Takeaways from Church Planting (A Walk of Faith) – Podcast Episode 7

Recently, I recorded an interview with Pastor Shannon Thornhill, a church planter in Hernando, MS (www.desotolifeupc.org), for the Apostolic Voice podcast. We had a great conversation spanning all kinds of topics: The importance of Divine calling, how to stay encouraged in discouraging times, evangelism, outreach, ethics, the importance of starting new churches in unchurched cities, and how to bless a church planter. It’s worth your time to listen to the entire episode. Here I’ve listed several meaningful takeaways from our conversation. At the bottom of this article, you’ll find links to listen to our whole exchange.

Note: These are my thoughts after reflecting on our conversation. They are not direct quotes.

TAKEAWAY: Don’t Look Down on New Churches

New churches often operate underneath the stigma of their smallness. Sometimes this smallness is misperceived as insignificance. But new churches are the backbone of revival and church growth. Pastors and members of established larger churches might be tempted to look down their nose at newer churches. Not only is this attitude foolish, but it undermines and discourages the work of the Lord. The biblical admonishment to avoid despising small beginnings (Zechariah 4:10) applies in this situation. God rejoices to see the work begin (Zechariah 4:10), and we should rejoice too.

TAKEAWAY: Unchurched People Want to Be Loved More Than Anything Else

Love is free to share, and unchurched people care more about being seen and loved than big buildings and programs. As a church grows, it becomes more challenging to connect with guests in meaningful ways. Guests can easily feel unseen or overlooked in larger church settings. Of course, loving churches work hard to overcome this dilemma, but new churches have a built-in advantage in this area. Growing new churches serve as a beautiful reminder to older churches that loving people doesn’t require big budgets or trendy programs. If we want to win people, we must love them.

Love is free to share, and unchurched people care more about being seen and loved than big buildings and programs.

Growing new churches serve as a beautiful reminder to older churches that loving people doesn’t require big budgets or trendy programs. If we want to win people, we must love them.

TAKEAWAY: When God Wills It, There’s a Way

Perhaps the most challenging thing in life is finding the will of God. But even more daunting is accomplishing the will of God. When a person fully embraces God’s plan for their lives, the plan is bold, terrifying, and beautiful. Like David facing Goliath or Noah facing an empty field where an ark needs to be, we don’t have the necessary tools to accomplish the mission (at least it sure feels that way). But if we’re in God’s will, He will make a way. God might use ravens with food, a fish full of money, or drop manna from heaven with His own hands. Regardless, if we’re going where God wants us to go, the seas will part.

TAKEAWAY: The Best Blessings Aren’t Financial

I asked Shannon: What’s the most encouraging thing anyone has ever done for you as a church planter. I expected the answer to involve a financial miracle of some kind. It didn’t. Church planters need prayer and encouragement more than anything else. Knowing people are emotionally and spiritually invested in the success of their church means more than financial investment.

Church planters need prayer and encouragement more than anything else.

TAKEAWAY: Get the Kids Involved

Parents are often afraid to make sacrifices for the Lord because of their children. It feels scary involving our children in the sacrifices the call of God requires. Shannon dismantled this fear describing the love and joy his children have for ministry and church planting. It seems counterintuitive, but our children will find tremendous joy, blessing, and fulfillment, joining us in our walk of faith. They, in turn, learn how to walk by faith by watching us.

Our children will find tremendous joy, blessing, and fulfillment, joining us in our walk of faith. They, in turn, learn how to walk by faith by watching us.

TAKEAWAY: Working for God Is Worth the Sacrifice

Make no mistake; whatever God calls you to do will require sacrifice. With church planting, this is especially true. There will be challenges, discouraging seasons, and lots of blind faith required. But if you can push through those seasons of drought into the blessing, you will find a satisfaction that only obedience to God can bring.

TAKEAWAY: If God Isn’t Supplying, You Aren’t Complying

Shannon shared a powerful nugget of truth a wise pastor gave to him years ago. I’m paraphrasing it, but essentially, he said if God calls you to do something hard, He will provide what is needed. On the flip side of that coin, if God does not supply, you probably aren’t complying with His plan. This truism fits nicely into a lengthier look at understanding the will of God in the article: How to Seek God’s Will (For Any Situation).

If God calls you to do something hard, He will provide what is needed. On the flip side of that coin, if God does not supply, you probably aren’t complying with His plan.

TAKEAWAY: Let Your Past and Future Encourage Your Present

I asked Shannon the question every God-follower asks at some point: How can we stay encouraged in the tough moments. Shannon had lots of tremendous things to say (you should listen to them all), but one thing really stood out to me. He said, and again I’m paraphrasing, let God’s past blessings encourage you and trust that God has future blessings in store. This is easier said than done. His advice reminds me of the Israelites facing challenges after God parted the Red Sea. They had doubts and fears when faced with new obstacles. Even after seeing the Promised Land with their own eyes, they struggled to trust God with their future. God put those real-life stories in the Bible as a reminder that we should avoid the pitfalls of forgetting past miracles and shunning God’s future blessings.

Let the past blessings of God encourage you and trust that God has future blessings in store.

Ep. 21 | Buried Alive – The Gospel According to the Bible – PFR Fight Apostolic Voice with Ryan French

Ryan explains how baptism without repentance is like being buried alive from the http://www.ryanafrench.com article Buried Alive – The Gospel According to the Bible. Ryan explains why definitions matter and how differing definitions cause people to miscommunicate the Gospel. Most importantly, Ryan explains the Gospel plan of salvation according to the Bible without the lenses of opinion, tradition, or dishonesty. Don't miss the powerful poetic rendition of PFR's classic song FIGHT. — This episode is sponsored by · Anchor: The easiest way to make a podcast. https://anchor.fm/app — Send in a voice message: https://anchor.fm/apostolicvoice/message Support this podcast: https://anchor.fm/apostolicvoice/support
  1. Ep. 21 | Buried Alive – The Gospel According to the Bible – PFR Fight
  2. Ep. 20 | Mass Killings and the Question of Evil
  3. Ep. 19 | Support Your Local Pastor's Wife (She Desperately Needs It)
  4. Ep. 18 | Church Hurt Doesn't Excuse Backsliding & What Forgiveness Is Not
  5. Ep. 17 | Courage In Cancel Culture

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You Can’t Be A Church Leader If…

I am regularly asked questions about becoming either a leader within the church or the pastor of a church. This post is designed as the starting point for answering those questions. This article is by no means an exhaustive list, and it applies to lay ministries and pastoral ministries. Here are a few prerequisites for church leadership that are a combination of common sense and basic biblical guidelines. Many people disqualify themselves from any possibility of church leadership (or they start and fizzle out) because they fail to maintain these standards.

1. You can’t be a church leader if you consistently miss services.

Aside from the spiritual implications, this is a practical guideline as well. You can’t contribute if you’re not there. You can’t encourage and inspire faithfulness in others if you’re not faithful. Try telling your job or a team membership that you want to lead without being consistently present. It doesn’t work. Not only is it a spiritual concern, but it’s also a dependability problem.

You can’t contribute if you’re not there. You can’t encourage and inspire faithfulness in others if you’re not faithful.

2. You can’t be a church leader if you’re consistently late.

This point is closely related to the above topic. For the record, everyone is late from time to time, but I’m referring to a consistent lateness pattern. Again, this is a dependability factor. If no one ever knows when you’re going to show up, you are unreliable, which applies to every facet of your life.

If no one ever knows when you’re going to show up, you are unreliable, which applies to every facet of your life.

3. You can’t be a church leader if you are rebellious towards spiritual authority.

To have authority, you must be under authority. If you want respect, you must model how to give respect. And I mean genuine respect; many give lip service to respectfulness in public and display their real rebelliousness in private conversations. Many people fake respect but demonstrate rebellion through passive-aggressive actions. They do not realize how transparent their heart really appears to godly leadership. When you undermine the authority over you, then you undermine your own authority as well. Give the kind of loyalty that you would expect from others. Remember, there is a crucial difference between obedience and submission; obedience will often do the right thing with a wrong spirit; submission is obedience with a right spirit.

To have authority, you must be under authority. If you want respect, you must model how to give respect.

When you undermine the authority over you, then you undermine your own authority as well.

There is a crucial difference between obedience and submission; obedience will often do the right thing with a wrong spirit; submission is obedience with a right spirit.

4. You can’t be in church leadership if you are in sin.

The blind cannot lead the blind. All the talent in the world is no substitute for righteousness when it comes to the Kingdom of God.

The blind cannot lead the blind. All the talent in the world is no substitute for righteousness when it comes to the Kingdom of God.

5. You can’t be in church leadership if you have a “me first” mentality.

The Church, like all organized institutions, functions on the power of unity. Church leadership requires a “team” mentality, not a “me” mentality.

The Church, like all organized institutions, functions on the power of unity. Church leadership requires a “team” mentality, not a “me” mentality.

6. You can’t be in church leadership if you are unwilling to make sacrifices.

Here’s where most people fall off the wagon. Church leadership requires sacrifice as all truly spiritual things do. It requires sacrifices of time, energy, finance, and resources. For example (and this also falls under the heading of sin), you are automatically disqualified from church leadership if you refuse to give tithes and offerings.

Church leadership requires sacrifice as all truly spiritual things do. It requires sacrifices of time, energy, finance, and resources. You are automatically disqualified from church leadership if you refuse to give tithes and offerings.

7. You can’t be in church leadership if you are easily offended, easily angered, and cling to grudges.

You might think leadership brings accolades and honor, but for every kind word received, you’ll receive at least as much criticism and cynicism. Leadership comes with as much resistance as it does assistance. You will have to rise above negativity, critique, ungratefulness, hostility, apathy, complacency, disloyalty, and sometimes outright attack. Mostly this will come from expected places, but the most hurtful will be from Christians who ought to know better.

You might think leadership brings accolades and honor, but for every kind word received, you’ll receive at least as much criticism and cynicism. Leadership comes with as much resistance as it does assistance.

8. You can’t be in church leadership if you do not love God and people.

Love God first and ask Him to help you genuinely love people. If you do not truly love people, the point made in the above post will burn you out faster than a firecracker on the Fourth of July. If you lead out of any motivation other than godly love, you lead from selfish and carnal reasons. That always ends badly.

Love God first and ask Him to help you genuinely love people.

9. You can’t be in church leadership if you lack personal spiritual discipline.

You wouldn’t want an overweight guy teaching you how to lose weight. You wouldn’t want a weak guy teaching you how to get strong. And you wouldn’t want someone who doesn’t pray to teach you how to pray. Prayer, fasting, Bible reading, Bible study, evangelism, and faithfulness are mandatory prerequisites for church leadership.

Prayer, fasting, Bible reading, Bible study, evangelism, and faithfulness are mandatory prerequisites for church leadership.

10. You can’t be in church leadership if your personal life is in shambles.

This one might sound harsh, but it is a biblical principle and a common-sense principle as well. Bottom line, if you can’t manage your own business, you shouldn’t be trying to manage other people’s business, and indeed not God’s business. This principle includes your family, your finances, your emotions, spirituality, etc.

If you can’t manage your own business, you shouldn’t be trying to manage other people’s business, and indeed not God’s business.

11. You can’t be in church leadership without integrity.

This final point is technically covered under the point about sin, but I think this deserves a more in-depth look. Integrity, honesty, and core convictions are essential to godly leadership. Without them, your leadership will ring hollow, and your influence will run shallow.

Integrity, honesty, and core convictions are essential to godly leadership. Without them, your leadership will ring hollow, and your influence will run shallow.

12. You can’t be a church leader if you do not have a burden.

The apostle Paul described his burden for his fellow Jews’ salvation as a bitter sorrow and unending grief. Jesus described a burden so strong that the parabolic shepherd left the ninety-nine to find that one lost sheep. A burden goes beyond love. A burden goes beyond concern. It is a deep driving force that propels an individual into action on behalf of the lost. A burden is manifested in a myriad of ways, which ultimately bears the fruit of saving lost sheep. It should be noted that all Christians are mandated to carry a burden on some level. A burden is not a calling, but it is necessary for a calling.

A burden goes beyond love. A burden goes beyond concern. It is a deep driving force that propels an individual into action on behalf of the lost.

13. You can’t be a pastor without a Divine calling.

This point is specific to preaching and pastoral ministries. I know many people called to teach Sunday School, drive a church bus, do community outreach, clean the church, or visit the sick. But all of those things can and should be done without a Divine calling if necessary. Preaching and pastoral ministry, however, is Divinely ordained and Divinely called. This article doesn’t have the space to lay the theological framework needed for each point. Still, the need for a calling is clearly illustrated in the ministries of Moses, Abraham, Noah, Samuel, each of the Apostles, including Paul and Timothy. Jonah is fascinating because he had a Divine calling, yet he lacked a burden. He was called first, and God went to great lengths to take him to his evangelism field.

14. You can’t be a church leader without wisdom.

Many people have the knowledge but lack wisdom. Knowledge is information; wisdom knows what to do with that information. Leadership without wisdom eventually burns the leader and the followers out. A couple of points: Good intentions do not equal wisdom, talent does not equal wisdom, age does not equal wisdom, charisma does not equal wisdom, personality does not equal wisdom, and enthusiasm does not equal wisdom. The higher you go in church leadership, the more critical wisdom becomes.

Many people have the knowledge but lack wisdom. Knowledge is information; wisdom knows what to do with that information.

15. You can’t be a church leader without vision.

“Where there is no vision, the people perish… (Proverbs 29:18).” That word vision comes from the Hebrew word “chazown,” meaning dream, revelation, oracle, or sight. This Scripture is often misrepresented, but I think the meaning is complex. Leadership requires revelation from God, which brings dreams for the future, and insight into what is necessary to move forward in God’s plan.

Leadership requires revelation from God, which brings dreams for the future, and insight into what is necessary to move forward in God’s plan.

16. You can’t be a church leader without faith.

“Without faith, it is impossible to please God… (Hebrews 11:6).” I think that pretty much says it all.

17. You can’t be a church leader without anointing.

Jesus said, “The Spirit of the Lord [is] upon me because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor… (Luke 4:18).” I know this is an oversimplification, but if Jesus needed an anointing to preach, you need one too. I think this is mandatory for pastoral and preaching ministries, and it certainly should be coveted in all other areas of church ministry. In a certain sense, the differences between Divine anointing and Divine calling are almost imperceptible. When David was anointed by the prophet Samuel the oil was literally poured over his head. It was evident for all present. Spiritual anointing seems intangible in theory, but you know it when you see it. You can feel it. Anointing brings down giants. Lack of anointing cowers in hiding when adversity comes. It is palpable when God has covered a person. Anointing produces illumination, revelation, Divine inspiration, Divine operation, the gifts of the Spirit, and other tangible spiritual results. Anointing is not merely theatrics. Anointing is not good oratory or even capable leadership skills. It does not come from man, training, or education. Anointing comes only from God. God can anoint a fisherman or a theologian, a lifetime saint or a once vile sinner, or whomever He chooses. However, God does confirm anointing through godly pastoral authority. David didn’t anoint himself and proclaim himself the heir to the throne; he needed a Samuel to place God’s stamp of approval on his life first.

God confirms anointing through godly pastoral authority. David didn’t anoint himself and proclaim himself the heir to the throne; he needed a Samuel to place God’s stamp of approval on his life first.

18. You can’t be a church leader without a time of proving and learning.

Paul admonished Timothy to study to show himself approved unto God (2 Timothy 2:15). Notice, when you are training, you are not seeking earthly approval but God’s blessing. Ministerial training was never intended to be a political process or a popularity contest. The desire for church leadership must be birthed out of a desire to please the Lord. Abraham was 75 years old when God called him, and Samuel was only about 12 years old when God called him. Sometimes the training and proving periods are long and tedious. Whichever the case, patience and a right spirit are required, or you will miss God’s will. That’s basically what happened to Judas. I believe Judas thought he could force Jesus’ hand. Instead, he destroyed his life and his potential ministry.

19. You can’t be a church leader without the blessing of a pastor and the covering of a local church.

Paul never embarked on a missionary journey without the unification of apostolic ministry and the covering (blessing) of a local church. God does not bless the maverick mentality. God blesses and operates via coalition and through the mechanisms of authority. I’ve seen people run from church to church, looking for someone to validate their ministry. Eventually, they find someone willing to give them a pedestal of some kind or another. But this is not the apostolic way, nor does God bless it. Those kinds of dissidents beget more dissidents and undermine their ministry. It’s hard to inspire loyalty when you birth your “ministry” in disloyalty. I’ve seen this process run the spectrum from a pastor, preacher, teacher, evangelist, musician, singer, youth leader, and on and on.

God does not bless the maverick mentality. God blesses and operates via coalition and through the mechanisms of authority.

It’s hard to inspire loyalty when you birth your “ministry” in disloyalty.

20. You can’t be a church leader without the ability to lead.

This one will rub some people the wrong way, but I know many good people who desired to be in leadership who could not lead people. They eventually end up leading themselves and growing embittered. They drifted from the actual “calling” that God had placed on their lives because they desired promotion. If you have a genuine calling (as we’ve already discussed), promotion will come without self-promotion. I often fear that we push individuals into positions they are not qualified for or called into in our rush to start new churches. One caveat, I do believe that if God indeed calls, He does qualify. However, many inadvertently substitute their desires for a genuine Divine calling. They go to their pastor seeking approval with no desire for actual counsel. Using the apostle Paul’s analogy of the Church being like a body fitly joined together, it is imperative that the shoulder work in conjunction with the neck, the neck in conjunction with the head, etc. When a hand, for example, tries to be a leg, spiritual imbalance ensues. To be clear, many begin this journey with the best of intentions. However, good intentions alone are no substitute for God’s will.

If you have a genuine calling, promotion will come without self-promotion.

Good intentions are no substitute for God’s will.

21. You can’t be a church leader if you do not maintain a high standard of holiness.

For when ye were the servants of sin, ye were free from righteousness. What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed? for the end of those things is death. But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life.

Romans 6:20-22

Faithful servants of God always produce the fruits of holiness in their inward and outward lives. The apostle James tells us that not many should become teachers because teachers will be judged more strictly by God (James 3:1). What a sobering thought. That’s why spiritual leadership is not to be taken lightly. Experience has taught me that followers will always follow at least a step or two behind the leader. Spiritual leaders should be so far ahead of the danger zone that when their followers lag behind, they are still safe (i.e., saved). When spiritual leaders traverse the gray areas, their followers fall into oblivion. Servants of God are to be modest, sober, diligent, upright, moral, biblically sound, and trustworthy. Some of this is becoming redundant, but it bears repeating because of its importance.

Spiritual leaders should be so far ahead of the danger zone that when their followers lag behind, they are still safe. When spiritual leaders traverse the gray areas, their followers fall into oblivion.

Servants of God are to be modest, sober, diligent, upright, moral, biblically sound, and trustworthy.

Beyond the Gifts: The Meaning of the Magi’s Visit

The birth of Jesus was miraculous in every sense of the word. Beyond the mind-blowing revelation that Jesus was God incarnate (from the Latin verb incarnare, which means to make flesh: John 1:14, Hebrews 2:17, John 14:11) is the precise fulfillment of ancient Old Testament prophecies encapsulated in the Nativity (Latin verb nasci, which means to be born). Incredibly, God became fleshly so that we could be Spirit-filled and eventually become redeemed spiritual beings. The life of Jesus fulfilled over 300 ancient prophecies, often written thousands of years before His birth. Mathematically speaking, the probability of those precise prophecies happening by chance is a statistical impossibility.

God became fleshly so that we could be Spirit-filled and eventually become redeemed spiritual beings.

The life of Jesus fulfilled over 300 ancient prophecies, written thousands of years before His birth. Mathematically speaking, the probability of those precise prophecies happening by chance is a statistical impossibility.

When the Prophetic Collides with the Present

According to the prophets, the Messiah would be born of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14), in the city of Bethlehem (Micah 5:2), and He would be a direct descendent of King David (Isaiah 7:13-14; 9:6-7, Jeremiah 33:15, Psalm 2:7). Each of these amazingly specific predictions were fulfilled in the early pages of the New Testament. Of course, this was Divinely orchestrated to give us confidence that Jesus was indeed the promised Savior. It’s easy to get lost in the wonder of it and forget that Mary and Joseph were intensely human. But they were human, full of doubts, fears, desires, needs, and insecurities. Yet, they were chosen by God to participate in the sacred unfolding of the salvation story.

Think for a moment of the odd combination of joy and fear that must have filled Mary’s heart when she realized she was pregnant with the Messiah even though she was still a virgin. Who would believe such a story? Not only that, she was already engaged to Joseph. Would he believe what the angel told her about a miraculous pregnancy? Even if he trusted her story, would he be willing to live under the social stigma of marrying a pregnant woman? These would undoubtedly have been terrifying questions for young Mary. We know how the story unfolded, but she didn’t have the benefit of hindsight. All she could do was let God work it out.

Joseph must have entertained worries of his own. Would the social stigma impact his business and ability to provide for his family? How could he be an adequate father for the Messiah? How would this affect his relationship with Mary? How would their extended families react to all of this? The questions were probably endless. But the biblical account makes it clear that Joseph was a good and kind man who genuinely wanted to do the right thing. He trusted God when it was hard and willingly shouldered the burden of responsibility.

Prophetic Precision

Interestingly, at the beginning of the story, there seems to be an error. The prophet Micah foretold the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, but Joseph lived a solid ninety miles from there in Nazareth. By today’s standards, ninety miles doesn’t seem like a big deal, but that was a challenging seven-day journey in those days. But God doesn’t make mistakes, and thousands of years before it happened, God knew Caesar Augustus would call for a mandatory taxation and census (Luke 2:1-5). And, because Joseph was of David’s lineage, he was required to travel to Bethlehem with his very pregnant wife, Mary.

Think of how precisely the prophecy came to pass. Mary didn’t give birth just before leaving Nazareth. She didn’t give birth on the journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem. No. Jesus was born exactly where predicted. And as countless Christmas plays have awkwardly yet beautifully depicted, the exhausted couple couldn’t find a room (Luke 2:7). Apparently, all they could find in their desperation was a barn. In that barn, the King was born.

We’re All Innkeepers

As many have derisively noted, the Bible never mentions an innkeeper. But it stands to reason if the tired couple couldn’t find a room (no doubt they tried very hard to find one), at least one innkeeper said there just aren’t any rooms available right now. Thousands of years later, we’re all innkeepers deciding whether we will make room for Jesus. Will we partake in the miracle of the Messiah, or will we send the promise away? The King of kings won’t force His way into our lives. He doesn’t confiscate our free will. He asks permission and goes where He is wanted. For now, at least.

We’re all innkeepers deciding whether we will make room for Jesus.

Will we partake in the miracle of the Messiah, or will we send the promise away? The King of kings won’t force His way into our lives. He doesn’t confiscate our free will. He asks permission and goes where He is wanted. For now, at least.

The Birthing of the Miraculous

Joseph and Mary didn’t find themselves sequestered in a barn in a strange city because God abandoned them. No. They experienced hardship because of their willingness to be intricate players in the big picture of God’s unfolding story. Some view Marys and Josephs struggling under the weight of God’s plan as miserable failures. But the Nativity is a powerful reminder that this isn’t true. God’s plan transcends shabby barns, painful processes, human frailty, and fearful conditions. Miracles are birthed in terrible settings. But the environment doesn’t matter once the miracle arrives. The Messiah, God incarnate, suddenly steps into our world because we allowed Him to rearrange our story. Jesus’ entrance was imperfect because we are imperfect, and our world is tragically flawed. The light came to penetrate the darkness and erase the furtive comforts of shadowy places.

God’s plan transcends shabby barns, painful processes, human frailty, and fearful conditions. Miracles are birthed in terrible settings. But the environment doesn’t matter once the miracle arrives.

Jesus’ entrance was imperfect because we are imperfect, and our world is tragically flawed. The light came to penetrate the darkness and erase the furtive comforts of shadowy places.

Little did Mary and Joseph know as they swaddled baby Jesus in a manger that magi were traveling from the east to see a newborn king. They also didn’t know that King Herod would hear from these same magi that prophecies surrounding a Jewish king were unfolding. He promptly ordered the execution of all male boys two-years-old and younger in Bethlehem and the surrounding areas (Matthew 2:16-18), fulfilling yet another ancient prophecy (Jeremiah 31:15). When the magi found Jesus, they came bearing meaningful gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Their gifts weren’t randomly chosen: Gold represented kingship, myrrh represented deity, and frankincense was the symbol of death (an embalming oil).

When the magi found Jesus, they came bearing gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Their gifts weren’t randomly chosen: Gold represented kingship, myrrh represented deity, and frankincense was the symbol of death (an embalming oil).

Why Did the Magi Visit?

That’s usually how the sermon is preached. The curtain falls, the play ends, the kids take off their bathrobe costumes, but the magi’s visit was more than just a breathtaking acknowledgment of Jesus’ kingship. Certainly, it was much more than an example for us to give our best gifts to one another or Jesus, for that matter. Remember, this scene wasn’t intended for us alone. Mary and Joseph were human beings that desperately needed encouragement, confirmation, and provision. The plan of God led them to a manger and danger of death.

After the magi left, an angel warned Joseph in a dream that he must flee with his little family to Egypt or be killed by Herod (Matthew 2:13-14). The trip to Egypt would be long, expensive, and perilous. God knew that doubt, discouragement, and displacement would flood their hearts. So, in His infinite wisdom and love, He sent magi to worship, as confirmation their baby was indeed a king. God sent royal men to a lowly barn encouraging the couple to remember their surroundings weren’t indicative of their calling. And, He sent wealthy men with expensive gifts as a provision for their physical needs.

God’s plan still takes us into dangerous, uncharted waters. God even asks us to do hard things and obey without understanding the bigger picture. We still suffer rejection, hardship, pain, and uncertainty. Often, God’s promises require sacrifices that seem impossible to give. Understandably, we sometimes wonder if God really is with us. But if we remain faithful, God still sends the exquisite gifts of encouragement, confirmation, and provision. And, usually when we least expect it.

God’s promises require sacrifices that seem impossible to give. We wonder if God really is with us. But if we remain faithful, God still sends the exquisite gifts of encouragement, confirmation, and provision.

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christ… | Podcast Edition

From the original blog article, It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christ… this episode examines what genuine repentance looks like from a Christmas perspective. Topics covered: Holiness, repentance, baptism in Jesus’ name, and the Holy Ghost’s infilling. Ryan looks at the winter’s perceptual dichotomy in the natural, repentance in the spiritual, and the cross of Christ. Christmas readings included: If Jesus Came to Your House and The Christmas Guest, two classics that are sure to warm your heart. So, from my family to yours… Merry Christmas!

Ep. 21 | Buried Alive – The Gospel According to the Bible – PFR Fight Apostolic Voice with Ryan French

Ryan explains how baptism without repentance is like being buried alive from the http://www.ryanafrench.com article Buried Alive – The Gospel According to the Bible. Ryan explains why definitions matter and how differing definitions cause people to miscommunicate the Gospel. Most importantly, Ryan explains the Gospel plan of salvation according to the Bible without the lenses of opinion, tradition, or dishonesty. Don't miss the powerful poetic rendition of PFR's classic song FIGHT. — This episode is sponsored by · Anchor: The easiest way to make a podcast. https://anchor.fm/app — Send in a voice message: https://anchor.fm/apostolicvoice/message Support this podcast: https://anchor.fm/apostolicvoice/support
  1. Ep. 21 | Buried Alive – The Gospel According to the Bible – PFR Fight
  2. Ep. 20 | Mass Killings and the Question of Evil
  3. Ep. 19 | Support Your Local Pastor's Wife (She Desperately Needs It)
  4. Ep. 18 | Church Hurt Doesn't Excuse Backsliding & What Forgiveness Is Not
  5. Ep. 17 | Courage In Cancel Culture

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It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christ…

I love the Christmas season, and I love Christmas music too. I’m one of those annoying people who starts listening to Christmas music way too early. One of my favorite slightly frivolous Christmas ditty’s is It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas. Penned in 1951 by Meredith Wilson, it’s been a holiday staple since its first iconic release. You’ve most likely heard it played many times. Admittedly, at first glance, at least, it isn’t the most Christ-centered Christmas tune. But its catchy melody is fun and family-friendly.

I recently heard It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas, and it lodged in my brain and would not let go. We had a few snow dribbles that same day so that imagery combined with the song created a memorable Christmassy scene, which is a rarity in Atlanta. The song paints vivid word pictures of how stores, streets, hotels, landscapes, and people begin to show the not-so-subtle signs of transforming in preparation and anticipation of Christmas. Stores glisten, and streets glow, and kids hope. People’s visages visibly change, and winter snow dominates the scenery. The atmosphere described is beautiful, happy, transcendent, expectant, and surrounded by death.

It’s A Wonderful Death

Epiphany blindsided me on that wintery day as It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas jangled around in my brain. While we’re beginning to look a lot like Christ, we are inevitably surrounded by the transformative beauty of death. Winter is the season of the completion of death. Throughout the fall season, leaves struggle to stay alive, and vegetation does its best to hold on, but winter finally wins, and old things pass away in preparation for new life. Philosophically, there’s a strange perceptual dichotomy at play in wintertime.

On the one hand, we can view winter as stark, harsh, and bleak. But, on the other hand, glowing lanes, candy canes, church bells, and carolers out in the snow can change our wintery perspective. All the joy mingled with the austerity of winter might seem enigmatic. However, it isn’t because we know the cold will give way to warmth, and new life will bloom in springtime. The inevitability of death precedes the miracle of life in the natural order of the universe.

The Visible Image of the Invisible Maker

The universe’s ability to produce new life from death isn’t by accident. The Maker of the universe designed it that way (Psalm 104:19), and He mirrored that same spiritual law in the lives of human beings. The invisible Maker visibly manifested Himself in the form of man and became the ultimate sacrifice for our sins (Colossians 1:15-23). Because our sins deserved physical and spiritual death, He willingly died in our place (Romans 6:21-23).

The invisible Maker visibly manifested Himself in the form of man and became the ultimate sacrifice for our sins (Colossians 1:15-23).

The cross displays a more remarkable perceptual dichotomy than anything else imaginable. Calvary was a gruesome, bloody, agonizing, humiliating scene ending in the unjust execution of a guiltless man. Yet, it was the most beautiful sight the world has ever seen because it symbolizes God’s profound personal love for us (Romans 5:8). In return, all Jesus requires of us is our death, burial, and resurrection (Philippians 3:10, Romans 6:3-8, Acts 3:19). Thankfully, we don’t have to die or be resurrected from a grave physically. Our death, burial, and resurrection are spiritual events made possible by the work of Jesus on our behalf (Acts 2:38).

Calvary was a gruesome, bloody, agonizing, humiliating scene ending in the unjust execution of a guiltless man. Yet, it was the most beautiful sight the world has ever seen because it symbolizes God’s profound personal love for us.

The Very Beginning of Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christ

The Bible repeatedly teaches us that before we can have new life in Christ, we must die. Old things – ways, habits, lifestyles, mindsets, ideas – need to pass away (2 Corinthians 5:17). Those old things don’t die naturally, so we crucify them with repentance (Romans 6:6). We brutally nail our sinfully embedded affections and lusts to a cross and allow them to perish (Galatians 5:24). God doesn’t force us to do this either. Furthermore, our carnal flesh hates the idea of dying to self.

Before we can have new life in Christ, we must die. Old things – ways, habits, lifestyles, mindsets, ideas – need to pass away (2 Corinthians 5:17). Those old things don’t die naturally, so we crucify them with repentance (Romans 6:6).

Repentance is the only part of salvation that we must do completely alone. At baptism, someone else baptizes us in the saving name of Jesus (Acts 4:12). We consent to be baptized, and we participate in baptism, but we don’t perform it. Dead people don’t bury themselves because they are dead. Likewise, when we are filled with the Holy Ghost, which is our spiritual resurrection, we can’t fill ourselves (Acts 11:15). God pours out His Spirit on us and dwells within us (Acts 2:1-4, Ezekiel 36:27). Once again, we are merely participating and consenting to a Divine process. Repentance is the gateway that leads to baptism and the infilling of the Holy Spirit. Without repentance, a person just gets wet at baptism, and without repentance, God will not give us His Spirit.

Repentance is the gateway that leads to baptism and the infilling of the Holy Spirit. Without repentance, a person just gets wet at baptism, and without repentance, God will not give us His Spirit.

Hidden with Christ (From Life to Death to Life)

When we repent of our sins, we are willingly offering our bodies as living sacrifices (Romans 12:1). And that isn’t a one-time thing. Authentic repentance is a commitment to pick up our cross and regularly die to sin (Luke 9:23, Romans 6:1-23, Matthew 10:28, Colossians 2:20). When Jesus commanded us to carry our cross daily (Matthew 16:24-26), it was a reminder to take the burden of repentance with us at all times. Why? Because continual death to sin releases joy, abundant life, power, self-control, and authority in Christ (John 10:10, 2 Timothy 1:7, Acts 1:8, John 14:12). Consider what Paul said to the church in Colossae:

“For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God.

Colossians 3:3

Just as Christ became literally dead in the tomb, so we, by virtue of our connection with Christ, have become dead to sin, to worldly influences, pleasures, and ambition. Or, in other words, we are to be to them as if we were dead, and they had no more influence over us than the things of earth had over Him in the grave.[i]

But what does it mean to be “hidden” with Christ in God? Certainly, Paul was alluding to the idea of secrecy and safety in God. Our life and salvation are secure in God when we are dead to sin. But we are not literally hidden from the view of the world. No. The meaning here goes deeper than merely being out of sight. The term hidden (kekruptai) can also mean “concealed.” The implication here is that our life is unknown or not understood by the watching world. But these unseen realities will be revealed to the world by God in due time (1 John 3:1-2).[ii] The spiritual death of a sinner produces a saint that is continuously misunderstood by sinners.

When we repent, we are willingly offering our bodies as living sacrifices (Rom 12:1). That isn’t a one-time thing. Authentic repentance is a commitment to pick up our cross and regularly die to sin (Lk 9:23, Rom 6:1-23, Mat 10:28, Col 2:20).

When Jesus commanded us to carry our cross daily, it was a reminder to take the burden of repentance with us at all times. Because continual death to sin releases joy, abundant life, power, self-control, and authority in Christ.

Just as Christ became literally dead in the tomb, so we, by virtue of our connection with Christ, have become dead to sin, to worldly influences, pleasures, and ambition.

The spiritual death of a sinner produces a saint that is continuously misunderstood by sinners.

The Prettiest Sight to See

Therefore, as we begin to look a lot like Christ, which is what we are called to do (1 John 2:6, Galatians 3:27, Philippians 2:5), the dead weights of sin begin to fall off the branches of our lives (Hebrews 12:1, John 15:5, Romans 13:12, Ephesians 4:22-25). When the leaves of sin are falling one by one, we know that a joyous death is about to take place, and winter is coming. Old habits take their last gulps of air, fear and condemnation lie on their death beds, carnal thinking is being transformed, sinful dysfunctional relationships are severing, as the joy of salvation and holiness begin to take root amidst the chill. The death is harsh, tear-soaked, unrelenting, yet it’s one of the prettiest sights to see because Christ’s image is being made manifest in human life.


[i] Albert Barnes, Barnes’ Notes on the New Testament, Accordance electronic ed. (Altamonte Springs: OakTree Software, 2006), paragraph 24986.

[ii] Max Anders, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians & Colossians, ed. Max Anders, vol. 8 of Holman New Testament Commentary. Accordance electronic ed. (Nashville: B & H Publishing Group, 1999), 327.

Should Christians Celebrate Christmas? – Podcast Edition

Ryan discusses all the secular and Christian objections to celebrating the Christmas season. He defends the position that it is good and proper for Christians to celebrate the miraculous event of the Messiah’s birth. BONUS: Ryan defends the oneness of God from the perspective of Christ’s birth. All this information is based on the original article Should Christians Celebrate Christmas? This episode features two poems: A Christmas Carol by Christina Rossetti and Christmas Bells by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow which most recognize in song form I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day. Merry Christmas! You can support this blog and podcast ministry monthly at www.anchor.fm/apostolicvoice/support. Your support is much needed and appreciated.

Ep. 21 | Buried Alive – The Gospel According to the Bible – PFR Fight Apostolic Voice with Ryan French

Ryan explains how baptism without repentance is like being buried alive from the http://www.ryanafrench.com article Buried Alive – The Gospel According to the Bible. Ryan explains why definitions matter and how differing definitions cause people to miscommunicate the Gospel. Most importantly, Ryan explains the Gospel plan of salvation according to the Bible without the lenses of opinion, tradition, or dishonesty. Don't miss the powerful poetic rendition of PFR's classic song FIGHT. — This episode is sponsored by · Anchor: The easiest way to make a podcast. https://anchor.fm/app — Send in a voice message: https://anchor.fm/apostolicvoice/message Support this podcast: https://anchor.fm/apostolicvoice/support
  1. Ep. 21 | Buried Alive – The Gospel According to the Bible – PFR Fight
  2. Ep. 20 | Mass Killings and the Question of Evil
  3. Ep. 19 | Support Your Local Pastor's Wife (She Desperately Needs It)
  4. Ep. 18 | Church Hurt Doesn't Excuse Backsliding & What Forgiveness Is Not
  5. Ep. 17 | Courage In Cancel Culture

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A Christmas Carol by Christina Rossetti

In the bleak mid-winter
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter
Long ago.

Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him
Nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away
When He comes to reign:
In the bleak midwinter
A stable-place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty
Jesus Christ.

Enough for Him, whom cherubim
Worship night and day,
A breastful of milk
And a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, whom angels
Fall down before,
The ox and ass and camel
Which adore.

Angels and archangels
May have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim
Thronged the air;
But only His mother
In her maiden bliss
Worshipped the Beloved
With a kiss.

What can I give Him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb,
If I were a Wise Man
I would do my part,—
Yet what I can I give Him,
Give my heart.

Christmas Bells by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;
“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men.”

Should Christians Dye Their Hair? (A Biblical Study) | Podcast Edition

The Apostolic Voice Podcast is up and running. Most episodes feature an article that has already been featured here on the blog. And that’s the case with this latest episode. The original article, Should Christians Dye Their Hair?, is worth the read because it gives so many helpful links for those of you who like to dive deeper into study and reflection. But I recognize the importance of turning these blogs into audio format for busy and on-the-go folks who still want access to the information (I’m often in that category myself). Anyway, I hope you enjoy the new podcast format. If you do, please consider giving a five-star review on iTunes to help us grow in the rankings. This helps us show up in search engines so others can find the podcast. Also, you can support us monthly for as little as $0.99 a month by going to www.anchor.fm/apostolicvoice/support. As always, your prayer covering is the most important support you can offer and it is truly appreciated.

Ep. 21 | Buried Alive – The Gospel According to the Bible – PFR Fight Apostolic Voice with Ryan French

Ryan explains how baptism without repentance is like being buried alive from the http://www.ryanafrench.com article Buried Alive – The Gospel According to the Bible. Ryan explains why definitions matter and how differing definitions cause people to miscommunicate the Gospel. Most importantly, Ryan explains the Gospel plan of salvation according to the Bible without the lenses of opinion, tradition, or dishonesty. Don't miss the powerful poetic rendition of PFR's classic song FIGHT. — This episode is sponsored by · Anchor: The easiest way to make a podcast. https://anchor.fm/app — Send in a voice message: https://anchor.fm/apostolicvoice/message Support this podcast: https://anchor.fm/apostolicvoice/support
  1. Ep. 21 | Buried Alive – The Gospel According to the Bible – PFR Fight
  2. Ep. 20 | Mass Killings and the Question of Evil
  3. Ep. 19 | Support Your Local Pastor's Wife (She Desperately Needs It)
  4. Ep. 18 | Church Hurt Doesn't Excuse Backsliding & What Forgiveness Is Not
  5. Ep. 17 | Courage In Cancel Culture

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Subscribe wherever you enjoy podcasts: