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.
Humility is one of those challenging things to teach, write, or speak about because anything said sounds exceedingly, shall we say, not humble? I’ve written rather sterilely about humility here, here, and here. However, looking back, the realization washes over me that I was writing theoretically from head knowledge rather than from practical experience. To be plain, I was pridefully writing about the importance of humility. Arrogance is an interesting component of the human experience. For example, there is a mythological, nearly universally held belief that arrogance is exclusive to the rich, the powerful, the famous, the intelligent, and the beautiful. This is not so, pride is not a respecter of persons, and it will happily trap the poor, the weak, the silly, the obscure, the ugly, and the witless.
Pride is not a respecter of persons, and it will happily trap the poor, the weak, the silly, the obscure, the ugly, and the witless.
Most alarmingly, pride initially creeps into a heart like undetected cancer, attacking the healthy cells and gradually gaining greater and greater control. Like cancer, many suffer from pride long before they realize it is even in their system. The longer pride has been allowed to fester without confrontation, the more intensive the treatment process becomes. Furthermore, the certainty of a complete recovery becomes less and less assured as pride silently attacks more vital areas of the soul. Early detection can mean the difference between spiritual destruction and deliverance.
Pride initially creeps into a heart like undetected cancer, attacking the healthy cells and gradually gaining greater and greater control. Like cancer, many suffer from pride long before they realize it is even in their system.
Without being too personal, this past year (really longer) has been the most painful season of my entire life. Agonizing pain, absolute rejection, abject betrayal, and total disappointment leave an individual with a profound sense of powerlessness. The desperation that ensues leaves no room for pride. It’s almost as if God surgically removed every cancerous tumor of pride from my soul without warning or anesthesia. At first, I treated God like I treated my heart doctor as a child prepped for a fourth open-heart surgery. “Why are you hurting me?” I’d shout indignantly towards the heavens. God responded just like that doctor, “I’m trying to save your life, but the process is painful.”
There are two spiritual results of humility that we typically overlook. One, genuine humility produces desperation that encourages complete dependence upon God. Two, desperation and absolute dependence upon God set the stage for a freakish (almost nonsensical) level of faith that activates the miraculous. Oddly, humility and desperation are much closer cousins than we typically realize. And, humility and desperation are the foundation of almost every major miracle described in the Bible.
Humility produces desperation that encourages complete dependence upon God. Desperation and absolute dependence upon God set the stage for a freakish (almost nonsensical) level of faith that activates the miraculous.
Recently, a respected friend enlightened my thinking regarding a perplexing faith enigma in the ministry of Elijah. The enigma is this: Why would Elijah have the faith to confront the prophets of Baal and call down fire from Heaven only to flee from Jezebel and sink into suicidal despair moments later? What changed? Why the drastic difference from one moment to the next? I believe there are two reasons, but I’ll only share one now, and I’ll save the second reason for another article. We tend to think of Elijah’s showdown on the mountain as an act of confident superhuman faith. But, I think the text and the context support the thesis that Elijah was acting out of an absolute dependence that gave him no choice but to completely put his faith in God. In other words, Elijah reached a place of such deep desperation that he realized God was going to do it or he was going to die praying for God to do it.
It is not paradoxical to say that faith and despair are tightly connected in the realm of the miraculous. God does not respect desperation without faith, but faith without desperation is rarely genuine faith. I know that it takes a minute to get your head around, but Scripture overwhelmingly supports this concept. Psychologically speaking, the connection between desperation and the miraculous makes a great deal of sense. We do things we would never otherwise do when we are dangling from the end of our rope, looking down at the jagged rocks below. When we have nothing left to lose and everything to gain, we become willing to do what God has been telling us to do all along. Tepid levels of faith resist the voice of God when it thinks it still has other valid “less crazy” options.
It is not paradoxical to say that faith and despair are tightly connected in the realm of the miraculous. God does not respect desperation without faith, but faith without desperation is rarely genuine faith.
Scripture emphasizes how the woman with the issue of blood spent everything she had and tried all the “reasonable” avenues before desperately touching the hem of Jesus’ garment. Peter had nothing to lose when he stepped out onto the water. If Jesus didn’t intervene, he was likely going to die anyway. So, he stepped out onto the sea with desperation induced faith. When Moses stretched out that rod towards the Red Sea, he had no other choice but to trust God or die. Every leper that Jesus healed was already an outcast and freak in society, so they had nothing to lose by running to Jesus. What did blind Bartimaeus have to lose by ignoring the critics and screaming for Jesus to stop and have mercy upon his situation? He had nothing to lose and everything to gain.
Three and a half years of drought. No revival or repentance. Elijah was lonely, righteously indignant, and bone tired. Those were the perfect ingredients for a freakish act of faith, like publicly calling down fire from the sky. Sometimes it takes a certain level of indifference towards the miracle. An attitude of almost spiritual recklessness that says, “Lord, I’m trusting you with the impossible, and if I end up looking foolish… who cares!”
Three and a half years of drought. No revival or repentance. Elijah was lonely, righteously indignant, and bone tired. Those were the perfect ingredients for a freakish act of faith, like publicly calling down fire from the sky.
Sometimes it takes a certain level of indifference towards the miracle. An attitude of almost spiritual recklessness that says, “Lord, I’m trusting you with the impossible, and if I end up looking foolish… who cares!”
Think of the humility it took for the three Hebrew boys to say, “God can save us from the fiery furnace, but even if He doesn’t, we will not bow to the king’s idol.” Almost every major act of faith comes down to the willingness to do something utterly crazy, believing that God can do anything, but inwardly determining that even if God doesn’t, you will still do the right thing. It’s nearly impossible to have that mindset until every drop of pride has been drained from your soul.
Freakish faith and desperate dilemmas are almost inseparable. You’ll likely never tell a mountain to move out of the way in Jesus’ name unless you are desperate beyond words to get to the other side. You won’t pick up your bed and walk until you stop caring what people think about you. You won’t let Jesus rub mud and spit in your blind eyes until your pride is dead. Prideful prayers don’t move God. Prideful praise offends God. But humble, desperate, freakish faith calls down fire and closes the mouths of lions. And just when everyone thinks your freakish faith has finally gotten you killed, you will answer from the pit like Daniel:
“…O king, live forever. My God hath sent his angel, and hath shut the lions’ mouths, that they have not hurt me: forasmuch as before him innocency was found in me; and also before thee, O king, have I done no hurt. Then was the king exceedingly glad for him, and commanded that they should take Daniel up out of the den. So Daniel was taken up out of the den, and no manner of hurt was found upon him, because he believed in his God.”
Freakish faith and desperate dilemmas are almost inseparable. You’ll likely never tell a mountain to move out of the way in Jesus’ name unless you are desperate beyond words to get to the other side.
Everyone seems to be consumed with the question of why Millennials are leaving churches. Just google “why are millennials leaving the church,” and you’ll have a month’s worth of reading material. Millennials are writing “open letters” to the Church like doctors write prescriptions. America has shifted its focus from the Baby Boomer generation to the Millennial generation. The reasons are many, Millennials by most estimations, have surpassed the Baby Boomers in number. They are taking over the workforce and shaping culture in countless ways, both good and bad.
Full disclosure, at thirty-three, I am technically a millennial. For those who have remained blissfully unaware, the consensus seems to be that Millennials are comprised of those born from 1982 – 2012 (although there is some debate). So, I squeaked into what is often called “the worst generation.” Good for me! Having said that, I should note that Millennials are not monolithic. We simply cannot be lumped into one big pile. I think that’s one of the most interesting and underreported aspects of my generation. We are radically different from person to person. This can be attributed to the massive amounts of data and information accessible to us from our youth via the rise of the internet, social media, education, and other media sources. In fact, we have so much data we’re drowning in it. This is not a new issue regarding the hysteria surrounding the so-called mass exodus of Millennials from churches. Every generation has had a falling away (check out this article written in 1993 regarding the Baby Boomer generation). I’m a fifth-generation Oneness Pentecostal Christian, and every generation in my family has mourned the departure of large portions of their generation from the Church.
So why all the frenzy? One, there are more people polling, studying, analyzing, and collecting data about Christianity than in days gone by. Second, the rise of blogs (like this one), social media, and the internet in general spreads the word beyond the stuffy conversations of church board meetings. Third, my generation doesn’t leave quietly. We make a big deal over it. We whine and write and vlog and yada-yada-yada about it. The result is that this feels like a brand-new problem when it’s really just an old problem with a new label. As this study points out, young adults commonly leave churches for a season only to return later in life. Jesus parabolically described this very thing in the story of the Prodigal Son. Marriage, the birth of a child, a life crisis, or the realization that secularism is full of emptiness often draws people back to their childhood faith. My grandparents used to call this phenomenon “sowing wild oats.” I still have no idea what that means.
Please don’t misunderstand; I’m not saying this isn’t a problem. It is. It’s just not a new problem. Beyond that, I think overreactions and knee-jerk responses to the perceived death of Christianity are ridiculous, unnecessary, and unhelpful. I would even argue that overreacting has contributed to the problem. Recently, an article caught my attention on Facebook called 12 Reasons Millennials Are Over Church. I’ve read countless articles like it, but this one gives a clear window into the heart of the issue. I want to address several things the author mentions head-on (from one millennial to another, so to speak). It’s probably the narcissistic millennial part of me, but I think being at the upper end of the age spectrum gives me a unique insight into the issue at hand. In other words, I see both sides of the coin; sometimes, I think like a typical millennial, and other times millennial thinking makes me want to hang my head in shame. Regardless, bridges must be built between the generations, but they must be adequately built on foundations of truth and honesty, not hypocrisy and cheap compromise.
Back to the 12 Reasons Millennials Are Over Church, the first complaint on the list is Nobody’s Listening to Us (don’t worry, I won’t take the time to address all 12). At the risk of sounding like a broken record, this also is not a new problem. Every generation has felt undervalued, unappreciated, and unheard. We are in the throes of a generational clash. Every younger generation has thought they could do it better, run it better, make it better, etc. Sometimes they’re right, and sometimes they’re wrong. Growing pains are tough, and feeling marginalized is tougher. Generational clashes are as old as time. We’ve all heard the platitudes about kids who thought dad didn’t know anything about anything until they had kids of their own. This is the natural order of life, but it must be addressed and discussed.
While it is true that Millennials don’t know everything, many of us are sincere (although we are often sincerely wrong). Approaching sincere Millennials with flawed assumptions about our character and name-calling will alienate us further. Opening communication channels is imperative if you want us to feel connected to the future and health of the Church. On the flip side, we Millennials must learn that listening is just as essential as being heard. The generations ahead of us endured tons of obstacles to get where they are. When we insult their dignity, they automatically (and understandably) question our motives, which brings me to my biggest problem with my generation—lack of respect. I know, I know. Respect must be earned, but a vast majority of Millennials struggle to respect any traditional authority structures. Mountains of research have been compiled on this very subject. Like most Millennials, I’ve seen many “heroes” fall both secular and religious. This has produced a general mistrust towards leaders of all kinds, which is reason number 7 (Distrust & Misallocation of Resources) in the article we’re discussing.
Since we Millennials love to point out hypocrisy, I’ll shine a little light on one of my generation’s hypocritical conundrums. Many of my peers may be shedding the “chains” of Christianity and parental dominance, but they are trading them for a secular dogma that they pursue with religious fervor. Their preachers call themselves professors, their bishops are politicians, and science is their Bible. They even have an apocalyptic End Times theology called global warming. Taxes are nothing more than tithes in the megachurch of government, and morality is not sexual, but it is social. Here’s the problem, politics and science and social justice warriors have far more scandals, greed, misappropriation of funds, antipathy, complacency, inconsistencies, and widespread fraud than all the churches in all the world could ever dream of having. For example, here’s a list of solutions that the author has given to help churches overcome the distrust Millennials have towards financial stewardship within churches:
I think all those things are great ideas, and many churches do that stuff and much more. But as Millennials become increasingly politically active, why are we not voicing the same concerns towards the almighty federal government? Where is the outrage over the waste and fraud within beloved government social programs? Millennials supposedly value consistency above all, and when the Church fails the test, we’re out, right? Why then aren’t we imposing these same concerns in the realm of politics?
Moving on, reason number 3 on the list of why Millennials are over church:Helping the Poor Isn’t a Priority. This one irks me a bit even though I think I know where he’s coming from. Honestly, it seems like every megachurch in America is more concerned with sending water to Africa than actually preaching the Gospel (no need for hate mail, I’m all for sending water to Africa). The social gospel movement dominates western Christianity. Helping the poor is essential, vital, necessary, and Christ-like. But nothing could be more compassionate, life-changing, and elevating than the Gospel. That’s why the Great Commission is Gospel-centric, not welfare-oriented. But therein lies the actual problem my fellow millennial is addressing. To some degree, I’m jumping to conclusions here, but it’s pretty safe to assume, based on his description, that the author attends a typical semi-mega church. Meaning that the Gospel is so watered down and shallow it’s just a shell of the authentic truth of the Bible. Performance has replaced praise, and relevance has replaced righteousness. And these are the kinds of churches that Millennials are fleeing, like a religious Titanic.
Churches like this rail against the culture (see point 4), but they are saturated with the culture. They preach sermons based on movies and incorporate secular music into their services. Millennials spot the hypocrisy a mile away. They see churches filled with a form of godliness yet denying the power of it (2 Timothy 3:5). It’s a point I’ve previously made here; many heterosexual Millennials supported gay marriage because they watched churches wink at adultery, divorce, and various other sexual sins while bellowing against the gay lifestyle. Let me be clear, all those things are biblically unacceptable, but many American churches lost the moral high ground a long time ago in the name of relevance. These churches thought they were making the Gospel more palatable, but they really just perverted it. So, churches that are like the culture have no room to rail against the culture. It’s like the proverbial pot who called the kettle black, or to use one of Jesus’ analogies; it’s like the guy with a beam in his eye pointing out a speck in the other guy’s eye (Matthew 7:3-5). And we’ve circled right back around to hypocrisy; we millennials hate hypocrisy even if we don’t always recognize it in ourselves.
Reason number 7 (We Want to Be Mentored, Not Preached At) is probably the best example of how I see both sides of the coin. I agree with the statement on the surface, but once he starts elaborating, he loses me. I do see an absence of one on one mentorship in the average church. Jesus said to go and make disciples (Matthew 28:19). His whole ministry was a combination of public preaching and private teaching. Millennials are desperate for godly mentors, especially with the overwhelming absence of mothers and fathers due to divorce, careers, and addiction. But I fear that the minimization of preaching and the weird comfort level that Millennials have with virtual pastors is a product of weak pulpits. Meaning, the average commercially relevant Christian church is preaching watered down sermons thinking that’s what it takes to connect. When in reality, they are disconnected from the anointing and the biblical authority they desperately need.
Here’s a point to ponder for holiness pastors such as myself; Millennials are not afraid of biblical righteousness if it is correct, sincere, consistent, and kind. That may rock your boat a little, but it’s true. Millennials are not afraid to be counter-cultural if presented to them truthfully, sincerely, convincingly, and directly. This leads nicely to reason number 9 on the list of why Millennials are over church; We Want You to Talk to Us About Controversial Issues (Because No One Is). It’s the most important point in the entire article, and it is 100% accurate. For too long now, churches have remained alarmingly silent on the big issues. Hollywood, social engineers, politicians, and liberal professors don’t have any qualms about facing the big controversial issues head-on. So why should the Church? Churches need to talk about jobs, money, careers, sex, marriage, dating, addiction, social issues, and more. As he said, I understand all these topics can’t and shouldn’t be discussed in the main sanctuary. However, opportunities need to be provided to face the controversial issues head-on.
There is some good news regarding the scary millennial statistics and the general decline of American Christianity for my fellow Pentecostals. While mainline, denominational churches are dying, Pentecostals are experiencing growth (check out this fascinating article Why Do These Pentecostals Keep Growing? by Ed Stetzer). While Pentecostals may have declining ranks of Millennials, statistics strongly indicate that we have much better retention than mainline denominational churches. Why? Because we have what the apostles had, the power of the Holy Spirit. We have not allowed liberal theologians to create contempt and mistrust for the Bible. While imperfect, we are distinct and separated from the world. Is carnality creeping into many of our churches? Yes! And that will be the death of those churches because Millennials hate hypocrisy. So, if you want to impress Millennials, “…be ye steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord (1 Corinthians 15:58)”.
Finally, Millennials are ultra-social conscious. We want to see poverty, disease, and anguish eradicated. We may be more sensitive than our predecessors in petulant ways, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t earnest. That’s great news for true Bible-believing Apostolics because we know that the Gospel can genuinely change lives. The Holy Ghost can lift a drug addict out of crippling addiction, restore marriages, heal sickness, and turn a liar honest. What could be better for broken communities than hundreds of thousands of Spirit-transformed people? Apostolic revival is the most outstanding social program of all time. The Acts 2:38 message can still turn the world upside down (Acts 17:6).
In dealing with and hoping to advise our fellow millennial citizens who range from eighteen to thirty-four years old there are some questions in my mind. Who would you listen to if advice were given? I can answer the question in part, you would probably not listen to your parents, nor would you listen to any older person and very possibly you would not listen to a minister. So, the question is, who could arrest your attention for possible enlightenment? Your peers would probably agree with all that you are now thinking. That is the option you would give your professor, the chance to open your thinking. But he or she would only reiterate what you have already been taught. Or maybe you would thumb through the latest list of movies on the subject in question. I hope you don’t mind my pointing out the fictional aspect of that option.
Well, it’s all complicated but you have more responsibility than you might think. So, I ask you to shake your head and think out of the millennial box. I am not suggesting or asking that you must dress differently or change your hair style. I am only asking that you stretch your mind. Let me say, that by you doing this it will not help me at all, but there is a chance it might benefit you. If you would like to be different than your generation, try this ever so often. Stretching your mind will be a sure way of finding uniqueness since probably not many around you will be so daring. Don’t worry, you could not be an older person if you tried, nor will you ever be thirteen again. So, you must be yourself not a cookie cutter version of all around you. When you think out of the box, you realize no one could push God on you that is impossible. When you understand this, you will be thinking beyond the crowd. It is not possible for preachers to force this upon you. Reading the Bible cannot be forced upon you. Church attendance cannot be forced upon you.
Let me share a secret with you – your children will think you are nuts because what you think about life will be antiquated in 25 years, just like the car you now drive. Your thinking is headed for moth balls. It is on its’ way to becoming obsolete. As a millennial, you might have put God and the church aside which is your prerogative. But please allow me to say before you pull your thinking back into a narrow box, you are taking a lot on yourself. You can’t hug yourself to your own heart. You will find that you alone are just not enough. So, you can’t take anyone else’s idea about a lot of things including God because that is not something others can (or should be allowed to) decide for you. When you fight for your rights remember that others also have theirs. I am not stupid enough to think I can unmillennialize you but we all should realize that we need thinking that will last a lifetime.
Rev. O.C. Marler wears more hats than I can list in this one little bio spot. He is a highly sought after speaker, preacher, and teacher who is known for his powerfully engaging communication style (you can listen here). He currently travels the country preaching with his beloved wife Joan. They are both prolific writers of western and mystery genra fiction. Everyone should own a copy of O.C. Marler’s best selling book Doctrine Does Matter, which is a wonderfully readable explanation of how to be saved. On a personal note, Rev. Marler is a lifelong friend and mentor to me. During my Indiana Bible College years his classes left a lasting impact on my life. His advice, wise counsel, and example are invaluable to me. His ministry has shaped and influenced thousands of millennials throughout the United States.
It’s very difficult to gauge how much attention an article will receive on this forum. Fortunately, I don’t write with that in mind. Because time is a precious commodity, I only write about things I’m feeling passionate about at the moment. Sometimes it resonates with others and sometimes it doesn’t. However, I have compiled a unique list of the 17 most underrated articles posted on this blog. Articles that I think deserve far more attention than they have received. I hope you’ll give these articles a second look.
My weight loss journey, godly parenting, church growth, personal holiness, navigating the dangers of ministry, neglecting prayer, ISIS, the hypocrisy of Hollywood, coping with a terrible trial, and good decision making are covered in the articles below. I am incredibly humbled by each of you who support this ministry by simply reading and sharing. God bless.
This past Father’s Day I enjoyed celebrating fatherhood with my family. I love being a father; I love all that it involves, every nuance that it brings to life. And yet I worry, I worry about the culture that my children will face; I worry about subtle influences that gently creep into young hearts. You see, I’m fourth generation Apostolic, statistics tell me that my children will likely not fall in love with Truth. I’ve always hated math anyway, so I’ve chosen to reject what the data tells me, and do everything in my power to see that my children serve God.
The Scriptures are filled with fatherly role models, and we find some not so great examples as well. David, the sensitive poet, described as “a man after God’s own heart,” was a good king and a terrific military leader but not the best father. The life and faith of Abraham, God’s friend and father of a nation leaves us with many good lessons. Others, like Isaac and Jacob, had mixed success as fathers. The New Testament is remarkably void of fatherly details. In fact, some of the stronger dads in the Bible were obscure and minor characters in Scripture. Others were obedient to God in their own time but failed completely to pass their faith on to their families.
Allow me to remind you of a godly father who encourages me to believe that my children and my children’s children can indeed serve God. You may have forgotten about Jonadab, his story is so briefly told in Scripture. We first read about Jonadab the son of Rechab in II Kings chapter 15 when Jehu the 11th king of Israel made an alliance with Jonadab to destroy the followers of Baal. King Jehu knew that Jonadab was zealous for God and an influential man. Together they successfully completed what the prophet Elijah had begun. They destroyed all the worshippers of Baal. So complete was this destruction that the pagan worship of Baal (which sometimes included parents sacrificing their own children) was wiped out in Israel, and the temple of Baal was torn down and made into a garbage dump.
We don’t know a lot about Jonadab’s life or his style of parenting but we do know that when it was time to take a stand, he took a stand. When it was time to choose a side, he chose the Lord’s side. When he became a father, he chose to BE a father. He wasn’t anxiously waiting for his children to turn 18 so that he could be free of his parental responsibilities. He understood that fatherhood is a lifelong commitment. He also understood that the spiritual well-being of his children was just as important as the physical well-being of his children.
In great wisdom Jonadab commanded his children to abstain from wine and strong drink. He warned them to dwell in tents and not buy houses. He asked them not to plant vineyards or to buy fields and plant seeds. Jonadab set standards to preserve his family BOTH physically and spiritually. Some of his guidelines sound unreasonable to us even today. But he wanted to insure that his family could survive the changes in Israel that would come when the nation was destroyed. He took measures that would permanently set them apart. They were to live differently than those around them. They were to maintain moral purity. He didn’t want them to get too comfortable in a dangerous place.
Most people today would say that he was old fashioned and behind the times when, in reality, he was ahead of the times. He was preparing his family for the tragedy that was coming to Israel in a few short years. Many other families didn’t survive because they had been living the “good life.” But Jonadab’s family survived pagan invasion after murderous invasion because they listened to their father.
How could he know that these things were going to happen in the near future? He knew by faith because he believed the words of the prophets who were speaking into his life. Several prophets had predicting the destruction of Israel. Elijah had predicted the complete destruction of the family of Ahab and Jezebel. Perhaps Jonadab was a little boy on Mt. Carmel when Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal. Maybe he saw the fire of God fall. Maybe he witnessed the prophets of Baal fall on their faces and cry, “The Lord, He is God!” He would only need to see a miracle like that ONCE to know that Baal was a defeated god. Again, it was Elijah who prophesied that Jehu would be king of Israel. Somehow Jonadab instilled a RESPECT in his family’s heart for men of God and the WORD of God. Even after his death he left a continuing legacy of RESPECT.
While other dads were allowing their families to worship God and Baal at the same time, Jonadab remained zealous for the one true God. When everyone else had accepted that Baal worship was a necessary evil, Jonadab said, “NOT SO!” I wonder if Jonadab remembered Joshua’s powerful declaration, “…as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” when he agreed to risk his life taking a stand against the worshippers of Baal? He centered his family’s life around God’s word. But none of this would have made any difference if he had not been consistent in his private life. Our families notice our inconsistencies and sense our secret sins. Faith, faithfulness, greatness, integrity, strength of character, and moral purity are things we learn by example and not by decree.
After II Kings chapter 15 it is almost three hundred years after Jonadab’s death before his name is mentioned again. Judah is in great turmoil. Idolatry is everywhere. Jerusalem is about to be captured, destroyed and plundered by the Babylonians. Thousands of Israelites are about to endure the humiliation of captivity in Babylon. The prophet Jeremiah had been pleading with Judah for almost 40 years to turn from their sin and unbelief. When suddenly in the middle of all this chaos God spoke to Jeremiah and said, “Go find the descendants of Jonadab.” God told Jeremiah to test Jonadab’s legacy. They gathered his descendants together gave them jugs of wine and invited them to have a drink. That’s when something truly astonishing happened. They refused. “No,” they said, “we will not drink wine, our ancestor Jonadab son of Rechab gave us this command: ‘You and your descendants must never drink wine. And do not build houses or plant crops or vineyards, but always live in tents. If you follow these commands, you will live long, good lives in the land.’ So we have obeyed him in all these things. We have never had a drink of wine to this day, nor have our wives, our sons, or our daughters. We haven’t built houses or owned vineyards or farms or planted crops. We have lived in tents and have fully obeyed all the commands of our forefather.”
Almost 300 years after his death Jonadab’s children were still benefiting from his wisdom. He left a continuing legacy. The obedience of six generations was based on one man’s faithfulness. In Jeremiah 35:19, we see one of the most extraordinary promises given to a father and his family in the entire Bible. The word of the Lord came to Jeremiah and rewarded the faithfulness and obedience of Jonadab and his descendants, saying, “Jonadab, the son of Rechab, shall not lack a man to stand before me forever.” Jonadab even after his death was promised that he would always have descendants serving God.
This means that somewhere in our world today a descendant of Jonadab still survives and serves the Lord. This promise from God is more valuable than power, fame, wealth, health, comfort, looks, intelligence, or any of the things that we pray our children will have. The legacy of Jonadab stands as a shining example that faith, moral purity, values, standards, and families can remain strong from generation to generation.
To celebrate three years of writing I have compiled the top 10 trending articles here at Apostolic Voice. It’s been very interesting seeing what articles have generated the most interest. For example, never in my wildest of dreams would I have thought that number two would become a trending article. Also, I want to say a huge thank you to my father and brother for contributing to this blog (three out of the ten articles are their guest entries). Thanks for reading.
If you missed part one, just click the picture below.
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.
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 likehere. 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.
Few false doctrines are more dangerous than the Calvinistic assertion of “eternal security” or “once saved, always saved.” This belief has become pervasive far beyond theological academia’s reach. “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 nothing can cause them to be disfellowshipped from God once a person is saved. 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 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 dangerous 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.
The doctrine of eternal security 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’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 once saved, always saved:
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.
The doctrine of eternal security shares similarities with Satan’s seduction of Eve in the garden of Eden. Satan said, Ye, shall not surely die. The implication being that Eve could live in disobedience without fear of Divine consequences.
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. 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).” God loves us even while we are in sin, but to say the cross made sin acceptable is to undermine the cross’s necessity in the first place completely. 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).”
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.
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 say 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 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 every one 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 judgment. I’ll leave you with a list of Scriptures proving saved individuals must continue to “work out… salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12).”
Children of God Can:
“Fall from grace” – Galatians 5:1-4,13
“Be led away with error” – 2 Peter 3:17
“Err from the truth” – James 5:19-20
“Weak brother may perish” – 1 Corinthians 8:11
“Fall into condemnation” – James 5:12
“Be moved away from the hope” – Colossians 1:21-23
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.