10 Commandments for Social Media

This article needs minimal introduction. Social media is ablaze right now and has been for some time. Rage is on the rise, wars are fought using words as ammunition, and aggressive debate takes its toll on even the most upbeat human souls.

How does a Christian resist the temptation to hurl verbal stones when it has become fashionable to do so? What stands in the way of us believing that launching insults and attacking others is akin to “fighting the good fight” of faith?

I find that the temptation to dive into the social media fray is ever-present, so during a recent vacation, I got off social media and prayed through some principles that I could use to redeem the use of platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. While we all fail at using proper social media etiquette from time to time (I am guilty of this!), these “10 Commandments for Social Media” may prove especially helpful during turbulent days like the ones we are currently in. If anything, using them as a part of your regular posting protocols may keep you out of a few more kerfuffles and offer more peace of mind.

  1. Thou shalt post scripture passages

Whatever happened to the good ole’ fashioned days of “posting a Bible verse” on social media? Try this one out and consider posting daily from the word of God. You may even want to only post a Bible passage some days. Thankfully, several Christian leaders do this regularly.

  1. Thou shalt post biblically-rich articles

When is the last time you heard of someone changing the world with an angry tweet, slanderous tabloid fare, or trashy news? It doesn’t happen. But what does change hearts and minds? Biblically rich resources — even if they pack a bit of a (conviction-driven) punch from time to time. People need solid writing that is loaded with practical and biblical teaching. Nothing feeds hungry hearts better than God’s will from God’s word. Point people to Jesus in biblical ways and help them practically apply divine truths. That will change the world.

  1. Thou shalt post expository sermons

It might get more hits to share gossip, but what people need is the gospel and deep dives into the Scriptures. In the long run, the amount of encouragement and edification that occurs when we share gospel-centered sermons that walk people verse-by-verse through the Bible will long outlive anything else we share because the results are eternal. Share your favorite sermons, recommend faithful pastors, and watch God use your efforts to draw His people home.

  1. Thou shalt post edifying videos (or GIFs)

We are living in a “video” generation. Social media sites optimize posts that use video, people devour videos, and millions share videos. Believers who want to redeem social media can do so by posting biblically-rich videos that edify and encourage people. And remember, sometimes brevity is best. Not to be outdone, the GIF has been a revolutionary little tool for social media use. In my humble opinion, there is no one better at the “Christian” use of these than my Twitter friend, Garrett Kell (@pastorjgkell). He’s the GIF Pastor-Master and consistently edifies his followers by using videos (often funny) that illustrate serious and biblical truths.

  1. Thou shalt post God-glorifying quotes

Posting quotes is one of the best ways to share timeless truths and introduce people to influential theologians, pastors, and reliable sources. While you might think everyone will learn about Spurgeon by reading his pivotal 400+ page work, Lectures to My Students, it’s more likely that people will come to hear about him through Christian’s posting inspiring quotes. From voices of the past like J.C. Ryle, R.C. Sproul, G.K. Chesterton, Elisabeth Elliott, Corrie ten Boom, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, and Hudson Taylor, to faithful voices of today, quotes edify and educate.

  1. Thou shalt post doctrinally sound book recommendations

What an abundance of wisdom could be spread if we share what books have been impacting our growth? I think teaching people how to identify reliable books is akin like the old cliché that goes, “Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day, teach a man to fish and he’ll eat for a lifetime.” You can share your opinion on a matter and trigger someone’s reaction, or you can share a book and change someone’s mind. Speaking of which, I’ve given you my opinion on this, so here are three books that will shape how you view and use social media: Competing Spectacles by Tony Reinke, 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You by Tony Reinke, and The Tech-Wise Family by Andy Crouch.

  1. Thou shalt post using gracious and mature speech (Colossians 4:5-6)

While there is nothing wrong with speaking the hard truth, the Bible is clear that a Christian must still use gracious speech even when hidden behind a screen. For all his “telling it like it is” to the Galatian and Corinthian Christians, the apostle Paul made it abundantly clear that love was essential in all his efforts (1 Corinthians 13:1-8; 1 Timothy 1:5). Far too often, people treat humans on the other side of social media debates as anything but human, and love is nowhere to be found. A simple question: would you speak and act the way you do online if you were in a group setting at church? With the way some of us operate, we would likely find our way into church discipline or out the door. Let Colossians 4:5-6 be a guiding lamp for the way you walk online.

  1. Thou shalt not engage in petty debate (Titus 3:9)

We’ve all done it. We’ve all regretted it. Petty debate is such an easy sinkhole to fall into online. Reject it, every time. Furthermore, let us never forget that many of the vain wranglers on Twitter and Facebook run monetized YouTube channels and websites. They have a machine — no, a monster — that they must feed. So, instead of making disciples in their local church, studying and teaching real people, and focusing on devotion to Christ and loving their family, they scour the online world looking for theological gnats to strain and molehills to turn into mountains. Back and forth they go, and they go, and they go. Ignore them. This isn’t to say that all “discernment bloggers” fit that picture or that you should never offer a gracious and explanatory response. Many people do a wonderful job equipping saints (Ephesians 4:12), speaking the truth in love (Ephesians 4:16), marking dangerous teachers (Romans 16:17-18), and refuting destructive doctrines (Titus 1:9). They expose evil deeds in very helpful ways (Ephesians 5:11). But consider putting a cap on how many responses you’ll offer before taking it offline with a phone call, or leaving it alone.

  1. Thou shalt not vent in haste on social media

Nothing good comes from online venting. Even if you’re frustrated, “prudence” is a trusted friend that helps even fools remain silent, and thus appear wise (Proverbs 17:28). If we made a dime for every time we should have kept our fingers holstered on social media but chose to vent in haste, we’d all be rich. Some basic tips here: 1) Don’t post late at night, 2) Don’t post when high on emotion, 3) Don’t post if you have second thoughts, and 4) Use #10.

  1. Thou shalt run questionable posts by accountability partners

On a “Top 5” list of temptations for social media users, you’d likely find the temptation to ignore a spouse, a pastor, a friend, or a co-worker who says, “Don’t post that!” or “Don’t say it like that.” Nearly every Tweet I ever regretted posting has been one that my wife or a mentor said, “You really should’ve held off on that one.” Pride says, “I’m fighting the fight here, people!” or “Someone’s got to say tell it like it is and that someone is me!” Unfortunately, pride is rarely (if ever) right. And perhaps someone does need to say “it.” But “it” probably needs an “edit” button.

I hope these help you in some way, shape, or form. Until Christ returns or Twitter gives us an edit button, may we all fight the “online” fight the right way — in a way that honors God.

How to View Claims About Dreams and Visions

When it comes to analyzing dreams and visions, very few people are short on opinion.

Some seek dreams, visions, and other mystical experiences constantly yet don’t even know their Bible. Others dismiss every supernatural claim and prefer rationalism at all costs; unwilling to even accept any possibility that supernatural experiences could either be demonic or that God could providentially use a very normal dream to move someone into realistic action once they wake up.

There are landmines on all sides of this subject, and one of those is that it tends to become a tier 1 issue. In other words, people will make railing judgments about the salvation of an individual based on their position regarding how God may or may not use dreams, or if it is possible for someone to have some supernatural experience. It’s important to navigate these hotly debated waters with a great deal of grace, while still holding fast to the truth of God’s word. A fascinating example of this is when R.C. Sproul and Al Mohler sit with Ravi Zacharias as he shares about some interesting experiences during this Q & A.

What About “Sola Scriptura?” 

The natural question arises for theological conservatives: Wouldn’t such an experience deny “Sola Scriptura?” This question has two answers: Yes, and no (depending on what the claim is).

Why yes?  If someone is making wild claims that demean Jesus and contradict His word, that should be cause for red flags. Especially if they say things that insult Him, like one particular claim from a leader at Bethel Church in Redding, California who declared that in a vision Jesus came and asked for him for forgiveness. You read that correctly. The claim was that Jesus asked for this leader to forgive him.

Why no? While discernment is merited for supernatural claims, someone simple having a dream would fall within the normal pattern of human behavior. A dream is simply defined as “a series of thoughts, images, and sensations occurring in a person’s mind during sleep.” It is possible that someone could dream about Jesus and that God could use a dream to lead them to investigate Jesus and the Bible in the same way that someone could dream about baseball and wake up wanting to play baseball. Can we honestly say that God can’t put a thought in someone’s head? That seems far-reaching to deny, even if this subject makes you uncomfortable. Another experience that would not violate Sola Scriptura is if someone had a demonic experience. Such a thing is a non sequitur to Sola Scriptura since most who hold to Sola Scriptura would not deny that the Devil and demons are actively attacking people through deception of all sorts — including demonization, false signs, witchcraft, and more. We can’t possibly deny that demonic experiences are real and that the Devil is actively working to deceive people with real experiences dripping with sinister lies. Therefore, discernment is crucial.

As you navigate claims regarding dreams and visions, here are some practical steps to consider. These will keep you from swinging to extremes or jumping to conclusions. We do well to avoid sign-seeking and sensationalism (Matthew 12:38-39), while at the same time being careful with our words lest we lose an opportunity to guide someone into the truth and needlessly hurt someone with our dismissive or pompous attitude (Colossians 4:6).

1. Be sensitive to new believers and their experiences

When someone comes to us and shares their perceived experience, dismissal is the best way to get yourself dismissed. Just like nobody wants to work for someone who wreaks of smug arrogance, and just like no one opens up to a father who suppresses your expressions and unkindly dismisses questions, nobody trusts those who jump to hasty conclusions or who exhibit a condescending tone.

Some people have experienced something and they need sensitivity and help. What if their experience was demonic and they don’t know it? Could it be that they don’t know their Bible very well and are innocently ignorant? What if they merely had a dream and it led them to further investigation and gospel transformation in a country that doesn’t allow missionaries? Couldn’t Jesus build His church in some way that causes a person to investigate the true gospel? It helps no one when someone opens up to us and we pompously remark: “Whatever you experienced wasn’t real. You’re making this up.” Being sensitive doesn’t mean you’re agreeing or believing. It just means you’re listening and caring.

2. Be discerning because a lot of people make things up

There are a ton of made-up stories. When I was growing up in the Word of Faith movement, one next-generation family member who is now running with the New Apostolic Reformation told me that we have freedom in Christ to make things up sometimes if it builds people’s faith. He made up healings, visions, stories about God verbally speaking to him, and more. Many people do this. Don’t be shocked or deceived.

3. Be willing to confront glaring inconsistencies with Scripture

Oral Roberts was an old hero of mine, a famous pioneer of faith healing, and a dangerous deceiver. He once claimed that a 900-ft tall “Jesus” appeared to him, and later on claimed “God told him” that people needed to give millions of dollars towards a building project or God would kill him.[1]

If someone claims something manipulative like this, they don’t need a 900-ft tall Jesus, they need the Scriptures that the real Jesus taught. Some people we encounter will have had demonic experiences or have been led away by strange and deceitful spirits (1 Timothy 4:1). They need to be taught that God’s word is a lamp to our feet and light to our path (Psalm 119:105).

3. Be willing to say “I don’t know what you experienced.” 

So many want to slam dunk people with black and white answers but the reality is, you can’t know everything or conclude upon every person’s story with absolute certainty. What can you say with total confidence from time to time? Simply say, “I don’t know.” This allows you to point to what you do know — which leads us to the most important point in this article.

4. Be consistently pointing to the sufficiency of Scripture

Let’s imagine for a moment that someone did have a dream about Jesus and it caused them to wake up to reality and seek out answers. Guess what? We don’t live by dreams. We don’t get saved by dreams. We don’t stay saved by dreams. We don’t get filled with the Spirit by dreams. We don’t study the Bible through dreams. We don’t get heaven by dreams. Faith doesn’t come by dreaming.

Romans 10:17 says, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” Even if you think you heard the word of Christ in a dream, you’ve still got to wake up and live by faith in reality!

When it comes to dreams and discerning an experience, we don’t need to be cruel to people. But we also don’t need to be chasing signs or hunting for the next “high” that gets our adrenaline pumping. The word of God is enough for the true believer and will always be enough.

Isaiah 40:8 reminds us, “the grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.”

___________________________

[1] “Oral Roberts Tells of Talking to 900-Foot Jesus,” Tulsa World, October 16, 1980, accessed December 23, 2016,

Navigating Different COVID-19 Convictions

If there is one word to describe how we must navigate re-gathering amid COVID-19, it’s this: grace. 

A friend of mine who happens to be the Vice President of a prominent seminary and no stranger to the challenges in leadership recently tweeted words that accurately predict the current (and coming) landscape in homes, families, and friendships.

Charles Smith wrote: “Prediction: one of the most challenging aspects of the #COVID19 recovery will be disagreements over acceptable post-COVID social norms between friends and family. Hurt feelings will abound if we’re not careful. Extend lots of grace. Everyone is different.”

He couldn’t be more right. This reality is especially going to hit hard for pastors — starting with the dynamic between staff and leadership teams.

I believe one of the ways that the enemy will seek to divide our ranks within the church is by tempting us to use our opinions against each other. If the Devil has his way, we’ll be throwing stones of accusation from all sides, calling the cautious people “soft,” labeling the optimists of being “reckless.” More than that, the enemy especially loves when we cement ourselves in political corners; adding opinionated fuel to the already tumultuous fire of conflict.

Things can get ugly — very quickly.

This is a new frontier of ministry for an entire generation of leaders. We must recognize the challenges and begin to determine how we will face COVID recovery before it erodes valuable relationships.

Navigating our varying COVID convictions is a non-negotiable for any leader who desires not only a physically healthy organization, but an emotionally healthy one too.

We’re Going to Be Different

The pastoral staff I am a part of is one example of taking differing approaches to COVID quarantine and ministry, and that’s okay. Our different approaches have even become helpful because we can diversify our ministry efforts like different members of the body should (1 Corinthians 12:12). Further, we are sharpened in our ability to love one another regardless of unique circumstances. One of our pastors has vulnerable family members and works exclusively from home. One had a baby during the crisis and needed others to carry the added load while he went on paternity leave. Another can serve more openly in the community right now, while another endured unexpected back surgery and is mostly bound to bed during recovery time. It takes a great deal of sensitivity and understanding to navigate how each member of our team is approaching the scenario. It will continue to require such understanding as we approach re-gathering with friends, family, and our church. The reality is, we are all a unique blend of experiences, vulnerabilities, preferences, tendencies, and talents.

Perhaps you relate to one or more aspects of the following COVID-19 profiles:

Cautious: Those who primarily work from home, follow every aspect of CDC regulations, and prefer to stay conservative about their re-gathering plan.

Confident: Those who don’t wear a mask, spend greater amounts of time with people outside their home and don’t mind tight proximity, obey the law but don’t necessarily worry much about going the extra-mile with precautions, lean towards re-gathering now regardless of the news, and some think this crisis may be blown way out of proportion.

“Cauti-dent”: Those who find themselves doing and feeling a little bit of everything in both the cautious and the confident profile.

There are certainly a few more profiles that could be added here, including those who have strong opinions about churches holding services online instead of gathering physically, obedience to government instructions, and conspiracy theories about numerous aspects of the crisis, but those views do not necessarily help us navigate re-gathering.

It’s Okay to Be Different

The temptation is to look at these profiles and let your opinion dominate your perspective.

For highly confident optimists, others are much too conservative. Perhaps, some would even accuse others of living by fear and not faith — which can be true of all of us at times.

For cautious types, confident optimists may be too relaxed as the “what ifs” begin to creep into their minds. They think, what do we gain by re-gathering so quickly? Isn’t it better to be safe than sorry?

As the spiral of opinion leads you downward, you must formulate a game plan that takes you upward. It’s okay to be different! To have a healthy family, a healthy team, and a healthy church there must room for different opinions and experiences. These differences often stretch us and help us grow together and learn from each other. We need to respect one another and realize that everyoneis navigating a new frontier.

A healthy relational ecosystem allows for “different,” and even leverages it to help us make decisions.

Attitude Determines Altitude​

You may have a healthy culture in your church, organization, or family. Conversely, you may be seeing tension rising and anticipate this issue being a major challenge. Whatever the case, your attitude is going to determine your altitude. In other words, whether or not you lead yourself and others above the fray and towards a higher perspective depends on attitude.

Here are 4 attitudes for COVID-19 re-gathering that will strengthen your ability to navigate differing views and approaches:

1. Optimistic people are a blessing to my life. It keeps me hopeful about the future and enables me to embrace uncertainty as opportunity.

2. Cautious people are a blessing to my life. It keeps me sensitive to the needs and concerns of others and enables me to make prudent decisions.

3. Different gifts and approaches make us all more effective. Pride demands that everyone do things the way we demand. Read 1 Corinthians 12 and celebrate different gifts.

4. People matter more than my opinion. Being in healthy relationships with people is a privilege that requires me to love others above myself. When I am highly opinionated, I can needlessly hurt others.

Choose Love

In the end, these attitudes prepare our hearts and minds to do one thing above all else: choose love. Preserving valuable relationships and developing healthy teams, churches, and families is more important than winning arguments, or being (more) right.

Look, when this crisis begins to wind down, there will be plenty of people who got some things right, and plenty of people who got some things wrong. There will be those who blew things out of proportion, and those who didn’t take things as seriously as they should’ve. Some will take longer to come back to the office, others will rush in (or are already there).

What will it matter if we re-gathering only to end up “socially distant” again not because of a virus, but because of our inability to love others who approach COVID-19 differently than we do?

Choose love.

***This article was originally published by “For the Church” here.

Video: Is Tithing 10% Commanded for The Church?

The term “tithing” isn’t as controversial as the definition is.

Quite often, in faithful churches around the world, you will hear the word “tithe” attached to “offerings” as a traditionally general way to describe giving. A pastor might say, “This morning you can give your tithes and offerings in the buckets as they go by or online.” 

Usually, this is referring to general giving and is not thought of beyond that. 

However, there is a large swath of church leaders who mean something very specific when they use the word “tithe.” These teachers insist that tithing is commanded for New Testament believers today and that to give any less than 10% of your income to the church is “robbing God.” 

There is no reason to be unkind and suspect that all of these teachers are false or evil, but there is reason to study Scripture and make sure that we are teaching and obeying it accurately. Some Christians I’ve met have gone their entire life without every studying the topics of tithing, money, and generosity. There is so much to learn and life-changing truths are just waiting to be applied to our worship of God and love for others.

In this video, fellow pastor Kyle Swanson and I speak openly and biblically about what the tithe is, and whether or not it’s commanded today. 

Should we be incredibly generous in our giving? Certainly! Should we be flippant in how we handle and obey Scripture? Certainly not. 

 

How to Become a Prayer Warrior?

Have you ever wanted to become a prayer warrior? Do you want to get beyond the basic (not unimportant) mentality that prayer is asking God to “touch everyone, heal everyone, help everyone, and bless everyone?” What if you began to pray about God’s will even more than your will?

Perhaps the next step if for you to take a deep dive into the prayers and desires that heroes in the faith had.

I believe to be effective in our prayer life we must train our perspective on prayer. Prayer is a vital part of our relationship with Christ. Further, we must know how to use this weapon we’ve been given by God — especially when in seasons like the one we’re in.

Though not exhaustive regarding all the prayers in the N.T., this post will train your perspective on what to pray by showing you 41 of Paul’s N.T. prayers (or desires). I’ve taken the list from D.A. Carson’s A Call to Spiritual Reformationand added some commentary in “focus” portion of the graph below. Does God care about “Aunt Sally’s knee surgery?” and “Little Johnny’s ‘sniffles?'” Of course He does. But when prayers for physical ailments dominate our prayer lists and church prayer chains, perhaps it’s worth considering a chart like the one below and asking ourselves, what else can I be praying for? What is God’s will in this situation? What brings Him ultimate glory? Is my will aligned with His? 

Relief, provision, healing, and protection are excellent things to pray for. But, the gospel is why we are here on earth and God’s glory is what we must long for most. Until heaven, let us pray with that perspective!

Here are some ways to use this chart:

  1. Pray one of Paul’s prayers daily, in addition to your normal prayers. Apply his prayers for other believers to the ones in your own life.
  2. Use his prayers a way to invite the conviction of the Holy Spirit into your own prayer life. Are you focusing on mostly physical things? Are your prayers (though this might sting) shallow and earthly? Do you hold the gospel as primary and all else secondary?
  3. Share this list with a small group or Bible study cohort and work through it as a study tool.
  4. Try praying for only gospel-centered things for 3 straight days — multiple times per day.
  5. Try praying prayers that only loaded with thanksgiving to God for 3 straight days — multiple times per day.
  6. Make a list of all the ways that you could be the answer to the prayer you’ve been praying. For example, instead of praying that “someone share the gospel with your family member,” why don’t you share the gospel with your family member (even if it’s the 50th time)?
  7. Start listing out your prayers and keep track of how many revolve around you and your wants. Work to balance spiritual and physical requests.

The list above is only to spark your thoughts. Use this chart however is best for your prayer life training.

Paul’s 41 New Testament Prayers

Scripture Reference Quoted Passage  Prayer Focus
Romans 1:8–10 First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world. For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I mention you 10 always in my prayers, asking that somehow by God’s will I may now at last succeed in coming to you. Thanksgiving, and that Paul would be able to come see them.
Romans 10:1 Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. Salvation for others.
Romans 12:12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Encouragement to pray.
Romans 15:5–6 May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Harmony and unity between believers.
Romans 15:13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. For joy and peace to fill their lives.
Romans 15:30–33 I appeal to you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf, that I may be delivered from the unbelievers in Judea, and that my service for Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints, so that by God’s will I may come to you with joy and be refreshed in your company. May the God of peace be with you all. Amen. That Paul’s gospel efforts would succeed.
1 Corinthians 1:4–9 I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge— even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you— so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Thanksgiving, that believers would be strengthened and be found faithful when Christ returns.
1 Corinthians 16:23 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you. God’s grace.
2 Corinthians 1:3–7 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort. Praising God for who He is as our comfort and our everlasting hope in hard times.
2 Corinthians 2:14–16 But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? Thanksgiving to God for the victory we have in His Son Jesus Christ.
2 Corinthians 9:12–15 For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God. By their approval of this service, they will glorify God because of your submission that comes from your confession of the gospel of Christ, and the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others, while they long for you and pray for you, because of the surpassing grace of God upon you. Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift! Thanksgiving to God for provision, generosity, and the grace of God through others.
2 Corinthians 13:7–9 But we pray to God that you may not do wrong—not that we may appear to have met the test, but that you may do what is right, though we may seem to have failed. For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth. For we are glad when we are weak and you are strong. Your restoration is what we pray for. Asking that God would keep them from sin.
Galatians 6:18 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers. Amen. God’s grace.
Ephesians 1:3–5 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, Praising God for mercifully saving us as His children and blessing us spiritually through Jesus Christ.
Ephesians 1:15–23  For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, 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, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. Thanksgiving for what God is doing through their faith, that wisdom and knowledge would illuminate them to the hope and inheritance that they have in Christ. Praise and adoration to Jesus for His victory over sin both now and when He returns to reign over all.
Ephesians 3:14–21 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. Reverence and adoration to God the Father for who He is, that the saints would be spiritually strengthened, knowing the love of Christ. Glorifying God for His power.
Ephesians 6:19–20 and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak. That the gospel would be preached boldly.
Philippians 1:3–6 I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, 4 always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. Thanksgiving for faithful saints who partner to spread the Gospel.
Philippians 1:9–11 And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. That love would abound in the believers, that they would live holy lives and be found faithful.
Philippians 4:6–7 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Pray without worry, with total thanksgiving, and receive peace no matter what.
Philippians 4:23 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. God’s grace.
Colossians 1:3–14 We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and increasing—as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth, just as you learned it from Epaphras our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf and has made known to us your love in the Spirit. And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. Thanksgiving for the faith that saints are living with and their whole-hearted example as Christians. For strength, endurance, patience, joy. Praise and adoration to God for His power and victory. Praise to God for His merciful redemption and fogiveness of our sins through Christ.
Colossians 4:2–4 Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison— that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak. Be faithful and alert in your prayer life, be thankful, pray that the gospel would be spread.
1 Thessalonians 1:2–3 We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. Thanksgiving for what God is doing in the lives of believers.
1 Thessalonians 2:13–16  And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers. For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea. For you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews, who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out, and displease God and oppose all mankind by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved—so as always to fill up the measure of their sins. But wrath has come upon them at last! Thanksgiving for the way believers received the word. Praise for the Word’s work in their lives.
1 Thessalonians 3:9–13 For what thanksgiving can we return to God for you, for all the joy that we feel for your sake before our God,  as we pray most earnestly night and day that we may see you face to face and supply what is lacking in your faith? Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you, and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints. Praise and thanksgiving to God for the joy that comes from seeing believers live out their faith. Requesting that the Lord would grow their love for each other, that they’d be blameless/holy.
1 Thessalonians 5:23–24 Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it. That God would sanctify(cleanse) the believers and they would be found blamess when Christ returns.
1 Thessalonians 5:28 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. God’s grace.
2 Thessalonians 1:3–5 We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing. Therefore we ourselves boast about you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring. This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering— Thankgiving because the faith in God and love for each other is growing.
2 Thessalonians 1:11–12 To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ. That God would grow them in their faith and in good works. That their spiritual fruit would glorify God.
2 Thessalonians 2:16–17 Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word. That they would be comforted and strengthened in their walk.
2 Thessalonians 3:1–5 Finally, brethren, pray for us that the word of the Lord will spread rapidly and be glorified, just as it did also with you; and that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men. For not all have faith. But the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one. And we have confidence in the Lord about you, that you are doing and will do the things that we command. May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ. For the Gospel to spread quickly, God to be glorified, deliverance from wicked men who were stifling their efforts, for direction and steadfastness.
2 Thessalonians 3:16 Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in every way. The Lord be with you all. For peace from God.
1 Timothy 1:12 I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, Thanksgiving to God.
1 Timothy 2:1–3 First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, 2 for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, Pray for government and leaders, for saints to live quiet and dignified lives to please God.
2 Timothy 1:3–7 I thank God whom I serve, as did my ancestors, with a clear conscience, as I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day. As I remember your tears, I long to see you, that I may be filled with joy. I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well. For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. Thanksgiving, thoughtful affection for a brother in the Lord. That they would be reunited to labor for the kingdom together again one day.
2 Timothy 1:16–18 May the Lord grant mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, for he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains, but when he arrived in Rome he searched for me earnestly and found me— may the Lord grant him to find mercy from the Lord on that Day!—and you well know all the service he rendered at Ephesus. Mercy (and approval) for Paul’s friend and supporter when the he stands before the Lord one day because of his faithfulness and loyalty.
2 Timothy 4:22 The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you. God be with you.
Titus 3:15 All who are with me send greetings to you. Greet those who love us in the faith. Grace be with you all. God’s grace.
Philemon 4–7 I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers,  because I hear of your love and of the faith that you have toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints, and I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ. For I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you. Thanksgiving for the faith and love they have for Christ and others. That their witness would be effective for Christ.
Philemon 25 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. God’s grace.

4 Ways to Leverage “Social Distancing”

COVID-19 has changed the way we can “do church” for the foreseeable future, but that doesn’t mean pastors, leaders, and people can’t stay connected.

While some Christian leaders may get sucked into the vortex of social revolution or cavalier rebellion, Romans 13:1 reminds us to be law-abiding citizens by respecting governing authorities. This means that instead of reacting with anger or indifference, we bring the most glory to God by leveraging the situation for the gospel and the church; making the best of opportunities afforded to us.

Here are 4 ways that church leaders can leverage “social distancing.”

1. Go “LIVE” on Facebook, YouTube, or Instagram
I am not certain we fully realize how powerful social media can be for the gospel. Hundreds of millions of people are at the tip of our fingertips on any given day, and content stays out there indefinitely. If you’ve never gone “LIVE” on social media to connect with people, now is perfect to learn how. There is no limit to how much preaching and teaching you can do. While COVID-19 can contain us, it cannot contain God’s word. Unleash sermons by using the “LIVE” feature on social media sites and get people together in real-time. Certain platforms like Facebook have comment sections that allow your team to interact with views during the message. Lastly, if you’re a small group leader, consider shifting to a “LIVE” model or another video platform to keep your group connected.

2. Produce that discipleship content you’ve been meaning to get to
Most church leaders I interact with have more ideas than they have time to implement them. With quarantines changing the way leaders spend and manage their time, now is the perfect opportunity to create content that will bless people now and in the years to come. Great leaders don’t wait for work, they create work! Be a self-starter and think of what could bless the people you serve in creative (long-term) ways. Short videos on giving, serving, evangelism, doctrine, marriage, parenting, and trials are all a fitting place to start. I genuinely believe that a church can still grow in times like these. The question is, will you keep coming up with excuses not to create content? 

3. Send personal, hand-written notes
This may not seem innovative or cutting-edge, but it is. Very few leaders do this anymore and even few would think of it unless “social distancing” forced us apart. People are so used to email, social media posts, and text messages that they might burst into tears after reading a note from their pastor. I’ve seen this happen before! In fact, just yesterday I received a hand-written note from another pastor in East LA. It was one of the highlights of my day! During the COVID-19 outbreak, most of us will e-communicate as much as possible, and that’s a loving thing to do for our neighbors. However, mixing in a personal touch (minus the touching) could speak volumes to people in need of personal and loving interaction. So, wash your hands, use stick-on stamps only, seal the envelop w/ glue or a sticker too, spray it all with Lysol (twice!), and send some love to those who need to know you care.

4. Start a Facebook support group
One of the best ways to share and meet needs during this season of social-distancing is to start a support group for your church or small group. This also helps work around Facebook algorithms which aren’t always promotion-friendly to religious organizations trying to reach an audience. Groups reach the newsfeed of participants much more than other posts on FB that don’t relate to a special group — especially from religious sources. Group interaction allows pastors, leaders, and people to share prayer requests, ask questions, and delegate needs and resources as needed. Best of all, you can use #1 here too and go “LIVE” specifically to address the group with important updates.

Perhaps COVID-19 will trigger new ways of thinking and a new perspective when it comes to using media to equip Christians (Ephesians 4:11-12). Or, perhaps it will remind us all how powerful a simple hand-written note can be for a lonely Christian wondering if anyone has thought of them.

Why not use this season of change to see what you can change? Who knows. You might even keep using some of these helpful tools after the virus has passed.

The Prosperity Gospel’s Slam-Dunk Verse?

Prosperity-gospel preachers are notorious for taking Scripture out of context and misapplying it. The passages they twist are primarily used as proof-texts to back up their claim that God’s will for every Christian is that they be rich, rich, rich! They promise that with enough faith (and a big enough offering), you can hit the divine jackpot. It all seems too good to be true; and on this side of heaven, many would argue it is.

But are they completely wrong? Could it be that there is one “slam dunk” passage that gives credence to their health-and-wealth scheme? If so, it’s undoubtedly 2 Corinthians 8:9, where Paul declares:

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.

There it is! Jesus became “poor” so you could become “rich”! Time to cash in, right? Not so fast. As with all sound interpretation, we must begin by looking at the context.

Beautiful Picture of Generous Grace

To overlook the beautiful picture that Paul is painting in this chapter is to miss his entire point. Writing to the church about generosity, Paul emphasizes God’s grace as a model for our giving, not as a lottery ticket for riches. Nothing about this passage focuses on what we can get, but rather, on what we can give. And what should motivate us to give generously and care for others? God’s grace.

Writing to the church about generosity, Paul emphasizes the grace of God as a model for our giving, not as a lottery ticket for riches.

Look at some of the key phrases in the verses leading up to our passage in question:

8:1 — “We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God

8:2 — “. . . overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part”

8:4 — “. . . for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints

8:6 — “. . . this act of grace

8:7 — “But as you excel in everything . . . see that you excel in this act of grace also”

8:8 — “. . . your love is also genuine”

8:9 — “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ

When we let the text do the talking this isn’t a “get rich” strategy, but a call for sacrificial generosity like the “churches of Macedonia” (8:1), who gave generously even when living in poverty (8:2). Did Paul declare them healthy and wealthy because they filled the offering buckets? Not in the least. Instead, he praised them for modeling the true heart of Christian giving: non-transactional love for others and a desire to see the church cared for.

Using Jesus as the original model for sacrifice, this passage calls us to remember how generous God has been with us, and to do likewise.

When we let the text do the talking this is not a ‘get rich’ strategy, but a call for sacrificial, unconditional generosity.

Christ came to earth, left his seat at the right hand of God’s throne, humbled himself by taking on flesh, and gave himself as a ransom for broken sinners (John 1:1; Phil. 2:7–8; 1 Tim. 2:5–6). He possessed heaven’s riches and celestial glories this world has never seen, yet he came to earth, became poor both spiritually and physically in comparison to his eternal dwelling place, in order to die to die for undeserving sinners like us. Because of him, we who are in Christ have been blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places (Eph. 1:3), and we now possess an eternally abundant life (John 10:10).

Regardless of how much (or little) you have in the bank right now, your net worth on earth is temporary, but your true riches in heaven are eternal because of Jesus. What could be more generous than that?

Putting God’s Generous Grace into Practice

Understanding a passage is one thing; living it is another. Here are three key principles you can begin putting into practice today.

1. Commit to giving generously regardless of your financial situation.

The Macedonians were poor, yet they were “begging” to help in the “relief of the saints” (8:4). It could be one dollar or it could be a million, but if we’re not giving, we should start somewhere today. God isn’t interested in amounts; he’s after your heart.

Are you clinging tightly to what he’s given you? Do you sometimes forget that he has blessed you to be a blessing to others? Maybe it’s time to start following the example of the Macedonians and, ultimately, of the Messiah.

2. Consider giving as a means of God’s grace.

It can feel loathsome to give, but Christians are called to see it as a privilege. When you give to others, God is literally pouring out his grace on their life through you. Is there any other purpose for which we live than to be God-glorifying conduits of his grace?

Remember, wealth is not a sin; it’s a responsibility. Handle with care.

3. Carefully examine where you’re giving what God has given you.

Jesus said, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt. 6:21). Simply put, it matters where your money goes—and that includes what ministries you give to. God owns all. We’re simply managers of what he’s entrusted us.

Show me where you spend your paychecks, and I’ll show you your priorities. Does your giving reflect God’s will? Do you partner with trusted and proven ministries? Are the priorities of family care, needy souls, the poor, and missional efforts easy to see on your bank statements? Is materialism in check?

Remember, wealth is not a sin; it’s a responsibility. Handle with care.

Final Word

Absolutely nothing about 2 Corinthians 8:9 and the surrounding context teaches or affirms the prosperity gospel. If anything, one could argue that this passage would demand prosperity preachers empty their coffers and follow Christ’s example—generously becoming “poor” so that others could become “rich.”

Surely, if even the impoverished Macedonians could eagerly care for others as a means of God’s grace, we all can as well.

***This article was originally published on March 9th, 2020 as a part of TGC’s “Read the Bible in a Year” initiative. 

Signs of Christian Maturity

Some of the most important questions that arise in a Christian’s mind will (and should) have to do with spiritual maturity.

Am I growing? How am I growing? Is “maturity” evident in my life? Have I been consistently (even if slowly) become more like Jesus?

The Bible repeatedly teaches that Christians are supposed to be maturing in many ways — all of which enable us to bring glory to God and fulfill our purpose on earth (Ephesians 2:8-10). In other words, “cruise control” Christianity is not genuine Christianity. Salvation is not merely eternal life insurance. Salvation is not a get-rich, get-healed, get-famous formula either. Scripture teaches that once we are saved, Christians are to be imitating Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1), loving others like Christ (1 John 4:7), giving themselves up like Christ (Ephesians 5:1-2), keeping the commandments of Christ (John 14:15), growing in holiness like Christ (1 Peter 1:16), and even suffering like Christ (1 Peter 2:21).

The question begs: By the grace of God are you seeing signs of Christian maturity in your life?

Here are four signs that can help you make a prayerful assessment:

1. You see trials as training
This one is not fun. But since when is growth ever painless? In the gym, athletes hire trainers who “make them sore,” push their limits and provide resistance so they grow stronger. So it is in the Christian life when it comes to trials.

A mature Christian has natural feelings just like anyone else, but those feelings follow faith — they don’t lead it.

Do you see trials as cosmic abuse? Do you shake your fist at God; demanding He does what you are commanding? Have you come to rest in His sovereignty even when your life takes an unexpected turn into trial and suffering? Romans 5:3-5 reminds us to “rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”

For the Christian, trials equal training.

2. You pray with a wide perspective
Prayer can be a sensitive subject for many Christians because they view it as personal and outside of anyone else’s opinion. It’s my prayer life.
However, we must sober up to the reality that God’s divine opinion matters when it comes to your prayer life. Your prayer life is also a significant indicator of maturity. For example, our physical and emotional needs are incredibly important to God (Matthews 6:25-34; 2 Corinthians 12:7-9; 1 Peter 5:7), but there is so much more to prayer than simply asking God to do everything we want.

I recently completed a study on forty-one prayers or statements of prayer by the apostle Paul in an effort to see the kind of prayer life he fostered. It was eye-opening to see how most of his written prayers were focused on the salvation of souls, freedom from sin, open doors for the gospel, Christ-centered peace, joy in trials, and thanksgiving to God for all that He was doing in the hearts of believers (2 Corinthians 13:7-9; Ephesians 1:15-23, 3:14-21; Colossians 4:2-4; 1 Thessalonians 1:2-3; Philemon 4-7).

Does your prayer life resemble Paul’s? Do you adore God in prayer like David repeatedly extols Him in the Psalms? Are you actively surrendering your will to His as Jesus did on the way to the cross?

Yes, pray for physical and emotional needs. But, seek a wider perspective than your own temporal needs.

3. You respond to rebuke with receptivity
When people play offense, we have a tendency to play defense. It is innate. It can also be a sign of spiritual immaturity.

Maturity is the antidote to the type of pride that always assumes it is right and reacts to being called out on sin. Proverbs offers convicting insight asking, “Do you see a man who is wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him” (Proverbs 26:12).

Sometimes our immaturity rears its ugly head when we react defensively (and even aggressively) to someone lovingly pointing out our need for repentance.

Do you freely admit that you very likely could be the problem in some scenarios? Are you open to others shining the light of truth on your darkened blind spots? Christian maturity reflects the heart of Psalm 51:17 with the kind of brokenness and contrite response that “the Lord will not despise.”

4. Habitual sins are fading
Nobody is called to perfection, but every Christian is called to progression. The plain truth is, putting off the old self and being renewed by the Holy Spirit is going to transform you (Ephesians 4:22-24). Even if it seems agonizingly slow sometimes.

By the grace of God, certain sins like unbelief, addiction, or hatred may be shattered upon conversion, while the habitual cycle of other sins may fade over time as you saturated your mind with God’s word (Romans 12:2; Colossians 3:16). The Lord may use counseling, accountability, preaching, and prayer as a means of grace by which certain nagging sins get addressed. When it comes to sin and temptation, God always provides a way of escape (1 Corinthians 10:13), and a Christian is — without question — implored to work out their salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12). All the while, a mature Christian trusts in the power of grace that is greater than all sin, knowing that it is “God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13).

Are you confessing sin (1 John 1:9)? Do you see a pattern of holiness growing in your life and the flippant, habitual practice of sin decreasing (1 Peter 1:14-16; 1 John 3:6)?

As you strive by grace to grow in your faith, be encouraged by Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 15:10:

“But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain…”

Video: Pastoral Response to #WakeUpOlive (Bethel’s Dead-Raising Charade)

After an immense amount of feedback poured in regarding Bethel Church’s attempt at raising a two-year old little girl from the dead, it became clear that a pastoral response would help provide clarity for many confused people.

The sweet little girl who died is named Olive. She is the daughter of two major leaders involved with Bethel Music. The fog of confusion only intensified when Kari Jobe and other mainstream radio artists began to claim that their “Jesus” guaranteed that the dead would be raised, and others commanded God to do what Jesus’ death paid for. Namely, that He produce “guaranteed” signs and wonders, and in this case, a resurrected little girl.

This theological viewpoint on raising the dead stems from their belief that when Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live…” (John 11:25), that He meant we could raise someone from the dead “in Jesus’ name,” under the guarantee that Jesus said He was “the resurrection.” Unfortunately, those who hold this view have been poorly taught and severely misguided; missing the eternal resurrection that Jesus was referring to. All of this only multiples the heart-breaking reality surrounding this situation.

In the end, our concern is for the hearts of people involved, and the wave of confusion this sort of misguided effort causes. Scripture is clear about our supernatural God! I personally believe that we should pray for miracles, but this sort of circus is not how the scene looked surrounding the tomb of Lazarus or how God has called us to pray for the miraculous to occur. Most of all, if someone claims to wield supernatural gifts (as the leaders of Bethel do), then why not simple go the morgue and command her to raise from the dead? Further, why not do that for the other dead people in the morgue?

To shed further light on this issue and provide biblical truths in contrast to the confusion propagated by Bethel, we filmed this 25-minute video for you:

6 Ways to Stifle Your Small Group

Small groups can be an incredible blessing, but they are not fail-proof. At times, churches “sell” small group involvement as the secret sauce to a thriving spiritual life; overflowing with friendships and community that fills hearts and saves marriages!

Don’t get me wrong. I love small groups. For six years I had the privilege of overseeing the small group ministry in our church and some of the most incredible testimonies came from small group participants. They are an excellent vehicle for discipleship.

Still, even when the bible is present and optimism is high, there are several ways to do the right thing the wrong way. Small groups are no exception.

Here are six ways you (or someone in your group) could be stifling the abundant potential waiting to be unlocked through your small group:

1. Say, “Here is what this passage means to me, what does it mean to you?”
This language stifles because it bypasses the very foundation of healthy small groups. Namely, the faithful interpretation of the bible based on the biblical author’s intent and the context a given passage is set in. Far too often, small group leaders share what a passage means “to them,” then they ask what it means, “to you.” After the circle of participants has fired off with their best take, one might think they were aiming at a moving target.

The truth is, those who do this are likely getting application and interpretation confused. The solution? First ask, “What does this passage mean. To the original audience. In proper context. Period.” Then ask, “How can I apply this to my life as someone living in the 21st century.” Over time, you’ll find personal opinions being outshone by God’s will through His word.

2. Let the single-issue-crusaders and dominant speakers run wild
Single-issue-crusaders are the people who always seem to veer the conversation into the same “pet topic” that they are passionate about. I’ve seen crusaders drive well-meaning small group attendees right out of a group and into a different church because they went unchecked; ruining deep discussions by constantly bringing up politics, personal drama, or spewing unvetted opinions about the same issue over and over. These passionate individuals have value, but they rarely achieve their full potential if allowed to go unchecked.

Dominant speakers can be a leader’s greatest asset. They talk when few are willing, their example encourages others to be open and honest, and they usually offer helpful wisdom. However, when they speak too much, it can stifle the entire group. It may be one of the hardest conversations you have in small group life, but single-issue-crusaders and dominant speakers need loving correction for the health of the whole.

3. Don’t show them how you came to understand a biblical truth
If you want to stifle a small group, keep all your bible study wisdom, interpretation tools, and trusted processes to yourself. That way, your group will depend on you like needy children and develop an attachment to you; requiring that you always be their feeder and leader. This will make you feel very important; fueling your ego as the “anointed source” of wisdom and leadership for the group.

What’s more? It will be a mask for your insecurity, inability to raise up others, and ultimately lead to your demise as a leader. Quite possibly, it could prove you were never a real leader in the first place.

Nobody benefits from this!

Set your group on fire by showing them how you’ve grown, how you’ve studied, and how you’ve learned to apply God’s word and live it out. Ask them questions. Lead them to helpful resources, buy them books, and send them articles. Help them cross reference, root out theological themes in a text, identify key phrases and terms, and apply it all to their own life. They aren’t “yours.” They are God’s. Steward them well and emulate Paul’s instructions to Timothy when he commanded, “You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:1-2).

4. Undermine church leadership by teaching contradictory doctrinal views
Small groups can be sweet, but can quickly turn sour when leaders begin using their influence like Absalom did (2 Samuel 13-19). David’s son became infamous for his scandalous attempt to undermine his father’s throne. Under the deceitful veneer of being a good listener and a leader the people could trust, Absalom paid the ultimate price for his sinful pride.

The moral of this story is not that you will be slain if you undermine your church leaders (that’s a ridiculous scare-tactic some false teachers use!).

However, the lessons in the story about unity and integrity can still apply to us today.

As a leader who has been allowed to steward people, be loyal to qualified leaders and be sensitive to how God views discord (Proverbs 6:16:19). Small group leaders should be unified in doctrine and unified in practice with their church leaders; holding to the statement of faith that their church abides by. If you feel tempted to contradict, or you suddenly disagree with the church’s doctrinal convictions, don’t divide or sow discord amongst your small group. Leave humbly. Your reputation will follow you to the next church.

5. Be closed-minded and abrasive towards adding new people to the group
Closing groups or limiting their capacity is advisable in certain scenarios. Homes and locations are not limitless when it comes to space, and everyone can agree that consistency and trust can occur more rapidly if a small group is not a revolving door of flaky participants; jolting the groups dynamic with each sporadic entrance (or exit).

However, the “frozen chosen” mentality is deadly for group health, and more importantly, church health. This mentality sees new people as a threat, and expanding the reach of the group is seen as detrimental to comfort and familiarity. For groups like this, the idea that a new person or couple would disrupt the tight-knit group dynamic takes precedence over the command we have to make disciples (Matthew 28:16-20).

You don’t have to invite the entire neighborhood or make it hard to find seating in your home, but every believer should ask, “How can we give others the kind of community we’re experiencing?”

6. Resist the idea of “commissioning” potential leaders to start new groups
This final item on the list closely parallels #5 but focuses on stifling leadership development. Similar to being unwilling to invest in new people, a leader who refuses to release mature people will stifle group health and missional effectiveness. Some argue that small groups should endlessly divide and conquer; splitting in half at every turn and adding new people into those split groups. Others suggests different methods and argue that dividing groups is nonsensical. Whatever you choose as a method, the mindset must be the same. Commissioning new leaders to “strike out” and start new groups is a healthy way to duplicate and be faithful to the Great Commission.

Small groups don’t exist to merely give people a safe space, baked goods, and bible study. They exist to duplicate! If stewarded effectively, small groups should be reproducing mature, stable, honest, authentic, passionate, servant-leading disciples who in turn begin to lead others where they have been led.

When centered on faithfulness, unity, and the word of God, small groups can be a thriving vehicle for making disciples and deploying a new generation of leaders for the glory of God.