Looking for a Visible Kingdom in a Culture of Death

The culture of death has never been so visible. It’s every where you look today. The sanctity of life has lost all meaning.

Another black teenager dies in a drive-by and we just flip the newspaper page because it happened in the same section of town that last week’s shooting occurred. And oh, by the way, he was in a gang. “That’s just life in the inner city”, we say. 
A man is arrested for shooting his wife in a fit of rage and we shrug because there was a history of domestic abuse and no one cared enough to intervene before things got out of control.
New abortion statistics are released and we grieve for a minute, decide to send $15 to our favorite pro-life candidate’s campaign, and we don’t think about it again until the next major election.
A terminally-ill cancer patient moves to a state where euthanasia is legal and we cry for a minute that she decided to take her own life but we do little to address the real issue. 
We hear the stories about countless Mexican lives being lost due to their country’s ever-thriving drug industry and the only concern we have is “guard our borders better so they don’t come here.”
Christians lose their lives by the hundreds in Iraq and we pray for them before chalking it up to radical Islam doing what radical Islam does. 
Ebola kills thousands of men, women, and children in West Africa and we irrationally freak out about the minuscule possibility that a handful of American kids on a mission trip on the other side of the same continent will bring the disease back home with them. 
Where’s the concern? Why aren’t Kingdom people taking a stand for life? 
In this Advent season, we celebrate the Kingdom coming near. The celebration of God sending his own essence in the person of Jesus to this condemned world to redeem all of humankind is what this season is all about.

Yet, even though Christ came and raised up a Church and taught it to be actively involved in all matters of life and death, it decides to stay in the periphery, paying politicians to deal with the issues rather than tackling them head-on. 

Life matters. Every single person made in the image of God matters to God and thus should matter to us, His people. 
Black, white, red, brown, yellow, illegal, elderly, diseased, unborn, mentally-ill, homeless, incapacitated, criminal–they all matter to God. 
Where are the Kingdom people at times like this? Sure, there are ministries helping the hurting. In most cases, however, you have to look with a high-powered microscope to find Kingdom people. 
The Kingdom is strong enough, viable enough, and populous enough to be extremely visible in these tumultuous times.

Kingdom always starts small. It all started with a baby in a manger. 30 years later it was Jesus plus the twelve. A few years later, 120 people carried the Kingdom mandate into the Upper Room. Soon thereafter, that 120 turned into 3,000. And it kept multiplying from there. 2,000-plus years later it should be much more than what we see. 

Life and death is a Kingdom matter. Do what you can, where you can. Reach out. Do not be polarizing in a time when we should be incarnational. 
Stand with the oppressed minority. Pray for the sick. Minister to the homeless. Serve the weak, downtrodden, and lonely. Reach into the ghetto. Help the illegal. 
Every life matters. Every Kingdom-minded Christian is needed. Let’s do the work. 

Ruach 2014: A Life-Changing Event

Everyone has had a moment or two where seemingly everything changed. Speaking naturally that moment could be graduating, your wedding, the birth of a child, and so on.
Spiritually, the moment you were saved or baptized in the Spirit would classify as a life changing time in your personal history. 
I’ve experienced all the above. Those were all times of great transition in my life.
Recently, I had another life-changing, ministry-changing moment.
Ruach 2014, the vision of my friend and local pastor Kevin Wallace, held in Chattanooga, TN during the last week of October was nothing short of transformational for me. 
I did my best to update the daily happenings of the conference until I fell asleep due to exhaustion in the middle my day two recap. Having a few days to decompress and really understand what I learned in the conference has given me a new perspective on the sheer magnitude of the event. 
I’m in a unique place in ministry. I have the call and I have some clarity on what God desires for me to tackle in the days ahead. However, I find myself in a “between-phase” of ministry. 
That between phase has me balancing what God is doing in me now and what God wants me to do later. Maybe we’re all there at some point or another, but I have always had a difficult time balancing now versus later. 
So, when the conference kicked off with a Worship session taught by Ricardo Sanchez, I was hit squarely between the eyes with the realities of the now-phase. 
I learned about things I was not doing very well in my current ministry as a worship pastor. God used this time of worship & training to engage my heart in the now. 
Daniel Kolenda’s session on Day Two brought an even greater awareness to my now and not yet dichotomy when he addressed ambition versus having a heart that desires God. It’s too easy in today’s all-encompassing ministry atmosphere to get our eyes on the work of God rather than the God of the work. 
God used the first day and a half of the conference to really systematically dismantle some devices of that the enemy was using against me in my spiritual walk. 
It was only after the experience of having some of these mental constructs broken down that He could breathe fresh life into me. 
Throughout the final day and a half, The Spirit used some mighty men and women of God to really speak into my life–some on a face to face basis, others through confirmation of the Word spoken in the conference setting–that really dealt with my later.
After a jam-packed month of ministry, Ruach was such a wonderful time of refreshing and refilling for me. 
I am so thankful to have experienced Ruach 2014. Everything from the speakers, to the breakout sessions, to the hospitality & selflessness of the volunteers really blessed me. 
Beyond all that, the timing of Ruach was perfect for me. 
Ultimately, I received a renewed purpose and a refreshed spirit that will help carry me from now to later.
That’s what I call life-changing.

Ruach Conference 2014: Wrecked on Tuesday

I have a half-written post about Tuesday’s morning and afternoon sessions, but my heart is so stinkin’ full after the night service I’ve gotta spill some of it before I explode.

Let me just start by saying how ridiculously good and anointed the RPC Worship Department is. I say department because they have like 27 different teams and every last one of them is dripping with anointing.

I said all that to say that tonight’s opening song, “I hear the sound” flat wrecked me. I found out later that John Brockman, one of RPC’s many worship leaders, wrote this song. And I can only imagine how God would upload a song like this to anyone.

Well, that was just the opener. Lee University’s Campus Choir backed up the worship team and, as always, they were jubilant and highly anointed.

Worship prepared the way for the word from Free Chapel Pastor Jentezen Franklin. “Don’t Waste Your Oil” was the subject of his message.

His text was 1 Samuel 16 where David is anointed king after the Samuel passes over his brothers.

Jentezen’s message was basically pour into people who will receive what you have to give.

He listed various types of people that he won’t waste his oil and/or time pouring into. Everything from mean people to stingy people to those who ridicule and mock the moving of the Spirit for today–are not worth losing sleep over. It’s not worth it to even argue with them.

Can I tell you how freeing that is?

Jentezen went on to tell the story of a city in North Carolina near a Marine Corps air station that has signs posted around the city stating, “Pardon our noise, it’s the sound of freedom.”

The funny thing about that story is I just heard the very same thing on Sunday when Dr. Bryan Cutshall, president of the Redemption School of Ministry, preached at my home church (a wonderful experience that started off our week with a bang).

Pastor B, as he’s affectionately known, shared the story after the most remarkable exegesis of Psalm 23 I’ve ever heard–a word that still has me in wonder even today.

After Tuesday night’s service, as I walked by Pastor B. he stopped me and remarked about sharing that story Sunday and he called it confirmation.

As if that wasn’t enough, a young man with Campus Choir (who I didn’t know from Adam) stopped me on our way out the door and gave me a prophetic word. The young man said that he could see I was locked in a prison room and I was praying, fasting, and even singing at the wall for it to fall, but God had to remove some things behind the wall first. He went on to say that the wall is falling now.

Now, I’m not typically one to just accept a prophetic word from a total stranger. Ever. But the truth in that word confirmed by actual issues I’ve been facing, coupled with the confirmation of Pastor Jentezen and Pastor B. tells me freedom is here!

You can call that weird. You can call it strange fire. You can call it whatever you want. I call it the sound of freedom. I call it an on time word straight from the throne.

Thank God for Ruach.

Ruach Conference 2014 – My Thoughts on Day One

When I first heard about the Ruach Conference some months ago, I knew it would be a can’t-miss event for spirit-filled believers everywhere. And let me tell you, day one of the conference certainly lived up to those lofty expectations.

After a brief time of worship, the conference began with a greeting from the pastor of the Redemption Point Church, Kevin Wallace. Pastor Kevin noted that he felt a burden to host the Ruach Conference after hearing about another conference which existed only to shut-out and shut-up spiritual gifts and the moving of the Holy Spirit in today’s church.

He didn’t call-out that conference by name, but I can only assume he was talking about last year’s Strange Fire Conference hosted by John MacArthur in California.

I posted a response to MacArthur’s rhetoric right here at joelabarker.com–a post that has been my most-viewed and commented-on to date.

I don’t believe Pastor Kevin’s vision for Ruach was for the conference to be the “Anti-Strange Fire” conference. Rather, the heart of this conference seems to be just what it’s branded and billed to be–breathing fresh life into the spirit-filled church.

For this worship pastor, Ruach’s vision became reality in the two sessions I attended with the incredibly anointed Ricardo Sanchez.

The Grammy award winning worship artist said some things during those two hours that made me uncomfortable and downright convicted in my heart.

It’s really easy to become complacent in ministry. That’s especially true when you feel called in multiple areas, as I am. Sometimes you get lost in the shuffle between where you are now and where God is calling you to go. I’m not making excuses, I’m just telling you the truth.

Truth is exactly what Sanchez shared.

Among the first noteworthy comments he shared was this little gem, “the presence of God will always come where the presence of God is invited.”

Well, yeah. I’ve said it many times. I’ve proclaimed that very fact on my fair share of stages. I’m just not sure I’ve really believed it every time I’ve said it. Today, I believed it.

Sanchez continued, “when God’s presence comes, the Kingdom comes with Him.” Now, that I’ve never heard. But man, did that open up my heart right off the bat.

Think about that for a minute. When we experience Him in worship, we are experiencing the presence of the Kingdom of God.

I recently had a few moments like this in worship.

Leading worship at my home church’s Fall Campmeeting just two short weeks ago, we reached a different dimension than I’ve ever experienced. I began flowing in prophetic worship and it was like God literally sat down among His people in that church.

His Kingdom broke through and that experience has changed the way I view worship. And of course, Ruach happens at the perfect time to reinforce and confirm what God began two weeks ago in my heart.

There were many more quotes and topics I could share from our time with Ricardo Sanchez, but the time of worship we had with him toward the end of the session deserves a mention here.

It only lasted five or six minutes, but our small group of about 25 worship leaders experienced a shift in the spiritual atmosphere as Ricardo led a medley of worship songs before our time was up. He was touched. We were all touched in just a brief few moments. Further driving home his point that God shows up when He’s invited.

Dan Reiland’s leadership talk followed the worship breakout session.

I was excited to hear from Reiland. He’s a can’t-miss interview on multiple podcasts that I subscribe to–including the 200 Churches podcast where he’s a monthly guest.

Learning some of the ins-and-outs of leadership from someone of his stature in the Kingdom was a treat. I discovered that I’m mostly a “learned-leader” with some qualities of a “natural leader.” I think I also discovered why I battle the aforementioned complacency issue as well.

The treat of day one, however, was the evening service with Reinhard Bonnke–a true giant of the faith. The short video prior to his taking the stage was enough to make a Presbyterian shout. Bonnke claims 74 Million people have been saved from Hell through his ministry via the simple proclamation of the Gospel across the globe.

That’s just an astounding number. And watching his videos through the years, I believe the reports.

Bonnke talked a bit about his age and the successor to his ministry, Daniel Kolenda (Tuesday speaker). There were moments in the message where Bonnke’s heart was revealed in such a way that you could feel his burden for souls. Not just souls on other continents either.

His emphatic statement, “America shall be saved” brought much of the near-capacity crowd to their feet.

Bonnke continued, “Africa has given me incurable faith for America.”

The statement “incurable faith” messed me up. I’ll have more on that topic in a later blog post, I guarantee it.

Only an evangelist like Reinhard Bonnke could give a compelling altar call for salvation at a conference primarily for pastors and church leaders. About 20 people responded too. The night services are open to the public, so I’m fairly certain those that responded were not backslidden preachers, but you never know.

In all, day one was incredibly refreshing content-wise. It was also a treat to spend much of the day with my parents and some friends in the ministry. Not to mention meeting many folks face-to-face that I had only met via social media prior to Monday’s opening sessions.

Day one of Ruach was nothing short of incredible. I’ll have more as the week progresses.

*My next few posts will feature my reflections on Ruach Conference 2014 hosted by Redemption Point Church in Chattanooga, Tennessee. These posts are not official recaps. Just my thoughts.

The Church: Being the hands and feet or sitting in the seat?

Sunday morning has come and gone for now. Don’t worry, though. You’ll get another opportunity next week. Chances are that seat is really comfortable. It’s likely right in the middle of your comfort zone. No pressure. No work. No hassle. Just come and enjoy the show for a little while.

No doubt that is the definition of Christianity for some.
While I’m thankful that those of you who hold to that view are at least hearing the Word preached, I want to challenge you to broaden that perspective.

I’m churchy, man. I’m more churchy than Noah was arky. But if Sunday morning is the central focus, what happens in my church Monday thru Saturday? Does it cease to exist as a force? If the Church is a living, breathing organism, what happens when the lights are out and the alarm is armed?

From a Kingdom perspective, the church building is just the rallying point. It’s the hub where you get energized to be the Church, not the destination where you merely have church.

In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul said “Ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.” Surely that was only for the leadership though, right? The pastor should be doing all that stuff while the rest of us spare parts count down the days from Sunday to Sunday. Not even hardly.

Think about what Christ did in His earthly ministry. He ministered to the poor. He mended the brokenhearted. He set captive people free. He healed. He saved. He delivered. He preached good news. And nowhere in the Gospels does Jesus tell His followers that all that stuff should stop as soon as He leaves.

As a matter of fact, John records Jesus saying, “He who believes in me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do (John 14:12 NKJV).”

The only qualifying statement Jesus made about who would do these works was “whoever believes in me.” He didn’t say, “Only those who go through seminary” or “those who lead churches”. That covers everyone who believes, from the pew-warmer to the pastor, and from the church-goer to the choir leader. Jesus was talking about the Church.

The Church has the hands that serve the community. It has the feet that carry the Gospel and the eyes that burn with passion for souls. That is the Church–the body of Christ.
I know it’s easier to sit in the Sunday seat inside the building we call “church”. And it’s certainly more comfortable.

Being the hands and feet of Jesus is what we are called to. Let’s get busy being what we’re supposed to be–the Church.

Victory Formation Christianity: Playing it safe til He comes

It’s as frustratingly maddening as it is sweetly exhilarating. If you’re on the winning side there’s no greater sight. If you’re the loser, you’d rather stick a needle in your eye than watch as it plays out. It’s football’s Victory Formation.

When the outcome of a football game is no longer in question late in the game, the team with the lead usually goes into an offensive formation that completely protects the quarterback as he takes the snap and almost immediately takes a knee to just keep the clock running. The losing side usually has no timeouts left and no hope of a comeback when the winning side begins this formality.

The Victory Formation is the winning side’s way of making sure they don’t turn the ball over causing a potential miraculous comeback-win for the opposing side. The Victory Formation is playing it safe.

Unfortunately, the Victory Formation mentality has crept it’s way into the Church.

It appears that time may be getting short. The return of the Lord might not be that far away. There are signs all over the place.

Ebola, ISIS, Israel, Russia, Syria, Iran, and the spread of radical Islam all point toward our blessed hope and His glorious appearing. Whether that means His return happens next year, next decade or even longer, we’re in the fourth quarter of time.

Because of this perceived shortness of time, many Christians seem content with running out the clock from the Victory Formation while a handful of ministers and leaders continue the trench-warfare that comes with snatching people out of the fire (Jude 1:23).

The hour is too late and the stakes are too high to live out our Christian faith from the Victory Formation. 

Sure, it’s a safe way to play the game. There’s almost zero chance you’ll end up losing possession of the football. Might as well take a knee and run out the clock, right?

In Luke 19, Jesus gives the parable of the 10 talents. In the parable, Jesus says a man of noble birth was going away to become king and he gives 10 servants one talent each with the instruction “Occupy til I come.” Occupy meaning put this money to work or continue conducting business until I return as King.

The story continues with the nobleman returning to find one servant who earned 10 talents off the original amount given to him. The next servant had gained five. The final servant hid his only talent in a cloth and did nothing with his master’s money. He played it safe because he was scared of his master.

The telling reason Jesus gave this parable is all the way back in verse 11. Luke says “he went on to tell them a parable, because he was near Jerusalem and the people thought that the Kingdom of God was going to appear at once.”

So it’s possible the people had a penchant to play it safe since they thought the Kingdom coming in power was imminent. Maybe the underlying attitude among the followers was one of complacency or worse–safety.

Aslan, the Lion in C.S. Lewis’s classic children’s story The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe represents Jesus. As the inquisitive children ask about Aslan, Mr. Beaver replies, “Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

Lewis got that one right. Jesus is anything but safe. Following Him is anything but playing it safe. As a matter of fact, Jesus Himself said, “If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross every day, and follow me. (Luke 9:23)” Does carrying your own method of execution sound safe to you?

It’s not time to play it safe. It’s not time for the Victory Formation. There’s still a war over men’s souls. There is still a battle to fight. There’s still a devil loose.

Yes, we already have ultimate victory. We’re marching from victory to victory. But truly following the King is anything but playing it safe.

Overcoming Sudden Trials

Things are going smoothly. You feel like your steps are being ordered by the Lord as He positions you to move into a new season. You’re receiving fresh revelation and insight on a daily basis, it seems. Then it happens. Some random Satanic dart finds its way into your transition-zone, and it momentarily knocks you for a loop.

It’s nothing major, just a little reminder that there’s still an enemy of your soul who’d love nothing more than to cause a setback on your journey.

Maybe it’s a co-worker’s attitude, or a lying tongue spreading vicious rumors about you or your family. Maybe it’s an unexpected doctor visit and/or X-Ray in the middle of your day, or even a sudden negative report from your banker.

These sudden trials sometimes have a way of making us fear the future and doubt God’s plan for our lives.

In Numbers 13, it looks as if the Israelites are making progress on their journey. So, Moses, at God’s command, sends 12 spies to check out the Land of the Promise.

However, when only two of the 12 come back with a favorable report about the land, it’s setback-city.

The unexpected presence of giants and large fortified cities was enough to cause 83-percent of the spies to give up on the mission, and ultimately to give up on God.

Thank God for two men that continued following God’s purpose for their lives. Joshua and Caleb didn’t allow this temporary setback to deter their vision of the God who brought them out of the land of Egypt.

The enemy always wants you to look at the problem. That’s why sudden, unforeseen circumstances arise in our lives.

How do we overcome the backlash? How do we stay focused when the enemy tries to disrupt our progress?

We look unto Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. The good old KJV translates Hebrews 12:2 this way, “Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.” Paul said, “He that began this good work in you will perform it until the day Christ returns.” (Phil. 1:6)

The sudden attack was meant for evil, but God’s still in control. He started it, he finished it. Keep your focus on Him and Him alone.

Living as Kingdom Citizens

I am blessed to be an American. Living in the land of opportunity makes me thankful. Being a citizen of this country leaves me with very little excuse if I don’t follow the plan of God for my life.

There’s very little chance that I could lose my life for proclaiming God’s Word on the streets or from house to house in this country.

Chances are I won’t be arrested, interrogated, or detained for trusting in Christ as my Saviour. That’s absolutely something to be thankful for.

Something even more powerful and freeing than my US citizenship is my citizenship in the Kingdom of God. It’s because of that citizenship that I can keep my US citizenship in perspective.

Many believe their US citizenship trumps everything. Even some self-proclaimed Evangelicals preach and teach from an earthly citizenship perspective rather than the heavenly perspective.

Kingdom citizenship doesn’t require you to weigh-in on every earthly political issue. Sometimes, it’s best to leave that stuff to the pundits.

Is that to say that Kingdom citizens should never deal with the political fray to uphold Kingdom values? Of course not. But we must carefully and prayerfully stay above the fray, from a Kingdom perspective.

In Philippians 3:20, Paul says that our citizenship is in Heaven. In Verse 19, he points out that the enemies of God have earthly thoughts and ideals.

Please don’t have more in common with verse 19 than you do with verse 20.

If we are thinking and dwelling on earthly matters from an earthly perspective more than we are from the Kingdom perspective, something is wrong.

Paul said, “We eagerly await a Saviour from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.”

Everything is under His control. How incredible is that thought?

If I truly believe everything is under His control, why would I waste my time on earthly matters and perspectives?

Kingdom people should be compassionate, caring people who love the least of these. We should never approach an issue from a perspective of pride or prejudice.

Christians have dual-citizenship.

Just remember which of the two is most important.

Staying Kingdom-focused in a #selfie -focused world

It’s way too easy to take a #selfie and put it up on every social media platform these days.

Because we are inundated by the #selfie mindset, it’s only natural that this phenomena would creep into the Church.

Am I calling you out if you’ve ever taken a #selfie? Absolutely not.

There is nothing wrong with taking a picture of yourself and posting it online for the world to see (so long as you are clothed and in your right mind). But if the underlying attitude behind that post is “look at how awesome I am” you might want to sanctify your motives.

Self is always the hardest thing to crucify. Add an “H” and spell self backwards and you have “flesh.”

The Apostle Paul continually warned against catering to the flesh. Paul wrote in Galatians 5:17, “the flesh lusts against the spirit and the spirit against the flesh.”

In our day and age, this verse rings even truer.

The spirit wants the things of God. The Kingdom mindset is a spiritual mindset. God desires us to focus on what He wants. However, since we live in flesh and we constantly desire whatever gratifies the flesh.

So, it’s hopeless right?

Not even hardly.

Grace gives us power to crucify the flesh with its affections and lusts (Galatians 5:24).

Yes, it’s a battle to deny #selfie. There’s enmity between flesh and spirit (Romans 8:7). That literally means there’s hatred between your natural fleshy self and the new man God created you to be. It’s a battle, but grace wins. And grace causes you to win.

Yield to God. Allow His grace to work freely in your life on a daily, ongoing basis.

You can stay Kingdom-focused in this #selfie generation.

Rise up, Kingdom Voices!

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If there’s ever been a time for God’s people to reach out to a diverse and desperate culture that time is now.

I know the world appears hopelessly lost. I realize it looks like there’s no help in sight. But it only appears that way because the church as a whole is not in her rightful place.

In Isaiah 58, God speaks to the prophet telling him to “cry aloud, spare not! Lift up your voice like a trumpet! Tell my people their sins.”

What were those sins? The sins of God’s people were many, but God was specifically calling out those who served Him with selfish motives. The people had a spirit much like Cain did in Genesis 4. Offering something of little worth to God and expecting a massive reward for it before grumbling when God had no respect for their offering.

The lifestyle that God has chosen is the Kingdom lifestyle—a lifestyle that includes breaking chains and yokes off of the oppressed, sharing with those in need, feeding the poor, clothing the naked, and actively meeting the needs of those within our community.

We’ve seen Kingdom work in progress on world news lately. With the Ebola crisis hitting Africa hard, there has been high profile coverage of missionaries putting their lives on the line actively pursuing God’s call. This obedience has also been seen in places like the Middle East, where men and women of God risk their lives daily to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ to a culture bound with religious chains.

This Kingdom attitude needs to be the rule, not the exception. Unfortunately, the focus in American Christendom appears to be bigger, better worship experiences from a chosen few mega-ministries. It appears that our pursuit of the “good life now” has replaced Kingdom efforts at changing the future of our communities.

It’s time to rise up, Kingdom voices! We must lead the charge in this hour.

True Kingdom voices have to speak up. It’s time to say something. Challenge church as usual. Be respectful, but rock the boat a little bit.

Speak out on social media. Start a podcast. Lift up your voice for true Kingdom principles. Find hurting people and serve them.

Be the hands and feet of God in the community and the workplace He’s placed you in. Actively pursue after God. Intercede for deliverance on behalf of those who are bound.

It’s a desperate hour and you are needed.

Rise up.