Chattanooga: Strong in the Lord

“Finally, my brothers, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For our fight is not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, and against spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.” – Ephesians 6:10-13
Mere words cannot accurately portray what I felt Thursday as the news began to present a clearer picture of exactly what happened just a few miles down the road from my place of employment. The words “Chattanooga” and “terrorist attack” just don’t go together. Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined my city undergoing such an horrific event.
Chattanooga, the city that I’ve called home my entire life (even though I’ve lived on the tip of northwest Georgia about a mile from Chattanooga for most of my 33 years), is not supposed to experience this type of thing. A cocktail of emotions like shock, grief, pain, fear, and anger was suddenly thrust upon the city that I love. 
As I sit here still trying to process the reality of what took place in my hometown, nearly 24 hours after the cowardly attack that killed four U.S. Marine soldiers, my mind turns to the scripture at the opening of this blog post. 
We’re going to hear plenty of flesh & blood reactions in the coming hours and days. The investigation will likely reveal more things that make us cringe. There will likely be a massive politicization of the events that took place on 7/16/15. Folks will blame everything from gun laws to Obama to all Muslims. But I will never forget the response of the Church in my city on this day. 
I’ve never been prouder to be a part of the body of Christ in Chattanooga, Tennessee. There were prayer vigils, old fashioned pentecostal prayer meetings, and worship services across the city just hours after the gunman opened fire in two separate parts of our fine city. 
The Church rallied together and said “not in our city.” And really, that’s the biggest story of the day for me. I’ve been a part of the Church in Chattanooga my whole life. I know many Church leaders in our fine city who lead strong, vibrant churches. There are countless men and women who I have always counted on to get a hold of God. Chattanooga is home to many prayer warrirors. So it’s with that background that I understand Thursday’s attack as more than simply a terrorist attack by what appears to be a young Islamic radical. 
Thursday’s attack was not just a strike on our military. It was an attack on a city with a thriving body of Christ. It was an attack on a city that was recently named as one of the most bible conscious cities in America for the second straight year (Barna Group). And we, the Church in Chattanooga, will not take it lying down. 
The Church, one writer of Scripture called it “the pillar and foundation of the truth”. The Church, strong in the Lord and in His mighty power. The Church, this army of prayer warriors who go to battle not with weapons and ammunition, but who fight on our knees pushing back against the evil forces that influence those who pull the trigger. The Church, this triumphant band of men and women who take a stand in this evil day. The Church, this entity that will not allow our citizens to be overrun with fear and intimidation. 
We grieve with those who grieve. We mourn the loss of these incredible soldiers and we pray for the continued recovery of the injured like Chattanooga Police Sergeant Dennis Pedigo who’s heroic actions on Thursday likely saved many more lives.
The Church of Jesus Christ is activated and ready for a fight. The enemy will not take Chattanooga. His cohorts will not cause fear and terror to reign in our streets. Chattanooga belongs to Jesus and we, the Church, will go to battle on our knees to ensure it stays that way.

Same-Sex Marriage: Five Takeaways for the Church from the Supreme Court Decision


With the expected, yet somewhat surprising Supreme Court decision allowing for same-sex marriages in all 50 states, the normal “news dump” Friday turned into a headline-making free-for-all.

Opinions flowed like milk and honey. Some were good. Some were bad. Some were just flat out mean. And I’ll admit, I had to hit the delete button a couple of times myself. It’s real easy to get in the flesh over matters such as this one.
For me, the immediate reaction was that of shock. I really thought, based on Justice Kennedy’s remarks during testimony a few weeks ago, that the court would not rule this way. After the shock gave way, a mood of semi-despair settled in.

After I had some time to reflect on the landmark decision, however, my shock and near despair turned into hope. As I began to read the scriptures and seek the face of God, one word kept coming to mind “opportunity.” With the Holy Spirit’s guidance, I quickly penned down some takeaways that the American Church can utilize going forward.

1. We can stop being surprised at the sheer blindness of humanity

Maybe I’m the only one that seems surprised that rational human beings, even in their lostness, can be so wrong about a subject like uniting two people of the same sex in “holy matrimony.” It’s as if the definition of up was changed to down and left was changed to right seemingly overnight. In my study of Jonah today, I read where God told the prophet, “should I not be concerned about Ninevah, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 people who don’t know their right hand from their left?” (Jonah 4:10)

There are way more than 120,000 people in America who fit that description. If God was concerned, rather than surprised at the wickedness of the city of Ninevah, the Church should focus on the lostness of sinful humanity rather than try to reason with the unreasonable.

2. We can finally come to grips with the fact that America is a pagan nation

This is a hard pill to swallow. The good old U.S. of A. was founded as a Christian nation. America has long been at the top of the list of missionary-sending countries in the world. We have the Bible-belt. Not to mention the substantial Christian-right political machine that has been responsible for getting Republicans elected for decades now.

With this decision, we American Christians should be free to forget the idea that the restoration of America will come via some evangelo-political solution. We are now free take on a similar posture to that of the early Church who “turned the world upside” amidst a hostile, hedonistic culture.

3. It’s time to stand on Kingdom principles rather than place any hope in the Constitution

In case you haven’t noticed, our government no longer regards the singular document upon which this nation was to be ruled. The Supreme Court no longer interprets the law, rather it has become a legislative force that even the finest of legal minds cannot contend with.

If you are looking to the Constitution for hope or help, forget it. Stand on the God’s Word. Nothing more. Nothing less.

4. The light shines better when the darkness is pervasive

“The light shines in darkness, but has not overcome it.” – John 1:5 MEV

It’s dark. Really dark. But we have the light. In fact, we are the light. As the body of Christ, our light can not be overcome by the dark. It’s impossible.

In other words, opportunity is everywhere! We Christians are about to stick out like a sore thumb. In light of that fact, now is the time to understand what a decision of this magnitude means. Now is the time to understand the Kingdom principles I mentioned in point No. 3. Now is the time to allow God to break your heart for the very same people who spent Friday, June 26 celebrating.

“Always be ready to give an answer to every man who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you, with gentleness and fear.” – 1 Peter 3:15 MEV

5. If you have no sense of urgency right now, wake up

The days of “business as usual” are long gone. We can no longer conduct ourselves in a manner that would indicate all is well. All is not well. The leaders of our nation have crossed a line. Judgment is not coming to America. Judgment is already here.

It’s time for the Church to stand up. The house is on fire and millions of Americans are oblivious to the raging inferno in their own living room. It’s only right for us to yell “FIRE!!!!”

Get in the Word. Get into the presence of God. Seek His face. Pray. Plant that church. Start that bible study. Talk to those people God has laid on your heart for weeks.

And do it quickly! It’s not the time to measure that cave for curtains. Don’t hide. For goodness sakes, your church’s tax-exempt status doesn’t matter.

Yes, God has everything under control. But He allows these things to happen to give his people a sense of urgency.

“Blow the ram’s horn in Zion, sound the alarm on My holy mountain! All the inhabitants of the earth will tremble, because the day of the Lord has come, because it is near.” – Joel 2:1 MEV

Opportunity is here!

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.

Are we really thankful for everything?

What a year this has been. There have been ups and downs. Exciting moments and disappointments.

But this Thanksgiving, as every Thanksgiving in the past, I have far more to be thankful for than I have to be disappointed about.

Truthfully, as Christians, we should find things to be thankful for even in the midst of our disappointments.

In his second letter to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul wrote, “we are pressed on every side, yet not straitened; perplexed, yet not unto despair; pursued, yet not forsaken; smitten down, yet not destroyed.”

Paul had a laundry list of things to be down about. He was beaten, jailed, and ridiculed countless times. He was even stoned for his proclamation of Christ.

Yet, Paul could say things like, “For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed to us- ward” in Romans chapter eight.

Not sure about you, but I’ve never been beaten because of my love for Jesus. I’ve never been thrown into jail or stoned because I trusted in and proclaimed the gospel of Jesus Christ.

There are many around the world who face this reality on a daily basis, however.

One of the more publicized cases is that of American pastor Saeed Abedini who has been imprisoned in Iran for practicing Christianity.

Abedini, an American citizen, has been forsaken by our country’s leadership and is being forced to reside in one of the most hostile prisons in Iran. All for his confession of Christ.

One of the more potent reminders of how Christians are treated in the Middle East came in the form of a picture of Coptic Christians praying in a burned out church in Egypt.

Two weeks ago we learned of Christians going before firing squads in North Korea.

The plight of the Church in China is all too familiar with those of us who regularly pray for their safety.

So, you, American Christian, really have nothing to be disappointed about compared to what our brothers and sisters face on a daily basis in many regions of the world.

And what about our brothers and sisters in the Philippines who recently faced one of the worst typhoons in history and still showed up to church, or what was left of it.

We will have our pick of churches to attend this weekend. We won’t have to hide in a basement to worship. We won’t be faced with threat of imprisonment or death just because we evangelize.

I would urge you all to give thanks to God for everything in your life today–the good, the bad, and even the ugly. You are blessed far beyond what you deserve.

While you give thanks today, please also say a prayer for our brothers and sisters across the world who have every right to be disappointed and unthankful, yet still give God glory in the face of oppression.

My Thanksgiving Prayer

Lord, today I bless Your holy name. There is none like You. No one can stand against You, and no earthly power compares to You. I thank you for the many blessings in my life. Family–my beautiful wife and three children, and parents who raised me to fear & love You. 

I thank You for my church family, my job, my home, my car, everything You’ve provided. I thank You for every good thing You’ve given. But Lord, I also give You glory for the disappointments. 

That time when I thought I had the job of my dreams only realize it wasn’t going to happen. I’m thankful that You allowed my freelance sports writing gig to end which allowed to me to step into the ministry You’ve called me to. 

I’m thankful for the health scare I had in April when my blood pressure was ridiculously high and I could barely walk uphill without having to stop and catch my breath. Without that experience I might not have lost 84-pounds in six months. Oh, and thank You for the grace you’ve given to stay focused in that journey. 

Lord, You know I’d be here all day if I had to recall everything I’m thankful for. But as the days, months, and years pass, I’ll never cease to give You all the praise for everything in my life–good and bad. 

Lord, I want to pray for my Christian brothers and sisters across this world who cannot serve you without the fear of jail or death. I pray for Pastor Saeed. I also pray for the American leaders who have forsaken him. 

I pray for Christians all over Asia who have to hide to worship You. I pray for the oppressed Christians in the Middle East. Lord, please continue to comfort and help those in the Philippines as they recover from the devastating Typhoon Haiyan. I also pray for the continued peace and prosperity of Israel. I pray all these things, in the matchless name of Jesus, amen. 

A Response to John MacArthur’s Strange Fire Conference

After a few weeks off to refocus and redesign the site, I’ve decided to make a brief comeback before the relaunch to address some recent news concerning John MacArthur’s Strange Fire Conference.

I am Pentecostal through and through. I was dedicated at 17 days of age in a Pentecostal church. I spent the first eight years of my life in an Independent Pentecostal Holiness church and for the last 23 years I’ve called the Church of God (Cleveland, Tenn.) organization my tribe.

I want to make it clear from the get-go, however, that the Kingdom of God knows no division. I will continue to worship with many blood-bought, born again Christ-followers regardless of their denomination, creed, or secondary teachings. 

That said, I must address some disheartening statements made these last few days by noted theologian, author, and minister John MacArthur.

MacArthur’s conference apparently was birthed out of his yet-to-be-released book Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship. 

It appears that the book has a lot to say about the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements. If MacArthur’s opening statements at the conference are any indication, the book will accomplish much in an effort to slander many Christ-exalting men and women.

Part of MacArthur’s opening address reportedly included the following statement:

There are a half a billion of professed Charismatics. For some frame of reference, there are a billion Roman Catholics, and 14 million Mormons. So you see that this is a massive issue. And yet, nobody would fault pastors for confronting Mormonism for their false view of God, Christ, and Salvation. 

By many measures, John MacArthur should be considered a pioneer of faith in 21st Century America. Yet, someone as deeply rooted in the Word of God as MacArthur should understand that comparing Pentecostals to Mormons is, at best, laughable.

MacArthur must realize that neither of those enormous religions even gets the essentials right. There’s absolutely no comparison here.

MacArthur reportedly continued:

Am I discrediting everyone in the movement? No. I think there are people to desire to worship God in a true way. They’re caught up in this as well, though, because intention is not enough. But the movement itself offers nothing to enrich true worship. 

Surely, John MacArthur doesn’t view “true worship” as the act of gratitude that Pentecostals exuberantly portray in church every Sunday, right? 

True worship is less what we do on Sunday and more the reflection of the consecrated life we live before our maker throughout the week. True worship has little to do with the tongue-talking, exuberant style of praise you see in most Pentecostal churches.

The Apostle Paul–noted tongue-talker–wrote in Romans 12:1 that we should present our bodies as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God which is our reasonable service or our spiritual worship. Any theologian worth his salt will tell you that means living as though we are dead to self and alive to Christ and His ways. That’s the essence of true worship–not our joyous style of praise.

If true worship is what we’re judging Pentecostals by, my home church alone sacrificially helps around 100 needy families every month with emergency food boxes and has served 250,000 hot meals since 1995 while averaging only 75-80 attendants on a weekly basis. Sounds to me like we know plenty about true worship.

One more MacArthur quote:

The charismatic movement continually dishonors God in its false forms of worship. It dishonors the Father and Son, but most specifically, the Holy Spirit. Many things are attributed to the Holy Spirit that actually dishonor him. In many places in the charismatic movement they are attributing to the Holy Spirit works that have actually been generated by Satan.

Matthew 12:25-26 NIV – "Any kingdom divided against itself is laid waste; and any city or house divided against itself will not stand. If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then can his kingdom stand?“

Jesus said that, by the way.

This is the easiest of MacArthur’s statements to refute. By far.

By MacArthur’s own admission, Pentecostalism is the fastest growing movement on the planet. People are coming to Christ in droves all across the world in Charismatic services. The unmistakable tug of the spirit is active in our services and sermons.

Why would Satan be so ignorant as to generate a movement that is leading literal millions of people to Christ?

Half-a-billion people worldwide consider themselves a part of this movement. That makes Pentecostalism one of the top Christ-essential protestant movements ever.

Yet, instead of applauding the efforts of countless men and women–pastors, teachers, and missionaries–for making such a vast difference for the Kingdom of God, John MacArthur has attacked us.

It is not my intention to attack or rebut cessationalists with this post. I refuse to debate cessationism vs. continualism in this space.

My contention here is John MacArthur’s reckless, arrogant, and irresponsible actions at this conference.

Strange Fire has become a three-day Pentecostalism bash-fest. I find that incredibly detrimental to the Kingdom of God.

I’ll be the first to admit, there is some "strange fire” out there. I’ve been witness to plenty of it during my 31 years. But using the fringe to color the full canvas makes a horribly disfigured painting.

I am thankful for many in mainstream protestantism that have stood with Pentecostals during these last few days. The unity you’ve portrayed in the face of unprovoked attack on an integral part of the body of Christ is encouraging.

I won’t hold out hope for an apology from John MacArthur. But in the interest of the Kingdom, I’m praying he does so.

Revival: Is it in you?

Revival is a word that always conjures up many different emotions in my spirit and my mind.

On the physical level, my mind automatically shifts to thoughts of consecutive nightly worship services and anointed preaching. That thinking then leads to thoughts of long services, lack of rest, and the eventual loss of my voice from leading worship.

My spirit-man, however, skips past the vocal labor of leading worship 11 times in 10 days (we sing a minimum of 30 minutes in every service), how tired we eventually will become, or the length of the service. Indeed, the spirit inside of me jumps for joy at the prospect of a renewed focus and a revived heart.

After experiencing in a time of revival 12 of the last 14 days, my voice is certainly in recuperation mode, but my spirit-man is rejuvenated. I’d dare to say he’s doing cartwheels at the moment.

Until you know what it’s like to give of yourself, your talent, and of the anointing God has placed in your life, only to have it completely renewed and ready night after night for nearly two weeks, you can’t completely understand the level of revival I’m talking about.

God has called us, as carriers of the anointing, to have revival inside of us.

It’s one thing to hear an awesome sermon, have it speak directly to you and be renewed in your mind, body, and spirit. But it’s an entirely different thing to carry revival and have it constantly renewed by seeking after God.

In 2 Chronicles 34, the story of Judah’s King Josiah is told. Josiah took the throne at the age of eight. Verse three of that chapter explains that at the age of 16, eight years into Josiah’s reign, he began to seek God. The second half of that verse says that four years after he began seeking God, Josiah started one of the greatest times of revival in Judah’s history.

King Josiah began tearing down the altars of the false gods and centers of idolatry that had caused the people of Judah to stray. From that starting point, Josiah then began repairing the temple of God that had fallen into a state of disrepair after 100 years of neglect.

The repair of the temple led to the recovery of the Book of the Law. The finding of the Torah led to Josiah’s reinstatement of the Covenant Law, which led to the most complete observation of the Passover in 400 years!

Talk about a revival!

The greatest revival in Judah’s history began with Josiah seeking after God in the four years prior to the beginning of the revival. The revival began in Josiah’s life.

It all started with a king’s dedication to God.

Is it in you?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q5kiBWjXfWs

Celebrating a Church Milestone

I have been in church quite literally all of my life. Dedicated at 17 days old, nearly every childhood memory I have involves church and/or church family.

For much of the first 10 years of my life, my dad, James Barker, was an evangelist. We always had a home church where dad was a part of the leadership, but he also preached revivals and had his own television ministry.

After many years of ministry in various roles, my dad started a church in 1993.

I was 11 years old when he and a friend, Thomas Tallent, who we met at a seven week revival in 1989, rented a storefront building in Rossville, GA. At the time, I had no clue the ride that was awaiting my family and I.

While church planting has experienced a renaissance in recent years, starting a church from scratch has always been a huge undertaking. Regardless of how much money or how many people you may have to get the church launched, if it’s not a God thing it won’t last.

That is precisely why Sunday, May 19 was such a special day in the history of the Joyful Sound Church in Chattanooga, TN. Many church plants simply do not become thriving churches that last 20 years, so we celebrated this milestone.

Granted, our church has never really busted at the seams with congregants. We had a steady run in the late 90’s with an average of just over 100 people at most services. For much of the last decade, however, we’ve seen steady decline from those numbers.

While there has been a decline in average attendance for some time now, much of the original leadership remains intact. On top of that, Joyful Sound has become a training ground of sorts for ministry.

Through various community outreach programs, Joyful Sound remains a vital ministry hub in Chattanooga’s inner-city.

Four leadership teams of six people leads two afternoon services for the homeless and needy of our community, in addition to our three regular services, on a weekly basis.

Over the last 10 years, we’ve served nearly 20,000 hot meals to the homeless, elderly, and needy and we continue to provide emergency grocery assistance to more than 1,000 families each year.

Two of our leaders from the past 20 years are now pastors. One planted his own work in nearby East Ridge, TN in 2011 and the other turned an existing, formerly declining church into one of the largest Churches of God in the Chattanooga area.

Our current leadership consists of eight ministers who not only preach the word, but minister to the physical needs of our community as well. Those eight ministers are being developed and trained to one day become planters, pastors, and leaders within our city and beyond. I’m ecstatic to be a part of that group.

The harsh reality may be that church plants don’t usually last 20 years–especially when the second half of those two decades has seen steady decline. Statistics prove many church plants close up shop within just a few years.

But the church plant I have attended for the last 20 years was and still is a God thing. I have a feeling that Joyful Sound being the hands and feet of God in the East Lake community of Chattanooga, TN may have something to do with that longevity.

 

Introducing Joelabarker.com | Worship, Church, Community, Kingdom

Welcome to joelabarker.com! I’m so excited to get this blog launched. As I said in the first post “Ready. Set. Go!”, this site is nearly one year in the making.

Over the last year, I have basically had to relearn blogging. After five years writing about sports for various websites and publications, I figured I should take my time in venturing out into a new area of the blogosphere.

Yes, sports was and still is a favorite hobby. Yes, I still know way more than I should about the 4-3 defense, 40 yard dash times, and the MLB trade deadline. But, ministry and the church is my life.

The content that will be covered here is hardly new to me, but, believe it or not, there is a difference between writing about quarterback hurries and church communications.

So, what will I cover here at joelabarker.com? Let’s refer to the site header for starters.

Worship

If you’ve read my about page you know that I am a worship leader. If you’ve been in church longer than a minute you should know what a worship leader does.

I may cover new songs or worship service experiences in this space from time to time, but more than likely I will cover worship in the deeper sense—the lifestyle of worship.

After all, what we do on Sunday is merely an outward expression of an inward attitude.

Church

No, I will not be critiquing church services, preachers, pastors, etc. Way too many blogs have taken on that fools errand.

I will blog about the church. You know, that whole pillar and ground of the truth thing. (1 Tim. 3:15)

I hope to cover topics ranging from the state of the church to church communications to marketing and planting. My plan is to go as in-depth as possible on issues like church benevolence ministries and outreach.

Community

The word “community” in the context of a blog or website is quite different from the use of the word in a church context.

Sure, I want to build an online community around my site. But my ultimate hope is to play my small part in inspiring leaders to really effect change in the way they view their real-life communities. I’m not just talking about their local neighborhoods, but I want to see communities of believers, churches, pastors actually working together for a change.

We should be sharing ideas, best practices, and resources. Like the Acts 4:32 church.

That’s not to say that I’ll be preaching at or grumbling about the inward-focused churches or pastors who’d rather eat their own shoe than collaborate with other ministers (Yes, there are plenty of them out there). That’s not what I’m about and that’s definitely not what this blog will be about. I want to see John 13:35 lived out loud.

Kingdom

Ultimately, I want to be all about the kingdom. I want this site to be all about the kingdom. I want everything I do, say, write, preach, and sing to be all about the kingdom.

If it’s for the kingdom, I’m all for it.

Everything written on this website will have a kingdom mindset at its very core.

Hopefully that brief overview explains my starting point for this website. I’d love to hear your input on the ideas presented in this introductory post. What’s your take on the worship > church > community > kingdom topic?

 

image courtesy of flickr creative commons user jayneandd