Gathering Sticks

Throughout history few leaders have accomplished as much as the apostle Paul, yet he endured an astonishing number of traumatic events: imprisonment, beatings, sleeplessness, hunger, thirst, and many other forms of suffering. 2 Corinthians 11:25 is a small example of the things Paul himself went through. It says,

Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea.

In Acts chapter 27, Luke tells about one of those shipwrecks and includes dramatic details about a terrifying storm at sea that ultimately broke the ship Paul was sailing upon apart. In the aftermath of the shipwreck, Paul and his fellow passengers scrambled for safety onto the shore of an island called Malta. In Acts 28:2 Luke recalls,

The native people showed us unusual kindness, for they kindled a fire and welcomed us all, because it had begun to rain and was cold.

Remember what happened next? Verses 3-7 continue by saying,

When Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks and put them on the fire, a viper came out because of the heat and fastened on his hand. When the native people saw the creature hanging from his hand, they said to one another, “No doubt this man is a murderer. Though he has escaped from the sea, Justice has not allowed him to live.” He, however, shook off the creature into the fire and suffered no harm. They were waiting for him to swell up or suddenly fall down dead. But when they had waited a long time and saw no misfortune come to him, they changed their minds and said that he was a god.

It’s a minor point, but notice: Paul was a leader who was willing to pick up sticks!

Paul didn’t sit on the sidelines and say, “Someone needs to build a fire. I’m an apostle, a man of God, not a stick-gatherer. You guys go gather sticks while I sit and watch.” Paul didn’t consider the menial task of gathering firewood beneath his dignity. He didn’t excuse his own inaction by saying, “Look, I’ve got more important things to do! I have sermons to prepare and letters to write.” He simply saw a need and pitched in to help build the fire. Paul saw himself as an example, not an exception. He saw himself as a coworker, not a superstar or privileged individual demanding special treatment.

Paul also didn’t use his past and the circumstances he had endured to limit his actions. Paul didn’t view himself as too educated, too undereducated, too important, or too busy to handle the task at hand.

Paul went beyond his “job description” to see that the task got done.

In Scripture Jesus unleashed some of his harshest criticism on leaders who did “not practice what they preach.” We see this in Matthew 23:2-4,

The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger.

These hypocritical leaders were professors, but they were not practitioners.

Ask yourself: Are you a professor or a practitioner?

We call teachers who serve on a college faculty “professors” because of their ability to pass along knowledge and expertise to others. More broadly, “professor” refers to anyone who professes opinions and beliefs in a way that instructs others. In this sense, all Christians are professors, for we all have God’s good news message to share and teach. But… it’s not enough to profess faith without practicing it! This is true for all Believers, but this is especially true for those who accept the responsibilities of church leadership.

Jesus calls leaders to service, not self-glorification. Godly leaders shouldn’t aspire for impressive titles, positions, or the honor of man. Jesus insists, in Matthew 23:11

The greatest among you shall be your servant.

Hear this: if someone can’t be trusted with little things (like gathering firewood), why should anyone trust him with big things (like leading a congregation)?

Now each of us should ask ourselves… are our hands dirty? Can people trust us to see through even the menial tasks?

Of course, church leaders must use their time and abilities wisely, and sometimes they must let others wait on tables while they devote themselves to “prayer and the ministry of the word.” Acts 6:3-4 says,

Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”

But the point is, faithful leaders don’t shy away from hard work. They put their hands and efforts to the task along with the rest of God’s people. Effective leaders are willing to get their hands dirty, and when the need arises, they venture out into the woods and pick up sticks.

 

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Indebted

Have you ever borrowed something from someone? Maybe cash when you came up short on a fast food run, maybe you borrow your neighbors tools for tasks around your home?

What kind of borrower are you? Are you appreciative and responsible with the trust you have been lent? Do you respect the lender and seek to repay the favor?

Most of us have borrowed something from someone… but even if you can’t think of anything you have ever been lent or given I can confidently call both you and I debtors.

Romans 8:12 affirms my statement! It says,

Therefore, brethren, we are debtors.

You might be saying… “Wait… what do I owe and why do I owe it?” Both of which are normal questions. To that I would respond with a simple verse we all know. John 3:16 says,

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

Charles Spurgeon once said,

As God’s creatures, we are all debtors to him: to obey him with all our body, and soul, and strength. Having broken his commandments, as we all have, we are debtors to his justice, and we owe to him a vast amount which we are not able to pay.

That debt we cannot repay is a debt of grace to be paid back to God. When we receive the grace of God it both clears all our debts toward God and makes us debtors to God and to everyone else. Because we have been given so much grace in Christ, we are obligated to share those resources. In Christ, we have been given inestimable riches, not silver and gold, but eternal life in the name of Jesus Christ. As Paul puts it in 2 Corinthians 8:9,

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.

To some this command might seem burdensome, but that’s only if you forget why God lavished his love on us. Christ loved us and gave himself for us, so that we might freely love him and others. With the gift of his love, the command to love one another, expressed in terms of a financial debt, is not a wearisome burden. It is a commission of joy, for we cannot feast on the riches of God’s grace without opening up the table sharing it with those around us. The extremity of God’s kindness compels us to share our wealth.

Romans 13:8 says,

Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.

We owe others a debt of love, not because we are indebted to them by their works or by our crimes. We are indebted to them, because we have received such a large inheritance that we are commanded to share it with others.

Just like the son of a successful business man who has been given a large inheritance and a position at the fathers company makes no complaint going around the company handing out bonuses. We as Christians should joyfully share what we have freely received. We are to be free from all debts and obligations to others, save the debt of love. A debt created by the super-abundant grace God has given us in Christ.

To refuse to love and serve and do good to others is to deny the grace that we have received. It is like the beneficiary of the company spending all their money on themselves.

Matthew 18:32-35 says,

Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me.  And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

Just as Christ threatens judgment to those forgiven but who won’t forgive in the story above, so those who have been loved without loving others invites discipline or worse.

Again Romans 13:8 says,

Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.

Paul’s command rebukes in us this deep-seated lethargy to love. Instead of looking at others as our servants who owe us; we are to do good to others with the resources God has given us.

In truth, Paul’s command in Romans 13:8 is not burdensome. It is brimming with possibilities. The one who has been given the love of God needs only a direction to extend the love of God, which has been poured in his heart.

So… you are indebted. How are you going to work on repaying that debt today? Who are you going to share the riches of God’s love with?

A Call to Share

Studies show that one in five Americans don’t believe in a deity. Many of you might look at those numbers somewhat optimistically… but when compared to the numbers the Hartford Institute of Religion Research have on church attendance the real issue begins to show it’s head. The numbers on church attendance show that more than 40 percent of Americans “say” they go to church weekly. As it turns out, however, less than 20 percent are actually in church. In other words, more than 80 percent of Americans are finding more fulfilling things to do on weekends and then answering differently on questionnaires or polls. Those same Americans “believe” in a deity… but their beliefs aren’t impacting their actions or decisions.

Psychologist Jean Twenge of San Diego State University has said,

The large declines in religious practice among young adults are also further evidence that millennials are the least religious generation in memory, and possibly in American history.

That’s a scary thought… but a harsh reality. How do we right this ship?

Matthew 28:19-20 is a passage referred to as the Great Commission that we are familiar with. It says,

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.

Evangelism was born with a simple command from the risen Jesus to “go.”

Our task is as Believers is well defined: outreach. Our territory is well laid out: the world. Our message is plain: Jesus. And fortunate enough for us all we need is made available: “behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

No congregation, no pastor, and no Christian can afford to ignore the call of evangelism. 2 Timothy 4:5, says,

As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

In this passage we can see the apostle Paul writing to the young pastor Timothy, affirming that the work of the evangelist is inseparable from gospel ministry.

Christian missiologist Ed Stetzer has said,

It’s essential to understand that, regardless of our personal comfort level, we are called to share our faith because Christianity is a missionary faith. Despite the change in our culture and the way our faith is regarded, Christians are commanded to tell people about Jesus. In Matthew 4:19, Jesus called fishermen as his first disciples and told them he would make them “fishers of men.”

His disciples are still called to be fishers of men.

Even in our multi-faith environment, this calling should not be offensive to those of other faiths or no faith at all. Evangelism does not mean coercion. We can and should respect each other and strive for tolerance across varying beliefs, but that does not require pretending those differences do not exist. One of the core beliefs of Christianity is that Christianity should be propagated.

It isn’t necessary for every Christian to rent a stadium to proclaim the gospel to thousands. Most Christians can gain a hearing for the gospel while exchanging life stories at the coffee shop, taking a meal to a hurting family or standing for justice in an unjust world.

What evangelism requires is that when we care for a friend or speak out for a cause, we tell others that our faith is the reason. We tell them the good news that was told to us.

Evangelism can be defined as the person-to-person outreach of believers to nonbelievers with the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is the act of leading those who do not believe to repentance and to acceptance of Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. All too common is the notion that this work belongs to the pastor alone, but the fact that the pastor is called to lead does not relegate the work of evangelism exclusively to them. So… you might be asking, “How can I be a successful evangelist?” Let’s think together!


Be Ready.

Having traveled playing music and been around musicians off all ages and genres I always find it interesting to see what an artist is like when they are off the stage. Many of them aren’t at all like they appear to be on stage. Sometimes in the hours leading up to the show you can watch them physically and mentally prepare and morph into what their fans expect. If you were to catch them “off guard” and throw them up on stage early they might not be able to perform to the best of their ability and give the people what they want.

The first key to successful evangelism is to always be ready to evangelize! 2 Timothy 4:2 says,

Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season.

Successful evangelism is not seasonal. Nowhere in Scripture is there even a hint that evangelism should be a seasonal endeavor. On the contrary, Acts 2:46-47 indicates that accessions to the truth occurred daily. That passage says,

And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.

The church must remain true to the Great Commission and rescue evangelism from the realm of the “occasional” and anchor it where it belongs: in the down-to-earth, ongoing, daily life of the congregation. Evangelism is not something that may be turned on and off like a light switch. It is a year-round way of life mandated by God to invite “whosoever will” to come into God’s kingdom.

If we are to be ready “in and out of season” then we are going to have to have the Word of God “dwelling in us richly” because we know that Romans 10:17 says,

So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.

Being prepared for successful evangelism is rooting ourselves in a healthy biblical theology. God is passionate in His desire to save. No matter how much we may “psych” ourselves up for evangelism, unless our understanding is rooted in the reality of God’s unquenchable desire to save, His ability to save, and His purpose to employ us in the saving mission, we run the risk of leaving many of the vast resources God has provided to His people unused, which will leave us disheartened or dissatisfied.

A healthy biblical theology will guide us to a complete dependence on God for the mysterious work of conversion that He alone can accomplish.

We must be always ready by being always dependent on God, his Word, and the resources that He provides.


Be Present.

In Colossians 4:5-6 Paul tells the church to,

Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.

Paul isn’t just saying evangelism is our responsibility; he’s telling us to do it “in person” and wisely, “making the best use of the time.” Unfortunately, to a lot of us evangelism can seem like an out of body experience because we aren’t comfortable with or “present” in the moment.

I’m reminded of the more passive Christian who “checks” evangelism off their list by wearing a “trendy” Jesus t-shirt, hat, or WWJD bracelet while secretly hoping that nobody acknowledges it, or that it doesn’t create an evangelistic opportunity (although I never have seen that happen). Or, on the alternative side I think of the zealous Facebook Christian who posts Bible verses, Christian memes, or might troll statuses and pages in order to start conversations to defeat arguments, while losing people in the process.

Don’t allow the comment section to become the new street corner. 

Matthew 6:5 says,

And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.

There are only 3 ways of viewing time: past, present, and future. We must evangelize in the present. The above approaches are foolish and not “present” because they treat people like projects to be completed, or arguments to be won and not persons to be loved. It is looking at what they could be in the future instead of what they are now.

Have you ever been on the other end of an evangelistic project? Perhaps from a Jehovah’s Witness or Mormon at your door. You don’t feel loved; you feel used, like a customer being pressured into a sale. Go to any restaurant around with a wad of cash for tip money and you will find someone willing to be your “friend,” go empty handed and see the difference.

In the above passage out of Colossians 4 Paul says, “know how you ought to answer each person.” This means that most of our Gospel explanations will be different, not canned. It also implies that we are present and listening in our evangelism. How can we know how to respond to each person, if we don’t truly know each person? This advocates a present and relational evangelism strategy fueled by the love for people with “no strings attached.”

When Francis Schaeffer was asked how he would spend an hour with a non-Christian, he said,

I would listen for fifty-five minutes, and then, in the last five minutes I would have something to say.

Evangelism is not a program but a way of life. For each of us it is an opportunity each day to witness to others about the power of the crucified, risen, and soon-coming Lord.


Be Committed.

What’s the difference between wisdom and knowledge? Wisdom comes with a requirement of gray hair!

In Colossians 4 Paul isn’t just telling us evangelism is personal; he’s telling us to do it with wisdom. Wisdom possesses more than knowledge; it expresses knowledge through understanding. In evangelism another word for this is love.

By many peoples standards love is inefficient. It slows down long enough to understand people and their objections to the gospel, and views them as more than projects. Love recognizes people are complex, and meets them in their need: suffering, despair, indifference, confusion, etc…

A successful evangelist is committed for the long haul.

Unfortunately the “fast facts” way of evangelism that many of us have been “trained” in for a long time is ineffective and almost seen as an insult anymore. Rehearsing a memorized fact, “Jesus died on the cross for your sins,” isn’t walking in wisdom even though the whole statement is truth.

We need to explain and display these important truths not simply assert them, and that takes commitment and relationships. It takes a love for people.

We need to see evangelism as a long-term endeavor. Stop “checking the list” and defeating others with your knowledge of the Gospel and your machine gun mouth. Slow down and practice listening, and most importantly… love them for who they are and not for who they could be! Most conversions are not the result of a single, point-in-time conversation, but the culmination of a personal process that includes doubt, reflection, gospel witness, love, and the work of the Holy Spirit, and those things take time!

Don’t feel pressured by numbers. Successful evangelism is measured by faithfulness to the task. If faithfulness is measured by numbers, then Noah would probably be considered a failure. Noah started building the ark when he was 480-years old. The Bible tells us in Hebrews 11:7 that Noah moved with fear,

By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; by the which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith.

Prior to the Great Flood the earth had never flooded in that manner (some would even argue that it had never rained, see Genesis 2:5-6 and Hebrews 11:7, but I do not wish to enter into that conversation); yet God told Noah He was going to flood the earth with rain. Now when God gives Noah the command to do this, it is 120 years until the Flood. This is what you would call a long-term project. Noah preached the Word of God, gave warnings to the people, and was ignored and ridiculed. Only his family boarded that Ark.

We learn from the experience of Noah that faithful evangelism doesn’t so much have to do with the numbers and response as it has to do with proclaiming God’s message boldly out of obedience and love.

In sum, if you evangelize apart from love you will be holistically unsuccessful. With love comes patience, and that means we are evangelists for the long term.


In conclusion, we are all called to be evangelists. We will all be presented with differing opportunities and platforms. Many of us will see different “measurable” successes. The parable of the seed falling in different kinds of soil puts things in-perspective for us. Inevitably, the word that we proclaim or teach falls, like the sower’s seed, on a variety of surfaces. That is why successful evangelism cannot be linked exclusively to numbers. A great part of the success is that we have simply delivered the message faithfully. Our task is especially to care for those who are represented by the good ground, and to continue to pursue the others in the hope that the ground of their hearts will soon be receptive to the seed.

Successful evangelism is well within the reach of every person. Paul’s admonition to young Timothy to do the work of an evangelist is framed in a context of a call to faithfulness, consistency, and longsuffering. The evangelist who has these qualities will succeed.

And remember, don’t put pressure on yourself; conversion is in God’s hands. We just get to share the incomparable news of Jesus!

Our Focus

Sometimes on Sundays I wonder how people perceive the structure of the services they take part in. There have been times on stage where I think to myself, “I hope this is translating and being understood.” The unfortunate fact is that sometimes it isn’t. I have been in services that seemed to have no distinct structure or coherent theme/ message. Maybe there was one intended and I just didn’t pick up on it… but nonetheless it didn’t come across to me.

The truth is that each and every Sunday should start with a plan… a message, theme, or thought that we are going to expound upon. Obviously our plans are just that… “plans” and we all know that sometimes plans change. A statement I once heard fits that thought perfectly. It goes,

Every battle plan seems perfect until the first bullet flies.

But I personally would rather have a plan and have it altered than not have a plan at all and miss an opportunity. We should understand that we have a great foundation or starting point and that it is demonstrated for us in the Bible. Worship isn’t a new thing! In the Old Testament much of the worship that took place centered upon the Exodus event where God called His people out of slavery in Epypt and delivered them to the Promised Land to be His chosen People.

But… we are new covenant Believers and worshippers. Hebrews 9:15 says,

For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.

We worship on this side of the cross, so our New Testaments worship is centered on Christ. On this side of the cross God has called us out of our own “Egpyt.” Through Jesus God called us out of slavery to sin and has provided us an avenue to Heaven through the work of Christ. We are His chosen people! 1 Peter 2:9-10 says,

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

So… why should our focus be on Christ? Below we will sift through just a few ideas.


  • Christ is our mediator before the Throne.

I almost feel like that point should have ended with an exclamation point! Take a second and think about that… there is no such thing as unmediated worship! In the Old Testament Christians had to have a priest act as their mediator before God to offer sacrifices to atone for their sin. We no longer have to do that because of the ultimate sacrifice made on our behalf by Jesus… the Son of God!

John 14:6 establishes the route to the Father through Jesus. In that verse Jesus says,

I am the way, the truth, the life, no one comes to the Father but through me.

1 Timothy 2:5 says,

For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus.

Have you ever bought a product because you had the assurance of a warranty? I believe we all have. More than once I have been on the phone for hours jumping from person to person to arrange an exchange or refund only to be told I wasn’t eligible because of some small print or loophole found somewhere. The good thing for us is that in Christ we have full access to God. No hoops to jump through or loopholes to get caught up in! Ephesians 3:10-13 says,

His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence. I ask you, therefore, not to be discouraged because of my sufferings for you, which are your glory.

We can be assured as leaders and worshippers that Worship Pastors, bands, environments, atmospheres, specific songs, or creative worship planning cannot bring us any closer to God or provide us a more direct or expedient route than the one Jesus already has established!

  • All of heaven worships the Risen Lamb.

We serve a risen King! What other prophet or “god” has claimed to have been resurrected from the dead? Not only did Jesus defeat death and the grave… but He called His shot!

Hosea 6:2: says,

After two days will He revive us: in the third day He will raise us up.

On October 1, 1932, during Game 3 of the 1932 World Series at Wrigley Field in Chicago New York Yankee Babe Ruth pointed his bat towards the center field bleachers during his at-bat. On the next pitch, Ruth hit a home run to the same spot in center field. Babe Ruth’s called shot is said to be one of the greatest home runs in history. Babe Ruth has been forever concreted on baseball history partially because of this event and story. But… the death and resurrection of Jesus and the prophecies that came before are so much more impressive!

The most significant prophecy in the Bible concerning the resurrection of Jesus is known as “the prophecy of Jonah.” It is a symbolic prophecy represented by the three days and three nights that Jonah spent in the stomach of a great fish as found in Jonah 1:17. Jesus himself explained the prophetic symbolism of this unique event on an occasion when He rebuked the Pharisees for seeking a “sign” from Him. We see this in Matthew 12:38-40 where it says,

For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so shall the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.

Jesus clearly and distinctly prophesies here, using the example of Jonah, that He will spend three days and three nights in the tomb before His resurrection will occur. Jesus called His shot! That is worth praising! In fact, we know that here on earth we aren’t the only ones lifting up the name of Christ.

Revelation 5:9-14 shows us a glimpse of this. It says,

And they sang a new song, saying: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.” Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. In a loud voice they were saying: “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!” Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying: “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!” The four living creatures said, “Amen,” and the elders fell down and worshiped.

We should join in this worship when we gather to worship as His Body on the earth!

  • Focusing on Christ in our worship helps us keep the proper perspective.

The world today is very caught up in itself. What other explanation would we have for the drastic things people do in order to attain a certain “model image” or the attention and affection of others? We as worshippers need to take specific measures and precautions to ensure that we make our worship about God and that our worship times do not become man-centered. We live in a self-centered culture where everything is centered on us… our wants, preferences, opinions, etc. The church is even like this! There is a church for everyone! If you like loud music there is a church for you! If you like soft music there is a church for you! If you want to drink coffee in the sanctuary in a seat that semi-reclines there is a church for you! This may seem ridiculous… but deep down we all know it is true.

Some of us leave a worship service thinking that if we did not get anything out of the service the preacher, worship team, or staff did not “fill our cup” or have somehow let us down. I propose that instead we should be asking ourselves how we did in honoring and serving the Lord in our worship. Is Christ our focus or has our focus shifted to include us?


The Gospel of Jesus Christ should always be at the center of all we do in the church including our worship times. We need to be constantly reminded of the cross of Christ and reminded of what Christ has done for us, but we must move past the cross to the resurrection and the power that it provided us to live and worship as Christ has designed for us to live and worship. Let’s focus on Christ and make Him the direction that our worship points!

 

The Value of Presentation

 


From the onset of this article many of you non-musicians or Pastors may feel a little left out. But… in reality this way of thinking can be applied across the board to ALL things done for God by ALL Believers. So read on and apply!


When it comes to church worship one topic that seems to be a tricky one is the issue of excellence. What qualifies as good enough? If the person has the right heart are they automatically eligible to lead? There is an obvious tension that exists between balancing heart and skill.

On one hand, we all know that worship is undoubtedly an act of the heart. But does that mean that we shouldn’t bother putting effort into our craft and offer forth a subpar offering? Colossians 3:23 says,

Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.

So the often-heard statement, “Well… it’s good enough for church” holds no water when held in light of the verse above, and the old saying, “It’s the heart that counts” is only partially correct. God is excellent and His desire for us is excellence. Psalm 33:3 says,

Sing to Him a new song. Play skillfully and shout for joy.

As leaders and musicians, we are instructed to do everything we do with excellence and with “skill.” A good question we should ask ourselves is: Why is our need to pursue excellence, and the often lack of such a pursuit, even an issue? In fact, you’d think that Christians would widely embrace the fact that because God is excellent, he has called us to excellence as well, and so we ought to strive to be excellent in everything we are and in everything that we do. But you only have to look at people in our churches and our presentation or “offering” to know that this is not necessarily the case.

But… all of you non-musicians hang in there with me! This is for you too… this exact thought, or pursuit of excellence, can be applied to anything you do in the Lord’s name! What is your offering? What is our method of worship? Maybe it is teaching, working with kids, being a missionary to your community or workplace, sitting with the sick, crying with the broken? The opportunities are limitless!

I believe a major problem we run into with regard to excellence in church is a theological problem that is best interpreted as an underlying “cheap” understanding of grace. People like to embrace the notion that because we are saved by grace, we can just sort of kick back and relax and not be overly concerned about anything. Now of course we would never admit to having that mentality… but the complacency we talked about a couple of weeks ago is a sure sign of it. It seems as if in many ministries laziness, mediocrity, and complacency have become the “norm” and not just accepted… but also expected! Somehow, I believe, we have come to think the pursuit of excellence is incompatible with salvation by grace. Excellence is suddenly not a “spiritually correct” word because we automatically assume that we are seeking excellence for ourselves or to earn/ payback God for our salvation, when in actuality our pursuit of excellence is out of response to a deep-felt conviction of God’s grace that spurs us on to grateful service and a pursuit of true personal excellence for His glory alone!

As Christians saved by grace, we ought to try harder, because we want to bring honor and glory to God through the things he has enabled us to do!

Hebrews 13:16 says,

Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.

It’s a delicate balancing act between heart and skill… but it is one that we MUST balance. Our offering matters! Our presentation matters!

For example, imagine that your anniversary is coming up and you know that your wife has been admiring a new shiny $300 necklace. You scrounge up all the change you can by flipping over couch cushions and rummaging through the dryer and are somehow able to afford that $300 necklace.

The day of your anniversary comes and goes and two days later you realize that after all the prep work you have forgotten all about it! So… to save face you go to the closet where you hid the necklace and bring it out in the original shopping bag you brought it home from the store in… maybe the receipt is still attached. You hand it to her and say, “Sorry I forgot our anniversary… I got you this.”

What’s the necklace worth? Well, $300! The receipt can prove it.

But imagine if, rather than forgetting that you bought the necklace, you also bought the finest gift-wrap you could find. You carefully and perfectly wrapped the box and topped it off with a beautiful bow, and you give it to your wife with some well thought out words and a smile.

What’s the necklace worth? Well, still $300! The receipt can prove it.

The point is that the wrapping and appearance doesn’t change what the gift is worth. The value is on the inside. But what the wrapping does is communicate to her that you understand what the gift, and the recipient of the gift, is truly worth.

I believe the same is true in our worship services. John chapter 4 makes clear to us the kind of worship that pleases God. John 4:23-24 says,

But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.

God is after our hearts. This means that real worship of truly reverent hearts doesn’t depend on the quality of music, lights, stage sets, lasers, smoke machines, song selections, or any of the other trivial things we tag along with it. It never has and it never will.

The value of your worship is found in your sincerity.

But… if we view our worship as an offering or gift to God then what kind of picture does the above example paint? What challenge does it present? I believe with all my heart that my unceasing efforts of excellence in my craft, not just settling for “good enough” serves to demonstrate both to myself, God, and my church community, that I understand that very value of worship and excellence. The presentation matters.

Romans 12:1 says,

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.

This passage talks about our proper act of worship: taking our whole selves, everything that we can possible offer, and placing it before God as an offering. My love for Jesus should inspire and push me to work exceptionally hard to excel at my craft so that what I bring is the absolute best that it can be… because He deserves it and the presentation matters. When a laborer has a conviction that what they do isn’t just a hobby, but that they are being faithful with what God has put in their hand, then to them that labor is an act of worship!

Our sincerity can be found in our response.

I want to challenge us all to be Worship Pastors who are not willing to focus on skill at the expense of people’s hearts, but not brush off skill for the attitude of “good enough.” Worship Pastors, Christians in general, must know both must be addressed but ultimately realize that worship is fundamentally a function of the heart, and when a heart is transformed in worship, everything else follows including skill and excellence. The more experience I have gained, the more I have realized that my leadership has to become an act of worship that inspires others to worship, my skill has to be at a level high enough to allow me to worship with my presence and leadership without distraction. We become “lead worshippers” when we blend these two functions into one, so that people cannot tell the difference. Psalm 78:72 describes David as a man who led Israel with integrity of heart and with skillful hands. Heart and skill are two primary issues that every worship pastor wrestles with, not just for themselves but also for the people they lead. Both are part of the Biblical mandates that take a central role in the job description of a Worship Pastor.

In all of this it’s important to note that excellence is not perfection. Excellence is an attitude or mindset that drives us to do the best we can with what we have within our ability. Misappropriated excellence creates an environment that is harsh, restraining, and ultimately discouraging. But an appropriate understanding of excellence creates an environment that is fundamentally encouraging as it calls out the full potential of every individual that comes from the Father.

James 1:17 says,

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.

Aren’t you glad that when God created the universe, He took a step back and “saw that it was good,” not “saw that it was good enough.” Our pursuit of excellence is purely a reflection of an excellent God.

So, what is it that matters in our worship? Is it heart or skill? What actually matters is that Jesus is honored in all that we do and in our displayed love for Him.

Psalm 96:7-9 says,

Ascribe to the Lord, O families of the peoples, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength! Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; bring an offering, and come into his courts! Worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness; tremble before him, all the earth!

Diagnosing Spiritual Complacency

One of the terrible diseases of Christianity today is complacency. There is a major complacency epidemic spreading amongst the Kingdom. Are you battling complacency in your ministry?

I certainly believe that Satan is a master deceiver and uses many techniques to disarm and neutralize Believers. I wholeheartedly believe that one of Satan’s strategies is to plant the seed of complacency.

I have a friend who served a tour of duty in Iraq. On that tour of duty he worked many road checkpoints and was issued, along with his other soldiers, some very particular gear. Among that gear was the normal body armor and helmet, but that gear also included padding and armor for their upper arms and thighs, as well as a groin guard. All of this gear had one mission in mind: to keep them alive and protected in the event of an IED explosion. As you can imagine all that gear made the already intense heat nearly unbearable. So for that reason many of the soldiers would remove the gear when officers were not around. One particular day there were no officers on site and a newer enlisted soldier was in the guard tower wearing his helmet causing many of the others to poke fun at him. On that particular day an enemy assailant just so happened to be taking aim with a long-range rifle and shot that soldier in the head. The helmet and his lack of complacency saved his life, whereas many of the other soldiers would have been killed. I say all of that to make this point: in combat complacency kills.

In Amos 6:1 the Lord spoke to the backslidden Israel through His prophet Amos. It says,

Woe to you who are complacent in Zion, and to you who feel secure on Mount Samaria, you notable men of the foremost nation, to whom the people of Israel come!

The Lord was addressing to the people who were self-satisfied and in their comfort zone. They felt self-sufficient and strong enough in their own power. These people had little desire for God, and little hunger for His righteousness. They were self-confident and self-sufficient. Thus the Lord warned them about the impending judgment upon them.

How often do we fall into this exact attitude? We allow ourselves to grow complacent and live a self-satisfied life. Do we truly live dependent on God or do we try to maintain some independence? Remember, complacency makes us to feel secure in our job, safe in our strength, good about our knowledge, protected in our money and possessions, eventually blinding us and leading us to our downfall. Sometime the strike isn’t immediate. Like the enemy assailant in the story above, sometimes the enemy patently takes aim and waits. He allows us to grow comfortable, and complacent all the while he is disarming us without much effort.

A.W. Tozer says,

Complacency is a deadly foe of all spiritual growth.

Let’s get one thing straight. Complacency is a killer that can ruin ministry. Are you battling complacency in your ministry?

Revelation 3:14-22 says,

And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: ‘The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation. “‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’

We see above that lukewarmness is a spiritual condition that apparently, Jesus can’t stand. Another name for it might be “complacency.” Complacency is not contentment. Where contentment is finding joy in the blessings of walking with God, complacency is when we have stopped walking.

How do you know that this killer has crept into your ministry? Here are some telltale signs.


  • Lack of Zeal

One of the most obvious and beginning stages of complacency is a diminishing presence or absence of zeal. We all can probably remember a time in our life when we were passionate about something, maybe you are like me and when you find a new interest or hobby you dive in headfirst and it is all consuming? Hopefully we can all think back to a time when we were like that with Jesus. We didn’t need complex theology or big “spiritually correct” words. Yeah… I just went there.

Too many of us have substituted zeal for knowledge!

I honestly am pretty tired of seeing Bible believing friends of mine tearing each other to shreds over theology on Facebook for the whole world to see. I have been there too! At times I myself have replaced my zeal for pursuing Christ and acting like Him for merely knowing more about Him and maybe letting others know about it. Before anyone gets all tore up please understand that I am talking to myself here! Maybe the dissection of the Word down to the last punctuation mark was just a distraction to keep you from understanding it and doing what it says? In actuality Satan, the deceiver, doesn’t care how much you know the Word if you don’t do the Word.

Please read the Word, dissect the Word, understand the Word, memorize the Word… but then go put into practice!

  • Tradition is Doctrine

Tradition entails so much more than what most people typically think of when it is mentioned. Tradition is more than robes, recited prayers, hymns, etc… Tradition is something that can invade and ultimately take over any church, regardless of its denomination, history, or style. Let’s get this straight, when we depend on tradition for our “religious” involvement, relationship, worship, or gatherings we stop depending upon something else… namely the Bible and the Spirit of God. When that happens, we’re on a rapid descent to destruction. In fact, our gatherings become nothing more than scripted ceremonies that we have rehearsed and polished in hopes of gaining something. We might keep ourselves happy, we might grow our church in numbers or financial security, but we aren’t truly pursuing the renewed work of Christ and the Kingdom of God here in our ever-changing ministry field.

There is nothing wrong with tradition itself. But… there is something wrong with depending on tradition!

C.S. Lewis once wrote,

Security is mortals’ greatest enemy.

But what kind of “security” is he talking about? I believe he is talking about the security that comes with comfort. Maybe your comfort looks different than the blanket that Linus drags around everywhere, but it’s still serving the same purpose. Do your traditions make you feel at “home” or secure and comfortable?

Complacency makes us feel secure, but feelings can lie.

Ephesians 5:14-17 says,

This is why it is said: “Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.

How is it that we can be told to make the most of every opportunity and still pass up so many because they didn’t fit into our idea of “church?” Let’s put it out there, we as a whole have become slothful, habitual, uninspired, secure, and complacent, often doing what we do for traditional reasons rather than because it’s best.

Why is it that we, who have had the precious blood of Christ cleanse our sins, now take such a mediocre and habitual approach to those things related to Christ and His cause? From our outreach, in-reach, preaching, worship, programs, aesthetics, etc… in almost every area of corporate church complacency has unfortunately become the norm.

The message is the same, but the messengers and avenues they take change!

The secular world has caught on to this! Look at the music industry. Songs and albums were once put out on vinyl, then tapes, then cd’s, and now everything is digital. The same songs that were once on vinyl can now be downloaded on iTunes for .99 cents! Businesses don’t always change the product or name… they just change the presentation, method of delivery, or audience. Why aren’t we who have the best “offering” putting forth the same effort in our church activities as we do in our personal activities and businesses?

Andrew Grove, a founder of Intel, is famously quoted for saying,

Success breeds complacency. Complacency breeds failure.

If we stay the same, for the sake of staying the same, we get left behind and we do the message an injustice! We must understand that our complacency has eternal implications, and I’m afraid that a culture of mediocrity has now become the new tradition.

  • Tolerance of Sin

Last week I asked you to imagine a trashed house full of garbage and the flies that go along with the garbage. Sometimes our lives look a lot like that house, and the natural tendency is to clear out the flies. Sometimes we are successful and manage to shoo them all away, but as long as the garbage remains we are fighting a losing battle and those flies are inevitably going to return and multiply. So, the solution is to get rid of the garbage in our lives. We need to be concerned with the flies, but we also must work to remove the garbage to keep them out! Every trashcan is going to look different… but we certainly all have one. In his strategy of complacency, Satan watches as we clear our houses of garbage and flies…except for one room. It’s more than likely a hidden room, one we keep to ourselves. That room may be continual sin, it might be a relationship, bitterness, or a wound we haven’t allowed to heal. At times the door to that room full of garbage stays shut for a while and Satan allows us to have successes in other areas all the while the flies are just multiplying and building up in this little room. Then, out of nowhere, the door of the hidden room flies open, freeing thousands upon thousands of flies who have been breeding and waiting for just this moment.

Why does this happen? We get complacent and our complacency leads to tolerance or apathy.

Think it doesn’t happen? Take a moment to consider prominent Christian leaders, celebrities, or politicians whose lives and careers have been ruined when they fell in disgrace from one sin or another. We all know them so there is no need at mentioning names. We might look in from the outside an ask ourselves, “how would they allow that to happen” or, “why would they do that with all the success they have?” Rest assured. That fall wasn’t part of the plan when they began their career. Nobody begins a ministry with the goal to ultimately disgrace themselves and God by being brought to their knees by their own hand. Too often the fall comes from complacency. They believed the lie that they could “get away with it,” or, “it’s not that big of a deal,” and when they seemed to have it all together and under control, they grew complacent in their tolerance of sin.

Sin is sin, and all sin is bad. Don’t tolerate it! The church is to be a place of healing for sinners, but a Holy God doesn’t wink at or bless iniquity. He sent His son to die for and erase that iniquity and sin… not cover it up. The only reason the church welcomes sinners is because by God’s grace, sinners can be reborn with Christ’s righteousness. Do not tolerate sin in your own life! Letting a few “little things” slip leads to bigger slip-ups. I recently watched a video of a poor woman who slipped on an icy sidewalk and every time she would begin to regain her balance and composure she would begin to slide and fall again until ultimately she ended up on the ground. We’ve all been on an icy sidewalk… when you begin to slip it is all over. But… you know how you avoid slipping and falling? Stay off the ice.

  • Lack of Pursuit

What is a pursuit? I would define it as an intense chase of something in order to attain it.

My parents have a German shepherd by the name of Obi and he is extremely quick. One afternoon while playing and walking Obi his leash fell off of his collar and went limp in my hand. I looked down in shock only to see him looking at me with the same look of shock in his face that I had in mine. At that point the chase was on.

Why did I pursue Obi the dog? I pursued because I was afraid of what would happen if I didn’t catch him, of what would happen if I stopped pursuing him!

How many of us have stopped pursuing holiness? Lost interest or will to pursue God and spiritual growth?

Spiritual growth is marked by an aggressive intense pursuit of God. We desire His fellowship, His people, and His word. A life that lacks prayer, Bible intake, and neglects spiritual nourishment is a life that has slipped into complacency and that will see little or no fruit.

Mark 11:12-14 says,

The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. Then he said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard him say it.

When Jesus cursed the fig tree for its failure to produce fruit in the verses above He gives us a sobering lesson. Empty religion, lacking fruit, needs to and ultimately will die. In actuality the parable of the fig tree doesn’t end with Jesus’ withering curse, because the very next verse says,

On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple courts and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves.

The spiritual complacency or “religion” of the people had reached the place where they were making a total mockery of the temple and of the message. We may not see our situations as that bleak, but if Jesus walked into our churches what things would he need to overturn or shake up?

  • Inward Focus

One of the surest signs of complacency is a church that is self-absorbed or entirely inwardly focused. You might ask, “Tanner, what does than mean?” Let me begin my answer with another question, what is the mission of the church? That question can evoke many answers like: to provide teaching for Believers, to be a place of fellowship, a place of worship. To all of those I would say yes… but what is the first and foremost mission of the church? In Matthew 28:19 it tells us about that mission. It says,

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

The mission of the church is to spread the good news and make disciples. In fact we may have to get out of our comfortable and familiar zone to do it! Acts 1:8 says,

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

Is your church inward focused or outward focused? Are you so concerned about not “rocking the boat” that you leave it docked? We see in the book of Acts that in order to achieve our mission we have to wander outside of ourselves! Are we so overly concerned about keeping “our people” happy and content that we miss opportunities to reach those that haven’t yet been reached by Christ or the church? I will step out in an unpopular way and say that when a church is absorbed with just its own activities, its own problems, and its own people, it has become complacent and ineffective at achieving the goal and mission.

The primary challenge, and our primary concern, should be, “how do we reach people who don’t have a relationship with Jesus?” Most inward-focused churches are not sensitive to or even aware of this challenge. We might bank on our “friendliness” or position in the community to cut it… but the numbers show that it doesn’t! We can’t simply pray for a harvest and not plant any seeds or till any ground!

So many of us are so complacent that we fear any change or decision that might push insiders away and, frankly, impact the bottom line. Ironically, any organization, including a church, that doesn’t focus on reaching new people has already started to decline and will eventually die. In the book of Acts, James the brother of Jesus, told the Jewish Christians, who were the insiders of the day, they should not make it difficult for the Gentiles, the outsiders of the day, to turn to God. Why is it that this many years later that problem still exists? Are we making it easy for outsiders to turn to God, or are we stuck in the busy complacent work of keeping insiders happy?

Jeremiah 10:21 says,

For the shepherds have become stupid and have not sought the LORD; therefore they have not prospered, and all their flock is scattered.

Proverbs 1:32 says,

For the waywardness of the naive will kill them, and the complacency of fools will destroy them.

What is our focus as a church?


Zephaniah 1:12 says,

It will come about at that time That I will search Jerusalem with lamps, And I will punish the men Who are stagnant in spirit, Who say in their hearts, ‘The LORD will not do good or evil!’

Are you complacent? Go to war with the complacency in your life.

 

Weapons of War

Today we continue our series on spiritual warfare that we began three weeks ago. If you haven’t read the blogs leading up to this I encourage you to do so.They can be found below or in the archives.

Let’s begin! So… because the Scriptures tell us that spiritual warfare is real and that we have a part to play in it you might be asking, “What weapons do I have in order to fight this war?” Do not fret. God has given us all we need to overcome the enemy; we need only to go to the Bible.

First, as Believers we are warned to be alert and to resist the devil. 1 Peter 5:8-9 says,

Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.

This passage, and those like it, is written for believers. Think about it… the enemy has little reason to attack those who oppose the church, either actively or through unbelief. It’s God’s work in restoring us to Him that Satan opposes. But, if you notice you aren’t alone! 1 Peter 5:8-9 tells us that, “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.”  The word “your” that the passage starts with is plural. The devil isn’t our personal enemy! He is the church’s collective enemy! He is one who ultimately wants to oppose the work of God in every church. He will harass, hinder, and bring division and persecution in attempt to hinder the expansion of God’s kingdom here on earth. We must be aware that every step that makes us closer to God or enables us to do more for the kingdom of God will be met with opposition.

When you became a follower of Christ, you made an enemy!

It has often been said that the lion roars to paralyze his prey. Because of that I find it interesting that Satan is referred to as a prowling and roaring lion in the above verses out of 1 Peter. I believe that Satan often uses the tactic of fear in order to intimidate us and make us ineffective as believers. Look at what Paul says to Timothy in 2 Timothy 1:7,

For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self–discipline.

Timothy is probably struggling with fear about doing ministry, and Paul alerts him to the fact that, that spirit is not from God. Like Timothy we too face fear at times, look at the Parable of the Talents.

Matthew 25:24–25 says,

Then the man who had received the one talent came. “Master,” he said, “I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.”

The man in that story, whom the master had given one talent to utilize, did not do so because he was afraid! He was so afraid of failing that he didn’t even try. Does that sound familiar? How has fear kept you from doing God’s will? What “talent” have you been given that you aren’t utilizing out of fear or complacency? Satan, the “roaring lion,” works through fear. He desires to paralyze us with worries and anxieties about the present, the past, and the future. He roars to keep us from progressing in the things of God… in holiness and service. Let us remember that God has not given us a spirit of fear, but instead of power, love and self-discipline.

Second, we must understand the power of Christ. Christ’s position in the heavenly realms is at God’s right hand and he has all things in this world under his authority. Ephesians 1:16-22 describes this position of Christ… but also our position in Christ. It says,

I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church.

To be effective in spiritual warfare we must see and recognize our position in Christ. We must recognize that once we are saved we become seated with and united with Christ. Ephesians 2:1-10 says,

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Third, we must read and know the instructions we are given for standing against the evil one, his minions, and his schemes. Of course we all are familiar with Ephesians 6:10-18. It says,

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints.

Now that we understand those foundations we must take note that spiritual warfare comes in two ways: offensive and defensive. Offensive warfare is tearing down the strongholds the enemy has already formed in your mind (or others minds) through deception, temptations, and accusations, and defensive warfare is guarding yourself against those strongholds, tactics, and schemes of the devil to begin with.

Let’s put it out there and make it clear that the difference between deliverance and spiritual warfare is that deliverance is dealing with demonic bondages, and getting a person set free, whereas spiritual warfare is resisting, overcoming, and defeating the enemy’s lies that he sends our way. Deliverance is offensive. Personal spiritual warfare is primarily defensive.

God was, is, and will forever be victorious over the evil one and He takes care of any obstacles in our lives as we abide in him. Our weapons of spiritual warfare are “weapons of righteousness.”

In 2 Corinthians 6:2b-9 Paul mentions these,

Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation. We put no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.

In the spiritual realm there is God almighty and his entire government of angels in their various roles and ranks, on the other spiritual realm side is the devil and his entire alliance of fallen angels in their various roles and ranks. It is important to note is that we have the entire heavenly government on our side including our Lord Jesus, who stands as our intercessor as Romans 8:34 says,

Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.

He is also our advocate in heaven’s highest court. 1 John 2:1 says,

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.

Job 16: 19 says,

Even now, behold, my witness is in heaven, and he who testifies for me is on high.

Our main concern here is the part we, as God’s servants, play in this war. The Scriptures have laid this out quite clearly. Most of what we see from the scripture is that the battle is Gods and our concern is to focus on Him rather than on Satan. The Bible tells us that we’re more than conquerors in any battle we may encounter. Romans 8:37-39 says,

In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

So we are in this fight, and if we remain on Christ’s side until the end we will be victorious. But… as soldiers what weapons do we have to fight with?


  • Truth

The Word of God is also known as the sword of the Spirit and the belt of truth. A sword as we know can be used as both an offensive weapon and a defensive aid and blocking tool. I find it necessary to begin our discussion about what weapons we hold and have in our arsenal with the Word, because all other weapons come from it and their instructions for use are inside.

Truth is our most effective weapon in battle against Satan.

In fact, Jesus stood on the Truth when he was confronted in the wilderness. Matthew 4:1-11 says,

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, “‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and “‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’” Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’” Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him.

When Jesus was tempted in the wilderness by Satan He overcame the devil using the weapon of the Word of God rather than his own opinions, thoughts, desires, or excuses. Jesus knew and applied Scripture in his time of “need.” The direct use of God’s Word silenced the enemy and ended the discussion. Jesus used the Word of God once for each of the three temptations He faced.

The apostle John wrote in 1 John 2:14,

I have written to you, young men, because you are strong, and the Word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the wicked one.

Like Jesus, we should do the same in our temptations. Take time and find Bible verses that are particularly meaningful to you… allow the Holy Spirit to help! Lock those verses away in your mind and heart, repeat them often, and use them when fighting in spiritual warfare.

Satan is a master deceiver. Imagine a salesman who has been selling the same product for 40 years… they would probably be pretty good at it. Their skills would be honed, they would know what to say and what not to say, and they would know the right approach to take when dealing with people. Now apply that to Satan. He has been “selling” the same lies and deceptions for his whole existence. He does well at taking the baggage and wounds we all carry and planting seeds of lies and distortions in the fertile and vulnerable soil. In the absence of God’s truth, those seeds can take root and grow, spawning more lies, more deception, and ultimately more seeds. Interestingly enough, Satan’s deceptions and distortions of the truth work in the same way that many cancer cells do in the human body. Within the last few years a team of Swedish researchers have discovered how many cancer cells spread throughout the body: by masquerading as immune cells! They disguise themselves as healthy cells until often it is too late. Satan’s deceptions often mimic Biblical truths somewhat closely. Close enough that many Christians accept them as truth without thinking otherwise… then the vicious cycle continues. False teachings and truths can devastate a Believer and set them up for failure.

Biblical truth shines light into the darkness that is spiritual warfare.


  • Prayer

There is evil that we fight in our spiritual warfare. Jesus told us to pray for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. He told us that the gates of hell will not prevail against the work that God has purposed for us to accomplish, as His will is being worked out in our lives. But we do hit opposition. We need to understand that the battle is not against flesh and blood but against powers in the heavenly places.

The enemy hates intercession because we exercise our authority in Christ when we pray! It is one of the greatest things he will attack. The enemy is on an all out attack to stop prayer, because he knows that there is power in intercession. There is power in even one intercessor that knows his or her authority in prayer.

James 5:16 says,

The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects.

In John 14:12-14 Jesus says,

Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.

Let’s make one thing clear right from the start. Prayer is not a one-time thing… we can’t do it once and check it off the list. Although Satan is a defeated foe, it doesn’t mean that he has accepted that defeat and stopped fighting. At the conclusion of World War II pockets of Japanese soldiers kept fighting unable to accept the defeat or surrender of their homeland. They engaged others in guerilla style warfare for up to 30 years after the conclusion of the war. In 1974, Hiroo Onoda, a Japanese army intelligence officer, finally was persuaded to come out of hiding by a former comrade on the Philippine island of Lubang. Mr. Onoda, then 83, wept uncontrollably as he agreed to lay down his rifle, unaware that Japanese forces had surrendered 29 years earlier. In 1972, Shoichi Yokoi was found on the island of Guam and returned to Japan. Like Mr. Onoda, he had no idea that the war had ended. These are just a couple examples of the large isolated pockets of fighters that held out after defeat. Like those pockets of isolated Japanese soldiers on remote islands in the Pacific at the end of World War II, Satan and his demons continue to fight on, oblivious to or in denial of God’s ultimate victory. You must fight through prayer for the entirety of your Christian life here in earth.

God has promised to help His people. But sometimes that help isn’t immediate. Read Daniel 10. Specifically in Daniel 10:10-14 we see this account,

And behold, a hand touched me and set me trembling on my hands and knees. And he said to me, “O Daniel, man greatly loved, understand the words that I speak to you, and stand upright, for now I have been sent to you.” And when he had spoken this word to me, I stood up trembling. Then he said to me, “Fear not, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart to understand and humbled yourself before your God, your words have been heard, and I have come because of your words. The prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days, but Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I was left there with the kings of Persia, and came to make you understand what is to happen to your people in the latter days. For the vision is for days yet to come.”

In Daniel we see that help was sent but delayed. We have to remember the different fronts that this battle is being waged on, and stay aware that we aren’t always seeing the realm in which the fight is taking place. Remember, we exist in a battle zone of multiple levels and realms. Another possible explanation to what we might see as a “delay” to our answered prayers is that God could standing to one side, watching, allowing the fight we’re in to strengthen us.

God has promised to be there when we NEED Him, not when we THINK we need Him.

Do not look at your prayer life as a small ministry of no importance. The enemy knows fully how mighty you are in pulling down his strongholds, and he will try to intimidate, discourage, divide, or defeat you. We must not accept his lies. We must continue to pray from a position of authority! Do not pray from a position of fear, understand and take to heart the truth that you have eternal life with Jesus. He is your strength, and with Him there is nothing to fear.

I also believe that it is important to state that effective prayer for spiritual warfare starts with prayer in general. We have to begin from the baseline of an active prayer life. All of us would agree that before we stepped into the cage for an MMA fight we would want to fight and maybe take a punch. The fight itself would definitely not be the best time to learn! In the same way we must be praying before engaging the enemy in prayer.

Like the military, we train in times of peace to be prepared for times of war.

Our prayer nurtures our relationship, and it’s especially important to draw on that intimate personal relationship with God when engaged in spiritual warfare. A prayer life filled with regular prayers of praise, thanksgiving, confession, supplication, and meditation are what nurtures and grows that close relationship.

We must not only pray for ourselves… but we must pray for others! We see an example of this in Luke 22:31-32 where it says,

Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.

In 1 Timothy 2:1-4 Paul urges us to pray for others! It says,

I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgiving be made for all men, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a quite and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way. This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men be saved and come to the knowledge and truth.

Take note, sometimes we may need to revisit the same prayer over and over… we may need to pray against the same sort of attack more than once! There are many demons, operating at many levels, using many different tactics.

As a child did you ever ask one of your parents for a piece of candy over and over after being told no? If you are like me you probably did in hopes of wearing them down with your nagging, and ultimately getting the candy. Like that pesky child nagging for candy after being told no sometimes we pray and deny the enemy only to have them return, often with their accomplices, and to try to wear you down.

It’s only through the strength of Christ Jesus that we can withstand. Romans 8:26-27 says,

The Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.

Imagine a trashed house full of garbage. What else is sure to be there? Flies. Sometimes of lives look a lot like that house. We get frustrated at the flies buzzing around and work against them. Sometimes we are successful and manage to shoo them all away, but as long as the garbage remains we are fighting a losing battle and those flies are inevitably going to return and multiply. So, in our spiritual warfare we need to be concerned with the flies (demons), but we also must work to remove the garbage. This might look like a lot allowing past wounds to heal, seeking to restore broken relationships, or terminating relationships that are unhealthy for us. It might mean stepping out of our comfort zone, getting connected with other believers, and renouncing sin in our lives. Every trashcan may be different… but we certainly all have one. Prayer is a good place to start, but it almost always invokes action on our part.


  • Fasting

The literal meaning of the Hebrew word for “fast” is “to cover the mouth.” Fasting humbles the flesh, and that is where we can draw power. Fasting puts us in harmony with an all-powerful God who demands humility from those who wish to be close to Him. When it is done for that purpose, it pleases the Spirit of God.

During a fast, you deliberately let go of that which binds you to this physical world (food) in order to receive all your sustenance from the spiritual world. You determine that for a period of time you will deny your physical cravings to focus on your spiritual cravings. You allow your spiritual hunger to become stronger and more focused. You feed your spirit with the same enthusiasm with which you feed your body. Spiritual hunger takes priority over physical hunger.

If you are like me then you enjoy food! For foodies fasting can be a real downer or struggle… but that is the idea. Food for your physical body sustains it and nourishes it. When we eat food, we literally take the earth and make it part of us. I am fully convinced that God intentionally designed our bodies to be nourished and fueled in this way so that we would have a picture of true nourishment that He speaks of in Scripture. Jesus made this clear when He told the devil in the wilderness in Matthew 4:4,

It is written, man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.

God has represented His Word as food that nourishes our spiritual life in the same way that physical food nourishes our physical life.

Psalm 119:103 says,

How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!

Jeremiah 15:16 says,

Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart, for I am called by your name, O Lord, God of hosts.

Ezekiel 3:1-3 says,

And he said to me, “Son of man, eat whatever you find here. Eat this scroll, and go, speak to the house of Israel.” So I opened my mouth, and he gave me this scroll to eat. And he said to me, “Son of man, feed your belly with this scroll that I give you and fill your stomach with it.” Then I ate it, and it was in my mouth as sweet as honey.

Just as food strengthens and maintains our bodies, the Word of God is designed to nourish, fuel, and strengthen us. You can go a certain distance in God, and experience many things, without fasting much, but the highest, richest and most powerful blessings always go to those who, together with other disciplines, fast. The most significant Biblical characters were all men of fasting and prayer. Jesus, the Son of God, was a man of fasting. Matthew 4:2 says,

And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.

The apostle Paul fasted. 2 Corinthians 11:27 says,

In toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.

Moses fasted 80 days. Elijah fasted 40 days. The early church fasted before starting any major work. Luther, Wesley, Finney, Booth were all men of fasting.

Now… don’t get me wrong, fasting is not magic, nor does it twist the arm of God. A Fast doesn’t punch your ticket into the will of God. God wants to do many amazing things, but He looks for those willing to urgently make the corrections needed to come into line with him. God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Psalm 138:6 tells us that,

For though the Lord is high, he regards the lowly, but the haughty he knows from afar.

Proverbs 3:34 says,

Toward the scorners he is scornful, but to the humble he gives favor.

Matthew 23:12 says,

Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

Proverbs 29:23 says,

One’s pride will bring him low, but he who is lowly in spirit will obtain honor.

Fasting is not a way to influence, impress or manipulate God. It doesn’t prove anything to Him. It doesn’t show Him whether you are serious. In fact, He knows your heart better than you do. Hebrew 4:13 says,

Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.

A fast is not a hunger strike, like the ones abolished in India in 1861, designed to convince God for “more” or to release what He has “held back.” Also… Fasting is not a last-ditch effort to get through to God. Instead, fasting is an effort we make to allow God to get through to us! It is a means of sharpening our spiritual senses so that we can hear and discern the voice, leading, purposes, and direction of God. Fasting gives us Spiritual eyes to see God’s focus for our lives, and it can be a major key to hearing God’s voice. We need focus from God more than anything. The world we live in is working overtime to distract us, to entice us, to win our hearts and minds, our focus, and to determine our vision. Fasting cuts out the world so we can tune into God. In 2 Chronicles 20, we read the account of a fast King Jehoshaphat called for this very reason. He had received a report that his enemies were allied against him and were nearly at his borders, intent on destroying him and the nation of Israel. The earthly perspective was pretty grim… but Jehoshaphat was not willing to limit himself to Earth’s point of view. He knew there was more to the picture that what he could see.

Fasting has a way of revealing the bigger picture… the perspective of heaven.

In Ezra 8:21-23 we see Ezra the priest fasting for God’s protection while carrying valuable items for the temple. It says,

Then I proclaimed a fast there, at the river Ahava, that we might humble ourselves before our God, to seek from him a safe journey for ourselves, our children, and all our goods. For I was ashamed to ask the king for a band of soldiers and horsemen to protect us against the enemy on our way, since we had told the king, “The hand of our God is for good on all who seek him, and the power of his wrath is against all who forsake him.” So we fasted and implored our God for this, and he listened to our entreaty.

Like Ezra, we too can fast for God’s protection.

Matthew 6:17-18 says,

When you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

We are commanded to fast for God and God alone and that our fasting will be rewarded. Notice that verse 17 says, “when” we fast… not “if” we fast. Fasting can actually break barriers and strongholds that sometimes prayer can’t handle by itself. We see evidence of this in Mark 9:28-29 where it says,

His disciples asked him privately, “Why could we not cast it out” And he said to them, “This kind cannot be driven  out by anything but prayer and fasting.

If we desire to be successful and victorious in spiritual warfare then we must add the discipline of fasting to our arsenal.


  • Praise

I believe praise plays a huge part in our response to the attacks of Satan and his aids. In fact, did you know that there are more verses in the Bible that refer to praising God in some way, than there are that refer to praying! Therefore, I believe that praise is essential to success in spiritual warfare.

Praise takes our focus off our problems and places it where it should be: the Lord. Praise has a way of lifting our spirits and our confidence. Praise reminds us of what God has done for His people, and what He has promised to do for us in the future. And guess what? When you praise the Lord, you’re also reminding Satan and his workers of how many times they’ve been beaten before. Think about it! When I was a kid and I would wrestle with my friend, who was much bigger than me, I would get so frustrated at the lack of effort it looked like he was putting forth, and when he would laugh at my feeble attempts to take him down. In the same way Satan hates hearing about his defeats. How would you like it if, when you were about to attack someone, they started singing songs that reminded you of how many times you’ve lost similar fights? You wouldn’t, and neither does the devil! So make a joyful noise! Praise the Lord and His holy name!

My personal favorite reason that we sing is to silence the enemy. Singing throughout the centuries was used as a battle tactic or a way to prepare soldiers for battle. We see in the Bible that singers and musicians were just as big of a part of the army as the soldiers themselves. They led the fighters into battle! Tribes in Africa will often sing and shout before heading into war as a way of intimidating their enemies with the size of the army and the volume of their voices. In Korean and Vietnamese history soldiers would rush into a battle with loud shouts and songs to intimidate and overwhelm their enemies. In American history music played a large role in both the Revolutionary and Civil wars as both a moral booster and communication technique.

We can apply this strategy to our own lives. We enter into spiritual warfare each and every day. When we accepted Jesus as our Savior we basically put a target on our back for Satan and the world to shoot at. But, when the enemy tries to attack your life or church, the raised voice of faith in the promises of God will drive him away. Psalm 68:1-6 says:

God shall arise, his enemies shall be scattered; and those who hate him shall flee before him! As smoke is driven away, so you shall drive them away; as wax melts before fire, so the wicked shall perish before God! But the righteous shall be glad; they shall exult before God; they shall be jubilant with joy! Sing to God, sing praises to his name; lift up a song to him who rides through the deserts; his name is the Lord; exult before him! Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation. God settles the solitary in a home; he leads out the prisoners to prosperity, but the rebellious dwell in a parched land.

Sing truths to yourself and to the face of the enemy. A simple reminder is often all it takes! 1 Samuel 16:23 says:

And whenever the harmful spirit from God was upon Saul, David took the lyre and played it with his hand. So Saul was refreshed and was well, and the harmful spirit departed from him.

Refresh yourself and others. Sing to yourself and with others. Prepare yourself to fight and let the devil know who the victor will be!

My favorite song to sing in times of spiritual warfare in my own life is “Always” it goes like this:

My foes are many, they rise against me, but I will hold my ground. I will not fear the war; I will not fear the storm. My help is on the way; my help is on the way.

Oh, my God, He will not delay, my refuge and strength always. I will not fear His promise is true. My God will come through always, always.

Troubles surround me, chaos abounding, my soul will rest in You. I will not fear the war; I will not fear the storm. My help is on the way; my help is on the way.

Oh, my God, He will not delay, my refuge and strength always. I will not fear His promise is true. My God will come through always, always.

I lift my eyes up; my help comes from the Lord. I lift my eyes up; my help comes from the Lord. I lift my eyes up; my help comes from the Lord. I lift my eyes up; my help comes from the Lord.

Oh, my God, He will not delay, my refuge and strength always. I will not fear His promise is true. My God will come through always, always. Oh, my God, He will not delay, my refuge and strength always, always.

Our song can be used as a sword as well! In 2 Chronicles chapter 20, we see the Moabites, the Ammonites, and the people of Mount Seir coming against Judah to destroy them. Jehoshaphat knew that his people could not defeat the combined armies of his enemies, so he went to the Lord for aid. Through Jahaziel, the Lord said, “Be not afraid or dismayed by reason of this great multitude; for the battle is not yours, but God’s.” So when the morning of the battle came, what did the children of Judah do? They went to the field of battle and began to sing and praise the Lord.

2 Chronicles 20:22-23 says,

And when they began to sing and to praise, the LORD set ambushments against the children of Ammon, Moab, and mount Seir, which were come against Judah; and they were smitten. For the children of Ammon and Moab stood up against the inhabitants of mount Seir, utterly to slay and destroy them: and when they had made an end of the inhabitants of Seir, every one helped to destroy another.

The people of Judah never lifted a weapon! As they were praising the LORD, He turned their enemies against each other, and finally against themselves!

Psalm 8:2 says,

Out of the mouths of babes and nursing infants You have ordained strength, because of your enemies, that you may silence the enemy and the avenger.

Another example is found in Acts chapter 16. Paul and Silas have been beaten and thrown into prison because they cast out a spirit of divination from a young girl who was following them, thus angering her masters. In the middle of the night, in prison, this happened to Paul and Silas, Acts 16:25-26 says,

About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them, and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken. And immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s bonds were unfastened.

If we go on in this story though we can see the power of praise in the spiritual realm and in breaking down strongholds and throwing off bondages and chains. We see the lives and attitudes of inmates changed when Paul and Silas are in captivity singing and praying. When the doors swung wide open and the bonds fell off nobody ran away. Nobody even tried to escape! What changed their hearts? God did. Through what avenue? Most likely the truths being expressed through Paul and Silas. We see change not only in their testimonies… but also in the response of the prison guard ready to take his own life to avoid punishment and the disgrace to his family’s name.

Acts 16:27-34 continues,

When the jailer woke and saw that the prison doors were open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. But Paul cried with a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” And the jailer called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas. Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family. Then he brought them up into his house and set food before them. And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God.

Praise can change lives. We must strive to sing truths that will infiltrate hardened hearts, and sing challenges to those of us who already know Christ. We can worship, teach, and evangelize through the songs that sing on a daily and weekly basis to others and ourselves.

Philippians 4: 4-7 says,

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say rejoice. Let all men know your forbearance.  The Lord is at hand.  Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your request be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

1 Timothy 2:1 says,

I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgiving be made for all men.

Psalm 95:1-2 says,

O come let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation: Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving.

God centered praise silences the enemy. How many of our problems would be solved if we could only drown out Satan and his demons.


So what weapons are you employing? God has provided and empowered us through His Son, call yourself equipped and wage war against the enemy!

Fast Food Jesus

We all probably eat WAY too much fast food. It is just so convenient and enjoyable! The thing about fast food is… no matter how many people tell us that it is bad for us most of us will continue to eat it anyways.

But… here is a serious question: Do we treat our faith like a fast food drive-thru?

I think that too often we do and we don’t even realize it. Let’s make some connections below.


  • You can’t “Have it your Way.”

Too often we try to walk out our faith the “Burger King” way… we try to have it all “our way.” Unfortunately… a life touched by Jesus doesn’t work that way. As Christians we are followers” of Christ, which means we walk by His leading.

We see a prime example of this exact lesson in the story of Jonah.

Most of us know the story of Jonah and the Whale as found in the book of Jonah. This story opens with God speaking to Jonah, son of Amittai, commanding him to preach repentance to the city of Nineveh.

As a prophet of God Jonah found this order unbearable. Not only was Nineveh known for its wickedness, but it was also the capital of the Assyrian empire, one of Israel’s fiercest enemies. Jonah wanted to see them fall! Jonah wanted to see justice served up to Israel’s enemies! This “mission” of God wasn’t the mission that Jonah had “pictured” God would put him on. God commanded Jonah to help people he didn’t even like.

How many of us can relate to that?

We see Jonah react in a way that many of us have probably reacted before… he did just the opposite of what he was told just like any child who frequently tests the patience of their parents. Jonah went down to the seaport of Joppa and booked passage on a ship to Tarshish, heading directly away from Nineveh. The Bible actually says that Jonah “ran away from the Lord.”

We all know the outcome of this action… God sent a violent storm, the sailors tossed Jonah into the sea, Jonah was swallowed by a great fish sent by God, and then while in the belly of the whale Jonah repented and cried out to God in prayer.

Jonah was in the giant fish three days until it finally vomited him out onto dry land. This time Jonah obeyed God. He walked through Nineveh proclaiming that in forty days the city would be destroyed, and surprisingly, the Ninevites believed Jonah’s message and repented and God had compassion on them and did not destroy them.

Are you like the reluctant Jonah?

What is God calling you to do that you just don’t understand, or don’t want to do?

Christianity doesn’t follow the Burger King slogan… you cannot “have it your way!”

  • There is nothing “convenient” about it.

In Scripture we see a lawyer encounter Jesus and leave with something he never expected… Luke 10:25-36 says,

And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”

This parable contains stories of both convenience and inconvenience. The lawyer, who knew the law, attempted to put Jesus in a bind by asking him a question about the law that he already knew the “religious” answer to. Jesus in turn replied with an answer that shook the foundations of the law and what this man understood as “following” the law. The lawyer probably had a comfortable life of convenience that he simply inserted his knowledge of the law into… but the application is always the hardest and most inconvenient part.

In the parable of the Good Samaritan Jesus draws a line between those who knew the law and those who obeyed the law… even at their own inconvenience.

In this story the first person who encounters the injured man is a priest. The priest represented the religious-acting people of the time. They “talked the talk” and knew all the right answers, but rarely walked the walk unless it was for show in front of others. We can even see this in today’s society and culture. Sometimes it is too “easy” to play the religion card or to use Christianity as an out or “back-up” plan. It is a convenient “social networking” or Facebook Christianity… and it is detrimental to the cause of Christ.

Anyways, the priest in this parable went out of his way to avoid the injured man because as a priest he didn’t want to make himself unclean by associating with someone who may have had blood on them. Not to mention the fact that the man was a Samaritan and that whole group of people was deemed “unclean” by the Jews. The priest could have even been on his way to perform his priestly duties and didn’t want to undo the ritual washings on himself that he had already likely performed. Ultimately, he let his convenience get in the way of what he knew was right. He knew the law in his heart and didn’t act upon it with his hands.

The same can be said of the Levite. Levites were experts in the Law… but sadly the one in the parable ignored what Jesus had just defined as the law: to love God and then love your neighbor as yourself.

The last person to come by was the Samaritan… the Samaritan people were considered a low class of people by the Jews since they had intermarried with non-Jews and did not keep all the law. Because of that the Jews would have nothing to do with them. In this parable Jesus doesn’t specify whether the injured man was a Jew or Gentile, but it made no difference to the Samaritan; he did not consider the man’s race or religion. The Samaritan saw past race and religion differences and saw a person in need. He didn’t just know the law… he acted upon the law. He got involved! Christianity has to get involved… even when it isn’t convenient.

A true experience with Jesus or encounter with the Lord strips us of our convenience and replaces it with a cause.

  • You can’t exchange it if it isn’t what you expected or ordered.

I always wonder if Paul knew what we know now if he would’ve just stayed blind! Think about it… shipwrecks, beatings, prison, etc… not exactly the most comfortable or convenient life. In all actuality Paul probably had it better while working for the Romans… he was an ancient government worker! Paul probably had a nice lifestyle, some recreational cash, and maybe even a couple of weeks of paid vacation days per year!

But… the road to Damascus changed everything.

In what is probably the most famous chapter in Acts we see a life unexpectedly changed after an encounter with God. Acts 9:1-19 says,

But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. Saul rose from the ground, and although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. So they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank. Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” And the Lord said to him, “Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.” But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized; and taking food, he was strengthened.

This Saul character who has a miraculous encounter with God and is forever changed is the last guy most people would expect! Before this passage of scripture we hear about Saul. He was the one that people were laying their coats down in front of during the stoning of Stephen, and it was mentioned previously that he was leading the persecution of Christians. But when he encounters Jesus his world is turned upside down. God changes everything.

So… that leads me back to my point… Saul/ Paul had a comfortable job, influence, and success by the worlds and governments standards, and yet gives it all up to follow Jesus and spread the Gospel. When hard times came he had the deep understanding that we don’t always get what we want or expect, but God’s will and ways are higher than ours. No returns and no exchanges.

Paul truly decided to follow Jesus… no turning back, no turning back.


Let’s work together to get out of the “Fast Food Jesus” mentality. Our faith isn’t meant to be convenient, or fitted to our taste.

Pause.

Do you ever feel like the Energizer bunny?

Many, if not all, of us have been through a season where it seems like for every one thing we get off of our to-do list two more are added. Maybe you are in that season now.

What do we do when our work is piling up and there seems like there is no escape or plausible solution to free ourselves from the busyness? Have a breakdown? Work overtime? Well actually there really isn’t an easy solution here with a guaranteed outcome.

Below we will talk about the importance of remembering Jesus in the seasons of busyness and some important things to keep in mind when we are neck deep in piles of work.


  • Don’t get so caught up in your work that you miss His.

Psalm 37:7 says,

Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices!

Those of us who are work-driven suffer from the mentality or thought that we have to work more and harder in order to get the work that needs to be done accomplished, that somehow God’s work is dependent on our 8-hour workday. Now on a certain level we all know that we can’t be “lazy” and expect things to get done… but this idea of work-driven spiritual success can be harmful.

Psalm 46:10 says,

Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!

We see a command in the Psalm above: Be still. The word still is a translation of the Hebrew word rapa, meaning “to slacken, let down, or cease.” In some instances, the word carries the idea of “to drop, be weak, or faint.” Christians often interpret the command to “be still” as “to be quiet in God’s presence.” This idea is true… but not always a helpful interpretation. Quietness in order to listen to and for God is certainly helpful, but the phrase also means to stop frantic activity, and to be still.

Sometimes it would actually be better if we slowed down and allowed the Lord to guide our work instead of franticly doing every project or list item that we can think of just to get them checked off our list.

A thought that helps me to remember to be still and let the Lord guide my work is: Does God’s will require this to be done at this instant… is He guiding me to do it now or is it my will that it be done?

To “know that I am God” means to acknowledge and be aware of who God is and what He does. This should impact our work because if we know God then we know that He is omniscient (all-knowing), omnipresent (present everywhere), omnipotent (all-powerful), holy, sovereign, faithful, infinite, and good. Acknowledging God implies that we can trust Him and surrender to His plan because we understand who He is.

Sometimes the hardest thing to do is to let go and let God work. We must remember that we don’t have to always be in charge. Instead of trying harder, we merely need to trust more.

Whose work is more important?

  • Presence is more important than position.

In times of busyness our relationships suffer.

Our families and friends know when we are busy, because our relationship with them is strained or suffers. The same goes for our congregations if we are ministers. Have you ever been working hard and someone shows up out of the blue “just to talk?” What was your reaction? This happens to me frequently in the office at church and I have to make a conscious effort to pry myself away from the task I am working on to be intentional with them.

After all, we aren’t called to get the lights programmed, the bulletins printed, or the website looking amazing. We are called to make disciples… and with that call comes an understanding that in order to do that we have to be willing to make an intentional effort to put people first before our “tasks.”

Relationships require a certain level of commitment… but at the very least you have to be present for them to work!

I’m not just talking about being physically present. I am talking about being intentionally present with more than just your body… your heart, mind, and spirit need to be there too!

We never know what someone really needs and what opportunity God is placing in front of us. We see a prime example of this in Acts 16:24-34,

About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them, and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken. And immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s bonds were unfastened. When the jailer woke and saw that the prison doors were open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. But Paul cried with a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” And the jailer called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas. Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family. Then he brought them up into his house and set food before them. And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God.

In the story of the Philippian jailer we see that Paul fought the human tendency or urge to flee as soon as the prison doors flung open, and that unnatural response led to a life and a family being surrendered to Christ. Paul was intentional.

Paul cared less about his position as a missionary or apostle… instead he cared about being known for his presence when interacting with people! What good is a pastor who is always at church but who is unattached and has no presence among the people? What good is a parent who holds the position of authority but has no presence about them when they are home with their children? As a worship leader it does me no good at all to pick the best songs, rehearse diligently to a level of excellence, just to ignore those God has trusted me with and display no amount of presence when leading God’s people in worship!

I promise you that you lead more from your presence than you do from your position.

Let’s commit ourselves to being intentional and present with people because it glorifies God and honors the position He has ultimately given to each one of us.

  • Take the time to hear what He is saying instead of what you want to hear.

You may be saying, “I don’t have time to get done what I feel like God has already told me to do and now you are telling me to take more time out of my schedule!”

My response… yes.

We are all going to go through seasons of “busyness,” but in these times God isn’t silent. The season is in your life for a reason… what is God showing you, telling you, or teaching you?

Often the first thing that gets cut from a busy schedule is our own personal time of ministry. The time we take to hear from and speak to the Lord. We must minister to ourselves!

The best preacher you will ever have is yourself, so preach God’s Word to yourself everyday!

I think that the best example of surrendering to self is Jesus. We see in Scripture that the very night before his crucifixion Jesus surrendered himself to God’s plan. Mark 14:35-36 shows us this,

And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.

We see in this passage, in this prayer, that Jesus surrendered himself to God’s will. He submitted Himself to God’s will even if it didn’t perfectly align with what He wanted. Let’s face it… we are all human and our will doesn’t always perfectly align with God’s, but way too often we get so caught up in doing our will that we neglect to hear or ignore the tender calling that accompanies God’s will.

Our time may be spent doing “good” things… but are they the things that God desires from us at this very moment? I do good things everyday in and around the church, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that I am being intentional in accomplishing the will of God. Sometimes we can desire good things that take work and that isn’t bad at all! We just need to be careful to not ignore God’s work in order to accomplish ours. Not to ignore his will because we desire something else.

We must surrender ourselves and take the time to hear what God is saying to us instead of what we want Him to say.


Pause.

Be still and know that He is God.

Essential Relationships to Cultivate as a Believer

At the end of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus spoke what has come to be known as the Great Commission.

Matthew 28:19-20 says,

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.

Of course everyone who has read the Gospels has read this passage, and the majority of us have heard more messages preached on this topic than almost any other topic found in Scripture.

Typically, when we hear anyone speak on this message the emphasis is on missions… and it really should be! But, there’s quite a bit more than just that packed into Jesus’ statement. Let’s break it down. There are four main verbs in this commission or command. They are: go, make disciples, baptizing, and teaching.

Looking at the verbs individually we can see that they all are dependent off the one previous to them. We can’t make disciples without going! After we make disciples we baptize, then we walk alongside a new believer in their faith and teach them! It is a perfect process! In this commission Jesus is telling us that His church is meant to be a disciple-making body first and foremost.

So… what is a disciple?

The Oxford Dictionary defines a disciple as a follower or student of a teacher, leader, or philosopher. What I find even more interesting than the definition is the word’s origin though. The English word that we know comes from the Latin word “discipulus” which translates to “learner.”

A disciple is a learner. We are called to be disciples of Jesus and our relationships within the body of Christ should be geared so that all of us learn more and more about and from Jesus.

It is easy for us as believers to build a castle, surround it with a moat, and live isolated in our own “kingdom.” But… that isn’t how life was meant to be lived and ministry was meant to be done.

I was once advised by a professor to find a Paul, Barnabas, and Timothy for my own life. At first I had no idea what that even meant. I knew a person or two-named Timothy… but finding someone named Barnabas was obviously going to be more difficult in my mind.

But… as time went on it clicked.

Each of these well-known New Testament figures represents a type of relationship that is essential in the discipleship process. This discipleship isn’t just for others! Discipleship is foundational to our own personal growth in faith. Having a spiritual advisor, an encouraging peer, and a new believer whom we mentor is crucial to a Believer’s spiritual health. Each of these three characters is important to nurture and mature us as followers of Jesus. That’s why we must cultivate these types of relationships. Let’s discuss them together.


  • Paul

The privilege of sitting under a believer who is far wiser than us in spiritual matters is a mighty blessing. Ultimately, God is our counselor, and the Holy Spirit will always teach, guide, and direct us.  But a person who has gained knowledge and insight through personal trials and victories is also crucial to our spiritual health. This person is definitely a tool that God uses to help us persevere in our faith.

A “Paul” is someone who will lovingly speak the truth to you, even at the cost of hurt feelings. We see that displayed in his letters to the different churches in the New Testament. Paul calls them out on things that they are doing that aren’t reflecting the attributes of the Savior who saved them. He does this with authority… but gentleness. In a way that builds up and enables Believers to pursue the purpose and calling that God has for them and the church. Paul was a spiritual father to many believers.

A “Paul” is a mentor, a guide, and a sounding board. We even see this type of relationship displayed in the secular world. We have counselors, trainers, and coaches who push us to achieve certain things and hold us accountable to that. They provide insight and encouragement while instructing us along whatever route we are on.

The thing we must understand about this relationship is that a “Paul” in our life will be a teacher first and a friend second. They are a mentor, and sometimes that means they have to say things to us that we don’t like.

First and foremost we have to find someone who will pour his or her life into us.

  • Barnabas

Barnabas was a companion of Paul on his first missionary journey after Pentecost. Paul and Barnabas were peers, and sent out from the same church ministry in Acts 13. Paul and Barnabas walked through life and served God together. They were friends and without a doubt, they were mutually edified by each other.

Do you have a companion? A partner? A personal support system?

We even see that when Jesus sent out His disciples throughout the Gospels, He sent them out two by two and not alone! It is commonly explained that Jesus knew they needed fellowship and protection. He wanted His disciples to have fellowship because He knew that they were created for relationships.

We aren’t meant to do life alone! We aren’t meant to do ministry alone!

So… we all need a “Barnabas.” We need to be able to share our lives with others in friendship. Biblical Christian friendship. Do be a lone ranger! When we are alone, we are more vulnerable in so many ways, but when we are in relationship, someone has our back. Many of us have seen an action movie where the main character looks at someone and says, “Watch my six.”

Find someone to do life with! To do ministry with! Somebody has got to watch your spiritual “six.”

We must challenge ourselves to find someone we can count on. Not only do we need a Paul, someone who will pour into us, but we also need a Barnabas, with whom we will walk through this life of faith. A “Barnabas” is our spiritual peer, a friend in the faith, someone we co-labor with and someone who will be a source of fellowship and protection. They will encourage us in the faith, and we will do the same for them.

  • Timothy

After we have established the above relationships and are living alongside them we must look to the future and find a “Timothy.”

Timothy was Paul’s son in the faith. We see historically that Timothy was considerably younger than Paul, but that didn’t stop Paul from making a substantial investment in Timothy. We can see that Timothy was the recipient of mentoring at the hands of Paul and it paid eternal dividends and carries substantial weight in the Kingdom of God. So not only do we need a “Paul” in our lives to pour into us, not only do we need a “Barnabas” to walk alongside us, but we also need a “Timothy” as well.

We must become someone else’s “Paul!”

What an honor that is! We need to be making and effort to be consistently pouring into someone for their benefit and growth… not for what they can do for us. If you are like myself previously you may be thinking that you have a lot of work to do on yourself before you can begin to mentor someone in their life and faith… but let me assure you that there is always someone who will be blessed by your intentional spiritual investment in their lives.

If we all grasp this concept then we will begin to create and develop a cycle that carries on and benefits the church as a whole in the years to come.

Finding a “Timothy” somewhat serves or can be viewed as our spiritual “paying it forward.” We have been blessed by our “Paul,” and encouraged by our “Barnabas,” and then in return we continue the cycle and seek out someone we can bless as we have been blessed.

Do you have a “Timothy?” Who are you pouring into?


Let’s concern ourselves with creating and developing healthy Christian relationships that encourage and push us on in our faith while we in turn pour into others.