The Battle For Relevancy

“How much is tradition affecting our mobility?” “Are we carrying old paradigms limiting us in this new era?”. These were the questions that were asked in a recent conversation I was in, I did more of the listening than talking. Finally leaving the comfort of the restaurant in which the discussion was held. I walk toward my car contemplating those questions. It forced me to ask new questions. Are “we” as the church relevant? Are we even supposed to be relevant? Does relevancy play a crucial role in the propagation of the gospel? Realizing it or not, these questions enlisted me on the proverbial battlefield many have fought on: the battle of relevancy.

Before we start I’d like to state that the rest of this post presupposes that you’ve settled core doctrinal tenets. In our defense for truth we can sometime engage in friendly fire, causing spiritual casualties because we become trigger happy. Quick to discredit and destroy someone with genuine questions and concerns because we perceive their questions, as doctrinal retractions. Let’s get this clear. There is no question about the doctrine. Apostolic principles and doctrines will forever maintain their relevance. They transcend culture and time. In fact, that’s what makes them apostolic. I’m not talking about attempting to hide heresy under the disguise of relevancy. In most discussions dealing with relevancy, the central concern is not the message, but methods.

Methods and boundaries act as extensions to apostolic principles. It attempts to take the universal truths of scripture and give them specific cultural application. The issue occurs when we can no longer distinguish the extension from doctrinal truth. Then what once served a purpose, has the possibility to become a hindrance. It is comparable to the serpent that Moses erected to bring healing, but years later brought about idolatry. This occurred because the medium to God became as important as God Himself. The opposite can be just a detrimental. When men with week spiritual eyes attempt to remove traditions not realizing that they’re grasp has extended beyond old boundaries (now current tradition), and into truth. It’s the “Eve syndrome”. Eve touched the fruit before she ate it. The “touch not” was established by the man of God to inhibit the “eat not” settled by the word of God. Adam understood that connection would validate consumption. Those inflicted with the Eve syndrome ignore the fact that boundaries acknowledge that the external touch will affect internal desires, causing relational damage, with God and others. Both the veneration of the serpent and the underplay of boundaries can have enteral impacts.

It has been the uptake of numerous cultural and sub cultural groups that has brought relevancy to the forefront of discussion. Consider that for years culture took time to adjust and change. But now culture is constantly adjusting and perpetually segmenting. Because of the fast growth and diversity of culture, we are forced to adjust our presentation of the Gospel. If we fail to acknowledge cultural variance in age, ethnicity, educational status, and geographical backgrounds, we can see very little results in place where there should be success. Not because of WHAT we communicate, but HOW we communicate. I understand that there must be a sense of individuality when reaching people. But culture is the door in which you walk through to reach and deal with the individual.

So, how do we keep the balance of trying to be culturally relevant yet not lose our identity. The answer might be in the scriptural scenario. Jesus making His way to His greatest triumph has an interaction with Simon the Cyrene. Simon is from a different location but possibly a different race. Simon’s encounter with Jesus would cause him and his family to believe. Jesus impacted someone who was from a different place and race. What allowed Jesus to be relevant and still effective? What made his reach beyond what cultural background affective in someone else’s? The cross. The cross allowed him to pull outside other close to Him. The same will be true for us. The cross will allow us to hold on to doctrinal truths, while adjusting our methods to reach various cultural groups. It’s the ONLY avenue that allows us to love God and others at the same time. The cross allows us to both do whatever necessary to reach people – at the same time doing whatever asked to please God. It is the cross that keeps us suspended beyond the world and its desire while allowing us to reach for those condemned to die.

Paul found this invaluable truth while attempting to find relevancy in the cultures he reached with the Gospel. And He listed the result of his finding to be: I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. The cross allowed Paul to fit their cultural context to transform their spiritual state. He only did this because he was cross centered. The cross adjusted Paul so that God could reach others. Paul became broken to become flexible. God’s love for others will break us.

The battle of relevancy is not fought between liberals and conservatives. Rather, it is fought by saints who conserve the truth handed down by the ages, to bring liberty to the captive. Young minister, your battle is NOT against your elders. As long as your sword is faced the wrong way you will always lose. Rather your battle is for the lost around you and the greatest tool you have in your arsenal is a cross. It is the catalyst to any method you could use. Be relevant but make sure you’ve find a cross to die on before you make adjustments. Make sure your desire to please God and love for the lost has brought you to your conclusion. Only then can we win the war of relevancy.

Dealing With Accusations & Confidence In Ministry: Part 3

Fellow Young Minister,

Last week, we discussed 3 preliminary enemies that we face as the voice of envy, accusation, starts speaking: Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem. Their ultimate goal is paralysis by distraction. But the question is, paralysis of what?

Ministries that aren’t confined to the 1.5-hour slot that many inaccurately refer to as “church”. Nehemiah started pursuing a calling that was going to affect an empire, not a building. It meant distinction, identity and legacy in the eyes of the world at the time. But Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem were men of other nations, detesting the distinction of the Israelites as they purposed to rebuild this wall, so they called in reinforcements. They sent a spy by the name of Shemaiah, the descendant of Delaiah and Mehetabel (Nehemiah 6:10).

His name means “Jehovah has heard”, from the lineages that mean “Jehovah has freed” and “whom God favors” (Strong’s H8098, H1806, H4105).

Shemaiah told Nehemiah to run to the temple because there was a rumor that Nehemiah was going to be assassinated at night. He tried tempting Nehemiah into thinking that the temple was the only place where Jehovah would hear us, free us, and give us His favor. This is the confidence that the adversary tries to ransack. He tries to get us to only commit to ministries that are confined to church service times and not make an impact on our world. This is the ultimate goal of envy – to paralyze the world-changing momentum that God wants to impart to us. The accuser of the brethren begins working behind the scenes in a perversely personal way. He will “play” and smite unfairly and want us to think that the “church building” is the only place to find a sense of security. David did say that help comes FROM the sanctuary, but that does not necessarily mean that help comes WITHIN the sanctuary (Psalm 20:2). In response to the devil “playing” unfairly, we must learn how to pray and fight unfairly in the Spirit, appealing to our superiority through Christ and not the inferiority of our flesh. There are ZERO verses to support the fact that the church is a material building. Jesus has anointed and appointed us to reach our world with an authority to tread on enemies that sting from in front and behind – and NOTHING shall by any means harm us (Luke 10:19). These attacks on our character can manifest from before us or behind us and we must allow the Lord to make us spiritually sharp.

How did Nehemiah become so sharp in the Lord? I believe the secret is in the overview of chapters 1 and 2. Nehemiah began praying, fasting, and weeping in the month of Chisleu, which is Kislev; but the building of the wall did not begin until the month of Nisan, ending 52 days later (Nehemiah 6:15-16). This shows us that Nehemiah purposed in himself to pray, fast, and weep for 4 months while the wall was only rebuilt in less than 2 months. Here’s how I believe the Lord kept Nehemiah. By Nehemiah committing himself to a spiritual and natural work in secret, the Lord preserved Nehemiah in the spiritual and natural in public. Nehemiah prayed, fasted and wept in secret OVER TWICE AS MUCH as he worked with God’s people in public. Could we say the same? If we do not highly prioritize our confidence, integrity, and identity in the Lord like Nehemiah, we gamble with our ability to respond like he did.

Could we say that we privately prayed and fasted OVER twice as long as we have publicly ministered? Our confidence in ministry does not come from how many opportunities we get or don’t get. Our confidence comes from the One who called us out of darkness and into His marvelous light. We ought to not worship at the altar of cultural opportunity, thinking we are validated by what happens in a building. We must find our confidence in Christ and reach our world, as He has called us to.

Fellow Young Minister, I mightily believe in you. Ron is better, by the way. Let us keep praying for one another as we learn how to deal with accusations and confidence in ministry.

Dealing With Accusations & Confidence in Ministry: Part 2

Fellow Young Minister,

Thank you for your welcoming response regarding my previous letter. I wrote to you concerning the challenges we face through envy and accusation as we grow in ministry. These influences are birthed from the kingdom of darkness and are the roots of the spiritual resistance, tempting our passions by challenging our character, that we may become distracted and take our eyes off of God’s mission.

Nehemiah is our prime example.

He distinctly had 3 men oppose him: Sanballat the Horonite, Tobiah the Ammonite, and Geshem the Arab.

In the heat of our character being challenged, we will face these 3 spirits. Remember, their ultimate mission is PARALYSIS BY DISTRACTION!

First is Sanballat, the Horonite. His name means “strength” from the lineage that means “two caves” (Strong’s H5571 & H2773). Through accusation, this spirit tries to remove the vigor and strength we apply towards the vision God has given us. If it is successful, our spiritual vision is left cavernous. Second is Geshem, the Arab. His name means “rain” from the lineage that means “sterility” (Strong’s H1654 & H6152). Through accusation, this spirit tries to discourage us by having us think that God’s blessing in the mission will end up becoming unfruitful, because our character cannot “hold up”. Third is Tobiah, the Ammonite. His name means “Jehovah is good” from the lineage that means “tribal” (Strong’s H2900 & H5983). Through accusation, this spirit tries to dampen our passion with complacency, that we may focus only on the status quo of our own unit. The temptation is that we don’t have the character through Christ to push the envelope.

Be aware. When the letter was sent to Nehemiah after the fourth wave of opposition, the Bible says that only Sanballat and Geshem spoke in the letter. Tobiah is silent, because complacency is almost always a feeling and not a voice.
These three spirits were calling Nehemiah to come out to the plain of Ono (Nehemiah 6:2). Ono was the valley of craftsmen and holds the significance that these spirits want to take us to the place where we are only focusing on our own “craft” and not on the bigger picture of the kingdom of God (Strong’s H207). Their strategy is to paralyze us from growing in leadership because we will begin to question our character and ability to lead others in God’s direction, so we ought to stop trying.

These are critical points of strategy that are operating when accusations come our way. We must recall that the enemy is a spirit, not a person. These spirits may follow us to an altar call, to the platform, to the pew, to our cars, to work, to wherever. We must endure like a good soldier of the Lord Jesus.

The Bible equates our enemy as the accuser of the brethren. So we must learn to not only protect others from falling prey to these pressuring accusations, we must find safety in loving brethren who will speak against these accusations with us. There are prayers that we cannot pray over ourselves, because God wants us to lovingly pray for one another (Ask Paul). We must come to a place where we say, “I am my brother’s keeper!” The adversary knows that we are focused on becoming who God wants us to become, so the wedge he tries to insert is between each other, by having us fall prey to these accusations – either in isolation or cooperation.

I must say, I have another letter for you next week to elaborate on some final matters regarding accusations and confidence in ministry. It took me awhile to just digest Sanballat, Geshem, and Tobiah. But some others come on the scene as well, to compromise our confidence in ministry. Remember, EVERY evil work is at hand. Though we are dealing with demonic wisdom as James would say, God has made us “wiser than our enemies” through His Word (Psalm 119:98).

Dealing With Accusations & Confidence in Ministry: Part 1

Fellow Young Minister,

I spoke to Ron this past weekend. The moment I heard his voice I knew something was disturbing him. He kept on heavily sighing till he cracked, “Man, I don’t know if ministry is for me.” I could feel him covering his own face on the other side of the phone. He proceeded, “I want to please God, and I’m giving it my all, but I feel like people think I’m drawing attention to myself”. He paused, “Some bozo said that I think I’m all that.” Ron wept.

I’m sure there’s not a single honest person in ministry that likes to be accused. Yet, I believe it is one of the most acute ways that our character is challenged. Ron was facing something that I believe we will all face in becoming who God wants us to become: accusation.

Accusations can really cut to the heart because they often seem to slice right into our vulnerabilities. We can say something that was misinterpreted, misunderstood, or miscommunicated – doing it with focus on God’s kingdom, and encounter something called envy. The Bible says “where envying and strife is, there is confusion and EVERY evil work” (James 3:16). Using Strong’s G2205 and G2052 causes the verse to read this way, that “where [rivalry] and [factions are], there is [disturbance and instability] and every evil work”. That is a frightening verse that God has had to remind me of – not SOME evil work – EVERY evil work. Certainly, evil and opposition come against those that give up everything to become who God wants them to become. It’s a spiritual necessity that is supported by the Scriptures over and over again. And I want to share with you something that I discovered about Nehemiah, because though the Scriptures say we effectively overcome evil by doing good and God DELIVERS from evil; it’s not a humanly simple thing (Romans 12:21, Matthew 6:9-13).

Nehemiah was a cupbearer made governor, who got a burden for the people of God and the mission of God. He determined to rebuild Jerusalem’s torn wall, knowing it represented legacy and security for the city of Jerusalem. He set out to do this after being able to enlist builders from the nation, only after enduring the challenges of bringing people together and other socio-economic battles. At this point, the accusations begin. Four times, Nehemiah was pressed to stop his endeavors. While the fifth time, a letter came to him. It stated:

“It is reported among the nations, and Geshem says that you and the Jews plan to rebel; therefore, according to these rumors, you are rebuilding the wall, that you may be their king. 7 And you have also appointed prophets to proclaim concerning you at Jerusalem, saying, ‘There is a king in Judah!’ Now these matters will be reported to the king. So come, therefore, and let us consult together [among the villages in the plain of Ono].”

Nehemiah was accused of trying to make a name for himself, because he had given himself to God’s mission and God’s people. They even said he was appointing a prophetic ministry unto himself to get self-approval.

Nehemiah’s response? He plainly says that these things aren’t so, but invented in the heart of the enemy in order to make God’s people AFRAID and DISTRACTED (Nehemiah 6:8-9). Many times, in pursuit of God and His kingdom, the adversary will try to distract us with the fact that we may be making others feel uncomfortable because of our pursuit in God. The adversary knows we love people and have a burden for God’s kingdom; so he tries to use our passionate sincerity against us in order to halt our hunger. We are reminded that Peter possibly faced the same thing when he got out of the boat in Matthew 14. Jesus NEVER singles Peter out to be the only one to step out of the boat, yet only Peter responds.

Why does God allow this? Because for different areas of His kingdom, God establishes precedent through those who are wired for leadership. So, how do we know if we are wired for leadership?

Well. Do we feel the pull to establish a precedent?

It is through this PULL to establish a precedent that we will face opposition. Two forces that oppose those hungry to establish a precedent are accusation and envy. Accusation is the voice of envy and if we do not have a revelation of our IDENTITY and INTEGRITY in Christ, we will look at ourselves in the mirror of torment, over whether or not we fit the description that we are being accused with. Accusations come from the adversary, correction comes from the Lord and His appointed, anointed leadership. It is critical to understand this. We must respond like Nehemiah, “THESE THINGS ARE NOT SO…” (Nehemiah 6:8-9).

The thing is, my beloved fellow young minister, is that we will become WORN OUT by the accuser of the brethren IF WE DO NOT SPEAK AGAINST this voice of envy called accusation (Revelation 12:10). Our primary enemy is not people, it is the spirit that acts behind them. God allows this to happen through people even close to us because He is shaping our character through it. But we must allow God to use us in return to shape the spiritual realm – this is done by WHAT WE SPEAK.

This is one of the principles of true prophecy and false prophecy – BOTH considered prophecy; yet, one God initiates, the other the enemy initiates. Verse 11 shows us that Nehemiah considered this accusation a PROPHECY spoken against him. But in order to nullify the false prophecy, Nehemiah had to SPEAK a TRUE prophecy about his identity in the Lord. So we must do the same.

REMEMBER. This is done almost entirely, if not completely, in a prayer room, because our primary adversary is a spirit, not a person. Through this, we must endure hardship like a good soldier of the Lord.

I have more to share with you next week, because it is devices like these that paralyze prophetic ministries from coming into fruition.

I believe in you. Remember Ron in your prayers. Let him know how great he is, too.

Provoked Unto Love & Good Works

Dear Fellow Young Minister,

I want to make a confession to you. I have worshipped next to you during song service at youth rallies, conventions, conferences – I have sat by you in young ministers’ sessions and seminars to come to this conclusion.

You make me jealous.

Not envious. But jealous.

I have seen the manner in which you worship our God. I have observed the way you speak of others. I have seen the way you tarried for altar calls. And I must say, I have been deeply impacted. You have provoked me to jealousy and a hunger to magnify the Lord. Quickly, I think it is important for me to differentiate between jealousy and envy, because I see jealousy characterized by a sense of selfless possessiveness of Jesus, while envy is simply selfish possessiveness. The Lord presents Himself as the jealous God (Exodus 20:4-6). Therefore, I believe jealousy is a positive characteristic to be inspired of you, while any negative connotation of jealousy we read, in KJV language, of the New Testament is really envy.

Anyway, I’m glad to have you as a dear friend, because I have learned the importance of provoking one another unto love and good works. A lot of people quote Hebrews 10:25 as the main reason to “go to church”, when I believe it is a gross understatement as to why we should gather. On a brief note, not only is verse 24 the real focus, but it is biblically inaccurate to say “I’m going to church”. Pardon me, that’s for another time. Because friend, I have had legitimately deep moves of the Spirit gathering with you and other friends outside of a church service setting. Frankly, I have ZERO motivation to assemble myself with other believers if I’m not going to provoke or be provoked unto love and good works. I believe that if we are not careful, we can sin by gathering with the people of God, by simply having the wrong attitude and approach. The Scriptures state in Romans 14 that “whatsoever is not of faith, is sin”. Not to mention that whomever knows to do good, and doesn’t do it, commits sin, too (James 4:7).

I believe we ought to be mindful of what atmosphere and provocation is cultivated by our closest friendships. I understand that some people get into a competitive mindset at times, but the love and good works you provoke me to, cause me to want to become competitive with myself. That’s what I want in a close friend. I hunger to become more like Jesus, than I was yesterday. For today truly is the best, opportune day to serve the Lord. I proudly blame you for contributing to that. I have had friends that provoked me to compromise and even discomfort, for simply wanting more of God. This became painful at times because I love my dear friends, but the atmosphere conflicted with the direction I wanted to go. I know I’m not the only one that feels this way.

Mark told me once about a time he was at Senior Camp, and one of his best buddies, Sam, who was in town from bible college, came up to him after making some rounds with old friends. Sam told Mark that Mark’s name was being tossed around, but in the context of “this guy thinks he’s all that”. I remember Mark told me the story and broke down weeping at the pain these accusations caused him. Mark told me he didn’t know how he had carried himself in such a way to make others feel inferior. It was never the intention – and possibly never the reality.

Truth is, some people don’t want to be provoked unto love and good works. While many do. It can be a difficult course to navigate because people vary in their responses, yet possess the same desire. Some people are comfortable in their relationship with God, while many have a deep sense and longing for more. I partially wish I could write today that ALL of my friends want to be provoked unto love and good works. But my ambivalence proceeds from the fact that the pain that comes from these “unequal yokes”, has provoked me to seek those that are going in the same direction.

Here lies another challenge. What becomes of my attitude, towards those whom I have had to create some distance with? Do I then fall into becoming a Pharisee? Am I excused from provoking at a distance? I must answer these questions for my own sake. Paul said he “always [strove] to have a conscience without offense toward God AND men” (Acts 24:16). I did not know this at first, but leadership is highly characterized by the manner in which we deal with pain, especially when others are involved. Can we still retain the momentum of provocation unto love and good works, when the current of compromise beats against us?

It comes down to this.

People are watching.

That in itself can paralyze many. But to know that Jesus is watching, is all the more motivating. Although, I did want to let you know that watching you has been a blessing to me. I want to be guilty of being a match in God’s kingdom. I heard a minister once say, “I don’t desire to be a bonfire. I just desire to be the match. The match that starts the bonfire gets consumed by the bonfire. Nobody even remembers who the match was.” I pray that God help our motives in provoking others unto love and good works, resulting in Jesus becoming the bonfire – while we are consumed in Him.

Thank you for being a match in my life.