Spirit of the AgeThe “world” is a spirit or a force that opposes, attacks, and outright rejects the Spirit of Christ. Don’t be fooled by the spirit of this present age, it’s not good. In fact, Scripture teaches that the spirit of the world is antichrist: “Every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world” (1 John 4:3).

When a society becomes addicted to comfort and consumed by wealth, it enters into a state of self-indulgence where its citizens are overcome with the spirit of the world: pride, lust, greed, vanity, violence and the likes. The current condition of America affirms the truth of Jesus’ words, “It’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God” (Mark 10:25).

When feeding the flesh becomes the primary ambition of a given society, individualism replaces any real sense of community. In this state, God is essentially forgotten. This is what’s happening in America right now.

Our corporate conscience is seared. We are desensitized. Nothing’s shocking. Bloodshed doesn’t faze us. We live with a sense of entitlement. We don’t believe in boundaries. Nothing’s off limits. We demand privilege. We fight over politics as if we can legislate righteousness. We offer shallow condolences and “prayers” in light of tragedies like the recent mass shooting in Las Vegas, the worst in our nation’s history, yet after a few days life goes on as usual.

We have everything we need; we actually have a lot more than we need. In our attempts to gain the world I’m afraid we’re losing our soul (Matthew 16:26). Evidence of this is an increasing lack of satisfaction. We medicate our emptiness with drugs, alcohol, porn, shopping, gambling, sex, cutting, overeating, television, video games, work, and various other addictive behaviors. Looking for fulfillment, we become ever more empty. Some end up so empty that their last resort is sitting in a hotel room with an automatic machine gun opening fire on people before taking their own life.

In all of our alleged enlightenment, the fabric of American society is being stripped away. The spirit of the world is deceiving the masses. Our insensitivity to sin and unwillingness to confront it has left us near reprobate. We believe if we pass the right laws that “love” will become the chief expression of the human heart. We think we can end systemic evil with never-ending conversations about human rights. We believe fighting for social justice will bring real change in people’s hearts. We’re delusional.

It’s impossible to legislate depravity. Sin is the condition of the human heart, and it’s a spiritual condition. Outside of leading people to a personal life-transforming relationship with Jesus, there is no hope. No amount of dialogue, reasoning, legislation, protesting, or social justice will ever eradicate the sin that feeds on the spirit of this present age. That’s not to say we shouldn’t be involved in these things, it’s only to point out that they don’t offer a solution to the sin problem.

There’s only one answer, and we don’t like to talk about Him very much anymore. In fact, we’ve all but kicked Him out of the country. We’ve disguised self-righteousness with political correctness and made it near impossible to invoke the name of Jesus in the public square.

Conservatives think if they create wealth and economic growth then everyone will be happy because money makes people happy, right? Wrong. Liberals live under the illusion of legislating a sense of equality because passing the right laws will erase the lines that divide us and bring peace, right? Wrong. Neither of these imaginary utopias can remedy the problems of our nation.

In fact, the current Republican Party is so far removed from conservative values that many have labeled them the “new liberals.” And the Democrats are nothing more than social elitists who don’t even speak the language of common people anymore. They’re socialists at best and communists at worst.

Without a deep sense of repentance all of our marching, protesting, propagating, tweeting, posting, politicizing, and debating is waste of time. We can create imaginary enemies all day long, but the real enemy isn’t flesh and blood. Remember, Lucifer was also a social justice warrior fighting for his rights in the heavenlies.

The power of the Kingdom comes in the form of a person. Yet, in America, we’re forced to pray publically without citing His name. Even in times of tragedy, we play the political-correct card because we don’t want to upset those who practice other religions. Think about that, we claim to worship the One who is the way, the truth, and the life, yet we’re afraid to invoke His name in the presence of those who bow down to idols, demons, and false gods.

As long as the spirit of this present age continues to gain ground our words, condolences, and prayers mean nothing. If they aren’t directed to the One who holds the keys to life then they’re vanishing in the air as soon as they leave our lips. We know the truth, yet because of the hostility of this age, we’re afraid to speak.

Beyond the social and political spheres, the spirit of antichrist has also invaded the ranks of the church. By and large, the progressives within the church align with the liberal political agenda of the day and call it the gospel, and the conservatives do the same with the Republican platform. No political party will ever change the spiritual climate of this nation, that’s the church’s job.

Revival is our only hope: A Great Awakening. An authentic move of the Holy Spirit is the only thing that’s going to heal our land. Until we become courageous enough to look the world in the face and proclaim: “Jesus is the only way, the only truth, and the only life, and nothing changes until we turn back to Him,” our dilemma will only worsen.

Make no mistake, the spirit of the age steers the ship that is the United States of America. Revival is the only hope for a better tomorrow. Let’s unite, humble ourselves, and pray for the Lord of all Creation to heal our land.

“If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14).

prodigalDialogue is important. It’s healthy to discuss issues, express convictions, and voice opinions prayerfully. However, when dialogue leads to continually questioning biblical truth it becomes problematic. The reason for this is there are certain teachings that are so central to Christian faith and practice that there’s no need to debate them. In fact, we shouldn’t debate them according to scripture.

The biblical expression for those who keep debating sound biblical doctrine is “morbid questioning.” This phrase appears in the New Testament as a sign of false teaching infiltrating the church (1 Tim. 6:4; 2 Tim. 2:23). There are several passages, but 1 Timothy 1:3-11 illustrates this point well. These verses provide a list of “strange teachings” that directly oppose sound biblical doctrine concerning a right relationship with God.

The list in 1 Timothy 1 includes lawlessness, rebelliousness, ungodliness, sinners (e.g. justification of willful and habitual sin), the unholy and profane, killing of fathers or mothers (e.g. hatred and rejection of authorities), murderers (e.g. hatred of our brothers/sisters), sexually immoral, practicing homosexuals, kidnappers (e.g. the basis of the slave trade), liars (e.g. those who intentionally deceive) and perjurers (e.g. those who distort the truth).

What I have experienced among people who want to “dialogue” is it usually means they want to spend time specifically debating the things 1 Timothy 1:3-11 says not to debate, or even question for that matter. You don’t have to spend much time in certain online “discussion groups” to find ordained pastors debating these very issues. Essentially, it’s an endeavor that undermines scriptural authority. This should concern us, especially when it’s allowed to continue without accountability.

The church needs to lovingly stand firm on these biblical issues. We should absolutely refuse to allow cultural shifts and human reasoning to sway us in our doctrinal positions. Sound biblical doctrine is not up for debate; it never has been and it never will be for those who are sincere about following Jesus.

“Love” is the very thing we keep hearing will be gained through this ongoing dialogue. The irony is 1 Timothy 1:5-6 teaches that “love” is what we lose when we compromise sound doctrine. In fact, minimalizing the effects of sin is the most unloving thing we could ever do. According to 1 Timothy 1, minimalizing sin reduces one’s ability to grasp the fact that God is our only source of hope and deliverance.

The following is a true story that gives us a glimpse into the far-reaching consequences of the ongoing debate of sound doctrine and biblical truth.


A True Story

In January 2016 Crossroads Tabernacle in Fort Worth, TX began praying for prodigals to return to faith in Christ. Much to their surprise, within a few weeks of focusing specifically on prodigals, a young man walked into the church that hadn’t been seen in years. Unfortunately, he was in very bad shape. He was mentally unstable, drug addicted, HIV positive, and desperately lost.

The good news is that in a very short time God rescued this young man, delivered him from his sin and shame, set him free from his addictions, restored him to his right mind, and healed his body. Today, he is pursuing a call to full-time ministry. Pastor Corey Jones and the people of Crossroads Tabernacle celebrate the miracle that God has performed in this young man’s life.

In October 2016 at The Awakening: A National Prayer Conference, Pastor Corey shared his church’s burden for prodigals and invited others to come forward and pray for their lost loved ones. More than 800 came forward out of the over 1,000 in attendance. Over the next three days, people wrote the names of their lost loved ones on a canvass portrait representing prodigal children that had abandoned the Christian faith.

Since the conference, the prodigal portrait has had numerous names added by people all over the nation. Beyond the sadness of the many names covering the portrait, an even more painful truth is that a large percentage of these prodigals are pastor’s kids. We’ve discovered that we are literally fighting for the sons and daughters of countless pastors, evangelists, and leaders in the Church of the Nazarene and beyond. While this reality is sad enough, the consequences are even more profound.

Most of these prodigals aren’t simply struggling with their faith; they’ve completely abandoned it. In the last few years, Pastor Corey has kept a written record of these pastors and their lost children so he could pray more specifically. Of the pastors who have openly shared, the majority goes on to explain the nature of their kid’s choices after walking away from their faith. Specifically, large percentages of these prodigals currently profess to be atheists and/or practicing homosexuals, and the list continues to grow.

You can imagine the heartache of these pastors. Many have shared that they feel demoralized, defeated, and are contemplating leaving ministry altogether. One pastor indicated that every time he preaches he feels the taunts of the enemy harassing him and telling him that the gospel he preaches has no power to save even his own kids. Most of these ministers have no idea that this same attack is affecting so many other pastors and their families.

It’s actually even more disturbing. Another aspect of this battle is that a large percentage of these pastor’s kids had a call on their life to full-time ministry before turning away. In fact, when the data is compiled we’ve discovered that many of them attended one of our Nazarene universities to prepare for ministry. One pastor shared that his son, who went to a Nazarene school to be a pastor and is now an atheist, won’t allow him to mention Jesus’ name in his home.

This is not an attempt to place blame on anyone; it’s simply an effort to demonstrate that this isn’t a random obscure occurrence. Rather, it is more systemic and systematic than we realize, revealing a calculated scheme of the enemy against the church.

Why share this so publicly? Several reasons: (1) To let pastors know they’re not alone in the battle; (2) To call the church to pray for a revival that reaches the hearts of prodigals and restores them to faith; (3) To identify the schemes of Satan to destroy a generation; (4) To call for accountability for the “strange teachings” in our pulpits and universities; (5) To offer hope to all who are praying for their children to return to faith in Christ.

Over the past few years numerous prodigals, who had once abandoned the faith, have been restored to a vibrant relationship with Jesus Christ! There are also a growing number of people who walked away from the faith and identified as homosexual, who are now testifying to experiencing complete deliverance through an encounter with the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.

In Isaiah 49 there is a promise that many of us are claiming as we pray for prodigals. We invite you to join us in this battle: “Can plunder be taken from warriors, or captives be rescued from the fierce? But this is what the LORD says: ‘Yes, captives will be taken from warriors, and plunder retrieved from the fierce; I will contend with those who contend with you, and your children I will save’” (Isaiah 49:24-25).

We are contending against a culture of “morbid questioning” and the Lord is contending with us! Strange teachings are causing our children to turn away from the faith and be taken captive by idle talk and continual debate (1 Timothy 1). We live in an age that believes nothing is settled and truth is relative. Nonetheless, we rejoice in the midst of this unbelieving generation over the fact that God is still calling prodigals home.


(Sources: Pastor Corey Jones of Crossroads Tabernacle, used with permission; 1WordSword Blog, adapted with permission)

 

Remember the methodists

The call to pastoral ministry is often depicted with the metaphor of “Shepherd and Sheep.” The shepherd is one who leads, serves, and protects the flock. In every church I’ve pastored I have taken that call very seriously. I stress the word “protect” as it relates to the shepherd’s staff. The staff was used to ward off predators and get the sheep out of precarious situations.

Since coming into the role of District Pastor (Superintendent) there have been times when I’ve been very vocal about what I perceive as “dangers” lurking in the shadows. No differently than I would have confronted those dangers in the local church, I’ve confronted them as they’ve influenced the network of churches that I’ve been called to serve. I suppose it’s my shepherd’s reflex responding to what I identify as threats.

My concerns have largely been informed by recent developments in the United Methodist Church. Many people are heartbroken over the harm caused by the lack of accountability among their clergy. The unfaithfulness of some UMC pastors and bishops has caused damage that will be difficult to ever repair, which is why groups like the Wesleyan Covenant Association have been established. I am encouraged by such alliances. Revival is breaking out in many pockets of the UMC because of the faithfulness of a few. All it takes is a remnant.

In the midst of my efforts to “protect the flock,” God recently reminded me that He doesn’t need me to defend Him. He’s shown me that making a statement and arguing a point are two very different things. So, while I’m not going to stop speaking (I’m a preacher for goodness sake), I am going to stop debating as if there’s a fight to win. This battle isn’t against flesh and blood, but against the rulers of this dark world and the forces of evil in the heavenly realms (Eph. 6).

I’ve been very loud at times over these issues. Not debating is difficult for some of us; it’s how we process and learn. However, in the age of social media we lack the relational equity to have difficult conversations without constant offence. Sometimes volume isn’t nearly as effective as simply handling matters in a way that isn’t seen or heard beyond the boundaries of the people we’ve been called to serve. Nonetheless, in my opinion, a higher level of accountability is needed across the board.

Accountability for ordained ministers has been a topic frequently discussed as it relates to these issues. Ordination has traditionally been understood as a sacrament (i.e. “Holy Orders”). That means the covenants taken by ordained and licensed members of clergy matter greatly. Remaining faithful and striving for unity is a big part of the job for those who’ve been entrusted to serve the church.

When I think of ordained ministry, and especially the call to preach, I’m reminded of the sacred charge that many of us carry. Think about it, preaching is a form of public speaking unlike any other. The preacher is one who has answered a divine call to proclaim eternal truths from God’s Word to a gathered group of listeners. There are serious implications involved with preaching; we are liable for shaping people’s lives with our words. The words we speak foster an ongoing Christian worldview among those we shepherd. This is an amazing honor, but an even greater responsibility.

With unorthodox teachings increasing in popularity they’re becoming more commonplace among pastors and leaders in every denomination. These issues are infiltrating our university classrooms, making their way into our pulpits, and taking center stage in many forums (remember the Methodists). Personally, I think we should put a stop to it. Every member of clergy should be accountable to the covenants they’ve made a promise to support. If they can’t they should surrender their credentials; it’s not difficult.

Some people believe I’m overreacting. Again I say, “Remember the Methodists.” We’d be naïve to think it couldn’t happen to us. Of course I realize that nothing will ever destroy the Church; the gates of hell won’t prevail against Her (Matt 16:18). However, that doesn’t mean there won’t be a great price to pay if we’re not faithful with what we’ve been entrusted to steward.

Most of the conversations that I’ve engaged pertaining to biblical unorthodoxy are with faithful pastors who feel extremely misrepresented. These pastors aren’t looking for a fight; they’re just serving faithfully and bearing fruit. Yet many are struggling with spending the rest of their life at odds with the people they’re supposed to be partnering with to advance the cause of Christ. I’ve spent hours explaining “why” the unfaithful among us aren’t held to a higher level of accountability.

The mission of Jesus is something we should be willing to die for; it’s the difference between life and death. Getting sidetracked with negotiating biblical truths in light of cultural shifts does nothing more than taint the mission of making disciples. Maybe I’m too extreme. One thing I’m certain of, however, the Kingdom means too much to forfeit a single minute debating with unfaithful co-laborers.

Bottom-line: we need a higher level of accountability. Actually, I believe it would lead to greater unity, church growth, and denominational revitalization. Yet, I concede from responding out of “protection mode.” While there are many who share my concerns, I also understand the wisdom of not speaking so loudly.

With all due respect, at times it seems like pastoring has become synonymous with “being a nice person” and “not offending anyone.” Interestingly, that’s not the model of Jesus, the disciples, or the prophets. Pastors are called to represent a Kingdom that’s not of this world, not get in bed with the world. It may be more important that we start taking a stand instead of going with the flow. Remember the Methodists.

stench

Well, it’s that time of year again. I’ll never forget my first February in Kentucky; then last February I noticed the same thing, and now this year. Let’s just say some things never change. What am I talking about you ask? The early spring invasion of SKUNKS!

In their efforts to cross the road these poor animals get hit by passing cars and inevitably leave a smell that, as the old southern expression goes, would knock a buzzard off a gut wagon. I actually have a skunk living in my backyard. When I take the trash out at night I’m always fearful that she’s going to be standing by the garbage can cocked and loaded.

The potency of skunk stench travels a great distance. When I ride over their carcasses on the highway the odor oozes into my car and remains for several miles. The power of a skunk’s particular smell has the capacity to linger in your nostrils for an uncanny amount of time.

My friend, Eddie, once had a pet skunk named, “Pierre” (although it was a girl). He tells me that Pierre was one of the best pets he ever owned. He found her when she was 6-8 weeks old and had the scent glands removed. Pierre was housebroken and trained to walk on a leash. He kept her for two years before getting married. However, his wife-to-be put great pressure on him to find Pierre a new home. Pierre spent the rest of her days entertaining children at elementary schools as part of a traveling zoo.

If you’ve ever viewed a skunk up close (preferably in pictures), you’ll likely agree that they’re adorable little animals. I’ve pondered recently why God would create something that appears so sweet yet give it a scent that will scar you for life. A few days ago that familiar smell seeped into my car once again; as the odor lingered God reminded me of a few things.

Scripture speaks a lot about “smells” and “aromas.” When dealing with unfaithfulness among His people God says, “These people are a stench in my nostrils, an acrid smell that never goes away” (Isaiah 65:5, NLT). The Bible suggests a similar idea in 2 Peter chapter two when the Apostle writes about Believers who turn back to sin as “A dog that returns to his own vomit, and a sow, having washed, to her wallowing in the mire.”

All of us are wonderfully made in the likeness of a loving Creator. Every one of us is a much-loved child of the most caring Father in the entire universe. Yet many of us are like the prodigal son before he realizes his need to return home: We smell like a pigsty. We are beautiful in God’s eyes, yet all of us have the capacity to stink. When we willfully choose to live in sin we produce an aroma that reeks in the nostrils of God.

For many, the smelly aroma comes from their efforts of self-preservation. We’ve learned to function in ongoing protection mode. Like a skunk, we let off an odor when we try to defend ourselves against what we perceive as a threat. Something presses in on our lives and we lash out, lie, cheat, attack another person, think we deserve something we actually don’t, justify our bad behaviors and habits, and the list goes on. In these moments we produce a scent that not only distances us from the Father, it also separates us from the people we love.

My friends, sin is a serious problem. When it goes unchecked it has the capacity to derail our lives in a way that leaves us dead on the inside. Without God, the aroma of death lingers. We’ve all been affected, which means we’ve all smelled like a dead skunk in God’s nostrils at one time or another.

Like Isaiah, our very best efforts are like filthy rags compared to the righteousness of God. In other words, we don’t deserve the goodness and mercy of God because of our stench. We often live in denial of the fact that we have the potential to smell like a skunk carcass lying on the side of the road. Denying the potential to smell like sin means one likely thinks more highly of themselves than they should. This is a dangerous way to live.

At the end of the day we all smell like road kill without Jesus. Paul says in 2 Cor. 2:14-16, “Thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place. For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life…”

Wow! In Christ, we are called to manifest His sweet fragrance everywhere we go. That means the Kingdom of God is touching down everywhere we stand. Now, when I smell a dead skunk I think about the fact that I’m dead to myself, yet alive in Christ. Without Jesus we stink in the nostrils of God, but IN HIM we’re a sweet savor unto the Lord. Let people smell the aroma of Christ being manifested through your life everyday.


(Sources: Eddie Estep)