Church

A Polling Place

There are so many heavy issues to deal with out there. I wanted to do something a little lighter today, so I thought we’d do some polls and let you share your thoughts. If you choose “other” on any of the questions and want to elaborate on your choice, you may do so in the comments section (it will be helpful if you tell us the number of the question you’re addressing).

Some questions are more serious, some are just for fun. Answer any or all. Let’s hear what you think!

Any more thoughts? Feel free to share them in the comments!

Church, Holidays (Other), Worship

7 Ways to Honor Mothers During Your Mother’s Day Worship Service

Mother’s Day is just around the corner.

It’s nice to have a day set aside to recognize moms, be thankful for them, and appreciate them for all their hard work and everything they’ve done for us.

And if there’s anywhere motherhood should be honored, it’s in the church. Over and over, the Bible teaches us that motherhood is a high calling. A sacred trust. A solemn responsibility. No woman should ever be made to feel that she’s “just” a wife and mother. That’s the world’s perspective, not God’s.

So, pastors and women’s ministry leaders, how can the church best honor moms during the Mother’s Day worship service? Here are seven ways…

1.
Don’t

2.
No, seriously…don’t.

Yes, you read that right. Don’t make the sermon, songs, and prayers all about motherhood, and don’t do the typical “honoring of the mothers” hoo-hah that has become traditional in many churches during the Sunday worship service that coincides with Mother’s Day:

  • “Will all of our mothers please stand?” Congregation applauds. Sometimes a flower or other small gift is handed out to all the mothers standing.
  • Honoring of the youngest mother, or mother with the youngest baby present (“newest mother”) with a flower, gift, or corsage
  • Honoring of the oldest mother (strangely, I’ve never seen the mother with the oldest child present honored) with a flower, gift, or corsage
  • Honoring of the mother with the most children (or most children present) with a flower, gift, or corsage

Why? Because, though it might not be visible on the surface, when you do this, you open a Pandora’s Box of thoughts and emotions. And not all of those are godly or happy thoughts and emotions.

When you take people’s focus off worshiping God and put it on honoring people, what they’re going to be thinking about is their feelings toward the people being honored, and their feelings about themselves:

“That woman is the meanest old biddy in the church. She shouldn’t be getting honored for anything.”

“I have more children than she does, but some of mine live out of state. It’s not fair that she gets the corsage just because she guilted all of her kids – who don’t even go to church – into showing up today.”

“Us single women never get honored for anything.”

“I’d give anything to have a baby. Why them and not me, Lord?”

“This is excruciatingly embarrassing. Thanks for reminding me and the entire congregation that the reason I’m the youngest mother here is because I sinfully gave up my virginity at 14.”

Keep people focused on Jesus during the worship service. That’s where their focus is supposed to be anyway, and as an added bonus, you’ll avoid stirring up all of those often-ungodly thoughts and feelings.

3.
And especially don’t…

…do this thing that some churches have started doing of honoring all women on Mother’s Day. You think what you’re doing is preventing anybody’s feelings from getting hurt, but in many cases, you’re just pouring salt in the wound:

“Sorry you’ve been going through the agony of infertility for ten years. Here’s a piece of Christian kitsch for a consolation prize.”

“Here’s a carnation to highlight the fact that not only do you not have children, you’re in your forties and are still waiting for Mr. Right.”

“So you’re getting puked on, and pulled at, and you’re dealing with colic and temper tantrums and potty training every day, and your family budget is decimated and you’re operating on about three hours of sleep a night and you can’t even get five minutes alone in the bathroom? We’re going to take the woman sitting next to you who put her career first, has power, prestige, and position in the world, plenty of money in the bank, and all the “me time” she wants, and we’re going to honor her the same way we’re honoring you.”

That’s not how kind and loving churches mean it to come across, of course, but that’s how it can feel to the women being “honored,” nonetheless.

About thirty or so years ago, some well meaning person in kids’ sports came up with the idea of every team – win or lose, and every kid on every team- super jock or perpetual ball-dropper, getting a trophy at the end of the season so nobody’s feelings would get hurt.

It didn’t work. Those kids knew which teams had won the most games and lost the most games. They knew who the best players were and who always got sent out into deep, deep, deep right field (like I did). They knew who had earned the trophies and who had not. And when everybody got a trophy at the end of the season, it was a meaningless prize for the winners and feelings of shame for an undeserved award for the losers.

The women in your church know it’s Mother’s Day – a day for honoring mothers. And they know whether or not they are mothers and whether or not they’ve “earned,” so to speak, or qualified, for the honor you’re giving them.

If you really don’t want to hurt the feelings of women who aren’t mothers, keep everybody’s focus on Christ and His Word instead of on Mother’s Day.

4.
And along those same lines, don’t…

…reinforce narcissistic navel-gazing – the “it’s all about me and my feelings of worth / loss / sadness / fulfillment” that they’re already being fed by the truckload by the world and by pop-women’s “Bible” study.

Many women are already living life being led around by their noses by their feelings. They wear their feelings on their sleeves. They’re easily offended. They lash out at anyone who even inadvertently hurts their feelings. They demand that the sharp corners of the world be padded so their feelings won’t be hurt.

And if you’re doing the “honor all women” thing on Mother’s Day, I know you don’t mean to, but you’re subtly reinforcing that outlook and coddling any feelings of bitterness, discontentment, resentment, entitlement, and anger that are silently flying around the room. (“Please don’t freak out because the mothers all got a flower and you didn’t. Here, you can have a flower too.”)

Yes, the pain in the heart of a woman who has lost a child, has wayward children, has lost a mother, had an abusive mother, has been unable to conceive, or desperately wants to be married is deep and real. And it is absolutely and inarguably incumbent upon us as compassionate, caring, kind, and merciful followers of Christ to weep with those who weep in the midst of suffering.

But God also requires us to draw upon His strength, look past our own pain, and rejoice with those who rejoice. Just as it is good and right to comfort a friend who’s infertile or grieve with parents who have miscarried, it is also good and right for that friend and those parents to rejoice on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day with those whom God has chosen to bless with children, or to celebrate with loved ones who have just announced a pregnancy. We take the focus off ourselves and put it on others, just like Jesus did.1

If you really want to honor all the women in your church, counter the worldliness, fleshliness, and selfishness many of them are imbibing. Teach them – all year round – that God’s Word is their authority, not their feelings. Drill down on the golden rule. Show them how to put others first. Help them learn how to weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice.

5.
Don’t neglect…

…the ministry of the Word. What all Christians – mothers and non-mothers alike – need during the worship service is to have God’s Word proclaimed to them.

Now I know that some pastors will immediately respond, “But I’m going to be preaching the Word. I’m preaching on Naomi and Ruth / Mary / Hannah / Proverbs 31, etc.” And if you’re rightly dividing and expositing whatever that passage is, I’m not knocking that, but you’re the exception, not the rule.

Just some food for thought between you and the Lord as you consider your sermon on the Sunday of Mother’s Day…

  • Are you really rightly handling the Word, or is this basically a Hallmark homily or a sentimental eulogizing of mothers?
  • Are all of the Mother’s Day awards, songs, videos, testimonies, and so on cutting down on the sermon time so that you don’t have time to properly proclaim the Word?
  • Are you so focused on motherhood that you’re leaving out of the proclamation of God’s Word anyone who’s not a mother – men, children, childless couples, singles?
  • If your ladies aren’t yet well schooled in not being led by their feelings, and/or you’re of a mind not to hurt anyone’s feelings, is your motherhood-focused sermon going to hurt the feelings of women who aren’t mothers (and are you going to get an earful about it on Monday morning)?
  • Are your Mother’s Day and Father’s Day sermons accidentally falling into the pattern many have noted in recent years: mothers can do no wrong, and fathers can do no right, mothers are “saints,” and fathers are “sinners”?
  • If you’re typically an expository preacher and a motherhood-focused sermon deviates from the book you’re currently preaching through, are you deviating because God is leading you to do so? Or is this deviation being led by the calendar? Or by the thought that the women of your church will pitch a fit if you don’t focus on motherhood during the Mother’s Day sermon?
  • Do you realize that many doctrinally sound mothers prefer that you keep right on preaching through whatever book you’re currently in because they’re enjoying it and God is using it to grow them? I’m one of them, and I’ve heard from many others like me: “I don’t want to hear how great I am. I want to hear how great Christ is.”

6.
Don’t overlook…

…the fact that there are lots of ways and times you can honor and encourage mothers besides during the Mother’s Day worship service.

  • When you’re preaching through a book and come to a passage about mothering, go ahead lift up what the Word says about mothering. (That might sound a little contradictory to what I’ve already said, but preaching about motherhood on October 9 or July 31 is a lot less emotionally triggering than it is on Mother’s Day. Plus, there’s a good chance the passage isn’t exclusively about motherhood.)
  • Have a Mother’s Day potluck or picnic – everyone invited, of course – after the service where the dads and kids do all the set up, cooking, and clean up. (And have one for Father’s Day, too, with moms and kids serving!)
  • Host a parents’ night out from time to time to give moms a break and give husbands and wives some quality time together.
  • Make sure you’ve got Titus 2:3-5 going on, in some form, in your church. Young women need spiritual moms to lean on and to train them.
  • Make a baby cry/nursing room (with sermon piped in) and a nursery available during the worship service for those who want them, and offer children’s classes or child care whenever adult classes are offered. Also, don’t make being on the nursery rotation a requirement for moms to leave their children in the nursery.

    I know these ideas won’t be popular with some churches, but hear me out: as a young, stay at home mom with lots of small children, some weeks the only time I made it out of the house and got to talk to other adults was Sundays and Wednesdays at church. The churches I belonged to that offered a nursery and the other aforementioned amenities served, honored, appreciated, and loved me well by doing so. I needed that brief time of undistracted respite in God’s Word with God’s people to rest, recharge, and keep from losing my mind.

A quick “Happy Mother’s Day to all you moms out there!” from the pastor is no big deal, but, generally speaking, keep the focus on God during the worship service, and have fun honoring Mom some other time.

7.
And most importantly, don’t forget…

…God. A worship service isn’t (nor should it be) like any other gathering of people. At any other gathering of people, people are in charge, and people are the focus. People decide the reason for the gathering, the theme of the gathering, who or what the gathering is to center on, who’s going to run things, which materials are or aren’t appropriate for the gathering, which activities are going to take place during the gathering, and what’s going to please or displease the people who are gathering.

Not so with a worship service. God dictates all of those components and parameters in His Word, and we obediently carry them out.

The reason for the worship service is to honor God – not mothers or any others – and worship Him.

The theme of the worship service is worshiping God.

The worship service is to center on God.

The men God has appointed to the offices of pastor and elders are to run things during the worship service.

The only appropriate materials for the worship service are God’s Word and materials that focus our worship on God and His Word.

The activities that are to take place during the worship service – the proclamation of the Word, prayer, praise, singing, and giving offerings – are prescribed by God in His Word and directed to God.

And the worship service isn’t about what’s pleasing or displeasing to the people in attendance, it’s about what’s pleasing to God.

Should mothers be appreciated, even honored, by the church? Sure! But not during the time we’ve specifically set aside to honor God. And really, shouldn’t mothers and motherhood be appreciated and honored much more than one hour a year?

Happy Mother’s Day to all you moms out there!

Let’s hear from you, readers.
What’s a great way to honor moms and motherhood that keeps the
focus of the worship service on God, where it’s supposed to be?


1Excerpted from my article Safe Spaces and Wearing Our Hearts on Our Sleeves: 6 Ways to Follow Jesus’ Example of Handling Hurt

Church, Southern Baptist/SBC

“Wayback Wednesday” ~ It’s Time for a Reformation in the SBC – 3 Issues We Need to Set Right

I had to do a little flip-flopping of the blog schedule this week. Today is “Throwback Thursday”. Tomorrow will be the next lesson in our Sermon on the Mount Bible study.


Originally published May 25, 2018

I don’t know the brother who said it, but I saw a remark the other day from a Presbyterian gentleman who said something to the effect of, “It’s time for all doctrinally sound Southern Baptists to leave the SBC.”

I get that.

When you have an organization as large, open, and widespread as the Southern Baptist Convention, problems – even major ones – are inevitable. At this point, there are many things the SBC is still getting right, biblically speaking…

There are many good and praiseworthy things going on in SBC life. We have hundreds of doctrinally sound pastors faithfully preaching the gospel week in and week out. Discernment and biblical literacy among Southern Baptist church members is slowly but steadily growing. The SBC takes a public, biblical stand on abortion and homosexuality while many other denominations do not. Our organizational structure for funding and sending out missionaries, while sometimes flawed in its execution, is without peer. Southern Baptist Disaster Relief is one of the finest relief organizations in the world. And there’s so much more. Find a godly Kingdom effort going on somewhere, and you’ll probably find a Southern Baptist involved in it. By the grace of God, while we’re far from perfect, we’re getting a lot of things right

…But for some individual Southern Baptists and Southern Baptist churches, the biblical error and other problems pervading the SBC have become too much to bear, and they have deemed it time to walk away from what they see as a system damaged beyond repair, seeking refuge in ARBCA, Bible, Independent, or non-denominational churches and networks instead.

Like I said, I get that, and I don’t blame them one little bit. Believe me, I’ve had leaving on my mind more than once. And if the SBC continues its downward spiral, it’s an inevitability for nearly all of us who hold to sound doctrine.

But there are still plenty of us crazy, “glass half full” doctrinally sound optimists out there who, like Luther, don’t want to abandon the SBC to the rubbish heap if it can be avoided, but would rather see it reformed (little “r”), renewed, and restored to the glory of God.

If you’ve ever labored through the entirety of the Old Testament (and if you haven’t, stop denying yourself that blessing, and study it), you know that God exercised patience with Israel through centuries of idolatry, rebellion, and paganism of the vilest sorts, sending them prophet after prophet, warning after warning, discipline after discipline, lovingly calling, urging, and commanding them to repent and be reconciled to Him before finally executing judgment on them.

I’m just not sure we’re quite at the point of exiling the SBC… yet. I think maybe these are the days of Elijah. And Jeremiah. And Isaiah. And even Luther. A time for godly Southern Baptist men and women to stand firmly on the written Word of God and speak prophetically, chapter and verse, into their beloved churches and denomination, “Thus saith the Lord.”

And in that same spirit of the prophets of old, we don’t speak from a position of “I’m right and I’m here to prove it,” or because we’re haters, or because we’re power-hungry. It’s because we’re cut to the heart over the sin and idolatry we see among our brothers and sisters. We’re grieved that those things dishonor our precious Savior and bring His judgment and discipline upon those who participate in and propagate them. We deeply desire that our denomination and our churches experience the joy that comes with being spiritually healthy and biblically submitted to Christ.

So, while there are probably at least ninety-five theses that could be nailed to the doors of the Executive Committee in Nashville, here are three that would be a good start.

1.
The Authority and Sufficiency of Scripture

Nearly forty years ago, Southern Baptist movers and shakers in the conservative resurgence went to war for the inerrancy of Scripture. It was a long, hard battle, but they won. Now it’s time to fight for the authority and sufficiency of Scripture in the SBC.

The Bible is our authority as Christians, not the ideas, opinions, and traditions of denominational leaders, SBC celebrities, pastors, or any other person. The Bible. If the Bible commands us to do something, we do it. If the Bible commands us not to do something, we don’t do it. We don’t formulate our own programs and methods and try to squish the Bible in to make it fit. We start with the Bible. We stay with the Bible. We end with the Bible.

Because the SBC does not always submit to the authority of the Bible, we have leaders, celebrities, and pastors looking to, and promoting, sources outside the Bible for direction instead of simply trusting and obeying God’s written Word. We have influential “Bible” teachers who stand on stages in front of thousands and dare to proclaim, “God told me…”, functionally denying the sufficiency of Scripture by relying on supposed extra-biblical revelation (and teaching their followers to do the same). We have pastors and denominational leaders who look to polls and surveys to decide how to conduct their worship services or which social issues need to be addressed and how to address them. We have church growth gurus teaching our pastors to adopt all manner of worldliness that “works” to get sinners in the doors of their churches.

If the Southern Baptist Convention is to survive as an entity of biblical Christianity, the authority and sufficiency of Scripture is the number one issue that must be dealt with.  If this issue is properly addressed and corrected, it will alleviate or minimize nearly all other problems facing the SBC. We must submit to God’s written Word and give Scripture its proper place – first place – in our denomination, our individual churches, and our personal lives.

Basic Training: The Bible Is Our Authority

Basic Training: The Bible Is Sufficient

2.
False Doctrine and False Teachers

If the SBC truly regarded the Bible as authoritative and sufficient, the cancer of false doctrine and false teachers that is slowly killing us would be cured or in remission. Indeed, the aforementioned false teaching of extra-biblical (God told me, showed me in a dream, spoke to me, etc.) revelation is probably the most pervasive false doctrine accepted among Southern Baptists.

When Hilkiah found the Book of the Law in the temple (Imagine a house of God in such a shambles of idolatry that people had to dig and search for the actual Scriptures. Selah.), and Shaphan read it to Josiah, Josiah tore his clothes in grief and began to set God’s house and God’s people in order. After covenanting together with the people to obey God’s Word, the very first thing Josiah did was to have the altars and vessels of false gods carried out of God’s house and destroyed. If the SBC would follow in Josiah’s footsteps we would see things like:

LifeWay would immediately remove and destroy any and all materials by Beth Moore, Andy Stanley, Priscilla Shirer, TD Jakes, Lysa TerKeurst, Sarah Young, Christine Caine, Bethel Music, Jesus Culture, Hillsong, and all other false teachers and promulgators of false doctrine.

There would be no more conferences, simulcasts, or leadership training seminars featuring false teachers, and false teachers would certainly not be invited to speak in any capacity at the annual Southern Baptist Convention.

Pastors, authors, and speakers who attempted to build a career inside the SBC by teaching false doctrine would be subject to church discipline for their sin, not turned into celebrities or appointed or elected to denominational leadership positions.

Messenger voting privileges at the Convention would be revoked for churches which habitually and unrepentantly welcome false teachers.

If the Bible were to become our sufficient authority for both orthodoxy and orthopraxy, our eyes would quickly be opened to the enormity of the hold false doctrine has on our denomination, churches, and individuals, and we would act accordingly and biblically.

A Naked Emperor in the Southern Baptist Convention

10 Things I Wish Southern Baptists Knew About Southern Baptists

The Peterson Predicament and LifeWay’s Peculiar Policies

3.
Disfellowshipping Errant Churches

Earlier this week, the Southern Baptist Convention severed ties with the District of Columbia Baptist Convention (DCBC- an association of Southern Baptist churches in the Washington, D.C. area) for refusing to disfellowship one of its member churches, Calvary Baptist, which had called a legally “married” lesbian couple to serve as its co-“pastors” over a year ago.

It was absolutely the right thing to do (the SBC has disfellowshipped several churches that embrace homosexuality), and I’m glad that this standard remains in tact, but…lesbian co-pastors…? That’s how bad it has to get before the SBC can, or will, act to remove a church? What about churches that are embracing sins other than homosexuality?

There are plenty of apostate Southern Baptist churches, and we have no mechanism in place for kicking them out of the SBC.

This is a verbatim quote from the FAQ section (5th question from the top) of the SBC’s web site:

“According to our constitution, if a church no longer makes a bona fide contribution to the Convention’s work, or if it acts to ‘affirm, approve, or endorse homosexual behavior,’ it no longer complies with the Constitution of the Southern Baptist Convention and is not permitted to send messengers to the annual meeting. These, however, are the only explicitly stated instances in which the SBC has the prerogative to take action.”

What does that mean? As long as your church doesn’t affirm homosexuality and gives to the Cooperative Program, you’re in. Never mind if your pastor twists God’s word until it’s unrecognizable. Or lets women and false teachers get behind the pulpit like Steven Furtick does. Or plays AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell” on Easter Sunday and says he probably wouldn’t have strippers on stage like Perry Noble does. Or any of the other ridiculous and blasphemous shenanigans so many of the seeker sensitive types in our denomination pull. Nope, as long as you give your money and stand on the right side of homosexuality, you’re good to go.² ³

I’ll be the first to admit, it would be a difficult standard to set and implement, but look at the standards the New Testament required of churches. We’ve got to set the bar higher than a homosexuality litmus test and an offering for a church to be in good standing with the SBC. Doctrine and practices simply have to be a factor.

Can there be another conservative resurgence that brings reform to the SBC? I believe there can.

The Bible says “nothing will be impossible with God.” I believe that. I believe that the God who spoke the universe into existence from nothing, who opened sealed tombs and barren wombs, who parted seas and walked on water and turned water into wine can change the hearts of Southern Baptists and the trajectory of the Southern Baptist Convention.

By His grace. For His glory. For our good.


¹A Naked Emperor in the Southern Baptist Convention
²10 Things I Wish Southern Baptists Knew About Southern Baptists
³This verbiage has been removed from the FAQ section of the SBC website. The current wording of this information can be found here in Article III.

Church, Suffering

Throwback Thursday ~ 4 Things You Need to Understand About Christian Persecution

I usually wait at least a year to “throwback” an article, but with the Canadian government’s seizure of GraceLife Church
yesterday, I thought a refresher might be in order.
Please keep the whole GraceLife family in your prayers.

Originally published February 26, 2021

Persecution. It’s a hot topic in pop-evangelicalism these days in the wake of Pastor James Coates’ arrest in Canada (please don’t forget to pray for him, his family, and his church).

Though Pastor Coates’ arrest was heartbreaking, one good thing that has come out of it is that the online discussion about it has pulled back the curtain on just how much biblical ignorance is running rampant out there among professing Christians on the issue of persecution.

In a way, it’s understandable. American citizens (and many citizens of other Westernized countries as well) alive today have grown up with the guarantee of freedom of religion, codified in our Constitution. Until the last ten years or so, finding the proverbial needle in the haystack would have been much easier than finding an American who had experienced actual Christian persecution at the hands of her government.

To us, the persecution of Christians has always been something that happened thousands of miles away in far off, uncivilized, unsophisticated lands. “That could never happen here,” we mused thankfully, and promptly pushed the matter out of our thoughts.

But it can happen here. It’s already happening here. And it will increasingly continue to happen here.

And so, it’s a good thing that the issue has come to the forefront now, while we still have time to develop a biblical theology of persecution and prepare to act on it.

Let’s examine four popular misunderstandings about persecution, and what the Bible has to say about it.

1.
The degree of persecution does not equal
the definition of persecution.

“That’s not persecution. Persecution is being burned on sticks.”

I forget what the “that” was in this comment I recently saw on social media, but the “burned on sticks” part stuck in my memory. Whatever the “that” was, it some sort of unpleasantness aimed at a Christian for his faith, but it was much less intense than being burned on sticks.

But that diminished intensity doesn’t mean “that” wasn’t also, in fact, persecution. It only means “that” was less painful, less inconvenient, less life-altering, less terrifying persecution than the persecution of being burned on sticks.

I think maybe people don’t understand the difference between the definition of persecution and the degree of severity of persecution. Persecution is like stealing. Taking a paper clip from your office isn’t as severe as embezzling millions of dollars, and doesn’t garner as severe a consequence, but both are, qualitatively, and, definitionally, stealing. When you take something that isn’t yours without permission, that’s stealing, regardless of the value of what you take, and regardless of the consequences that follow.

The Bible doesn’t give a cut-and-dried definition of Christian persecution – i.e. there’s no one verse that specifically says, “Persecution is _____,” – rather, we glean the definition from looking at examples of it in Scripture. And, actually, if we look at it on a spiritual level rather than a temporal, tangible, earthly level, the definition of Christian persecution is rather simple: Christ is always right. Satan is always wrong. Any time Satan opposes Christ, that’s persecution.

Christ is always right. Satan is always wrong. Any time Satan opposes Christ, that’s persecution.

If you are obediently following God’s Word, standing with Christ and His Word, and you face opposition for that – regardless of the official reason given for the opposition (more about that in a sec) – you’re being persecuted, whether it’s somebody responding to your Christian worldview Facebook post with an “angry face” emoji or somebody executing you for sharing the gospel.

The Bible says in 2 Timothy 3:12:

Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.

If the definition of persecution is being “burned on sticks” – martyrdom – then this verse of Scripture isn’t true. Millions of Christians living godly lives in Christ Jesus have lived and died without being martyred. Yet this verse says all will be persecuted. Since we know this verse of Scripture is true, that means persecution has to include lesser forms of mistreatment of Christians.

We should never say that somebody calling you a booger head for being a Christian is as bad as, painful as, or difficult as being burned at the stake, but both are, qualitatively, persecution, just in different degrees of severity.

2.
We must think about persecution
on a spiritual level, not a tangible level.

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.

Ephesians 6:12

We’ve simply got to wrap our minds around this concept if we’re going to properly understand persecution.

There is an entire, real spiritual realm that we cannot see, hear, or touch. And in that realm, Satan and his minions are constantly rebelling against God and attempting to, for lack of a better word, “attack” God and thwart His purposes. 

And what better way to really stick it to God than by using His own Creation against Him? People made by God in His image. People He loves so much that He sacrificed His only Son for them.

Because we can’t see Satan and his demons, he “puts on flesh” by using his children – his slaves – to do his bidding. 

So when we see, for example, governmental officials placing restrictions on the church and giving COVID as the reason, we’re not seeing reasonable, uninfluenced people altruistically doing what’s best to protect others. That’s just the deceptive window dressing Satan wants us to see. That’s his sleight of hand to distract us from what’s really going on in the spiritual realm: he’s attempting to attack God and His people and thwart God’s plan for the church. And he’s using God’s own creation – people and government- to do it.

In this whole debate about Pastor Coates and whether or not he should have obeyed the government’s COVID regulations, and whether or not he should have gone to jail for refusing to obey them, and whether or not his imprisonment is actually persecution, one of the things Christians are failing to grasp is that, in God’s economy, the government has no right or authority to place any restrictions on the church in the first place.

In God’s economy, the government has no right or authority to place any restrictions on the church in the first place.

Stop myopically looking at one itty bitty little tree, and back up and look at the whole forest: God is King of the Universe. He purchased the church with the blood of His Son. He founded it. He owns it. He is the head of it and rules over it. 

The government is God’s servant. A servant has no right to override his master’s commands:

  • God says:
    proclaim the gospel to the whole creation and make disciples of them,
    come, all who are thirsty, and
    whosoever will may come.
    He casts out no one who comes to Him.

    His servant, the government, has no right to issue an edict that only a select few may enter the church to serve the Lord with gladness, come into His presence with singing, enter His gates with thanksgiving, and His courts with praise, when God has said, “Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth.” God does not place capacity limits on who may come into His church. The government certainly has no right to do so.

Open your spiritual eyes, sisters. Look beyond what you can see in this tangible realm, and grasp the bigger picture. This isn’t about what your physical eyes can see. Persecution is about spiritual warfare.

3.
Satan is a deceiver.

Have you ever heard the old saying, “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.”2? Well, it’s true and he pulls that trick on various levels with various people. It’s not just on the macro level with atheists or lost people who are convinced Satan is just a mythological character. There’s also the micro level of the sleepy-eyed Christian who has forgotten that Satan is the underlying inspiration for every unholy act in the world. (And we’re all prone to that forgetfulness from time to time.)

That’s why Satan doesn’t march right up to Christians and say, “Hi, I’m the Prince of Darkness. Wouldn’t you like to sin against God today?”. He’s smarter than that. He knows if he presents himself to you as what he really is, and sin as what it really is, you’d see right through him and stay away from him. 

There may come a point in time in the West at which the government clearly and overtly says, “Christianity is against the law, and if you’re a Christian, you’ll be executed.”

But that time is not now. That’s the last leg of the race for Satan. And you don’t get to the last leg of the race without first having stretched, put on your running shoes, and run the first, second, and third leg of the race. And that’s where we are right now: at the beginning of the race.

At the beginning of the race, Satan has to con you into believing there are good reasons for the havoc he’s wreaking on the church, and he’ll even disguise himself as an angel of light and dress up his reasons in the costume of Christian-ese to do it. And that’s exactly what he has done as he has persecuted God’s church with COVID regulations3:

It’s for your safety…

It’s for the safety of others…

It’s loving your neighbor…

The Bible says you have to obey the government, no matter what…

And…

James Coates wasn’t arrested for preaching, he was arrested refusing to obey COVID regulations.

Again, put on your spirit realm thinking cap and your spiritual eyeglasses and see what’s really going on here. Satan doesn’t give a flying flip about COVID regulations, or the virus itself, or how many people it kills or doesn’t kill. His mission (though futile) is to destroy God’s church, and to  oppose, rebel against, and attempt to thwart God’s plans and purposes at every turn. And he will use anything he can get his hands on to do that – especially deception that veils what he’s really doing.

Don’t believe me? What capital crime did the Roman government officially charge Jesus with and execute Him for? It wasn’t for preaching or being a “Christian”. It was for insurrection. Because in Rome’s eyes, there was only one King of the Jews, and it wasn’t Jesus.

And what about the riot in Ephesus? When the Ephesian business men grabbed Gaius and Aristarchus, they didn’t say, “We’re about to beat you senseless because you’re Christians.” Nope, it was, “It’s the economy, Stupid.” They were riled up at the Christians because they were losing money.

And when Paul was arrested in Acts 21, the reason given was inciting a riot, not his beliefs or practices as a Christian.

And when Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were thrown into the furnace, the capital charge was not: “These men worship the one true God,” The official charge was that they refused to obey the king’s unbiblical law – which as the governmental “servant of God” he had no right to make in the first place, nor to punish God’s people when they obeyed Him rather than man. Selah.

Need I go on? Search your Bible. Search the nightly news. You’ll find many instances in which Satan sets the stage with elaborate props of perfectly logical sounding reasons why God’s people are being attacked, while backstage, he’s singing second verse, same as the first – I hate God and I want to kill what He loves.

He wants you to think pastors are being arrested and fined and sanctioned because of COVID regulations, or that Christian businesses and organizations that won’t get on board with the government’s sexual perversion agenda (let the reader understand) are violating anti-discrimination laws, but that’s not the real reason. They’re being arrested and fined and sanctioned because Satan wants to obliterate the church.

If you are walking in obedience to the Lord and you face opposition or restriction, that’s persecution, regardless of the “official” reason given.

4.
Knowing the consequences ahead of time
doesn’t mean it’s not persecution.

“James Coates had been warned multiple times that he was violating COVID regulations and he kept doing it, so he can’t cry ‘persecution’ now that he has to pay the piper.”

Um…seriously? Have you ever read your Bible? Persecution is not defined by whether or not you know what the consequences for your actions will be ahead of time. I would even argue that most victims of persecution in the Bible knew what they were in for, and they chose to obey God rather than evil men anyway.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego knew they would face the furnace.

Daniel knew the consequences for his prayers would be the lion’s den.

Jesus knew the cross was coming.

The Apostles had already been beaten and imprisoned for preaching the gospel, so they certainly knew they were in for more of the same when they went out and preached again.

Persecution is when Satan attempts to attack God and His people. It has nothing to do with whether or not the Christian being attacked knows what consequences his actions will bring.

Knowing the consequences ahead of time and obeying God anyway doesn’t mean you aren’t being persecuted, it means you’re a Christian.

There’s a lot of misinformation floating around out there about Christian persecution. If you’re a genuinely regenerated Christian, you will face some level of persecution at some point in your life. That’s a promise from Scripture. It’s important to be prepared for that so you can respond in a godly and obedient way, because responding to persecution by refusing to bow to man over God and doing so with a holy, humble, honored attitude is a testimony to the world, and an encouragement to your brothers and sisters, that Jesus Christ is King, and that He alone is worthy to rule and to reign.


1The Greek word for “church” in the New Testament is ekklesia. It literally means a gathering or an assembly. The church, is, by definition, a gathering together – in person – of “the called out ones” – Christians. Watching a church service online is a blessing when you are temporarily Providentially hindered from being there in person, but it is not the same as going to church, as we are commanded, and it is not a biblical substitute for going to church as we are commanded. It is not church at all, because where there is no gathering, there is no church.

2Quote attributed to 19th century French poet, Charles Baudelaire

3Please understand, I’m not saying that if you have to stay home from church temporarily to stay healthy that you’re automatically deceived or unsaved. Remember, we’re talking about the long term, big picture of Satan’s agenda here, not individual trees in the forest.


Additional Resources:

Persecution in the Pew

Why Pastor James Coates’ Imprisonment is Actual Persecution at The Cripplegate

Why are COVID restrictions on gathering size persecution, but fire codes limiting gathering size are not? Glad You Asked (~23:21) at A Word Fitly Spoken

Erin Coates Interview

I did not have an opportunity, before I wrote this article, to listen to James Coates’ last sermon before he was arrested, but he does a much better job of explaining the government’s roles and responsibilities, and exegeting Romans 13 than I ever could. Please give it a listen:

Christian women, Church, Complementarianism, Rock Your Role

Sisters Are Part of the Family of God, Too!

I’ve got some wonderful, godly male friends and acquaintances on social media. I’ve learned from their wisdom, referred people to their churches, and had a great time joking around with them.

But every now and then there are men who stumble across my social media accounts or blog or podcast, seemingly drunk with biblical ignorance, who clearly don’t think women should have any sort of a voice when men are around – or at all, I guess. In my mind I call them the “Shut up and go sit in the corner” guys, because that’s what it feels like they’re saying to me, and to women everywhere.

One of the errors of the Pharisees’ legalism was that they stretched the boundaries of God’s laws farther than God intended them to go. This is why, when we see Jesus and the disciples walking through the fields and picking kernels of grain to eat in Matthew 12, the Pharisees accused them of “doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath”. Because this was, ostensibly, “harvesting” and “threshing” – working on the Sabbath.

But as Jesus went on to explain to them, this kind of unbiblical overreach of the fourth Commandment was never God’s intent. The Sabbath was a gift of rest meant to benefit God’s people, not to oppress and enslave them to nitpicking, nor to keep them from enjoying God’s blessings.

Today, the pendulum has swung to the other extreme, and antinomianism, rather than legalism, is the false teaching du jour. Antinomianism stretches the boundaries of God’s grace farther than God intends it to go. That’s why we have to spend so much time teaching and explaining that the Bible prohibits women from being pastors and elders, and from preaching, instructing men in the Scriptures, and holding authority over men inside the biblical boundaries of the formal gathering of the church body. Because, for the antinomian, practically anything, anywhere, goes.

But the “Shut up and go sit in the corner” guys help us to see that the same type of legalism the Pharisees practiced – though not as prolific – is still alive and well today. They stretch the boundaries of God’s command for the role of women in the church gathering to all other venues in which women might have a voice – to anyone, about anything. Some even say women aren’t permitted to teach other women and children, which is clearly at odds with Scripture.

The God who consistently values women holistically – their skills and talents, their intelligence, their contributions and hard work – throughout Scripture never intended this kind of unbiblical overreach of His commandment regarding the role of women in the church. This command was a gift meant to benefit God’s people, not to oppress and enslave women nor to keep us – or our brothers – from enjoying God’s blessings, especially the blessing of each other.

God consistently values women holistically – their skills and talents, their intelligence, their contributions and hard work – throughout Scripture.

Sometimes we lose sight of the fact that there’s a difference between the “set apartness” and formal structure and hierarchy of God’s house for worship and instruction, and the informal, unstructured “family time” around the table, around the living room, around the Twitter machine. And we forget that these two different environments serve two different purposes.

Worship and instruction are vital and primary. But we are the family of God. Brothers and sisters. Siblings. We need each other. The give and take. The back and forth. The jokes and laughter. The sharing, advice, support, encouragement, and yes, even the occasional, biblically appropriate brotherly or sisterly reproof. We’re to relate to each other as family – especially during “family time,” which is different and discrete from worship and instruction time.

We are the family of God. Brothers and sisters. Siblings. We need each other.

How dysfunctional would a family be if, during informal times of fellowship all of the sisters were prohibited from taking part in the discussion, sharing thoughts, offering insight, setting an example, and even proffering loving words of correction?

Normal, healthy, natural families don’t operate that way. And God uses the natural family as the metaphor for the way He relates to us: Father to child, the way we relate to Him: child to Father, and the way we relate to each other: brothers and sisters.

We’re to love one another and draw strength and help from one another, not amputate half of us from fellowship. When legalistic men unbiblically silence women…

…they’re out of alignment with the God who values women.

God showed us that women are valuable by purposefully and intentionally taking the time and effort to craft a woman in the first place. He could have stopped with Adam, but when He finished forming man, for the first time in Creation, He said, “It is not good…”. And the crowning glory, the final masterpiece of His world, was woman.

Throughout Scripture, from Sarah, Hannah, Esther, and Deborah, to Mary, Anna, Priscilla, Phoebe, and so many more, we see God using women to glorify Him and further His Kingdom.

Jesus and the epistles instruct men to love and protect women, to respect women, and to treat them with honor and dignity.

The God who sees women as a valuable part of His creation, who requires the respect of their worth, would never shut them out of family life, treating them as though they don’t matter.

…they are rebelling against God’s complementary Creative design.

Why did God say at Creation that it wasn’t good for man to be alone? Because he needed a helper “fit for him,” or “corresponding to him”.

Yes, God was speaking of that particular man, Adam. Yes, God was speaking of all husbands yet to come. But there’s a very real sense in which God was also saying, “It is not good for male humanity to be alone on planet Earth. Therefore, I’m going to make women as well.”.

Mankind needs the complementarity of womankind. He’ll be strong where she’s weak and she’ll be strong where he’s weak. He will fill out Creation with masculine beauty that she can’t contribute and she will fill out Creation with feminine beauty that he can’t contribute. He’ll see things from one perspective, and she, from another. It’s like two gears in a machine that fit together perfectly and work together perfectly, yet each doing its own distinct part.

God wasn’t finished with Creation when He created man. Something was still missing that God wanted to supply, and He filled in that hole in Creation with woman.

God wasn’t finished with Creation when He created man. Something was still missing that God wanted to supply, and He filled in that hole in Creation with women.

And when you basically tell women, across the board, to sit down and shut up, you’re denying and suppressing God’s Creative design for women… and men.

…they are crippling the church’s ability to carry out the “one anothers” in a healthy way.

Love one another. Comfort one another. Forgive one another. Serve one another. Bear one another’s burdens. Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another.

Because men and women complement one another in our strengths and weaknesses, we need both men and women to minister the one anothers to each other in the church. Otherwise, the balance is completely thrown off. Without the compassion and nurturing God has uniquely wired into women, a man’s “Comfort one another,” could turn into, “Suck it up and rub some dirt on it. You’re fine.” “Forgive one another,” might become, “I’ll forgive you….but first I’m going to punch you in the mouth.” Without the dispassionate objectivity and firmness more common to men, women’s comfort might turn into enabling, and forgiveness into being a doormat. And how can a woman properly bear the burden of a man who’s struggling with lust, or a man the burden of a woman facing infertility?

We minister to one another together. We need both halves of the church for it to be healthy and whole.

We’re family, folks. We sisters need you brothers, and, yes, you brothers really do need us sisters – even you “Shut up and go sit in the corner” guys. That’s not feminism, it’s not rebellion, it’s not sin…it’s family. When we understand and embrace this, we’ll discover what a precious gift God has blessed us with.

The gift of each other.

Additional Resources:

Rock Your Role series

Rock Your Role FAQs