New Apostolic Reformation Kryptonite

Remember the one thing that could strip Superman of his unstoppable powers? If this thing was found in the vicinity of the “Man of Steel,” he’d be as helpless as a baby Giraffe on ice. That thing was Kryptonite. 

No matter your position on the continuation of gifts that produce signs and wonders, there are certain truths that orthodox Christians have stood together on for millennia. When taught faithfully and proactively, these truths are Kryptonite to destructive doctrines that creep into the church.

Throughout church history, subgroups of mystically-inclined movements have spun off the reservation and well into heretical theological territories by their overzealous seeking of signs and wonders. When this occurs, there is often a fog of confusion that sweeps over the Church. What are the grounds for calling someone a “heretic?” Should we, as some suggest, simply “chew the meat and spit out the bones?” Shouldn’t we avoid controversy and just love people? 

Regardless of varying position, people can’t follow a leader who isn’t clear. With that said, there are certain truths that every pulpit must be clear in presenting lest people be swept into doctrines that destroy. Perhaps there is not a more destructive force sweeping through the church today than the so-called, “New Apostolic Reformation.” This movement’s beliefs trample the deity of Christ, falsely guarantee healing for all who will follow their formula, and claim that their anointed leaders are a part of God’s reinstating of the Apostolic Era once again. Meanwhile, those leading the movement live like prosperity preachers and keep a tight grip on their positions of power. Don’t be deceived, this is a serious issue in the church today.

Here are five proactive truths that every pulpit should preach in order to protect those you serve from the winds of New Apostolic Reformation doctrine (Ephesians 4:14):

  1. Earthly healing is not guaranteed in the atonement.

This truth counters one of the more common lies that was birthed out of the early phases of the charismatic movement. Over the last several decades, it’s caught on like wildfire in the word faith movement, prosperity theology, and New Apostolic Reformation. The teaching goes something this:

Jesus paid for your sin and your sickness. He was wounded for your transgressions, and by His stripes you are healed! Isaiah 53:5 says so! Why are you holding on to that sickness if He already paid for your healing? Let go of that cancer. Release infirmity. Receive your healing by faith. 

Some basic questions should be asked, and answered. Are the problems of sin, sickness, pain, tears, and death all solved because of the atoning work of Christ on the cross and His subsequent resurrection from the grave? Absolutely.

Does that mean that all of the benefits from the atonement are fully realized on earth? Absolutely not. We still have to die (Hebrews 9:27). We aren’t yet in our glorified bodies (1 Corinthians 15:35-58). And God has not yet taken away all sadness, tears, and sorrow (Revelation 21:4). Further, I don’t experience the fullness of salvation until Christ is revealed (Colossians 3:4).

So, is salvation and healing a “package deal” as many faith healers claim? If so, what’s wrong with so many sick Christians? Is Joni Eareckson Tada sick because she’s simply not “tapping into” the atonement?

The answer is clearly and logically, no.

Teach your people how to praise God when He heals and even when He doesn’t. Say like Job, “He said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return there. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21).

  1. Not all can heal and prophesy

This one isn’t hard to understand, but many “schools of signs and wonders” are charging people tuition under the illusion that they can learn to heal and prophecy. Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry does this in Redding, California. But, can we guarantee that everyone is going to operate in all of these gifts, move in signs and wonders, and heal people? Can you bundle gifts of the Spirit like you bundle home and auto insurance?

Let’s let Paul do the talking through the Holy Spirit’s direct and final revelation:

All are not apostles, are they? All are not prophets, are they? All are not teachers, are they? All are not workers of miracles, are they? All do not have gifts of healings, do they? All do not speak with tongues, do they? All do not interpret, do they? (1 Corinthians 12:29-30)

Those are rhetorical questions from Paul. Teach your flock to be discerning and steer them clear of schools and teachers who promise signs and wonders for students. You’ll save them money, and maybe even their soul.

  1. There are no more Apostles

This used to be an open and shut case. Few, if any, were arguing that the office of apostle was in operation today. However, this is now something preachers must be clear about time and time again.

Two distinctions should be made here.

First, in a sense, there is such a thing as being apóstolos (ἀπόστολος) today. This Greek word means “a delegate” and is synonymous with those who are commissioned to pioneer new gospel-work through planting, missionary work, or other frontier-like ministries. This is being a gospel-ambassador!

Second, there is no such thing as being an apostle in the sense of the New Testament office. This was restricted to a very specific group who met a specific criterion. When you survey the New Testament, you can gather that real apostles were:

  • Commissioned and appointed personally by Christ (Mark 3:14; Luke 6:13 John 15:16; Romans 1:5; 1 Corinthians 15:7-9)
  • Personally with Christ from baptism to ascension (Acts 1:21-22; Acts 10:38)
  • Fulfilling prophecy when Mathias replaced Judas’ specific office (Acts 1:19)
  • Performing undeniable and instantaneous signs and wonders (Acts 5:12; 2 Corinthians 12:12)
  • Given direct revelation from God (John 16:13)
  • Operating as the initial foundation for the Church (Ephesians 2:20; 4:11)
  • Distinctly gifted for their uniquely foundational office (1 Corinthians 12:29)

While many people will be “apostolic” in their ministry in the sense that they are sent forth to do gospel work, based on what the Bible teaches about the requirements for being an apostle, it’s impossible for there to be any more apostles today.

  1. Jesus was always truly God and truly man while on earth

One foundational (and false) teaching proliferated by the New Apostolic Reformation is that Jesus did His miracles as a man in right relationship with God, and not as God. The idea is that since Jesus wasn’t God when He did signs and wonders, you can do them too. This very twisted interpretation of the kenosis takes the “emptying” or “humbling” of Christ in Philippians 2:3-8 beyond biblical boundaries. Bethel Church pastor, Bill Johnson, and Todd White (Lifestyle Christianity) are two of the leading voices for this heretical belief more formally known as ontological kenotic Christology. Space in this article does not allow for extensive treatment here, but we offer plenty of footnotes and direct quotes from their teachings and their books in Defining Deception. OKC is essentially the belief that Jesus laid aside His deity and takes variants of kenotic theory much too far. Any claim that Jesus was ever “not God” is deceptive heresy. In fact, Jesus Himself makes the claim that His signs and wonders were displays of the “works of God” (John 9:3). He was, as R.C. Sproul put it, “Truly God and truly man” while fulfilling His purpose on earth.

Never once does the Bible ever teach that Jesus laid aside His deity and ceased to be God. He was in perfect balance as the God-man; humbly adding humanity to His divinity. This was subtraction by addition.

Many evangelical churches have become holding tanks for heretical teachings whether it be through inviting these false teachers to headline conferences, using their music and endorsing their worship bands, or by downplaying the seriousness of their errors.

Make no mistake about it, this is a tier one issue. Preaching a proper view of the kenosis is essential for equipping your church faithfully.

  1. Judge a teacher’s words against Scripture

Teaching this will be a valuable way to equip discerning Christians. People being deceived are taught never to question their anointed leader. Therefore, it will be a distinction of a biblical church and a faithful pulpit that people are taught to weigh every word taught in light of Scripture. This is the right kind of “judging” and believers are wise to exercise discernment.

Pro-active preachers who want their flock to be well guided and guarded do well to encourage them to weigh every word from any pulpit by the word of God.

More truths can certainly be added to this list, but if you’re looking for key ways to assess your own ministry or to be more proactive in shepherding the flock of God, this list of teachings is a great place to start.

***If this is your first time encountering this kind of doctrinal indictment on Bethel Church (and music), the New Apostolic Reformation, or leaders like Bill Johnson and Todd White, please refer to the following article and read the sources linked in it for further research.

5 Principles for Sexual Sin

Old time evangelist Vance Havner once said, “The alternative to discipline is disaster.”[1] You know what? He was right. And what’s more? From beyond the grave his words are still piercingly true. When we apply them to how we deal with sexual sin in the church today, his much-needed words touch a sensitive nerve and must stir us into action.

Without question, sexual sin must be addressed and dealt with in the body of Christ. If we do not lovingly and firmly face our impurities, our lack of discipline will most certainly lead to disaster. Are you a church leader to whom God has given some level of responsibility in overseeing His flock? Do you have a biblical philosophy for dealing with sexual sin in the lives of those entrusted to you? Are you a believer who is discipling someone who is floundering in sexual temptation without a clear plan for waging war against sin? Use the following principles from 1 Corinthians 5 and 6. Without a clear plan from God’s word, you may be found wanting in this area of your life and ministry.

#1 Be direct and specific

Nobody benefits when sexual sin is kept in the dark by those who know about it. When Paul addresses the sexual sin that was plaguing the Corinthian church he was not passive aggressive or dropping hints in the hopes that someone might catch his drift. He was direct, and specific. In no uncertain terms he wrote, “It is reported that there is immorality among you, and immorality of such kind does not exist even among the Gentiles, that someone has his father’s wife” (1 Cor. 5:1). Well, there are you have it. Paul simply “goes there.” Pastors should use tact when doing this because Paul’s not necessarily mandating a public shaming for every case of sexual sin. In Corinth, this was blatant and unrepentant. It was happening without much challenge. It needed public discipline. How you apply this can vary depending on context. However, one thing is clear: when sexual sin is present it needs to be dealt with in a direct way.

#2 Mourn sexual sin

It may be our desensitized culture or the result of antinomianism in too many churches but sin isn’t always mourned the way it should be. Paul sternly reprimands the Corinthians saying, “And you have become arrogant, and have not mourned instead…” (1 Cor. 5:2a). He is unseated in frustration because the Corinthians are not broken over sin! Where is the agony? Where is the good kind of guilt that tells us something is very wrong and must be fixed? Too many professing Christians want to jump right to grace but they’ve never faced their guilt with genuine repentance. One can argue that the church is fattened with many false converts as a result. We need to know the bad news about our sin and face it before we can appreciate the good news of grace. If you’ve never mourned your sin, you may be living a superficial, American version of Christianity.

#3 Discipline sexual sin

Want to do something unpopular in today’s tolerant world? Call for the discipline of sexual sin when it remains without repentance and is blatantly unceasing. Call it what it is. Call the person what they are. Put them out of the church because they are not a part of the church. True believers will sin, but they will repent of sin and habitual sin will slowly fade from the pattern of their life. Grace doesn’t mean we keep on sinning. Paul exhorts the church to remove “the one who had done this deed” (1 Cor. 5:2b), to “judge those who are within the church” (1 Cor. 5:12), and to “remove the wicked man from among yourselves” (1 Cor. 5:13). This is explicit and clear. Discipline sexual sin.

#4 Demand purity

Another unpopular and dogmatic step here we come! In 1 Corinthians 6 Paul continues by following up his demand for discipline with a demand for purity. The body belongs to the Lord and Christians are to “flee immorality” (1 Cor. 6:17). The body “is a temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 6:19a) and should be treated as such. There is no room for a sexually flagrant lifestyle in which sexual sin is not repented of. Every church leader is biblically allowed to demand purity from themselves and those they serve. It’s not man’s authority that calls for this. It’s the word of God.

#5 Point to Christ

All these imperatives can seem too intense if we’re not constantly reminding ourselves of the ultimate motivation for purity. Legalism isn’t our motive. Good behavior isn’t our motive. Pleasing men is not our motive. Christ is our motive! In light of the gospel and what Jesus has purchased, every believer can overcome sexual sin and “glorify God” in their body (1 Cor. 6:20b). Perfection doesn’t come until heaven, but we ought to be progressing in our purity while here on earth. Purity is desired when we remember that we belong to Christ (1 Cor. 6:15) and have been “bought with a price” (1 Cor. 6:20a).  Could there be a better motivation when dealing with sin than to look to the One who shed His blood for it?

Much more can be said about dealing with sexual sin and various practical applications can be added here. But that fact remains, we must internalize what the Bible says about sexual sin so that we can equip ourselves to be striving for purity, and pro-active when helping others.

[1]As quoted in Donald Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2014), 21.

Can We Learn from Paul’s Conversion Assessment?

The conversion and commissioning of Paul the apostle is one that showcases God’s power to save and provides valuable lessons for new believers and their “next steps.”

As a Pharisee and persecutor of the church, Paul was zealous for his traditions and outpacing all of his contemporaries in knowledge (Gal. 1:14). No one was better suited for a life of Law than “Saul.” Then, God intervened and (literally) knocked him off his high horse. His life was transformed by the power of the gospel! Jesus Christ commissioned him to go from a persecutor of the church to a proclaimer of the truth. Paul’s journey of conversion is not just a “wow!” moment in which we see the transformative work of the gospel in the life of an apostle, it’s also a helpful model for us today. But how, if we aren’t apostles?

In particular, what happened after his conversion can show us a better way to serve and guide new believers. In days gone by, many simply walked an aisle, prayed a prayer, and were sent on their merry way with a ticket to heaven. After a generation of leaning primarily on altar calls to affirm salvation, it’s obvious that we have holes in our evangelical armor. To say that many churches experienced 30 years of biblically illiterate professing evangelicals and numerous false converts would be putting it lightly. If bloated member rolls and empty seats taught us one thing, it’s this: regenerate church membership matters. If regenerate membership matters, then the next steps for the seemingly converted matter. After a profession of faith, the journey is just getting started. It starts with follow up to assess the profession of faith, baptism to testify of faith, and a life marked by transformative faith.

When looking for a better way to serve new believers than failed methods from the past, Paul’s conversion and follow up process are a good place to start.

Sin is Mourned and Christ Becomes Master

The grace of God did not become a license that Paul (Saul) used to sin, it became the mechanism through which he mourned his sin and surrendered to Christ. When Jesus showed up, Paul was brought low. After being blinded he didn’t eat or drink for three days (Acts 9:9). The mighty and zealous crusader against the church had to be helped along to Damascus like an invalid (Acts 9:8). This picture of Paul is exactly what we are when we come face to face with our sin and Christ as Savior and Lord. Our way doesn’t work! His way does! Our sin is death! His commands are life! His love transforms us and suddenly Jesus becomes the Master and we joyfully submit. This is what happened to Paul and still happens to everyone who truly believer today. Understanding that benchmark of conversion is critical for new believers.

Be Baptized and Proclaim Christ

Right after Paul (Saul) comes face to face with the reality of Christ (Acts 9:4-6) and is chosen as an instrument to bear Christ’s name to Gentiles and Jews (9:15), he is baptized (9:18) and immediately began “to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, ‘He is the Son of God’” (9:20). People were amazed (9:21) because he went from being a persecutor of the church to a proclaimer of the truth! Paul’s conversion models something that new believers should always be encouraged to do: Be baptized in obedience and proclaim what Christ has done and who He is.

Be Open to Conversion Assessment

Conversion “diagnostics” can be helpful for those who profess Christ. Like a doctor identifying evidence to confirm a diagnosis, converts should be able to convey what a difference Christ has made in their way of thinking and living. There’s no need for a mandated theological exam with big words (though that’s not a negative thing), but a change in desires and actions should be evident. This new way of thinking should include a love for Jesus and a hatred for sin. Paul experienced the same thing. He was vetted, confirmed, and tested. People were making sure the guy who was ravaging churches was really saved! It was obvious once they assessed him. After staying with Peter for 15 days he would no doubt have been affirmed as a true convert. Then, he visited the apostles and “submitted to them the gospel” that he was preaching and they added nothing to what he was preaching (Galatians 2:1-2, 6). Diagnosing conversions should be handled with sensitivity and care with the goal being to help ensure a professing believer has a genuine assurance of faith.

Love Accountability

In the church today, you can’t put a price on accountability. For Paul, Barnabas was right by his side to take him to see the apostles when they were too scared to believe that the “persecutor” was now a preacher. Acts 9:26-28 records a scene in which Barnabas knew Paul’s story, came alongside him and brought him personally to the other apostles. Acts 9, Galatians 1, and 2 all paint a picture of Paul’s accountability to others. He didn’t loathe their involvement in his conversion follow up — he understood it. He was meeting disciples in various regions, preaching faithfully, partnering with the apostles, and eventually given the “right hand of fellowship” (Gal. 2:9). Too many Christians make professions of faith only to slip into the back of the crowd and turn into little more than a number because the church challenges them to be accountable. They don’t get connected and nobody gets connected with them. Accountability helps new believers get rooted in faith and community.

Final Thoughts

There is a lot that churches can learn from the conversion and commissioning of Paul. In a day and age where some will complain that due process for new believers is legalistic and cumbersome, we do well to look at how vetted Paul was and how that energized both his ministry and the churches he served. There is something special about trust that is built between believers. Even the man with a personal commission from Jesus and the privilege of writing half the New Testament was proven to be a faithful follower of Christ.

Money Matters

It’s been well said time and time again that money is like a microscope; magnifying what is really inside of us. In other words, when something affects our wallet, our reaction often reveals our heart. Are we generous where God has called us to be? Are we eager to meet the needs of others? Are we content in seasons of little and faithful during seasons of plenty? These are the questions that we ought to ask; trusting the Holy Spirit to convict and shape us through the Word.

In the Gospels, an average of one out of every 10 verses deals with money. Luke’s Gospel leads the way with the more talk of money than all the other Synoptic Gospels. Clearly, Jesus wanted us to be well-informed when it comes to how we manage money. As you and I seek to be teachable stewards under the sanctifying chisel of the Holy Spirit, Luke’s Gospel can be a great place to turn for guidance.

Here are several principles for money management from Luke, along with references for further study.

Followers of Jesus march to different beat when it comes to money

Even before Jesus arrived, John the Baptist was announcing His arrival and declaring that followers of the Lamb of God would be called to a renewed way of living — and giving. The Baptist called for the “fruit of repentance” (Luke 3:8) and when asked, “Then what shall we do?” (3:10) he told them to share food and clothing (3:11), conduct business with integrity (3:12-13), and if they were in powerful positions to be content refrain from monetary exploitation (3:14). This is different.

Guard your heart against greed

From the parable of the soils and the thorny snare of riches and pleasure (Luke 8:14), to the rich young ruler who couldn’t stand the thought of choosing Christ over cash (18:18-25), we must guard our hearts against greed (12:13-15). It’s a trap with eternal ramifications.

Earthly security is not a sign of spiritual security

Jesus didn’t mince words when He asked, “For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses or forfeits himself?” (Luke 9:25). You can have all this world but still not have the One who holds the world. Building bigger barns and fattening your soul with the comforts of this fleeting world guarantees nothing with God. For God Himself said, “You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?” (12:20).

Giving money doesn’t make up for a lifestyle of disobedience

The Pharisees were experts at external righteousness — but Jesus had some bad news for these seemingly good, religious experts. In Luke 11:42 Jesus warns, “But woe to you Pharisees! For you pay tithe of mint and rue and every kind of garden herb, and yet disregard justice and the love of God; but these things you should have done without neglecting the others.” Jesus calls His followers to give generously but never is that a “get out of jail free” card concerning sin, injustice, and shallow religiosity.

Where your treasure is, there your heart is

The world chases physical security as though it will preserve them spiritually. On their way to achieving temporal security they worry until medications control their anxiety. In the race of life, to have is to win — and many die trying. Those with the most boast of being the master of their destiny; the captain of their soul. Jesus targets the heart of humankind declaring, “For where you treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Luke 12:34). The words of Martin Luther are fitting here: “Whatever your heart clings to and confides in, that is really your God.” Christian, do not fear for your Father has chosen gladly to give you the kingdom (12:32). Seek it! All else will fall into place according to His will (12:31).

Big offerings don’t necessarily mean big sacrifice

If a billionaire gives $10,000 dollars and a broke widow gives $10, what does God see? In Luke 21:1-4 Jesus squares up the wealthy as they arrogantly put their large gifts into the treasury. Their show of generosity was just that — a show. Then, in the midst of their pompous display a humble widow comes forward. I doubt few even noticed but Jesus certainly did. Christ’s words dropped like an anvil of conviction; melting their haughty hearts. He said, “Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all of them; for they all out of their surplus put into the offering; but she out of her poverty put in all that had to live on” (21:3-4).

Death is the great equalizer for both the rich and the poor

Jesus was teaching His disciples about money one day and told the story about a rich man and Lazarus. Lazarus was but a poor man who ate the crumbs off the rich man’s table and lay by his gate; helplessly left in his poverty (Luke 19:21). Eventually, the rich man would die in his fine robes and poor Lazarus in his rags (16:22-23). One would go to heaven, the other into Hades. From this sobering glimpse of life beyond the grave we learn that death is the great equalizer.The rich and the poor will one day share the same end. From his agony and torment in Hades the rich man cried out for just a drop of water for his burning tongue (Luke 16:24). Father Abraham — who held Lazarus closely in heavenly paradise — responds saying, “Child, remember that during your life you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus bad things; but now he is being comforted here, and you are in agony” (16:25). On judgment day, it won’t matter how much you possessed on earth but Whom you possessed. Those who by grace have Christ shall have life, and life more abundantly.

It’s human nature to view money as a false sense of security. May the words of Jesus from the Gospel of Luke be a Spirit-inspired reminder to master our money for His glory and kingdom’s gain.

Arizona Here We Come

Nearly seven years ago my wife and I packed our cars with everything we owned and drove from Vancouver, British Columbia to Tustin, California. Like the Gold Rushers of the 1800’s we scrambled to get to California as quickly as we could. But this was no search for gold. In fact, we were leaving the gold! The reason was simple: prosperity gospel theology and the lifestyle we were immersed in had left us spiritually and emotionally bankrupt. No matter what the money provided, we couldn’t shake the conviction that had taken hold of our hearts.

During the years that followed, God did extraordinary things that were beyond anything we’d ever imagined.

There was my true conversion. There was a church-wide transformation from the seeker-driven model to a “Bible Church” model; complete with expository preaching and a joint effort with other leaders towards biblical ecclesiology. Three name changes and a whole lot of other changes later took us from being “Moment Church” to “Mission Bible Church.” There was the loss of my title as “pastor” and the whole-hearted embrace of seminary classes and re-training for biblical ministry. There was the bond of new relationships and friends who became family. There was discipleship that impacted us eternally. And there was four years of silence and supervised ministry before beginning to push back against the prosperity gospel and word of faith heresies that I’d taken part in. Perhaps the best summary would be to say that the grace of God overflowed and saturated every area of our lives and we came under the oversight of Christ’s Church. We were part of the true Church for the first time in our lives.

Now, a time of transition has come. In June I’ll be joining the team of elders at Redeemer Bible Church in Gilbert, Arizona.

The Spirit-Led Process

One of the biggest blessings in the process thus far is that every step has been led by the Holy Spirit through prayer. Elders on both sides of the process have continued to be floored by how the Holy Spirit orchestrated every step. The process has been very simple and very spiritual.

Last fall I had the privilege of preaching at Redeemer Bible Church in Gilbert, AZ during a two-day conference. We enjoyed fellowship and the word during a brief 36 hours together. It was exciting to hear about their ministry and what was a powerful story of revitalization. The church had gone from around 90 to 900 in four years and was doing nothing uniquely innovative. They were simply preaching the Bible and shepherding the people. In similar fashion to what we witnessed at Mission Bible Church, they’d seen the Lord bless their work as they determined to be faithful in what mattered most.

Around that same time two of the elders from Redeemer were praying for the Lord to add to the team of elders because of the growing needs within the church and the region. Shortly after my visit they reached out and we began having friendly discussions about life, ministry philosophy, preaching, and training. After developing a friendship with these men, we stayed in touch and soon reconnected at another conference. That’s when the Lord made it very clear that there was a door opening for ministry in Arizona. After spending some weeks in prayer and talking with my wife, I knew it was serious enough to take to my current elders.

Upon conferring with the elders at Mission Bible Church, the affirmation of this call was unanimous and we began to make plans for a smooth and God-honoring transition.

The Spiritual Need

During the process my intrigue (and excitement) grew as I studied the region I’d be moving to if I accepted the call. Gilbert is a suburb in the Phoenix/Scottsdale region and if you know that area, you know the harvest there is plentiful! That area consistently ranks as one of the fastest growing regions in the nation, and is top three on the list of highest Mormon populations in the nation. When we visited last week, we were blown away by the amount of Mormon wards either already built or being built within the burgeoning suburban developments. Equally as encouraging as the opportunity for ministry to lost souls was the unity amongst local pastors. We’ve heard story after story of how many of them help each other, meet together, pray for one another, and encourage one another. Personally, this was refreshing. Like many other Christians, I loathe cutthroat and competitive attitudes between pastors. There’s so little time to waste and souls to be won.

In the region we’ll be moving to there is a huge spiritual need and I am thankful that God called us to join the army of Christian workers already laboring there.

The Superior Replacement

What few will realize at this stage in the transition is what a superior replacement the new executive pastor at Mission Bible Church is. Simply put: he is far better than me in that role! I know this because not only is he a very dear friend, but I’ve watched him faithfully shepherd the local church and prove to be an administrative mastermind. As much as I feel like God opened a door for me to step deeper into my calling as a preacher and a shepherd, I can’t help but simultaneously think that He moved me out-of-the-way in order to take Mission Bible into the future under a better leader. Only God can make all the pieces fit so perfectly. The new XP is a gift to MBC and the best is yet to come because of his God-given talents. I’m excited to shift roles from pastor to cheerleader for the amazing leaders and people who’ve been our family for these past several years.

Like any transition, there is a mix of emotions. God has allowed us to foster relationships that will impact us for the rest of our lives. As Pastor Tony described it in his announcement to the congregation at MBC on Sunday, “It’s a time of both tears and cheers because of how much we all love each other. But remember, this is not a loss. This is simply our Father moving one of His children from one room in His house to another. We’re all still part of the same family.”

There will undoubtedly be many new challenges and many joyous victories ahead. No matter what, Jesus is building His church and we’re honored to be laboring to that end at Redeemer Bible Church.

Arizona here we come!

Discipleship Is…

What does discipleship look like?

As hard as it may be, every Christian needs to take an ongoing look in the mirror and ask: have I ever “made” a disciple? The Great Commission is not a mere suggestion so if Jesus commanded it, we ought to be busy doing it (Matt. 28:16-20). If you’re not sure what discipleship books to buy or where to begin, the Bible is still the best place to go for insight on what discipleship looks like.

In his second letter to Timothy, Paul provides valuable instruction for his protégé in the faith. His goal was to equip Timothy so that he would be equipped to serve the church in Ephesus. Through Paul’s words to him, we see a picture of what discipleship could look like for us today. In the particular context surrounding his letters, Paul’s discipleship of Timothy was a serious need — as discipleship always is. Prior to this final letter he’d ever send, Paul exhorted the elders at Ephesus to shepherd the flock and protect it faithfully from those would attack it from the inside (Acts 20:28). This church was being opposed and the enemy was seeking to undermine its effectiveness. Ephesus was an important epicenter for pagan worship as it was home to the Temple of Artemis and not everyone was a fan of what the gospel was doing to their city. The church was in a battle for souls at Ephesus as the power of the gospel started putting idol makers out of business (Acts 19:24-26). Discipleship was vital to the health of the church then, and it still is today.

With that context in mind, here are three fundamental truths about discipleship that can be drawn from Paul’s pastoral letters.

Discipleship is hard work. Nobody worked harder than Paul to further the gospel and make disciples (1 Cor. 15:10). Paul travelled extensively, reasoned and debated with evangelistic prospects, was beaten, imprisoned, mocked, and eventually killed for the gospel. Through all of this he endlessly poured his life into his disciples. In 2 Timothy, the term Paul uses to describe Timothy is “son” (1:2;2:1). This would be inferred by the text but using such terminology would mean that Paul put in the time and effort it takes to earn that right. You don’t get the privilege of that kind of relationship without putting in the work. Other terms that correlate hard work, ministry, and discipleship are “soldier” (2:3-4), and “workman” (2:15). References to “suffering” or “hardship” (2:3; 3:12; 4:5) are reminders that advancing the gospel and making disciples is arduous labor because we’re preparing others for the same kind of work. Disciples aren’t made in a microwave; they’re made in the field. Keep your work boots by the door each day.

Discipleship is giving direction. Whether you blame passive fathers who produce passive sons, or fault societal assault on dogmatic instruction, it seems that fewer and fewer leaders are prone to giving clear, authoritative direction. Paul doesn’t hint at things or just shoot the breeze with Timothy; calling it “life on life.” He isn’t afraid to tell him what to do! While it’s true that discipleship can be more caught than taught, giving direction is essential if you want to get somewhere. Jesus, while making disciples in a “life on life” scenario with the twelve, still had precision and purpose in what He did. In Paul’s letter to Timothy, he focuses on the task at hand and provides marching orders. Contrary to what anti-authoritarian opinions may be, discipleship includes telling people what to do and showing them how to do it. Paul uses imperative after imperative when directing Timothy. Jesus said that making disciples would involve “…teaching them to observe all that I commanded you” (Matthew 28:20). Discipleship is much more than just telling people what to do, but it’s certainly not less. Of course, being an example is non-negotiable when directing others. The disciple-maker’s instructions must match his own actions as well.

Discipleship is duplicating yourself: One of my favorite portions of 2 Timothy is a section that not many people spend time focusing on. From 4:9-22 there are at least eighteen names listed. Two are those who either deserted or harmed Paul but the rest are people who have come alongside him in ministry and been discipled by him along the way. This is a powerful picture of duplication! Discipleship is not about creating a following that seeks after you, it’s about creating disciples who do ministry long after you. Paul was eventually beheaded and this was his last letter. But because he was faithful to the task of making disciples, his work empowered others to suffer for the gospel and advance the church.

Discipleship should never be far from our ministry repertoire. Without pouring into others we become cesspools of self-importance; forgetting that we have been saved to bring the gospel of salvation to others and we’ve been made into disciples to make disciples of others.

7 Threats From a False Teacher

False teachers and abusive leaders need to maintain their power. Therefore, they use a series of threats to keep people quiet and in line. Get out of line? You might hear one of the seven statements I’ve listed below.

Some people who aren’t false teachers or abusers do use some of these from time to time. For example, someone may be accused of behaving like a “Pharisee” because they’re relying on legalism to achieve their righteousness. That isn’t in the context here. This particular post is in the context of a pastor or church leader who is approached by a well-meaning church member concerning teachings that are not faithful to Scripture and are twisted for a desired end.

Don’t Put God in a Box

This phrase is usually directed at those who are trying to convince their church leader to keep his or her teaching in line with Scripture. You may hear this kind of statement after congregants push back against a pastor who gets up one Sunday and starts tossing out random prophecies that don’t come true (or make sense). Another example would be a concerned church member who says, “Pastor, that’s not exactly what God said He would do in His word.” The pastor would respond, “Don’t put in a box.” The pastor may even tag on one of these other statements to beef up his domneering response.

Touch Not the Lord’s Anointed

This threat tends to be used when venerated leaders are opposed for their false and abusive teachings. Their defense? They claim to be “anointed” by God and immune from any accountability and that if you criticize them God will bring judgment upon you. Those who blindly follow them will usually echo this phrase as well as they warn a whistle-blower to keep quiet. Should you ever hear this threat you have nothing to fear. When you “mark” someone who is teaching false things, you are not touching the Lord’s anointed. You are obeying the Lord Himself (Romans 16:17:18).

Don’t Be a Pharisee

The Pharisees were not necessarily the best example of what true worship looks like. Even though they were very devout, they were legalistic, twisted God’s word, and burdened people with manipulative teachings that were not a part of God’s Law. They were known to control people with their spiritual arrogance and elitist mentality. Without question, they were a questionable group. Therefore, it’s not surprising when the term “Pharisee” is used in a pejorative manner. This threat from a false teacher gets used when someone holds them accountable for Scripture twisting or loose living. The false teacher will respond claiming, “Don’t be a Pharisee!” Ironically, it is false teachers and abusers who are pharisaic. They add to God’s word, they use their authority to exploit people, and are hypocrites.

Be Careful, Religion Put Jesus on a Cross

I remember seeing an outlandish service take place. There were false prophecies flying everywhere, people being “slain in the spirit,” manifestations of people’s bodies that included: gyrations, roaring, foaming at the mouth, and slithering like snakes. These manifestations appeared demonic but were claimed to be angelic. Some onlookers were very disturbed by the excessive actions taking place in the service and let it be known to the leaders. They were told, “Be careful. It was religion put Jesus on a cross.” This threat means one thing: don’t question anything or you’ll be labeled an “anointing killer.” It’s the perfect way to keep people in the dark; causing them to cower in fear that they’re like those who crucified Christ.

God Told Me I Could

When self-proclaimed prophet Todd Bentley beats on people as he prays for them, he says God tells him to. In one service, he bragged about kicking people in the face and beating on old ladies (we wrote about this in Defining Deception so you can check out the footnotes there). Another false teacher I grew up very close to used to do whatever he wanted with the offering money and explain that God gave him permission to. Never trust a leader who justifies sin by saying God commanded it.

Donate or God Will Curse You

The famous “give or die” threat has raised a few dollars over the years. Some, like Oral Roberts, have even used the “give or I will die!” fundraising ploy. Is there some biblical truth to principles of giving, receiving, and living a generous life? Of course. However, no one should ever trust a leader who says to give money or God will curse (or kill) someone. Back in my BC days (before Christ) I was in the crowd during a fundraiser in which a family was told if they didn’t give money to the building campaign that God would not give the baren mother a baby. Greed makes false teachers say whatever they can to get the mighty dollar.

If You’re Divisive, Expect a Disease

When I was 18 there was a family in our church who was leaving because they no longer trusted the leaders. The track record of the church told the story. Mishandling of funds was common. Upon leaving the church they encouraged a few others to leave because it was no longer a healthy place to be. I vividly remember the threat: If you divide the body of Christ then disease will come upon your body. This was common. A pastor within our church once had several leaders invest money into a deal guaranteeing a huge (and quick) return. It sounded too good to be true because it was. A businessman who was near 80 years old simply wanted to be paid back after his money was stolen but was told to keep quiet or else…

When people wonder why publically calling out false teachers is a big deal, simply ask: Would you point out a known sex offender in a neighboorhood full of children? Would you warn others if an active shooter were present in a shopping mall? Would you not pick up your infant if a pitbull entered the nursery? Of course. Then why wouldn’t we be faithful to point out dangers and protect the precious children of God?

Keep standing for the truth and holding fast to sound doctrine. Preach the truth. Refute error. Expose evil deeds.

There is a coming King who is building His church (Matthew 16:18). His reward will be great for those who stay faithful.

Leadership Lessons from Nehemiah

God has an ultimate agenda for His people that brings glory to His name and joy to their hearts. He doesn’t have to, but He most often uses human leaders to unravel His plans.

Much like today, there were leaders throughout the Bible who used their positions of power to abuse and exploit people for their own gain. And, much like today, there were leaders throughout the Bible who used their position as for good. Nehemiah is one of the most prominent examples of spiritual leadership that viewed authority as God-given privilege — a responsibility, really — not a mandated right. Nehemiah held a job as the king’s cupbearer (Nehemiah 1:11), and later as governor (5:14), and used his position of influence to carry out God’s agenda. Warren Wiersbe’s strikes the heart of leadership challenges when he writes, “In our day of public scandals in almost every area of life…how refreshing it is to meet a man like Nehemiah who put serving the people ahead of gain for himself.”

Simply put: we need leaders like Nehemiah. He’s a model worth emulating and one that we should pay close attention to.

Here are five qualities that Nehemiah possessed, though the list could be much longer. As you read through, take notice that these are not things a leader is naturally born with. These are qualities that every leader in the body of Christ can strive for and obtain by the grace of God.

Nehemiah was a man of prayer

After learning about Jerusalem’s distress, Nehemiah’s response proves much about his leadership. He gave himself to “fasting and praying before the God of heaven” (1:4). Nehemiah was no priest but sought the Lord on behalf of the people with the priestly passion (1:5-11). When we come face-to-face with troubling circumstances, our first response says a great deal about our leadership aptitude. Do our knees hit the floor with a sense of ownership and confidence? Do our hearts break for those in bondage? A passionate prayer life is a mighty weapon in ministry.

Nehemiah was a prudent planner

Nehemiah has close access to the king and when an opportunity presented itself he was ready with an answer. When the king offered him the chance to make a request, he wasn’t at a loss for words. In fact, he prayed (of course!), then came to the king with clear plans for action and was shown favor by the king (2:1-9). How many times do we ask God for big things but our plans are nothing more than a meandering daydream? It’s been well said that goals without a deadline are just dreams. Nehemiah wasn’t praying for God to open doors for his barely-vetted idea. He was prudent, planned, and ready when the answer was, “Yes!”

Nehemiah was a confident motivator

When rallying the officials concerning the rebuilding of the wall, Nehemiah explained the dire situation, then called for progress! He motivated them by explaining the favor God had shown them in opening the doors for a rebuild (2:17-18). The result of his prayers, his plans, and call to action? “Then they said, ‘Let us arise and build.’ So they put their hands to the good work” (2:18). For all his ability to motivate, not everyone was impressed. In the face of opposition and ridicule, Nehemiah spilled the secret to his confidence declaring, “The God of heaven will give us success; therefore we His servants will arise and build…” (2:20). His constant call was to “remember the Lord who is great and awesome” (4:14). Within the church today, leaders have the opportunity to motivate people to take on big challenges for the glory of God and the good of His people. Motivating them with divine confidence is critical to moving the ball downfield.

Nehemiah was focused on giving God glory

When the wall was completed, it wasn’t said the Nehemiah was the greatest in the land. He didn’t stand and testify of his strength, wisdom, and might. Nehemiah has continually testified about what God had done and the result was this: “And it came about when all our enemies heard of it, and all the nations surrounding us saw it, they lost their confidence; for they recognized that this work had been accomplished with the help of our God” (6:16). Now that is a leader who has created a culture of glorifying God!

Nehemiah was committed to obedience

At the end of the book of Nehemiah, we find that the devotion of the people and their obedience to God had faded. Nehemiah quickly stepped in and called for the people to remember the sins of Solomon (13:26) and turn in obedience to God. Ever the watchman on the wall and the defender of God’s commands, Nehemiah refused to back down when it came to pleasing God. As leaders, we can grow exhausted in our efforts to call people into obedience to God. Sometimes it may seem like all a leader is doing is policing people’s bad behavior. Yet, after all he’d faced, how was it that Nehemiah still found the strength to take on another course correcting challenge? He was serving an audience of One. In the end, he declared, “Remember me, O my God, for good” (13:31). A leader stays committed to even the hardest parts of our task by remembering Who we serve and why we serve Him. Nehemiah modeled what it means to obey God for the right reasons and stay focused on what matters most.

May a generation of Nehemiah’s stand tall in the midst of great challenges; determined to do great things for the glory of a great God.

Trusting Christ with Childhood Cancer

You know those moments that are seared so deeply in your mind you’ll remember every detail forever? Several months ago, I experienced one of those moments.

It was shortly after we’d managed to get the kids down for bed. On a normal night, my wife and I meet in the kitchen; catching eyes and smiling over whatever antics the kids pulled to delay the inevitable end of their day. Then, the house is silent. That silence marks the beginning of mom and dad’s time to read, decompress, and rest up for the next day of fun. But this night would be different.

As I heard my wife’s footsteps I looked up and saw her walk through the doorway to the kitchen. Suddenly she broke; holding up the doctor’s report in her hand. The tears streamed down her face. I pulled her into my arms as she explained, “Something is wrong with Timothy…” Her words hit my heart like a freight train. The “C” word had crossed my mind a few times while we waited for test results on over a dozen suspicious spots that had appeared on our 3-month old son’s body, but nothing prepares you for this moment. After reading through the report, it was real. Timothy, our little guy, has cancer.

On our journey so far,  more answers seem only to lead to more questions. A wave of different emotions come and go, but overall, one thing remains constant — God’s goodness.

I like what Randy Alcorn says in his book, If God is Good: Faith in the Midst of Suffering and Evil. He writes on page 289, “We define good in terms of what brings us health and happiness now; God defines it in terms of what makes us more like Jesus.” He goes on to explain something that every person suffering in pain would do well to remember:

As a young Christian I believed that going to Heaven instead of Hell was all that mattered. But as I read the Bible, I saw that to be called according to God’s purpose is to be conformed to the character of Christ. God’s purpose for our suffering is Christlikeness. That is our highest calling. If God answered all our prayers to be delivered from evil and suffering, then he would be delivering us from Christlikeness. But Christlikeness is something to long for, not to be delivered from.

What Randy is saying here is simple to read, but so difficult to do. Yet, it is the perspective a Christian is to have. God grows us, shapes us, sanctifies us, and brings us to the end of ourselves through suffering. All the while molding us into the image of His Son — Jesus.  This doesn’t mean that we should be excited about a cancer diagnosis, or hoping our child suffers. But it does mean that we should not be so obsessed with our relief that we miss out on the lessons God teaches us along the way. Suffering brings us closer to God, and through suffering He accomplishes great purposes.

To encourage you as you face trials in your own life, here are 3 ways we can pray as Christians in the midst of pain:

Pray for God to be glorified above all else

You may have heard the story of James Montgomery Boice who got up one Sunday to talk to his church about terminal cancer that left him with only one month to live. Many had asked how they can help and his response was profound:

Should you pray for a miracle? Well, you’re free to do that. My general impression is that the God who is able to do miracles – and he certainly can – is also able to keep you from getting the problem in the first place. But above all, I would say pray for the glory of God. If you think of God glorifying himself in history and you say, where in all of history has God most glorified himself? He did it at the cross of Jesus Christ, and it wasn’t by delivering Jesus from the cross, though he could have. Jesus said, “Don’t you think I could call down from my Father ten legions of angels for my defense?” But he didn’t do that. And yet, that’s where God is most glorified. 

Like our faith heroes who have gone long before us, this is a great anchor to all of our prayers for healing and relief.

Pray for healing while submitted to the will of God

Like any parent, we want Timothy to live to be 100, have lots of grandkids for us, and live happily ever after. But the reality is, we may pray for healing now and God’s timing and purposes may be different than our prayer. God is within His divine right to use our son’s for whatever “good” He decides to use it for (Romans 8:28). What if his cancer is used to spark gospel-spreading relationships in the cancer clinic? What if our son dies younger than we’d ever wish? What if our faith is tested beyond anything it’s ever been through? Even through the tears and pain, as Christians, we accept God’s will when it’s all said and done. Just when we want to throw in the towel and say, “That’s crazy!” We do well to remember that’s exactly what Jesus modeled.

As the most righteous man to ever live, and the divine Son of God, Jesus was praying in the Garden of Gethsemane right before suffering on the cross. At that moment, He models one of the most vulnerable prayer sessions we witness in the Gospels. Matthew records, “And going a little farther He fell on His face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39).

In a day where faith healers put on elaborate shows and posture boastfully; claiming to have the power to rebuke all kinds of cancer, far too many scoff at prayers for “God’s will to be done.” In many circles, praying “Your will be done” kind of prayers are seen as weak faith.

Well, Jesus prayed that way. It’s never a bad idea to model His method and trust God with the results.

Pray for perspective when tempted to pout

I remember walking into one of our first appointments and feel pretty sorry for myself. After a brief wait in the waiting room at the Children’s Hospital of Orange County (CHOC), we heard our name called and walked down the hallway. My pity party was short lived as I caught eyes with a young girl wearing a bandana and sitting with her mom. She was several years older than our son and had obviously been going through chemo. Fast forward to a recent appointment where two mothers were telling my wife that their little ones have chemo on Christmas Eve, and the other on Christmas Day. Talk about a shot of perspective. Everyone is going through something. We benefit greatly from reminders like that.

One of the great challenges as Christians is to look beyond our circumstances and maintain an eternal perspective. To put it bluntly, we can often miss opportunities to minister (and mourn) with others because our eyes are fixed on ourselves. No matter how dark a day may seem, we do not suffer in earthly despair as if we have no eternal hope! Furthermore, God has called every one of His followers to be witnesses for the gospel (Acts 1:8). What better way to be a witness than to point people to find comfort in Christ and their Lord and Savior?

Lastly, a word to those who feel like they’re just trying to survive another day, let alone help anyone else: Don’t feel pressure to look perfect when you’re enduring a trial, but do feel pressure (the good kind) to look to Christ. Your anxieties and pain belong at His feet (1 Peter 5:7), and He promises peace beyond human comprehension to those who come to Him with prayerful, thankful, dependent hearts (Philippians 4:6-7).

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Recommended Resources: 

If God is Good: Faith in the Midst of Suffering and Evil by Randy Alcorn

A Place of Healing: Wrestling with the Mysteries of Suffering, Pain, and God by Joni Eareckson Tada

3 Principles on Spiritual Conflict

Spiritual conflict (or “warfare”) is a subject that often succumbs to two extremes. First, there are people who blame the devil for everything — even things that are their fault. Second, there are those who dismiss demonic activity altogether; lumping it into a mystical-mindset best relegated to the extreme corners of fringe charismatic groups. Both of these views are anemic. The fact is, spiritual conflict is real and leaders do well to maintain a balanced understanding of this subject for the purpose of their own lives and counseling those they serve. The first chapter of Mark’s Gospel provides a splendid backdrop for valuable principles on spiritual conflict. These can be used to walk people through the delicate balance of discerning what spiritual warfare is, and isn’t.

The Devil is in the Business of Temptation

Right of the bat, Mark records Jesus’ encounter with the Devil in the wilderness (Mark 1:13) in which Satan tempts the Lord. Even Jesus was tempted! Spiritual conflict is very often synonymous with temptation. Think about your own life for a moment. Have you ever noticed that whenever you commit to walking in obedience, temptation comes knocking on your door? Plenty of longtime Christians will tell you that their greatest moments of weakness come after making big commitments to the Lord. Jesus modeled perfection in the face of temptation (Hebrews 4:15) and dealt with it by sticking to the word of God (Luke 4:4,8,12). And remember, Satan doesn’t show up at the foot of your bed with a red tail and pitchfork claiming, “Here I am to tempt and deceive you!” We often think spiritual warfare looks like a Hollywood scene. It doesn’t. Temptation is part of “enemy tactics” so don’t be blind. Turn to God’s word and remember that God has given us a way of escape (1 Corinthians 10:13). Win the battle by first refusing to live denial. Admit that temptation is real. You are not immune. Then, turn to God’s word and resist the Devil and he will flee (James 4:7).

Christ Has Power Over Demons

Mark records a powerful moment in which an evil spirit that was possessing a man (could have been many evil spirits because they say “us”) declares that Jesus is the Holy Son of God! (Mark 1:24). Jesus, with a mere command, takes authority over the unclean spirit and casts it out instantly. No sweat, no screaming repetitious phrases, no three-hour exorcism. There are numerous people claiming power of demons today who go around putting olive oil on people and shouting superstitious — mostly repetitious — phrases. But is this the model for modern ministry? Even the archangel Michael did not take “authority” over the Devil in Jude by saying, “I rebuke you, Satan!” Michael, knowing where true power came from said, “The Lord rebuke you” (Jude 9). Our best bet in spiritual conflict is to stick close to Christ. Where He reigns, demons cannot. Where He resides, demons cannot. If someone believes they are experiencing demonization of any kind, the first thing we ought to encourage them to do is to get on their knees, confess their sin, and surrender their will to Christ.

Truth Transforms

In Mark 1:38 Jesus leaves one region and goes elsewhere saying his purpose was “…so that I may preach there also, for that is what I came for.” Jesus did not come to put on an endless show of exorcisms and mystical wonderings. His primary goal was to preach His kingdom come! The truth transforms so we must proclaim the truth. It also stirs up and drives out evil.

I once had a counseling session with a man I knew very well. He was in charge of an area of our ministry. Within ten minutes of our session, his eyes were moving in different directions and his face was contorting in disturbing fashion. I could see something was off so I chose to counsel him by reading a certain passage of Scripture out loud. Suddenly, I looked up and realized he was staring intensely at me. Then, without warning, he attacked me physically. His eyes grew large, his voice changed, and he tried to subdue me. After sitting on him and eventually getting him over to our main office I called other pastors in to pray. It became very obvious that this man was experiencing some level of demonization. He was cursing at us, calling us false prophets, and calling the church pulpit “weak.” At one point he looked at me, claiming to be the Devil himself, and said, “I own your uncle and I own you! You’re ours!” I remember wondering how someone who was sitting under the faithful preaching of God’s word each week could experience such bondage. Turns out, he wasn’t. One of our elders discovered that this man had stopped coming into the sanctuary and was hiding in the corner of the courtyard avoiding the preaching portion of service every week. Whatever was at the root of this man’s oppression did not want him hearing the preaching of the word. The truth always cuts through the core of people’s hearts. Want to know the best way to stay spiritual safe in the midst of spiritual war? If you’re a pastor, preach the word. Saturate your life with it. If you’re a church member, cement yourself under sound preaching and supporting the ministry of the word. Saturate your life with it. Truth is the best antidote in spiritual conflict.

In just one chapter of Mark, we quickly see a framework for spiritual conflict and can apply it to our lives. Spiritual warfare is real. Jesus is victorious. His truth protects our lives.