worshipful expression.
I’m not a prolific poet. When it flows, it comes like a waterfall that I couldn’t stop even if I wanted to stop it. When it isn’t flowing, I can’t even put one word after another in a worthwhile way. From time to time I’ve shared them here even though it’s a major departure from my usual writings. I hope they’ve been a blessing to some of you. I know there’s at least a few other poetic apostolic souls out there.
Because the poetry has been random and sporadic I’ve compiled them into an easy-to-find list below. Also, if you’re a poet I’d love to read your musings. Or, if you have a favorite poem or poet I’d love to hear about it. I’ll start by sharing a poem I just recently stumbled upon. Enjoy.
He did not fall then, blind upon a road, nor did his lifelong palsy disappear. He heard no voice, save the familiar,
ceaseless, self-interrogation of the sore perplexed. The kettle steamed and whistled. A heavy truck downshifted
near the square. He heard a child calling, and heard a mourning dove intone its one dull call. For all of that, his wits remained
quite dim. He breathed and spoke the words he read. If what had been long dead then came alive, that resurrection was by all appearances
metaphorical. The miracle arrived without display. He held a book, and as he read he found the very thing he’d sought. Just that.
A life with little hurt but one, the lucky gift of a raveled book, a kettle slow to heat, and time enough therefore to lift the book
and find in one slight passage the very wish he dared not ask aloud, until, that is, he spoke the words he read.
Below, I’ve compiled a quick link to the six poems I’ve featured on this blog over the years. I’m very nervous and excited to have recently launched the Apostolic Voice Podcast.
Hey, I’m excited to announce the launch of the Apostolic Voice Podcast. In this first episode, I feature some of the Poetry Collection, talk about the Kindom of God, and even do some dramatic readings. You can listen below or you can find the Apostolic Voice with Ryan French podcast on your favorite platform.
While we used to think that people mostly misrepresented themselves on social media, studies are finding more and more that the opposite is actually true. Studies are discovering that people represent themselves more accurately on their Facebook accounts than they do in person. This is encouraging and distressing at the same time. We have known for over a decade now that people’s inhibitions are lowered when using passive-aggressive forms of social interaction, that’s why so many inappropriate relationships and affairs have begun on places like Facebook and MySpace (back in the day). Similarly, that’s why people become bullies on Twitter who would never pick a fight in person. Studies used to argue that social platforms were influencing bad behaviour, but now experts are suggesting that who we are on social media is who we have really been deep down all along. So how should we Christians view this information and apply it to our lives?
1. What you post about and talk about the most on social media is probably what you care most about in life: if you never talk about God and family than those things are probably not the highest priorities in your life.
2. Your social media posts (or lack of them) say a lot about your marriage, your faith, your future, and your real priorities.
3. Are you a “Lurker” or a “Liker”? We all know the social media user who lurks around but never likes or engages with anything. Studies are suggesting that this imbalance gives a window into the soul. If you lurk and never like but you feel angry when no one likes your posts; you are likely a selfish narcissist. However, if you lurk and never like but don’t care if others like your posts; you are probably just cautious, private, and curious. There’s a big difference between the two. There has been much debate about the narcissistic side effects of social media. Needless to say, the Kardashian worshipping, selfie-obsessed, fame seeking mindset has no place in a godly heart (check out my very first blog post entitled Living Selflessly In a Selfie World and Clothed In Humility).
4. Speaking of selfishness and narcissism; the sheer amount of selfies and how you pose in said selfies is very telling as well. This is my personal observation, the amount of Christian woman (especially married ones) who are constantly taking seductive selfies is staggering.
5. So I think as Christians we should examine our social media “footprint” and ask ourselves are we a reflection of Christ, or are we allowing carnality to run rampant in our online presence. If the studies are right and our online presence is becoming the truest reflection of our inner selves than shouldn’t we be expressing our faith, our joy, our salvation, our love, our gratitude, our reverence, and so on?
6. If it is true that our inhibitions are lowered on social media and that our media footprint is a true reflection of who we are then we must use it as a platform to share the Gospel and evangelize the world. I know there is pressure (even within the Christian community) to remain quiet about our faith on public forums. I’m not advocating being obnoxious, mean-spirited or argumentative. But the cold reality is this; if you won’t share your faith on social media you definitely will not share it in person. Hollywood, advertisers, atheists, politicians, salesmen, and secularists impose their beliefs and preach at me every day on social media. Why should we be ashamed to speak publically of the single most important thing in our lives, the Gospel?
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
The recent terrorist massacre at a gay club in Orlando is horrific, to say the least. My heart breaks for the victims and their loved ones. Every Christian of every denomination must stand in solidary condemnation towards this and every act of violence against any group of people. It is a quintessential biblical principle to be at peace with all men (Hebrews 12:14, Matthew 5:9, Matthew 26:52, Matthew 5:43, Romans 12:17). At the root of the Christian faith are the commandments to love, forgive, honor, respect, and live peaceably even with those with whom we disagree.
Disgustingly, tragedies like this usually become a political mud-slinging contest. Blame is spread like butter, nothing changes, no one finds peace, and history repeats itself. It is vitally necessary that Christianity as a whole demonstrates love and compassion to the world as it closely examines our reaction to this act of Islamic terror.
It’s important for us to help our communities understand that Christians can be opposed to sin and love sinners at the same time. Secular society genuinely struggles to understand this reality. For example, on numerous occasions, I have clearly articulated the biblical directives against sexual sin, which includes but is not limited to, homosexuality. I also stand against adultery, divorce, and premarital sex without hating the vast majority of people who have committed at least one of those sins.
The Gospel is for sinners and we are all born into sin and brokenness. If the Gospel was only for perfect people it would be irrelevant because there are no perfect people. Having said that, the Gospel does require us to follow God’s laws rather than our own. Much like the rich young ruler who came to Jesus and left despondent (Matthew 19:16-22), many people reject the Gospel because they value their lifestyle above following Jesus. Every one of us must submit ourselves to the Word of God or we will be lost. So, when I preach against homosexuality or any other sin, I do so because I love people enough to tell them the truth.
This is controversial because we live in a post-modern, post-Christian, morally relativistic society. Meaning, for the most part, people no longer believe in absolute truth, the inerrancy of the Bible, or the authority of God. This causes them to feel uncomfortable, defensive, and often hostile towards Christians. We Christians, in turn, become uncomfortable, defensive, and sometimes hostile as well. In many ways, modern Christians are struggling with how to appropriately react to the cultural shift away from biblical absolutes into full blown philosophical relativism. Christians often feel a sense of helplessness because we see the tragic fallout and the immediate and impending consequences of rejecting God. As a minister, I counsel with countless people who followed post-modern philosophies over the cliff and are struggling to put the pieces of their lives back together. Thankfully, Jesus is a mender of broken hearts, minds, and lives.
Warning someone that the wages of sin are death but the gift of God is eternal life (Romans 6:23) is the ultimate act of love. In fact, to not do so is just as reprehensible as watching a child run into oncoming traffic without crying out in warning. Ironically, noted entertainer and atheist Penn Jillette said it best:
“I’ve always said that I don’t respect people who don’t proselytize. I don’t respect that at all. If you believe that there’s a Heaven and a Hell, and people could be going to Hell or not getting eternal life, and you think that it’s not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward—and atheists who think people shouldn’t proselytize and who say just leave me alone and keep your religion to yourself—how much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize? How much do you have to hate somebody to believe everlasting life is possible and not tell them that? I mean, if I believed, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that a truck was coming at you, and you didn’t believe that truck was bearing down on you, there is a certain point where I tackle you. And this is more important than that.”
Underlying this entire tragedy is the simmering reality that all faiths and religions are NOT equal or peaceful. Furthermore, Christians and gays have a very troubling thing in common: both groups are hated and singled out by radical Islam for extermination. Gays, Christians, women, and children are systematically abused, slaughtered, and despised by Muslims around the world.
It is a fantasy to believe that Islam is a religion of peace. It is fundamentally a theocratic religion of violence. Islam’s holy book and holy prophet advocate, justify and require violence towards nonconformists. In other words, groups like ISIS have not hijacked a peaceful religion, they are complying with the original intent of their religious dogma. Thankfully, the majority of Muslims choose to ignore the violent fundamentals of their own religion’s doctrine.
Christians can and must compare and contrast the opposing views of their religion in word and deed. Christianity is not a religion of hatred. Regardless of how we are portrayed by the media and pundits, true Christianity does not advocate violence, retribution, or persecution of any kind. Consider Romans 12:21, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
Before sitting down to write this article I watched a video clip of a young gay man standing outside of the club in the early morning light just after the shooting. I’m not sure, but I think he witnessed the rampage, he was sobbing as he requested people everywhere to pray. He said (and I’m paraphrasing), “I’m not religious and I don’t even know who or what to pray to but we need something.” I desperately wanted to tell him that God has promised to be near to the broken-hearted and that he is able to save those with a crushed spirit (Psalm 34:18). So, today I am weeping with those who weep (Romans 12:15), and mourning with those who mourn. I denounce the wickedness that filled a young man’s heart with hatred and instigated an act of sheer terror. I am praying for peace. I am praying for the salvation of the lost. I am praying for my enemies. I am praying for my friends. I am praying for a messed up world full of confusion. I am praying for Orlando.
Update: since posting this article in June of last year the controversy surrounding the singular specialness of human life has continued to rage. For many, the odd angst surrounding the death of a gorilla was their first contact with this unique brand of secular madness. Wesley J. Smith of National Review fame recently published an article entitled Now It’s ‘Posthumanist Ethical Pluralism’ that deals with this issue. The article is exceptional. I hope you’ll take the time to read through it. Below is my favorite quote from the article:
“If human life doesn’t have the highest ultimate objective value simply and merely because it is human–an equal value to be distinguished from all other life forms on the planet–there is no way to philosophically defend universal human rights. Moreover, if we can’t distinguish between our inherent value and that of animals, we will not elevate their status to our level but diminish our own to theirs.”
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve heard about the death of Harambe the gorilla. In case, by some blessed miracle you’ve been able to escape the media madness surrounding this story, I’ll give you a quick summary. A small boy recently fell into the gorilla enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo; zoo officials, fearing for the child’s life, shot and killed the 450-pound gorilla and rescued the boy.
I’m not here to argue the merits of whether or not the parents were or were not at fault. Although, having two young children myself, I know just how quickly a child can slip from your sight and into danger. Neither do I have a solid opinion on whether or not the zoo was at fault for not securing the enclosure more adequately, what’s interesting to me is the bizarre social dilemma that has bubbled up to the surface because of this story. At the heart of the debate is a simple question: is a human life more valuable than an animal’s life (click here for a great article that details the ongoing debate)?
For most of my readership, this question is an absolute no brainer. Of course, a human child’s life is immensely more valuable than a gorilla’s life. But for many, this question is far from settled. We are trending on a societal trajectory that is going to wrestle with the question of the value of human life above animal life with increasing levels of intensity.
This should not be a surprise, it is, after all, the natural logical conclusion of a post-Christian, evolutionistic nation. If you reject a biblical worldview then you are left with a man-made, relativistic brand of morality. As my atheist friends would be quick to point out, it is possible to be an atheist and have morals. This is true. But their morality is subjective and open to interpretation, nuance, and circumstance.
For example, a moral relativist might say (and they often do) that war is immoral. But why? If there is no higher power who sets the standards of right and wrong than who gets to make the moral rules? Who gets to write the commandments that we all must follow? Without God, moral standards are chosen arbitrarily by those with the most power to impose their opinions. So, if human beings are just an accidental causation of a chemical reaction with no soul it’s only logical to wonder if we are really valuable at all? Why does any life have value for that matter?
Certainly, the slippery slope of evolutionary thought creates a moral conundrum; because if humans are just highly evolved animals what makes us better than lesser evolved animals? Without a higher authority, all actions are rendered nonmoral. Right and wrong, good and evil, etc. are completely idiosyncratic and without objective legitimacy.
Just to be clear, I really like animals. When Chip, my childhood dog died, I cried like a baby. I consider gorilla’s to be majestic and fascinating creatures, but they are creatures, not human beings. I think it’s tragic that circumstances caused Harambe to die. However, human life is immeasurably more valuable than animal life. The life of that one child is more valuable than every single animal in that zoo. Period.
My belief in the value of human life is deeply rooted in my biblical worldview. Human beings are created in the image of God and we are far more than flesh and blood. Our temporary bodies merely house our eternal souls. The soul is what separates us from the animals. God created animals and gave us dominion over them. Human versus animal equality should not enter into the picture at all.
But for those who have swallowed the theory of evolution and rejected the Bible, this question will continue to fester. As America becomes increasingly post-Christian, this debate will naturally rise to the forefront of the cultural conversation. This poses a tremendous opportunity for Christians because many who believe in evolution instinctively know that human life is superior to animal life. When they are forced to follow the logical conclusion of their belief system they find it hard to digest and repulsive to their sensibilities.
Even though we are living in a largely post-Christian culture there are still strong vestiges of biblical morality holding society together. In other words, many people have moral principles that are consistent with biblical principles rather than their underdeveloped post-modern beliefs. To clarify further, they still believe certain things that are consistent with biblical morality because they haven’t followed their own philosophies on down to their logical (or illogical) conclusions. Sometimes, helping to lead an intellectually honest and sincere person down their own philosophical sink hole shines a light on the real fallacies and dangers that lurk below.
In the meantime, if you don’t believe in God or the Bible you have no right to lecture me on morality of any kind. Your own belief system denies the reality of true morality and replaces it with social relativism. Social relativism is why the world has suffered genocide after genocide (including the mass genocide of unborn children) at the hands of godless governments. It also produces a growing segment of society that genuinely wonders if babies can be aborted (murdered) up to four months after birth, cheerfully sells aborted body parts over salad, and dryly kicks around the idea of population control because of an apocalyptic view of climate change (the secular version of the book of Revelations). When you lecture me (or anyone else) about morality you are playing God, and only the one true God gets to tell me what is moral and what is immoral.
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).
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.
This post will likely not go viral or attract more than a few clicks. There’s no hook. No catch. No gimmick to draw our overloaded minds into a brief moment of introspection. And therein lies a glimpse of our cultural dilemma. We have become shallow, narcissistic, and just plain bored.
We have more gadgets and gizmos than a Cold War spy, and yet we are listless. Yes. Technology has enabled us to spread the Gospel with the click of a mouse, and yet, who’s paying attention? The blessing is also a curse. The very instrument that can send truth around the globe in an instant has deadened our senses. We are reduced to Twitterbites, and soundbites, clever little memes, and silly little quotations. Those things are well and good. They have their place, but by themselves, they are empty and meaningless.
Like it or not, the Bible is a voluminous catalog of God’s very words. Simplify it as we might, it is not compatible with our national, self-inflicted, attention deficit disorder. We are all like kids in a candy store running from one jar of candy to another with zero tolerance for self-control. That might be fine for kids in a candy store, but it spells disaster when it comes to spiritual things.
Preachers can’t speak longer than 20 minutes before people start staring like freshly turned zombies. Teachers can’t expound the Word for more than a few minutes before eyes glaze over and fidgety hands reach for smartphones like withdrawing addicts. Everyone rushes from entertainment to entertainment, and from distraction to distraction. We can’t focus. We can’t think clearly. We can’t dig into the gems below the surface because we are riddled with restlessness.
We want the preacher to get to the point, but theology is not a sitcom; the plot doesn’t always work itself out in 20 minutes or less. We want our books to be thin because we don’t have time to read anything substantial (although our time spent on social media proves otherwise). We want the Cliff Notes version of the Bible. As the apostle Paul would probably say, “we want milk, not meat.”
It’s bad enough that our pews struggle with this modern problem, but our pulpits are struggling as well. I know this because I am the chief of sinners in this area. As I write, my cell phone rings, my iPad beeps, my laptop whirs, and my watch keeps the beat. I find myself giving in to the pressure to oversimplify weighty matters of theological discourse. I find myself avoiding important sermons that I know will induce unjustified boredom.
And our ministry model does little to resist this disturbing trend. We promote ministries like celebrities rather than by examining their depth of knowledge. We do little iron sharpening these days. We’re all so busy trying to get in the last word that we rarely listen. And we can only learn when we listen.
Young preachers spend more time crafting their image than working out their salvation with fear and trembling. Beware of an image-driven Gospel with no genuine apostolic authority.
This never-ending rant does contain a word of hope. God’s Spirit is still drawing the hearts and minds of people. I am convinced, that although the challenges are great, we can cut through the clutter and return to critical thinking and anointed preaching. There is little room for error or mediocrity. We are competing in a fast-paced marketing-saturated society. We must bring the Word to life with clarity and intensity. We must be creative yet systematic, fun but serious-minded (yes, it is compatible), humble yet dogmatic, deep yet understandable, and anointed yet approachable.
Bottom line, preachers, and teachers must work harder than ever before. Not only to engage easily distracted hearers but to guard themselves against the temptation to settle for MTV style theology. The Bible can’t be rushed, edited, manipulated, tamed, trimmed, or airbrushed. All the skinny jean wearing hipster preachers in the world can’t change Truth. Truth simply is, just as God simply is.
And so, as we mindlessly scroll our way around social media, let’s pause as often as possible to meditate on the deep things of God’s word. Let’s encourage our spiritual leaders to actually be spiritual and not cater to our carnal desire for less meat and more milk. Let’s push past the clutter and the buzzing and seek God for who He really is and not just what we want Him to be. Only then can we be impacted by the transforming Word of God. God’s Word has not changed, have we?
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).