The Top 10 Articles of 2020

I’d like to offer my warm thanks for your continued readership and support of the Apostolic Voice blog. And, for those that also listen to the new Apostolic Voice podcast, I’d like to thank you as well. It’s become a tradition at the beginning of each new year to post the top ten articles that trended in the previous year. Last year a few sleeper articles made a surge, and several staple pieces held steady in the rankings. Surprisingly, 2020 was, statistically speaking, our most dynamic year yet. Although, that probably shouldn’t have been a surprise considering all the quarantine time we all endured. I remain humbled that you would read and share my sincere rantings, beliefs, opinions, and insights.

The red marks every area of the globe Apostolic Voice reached in 2020.

For those who have been reading from the beginning, you’ve noticed I’ve made an effort to update and refresh the site. Hopefully, it is more user-friendly and easier to search for past articles. Initially, I intended to write predominantly about current events (and in the beginning, I did), but time has led me to write mostly about timeless truths. I pray you are blessed in this new year.

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.”

Top 10 Articles of 2019

At the end of every year, I enjoy reviewing the most read posts of the past twelve months. I’ve included links to all ten of them below. Just click the pictures and it’ll take you to the articles. Interestingly, the top three haven’t changed in several years. I haven’t written much new content in 2019 (I plan to change that in 2020). Oddly, this has still been an exciting year for Apostolic Voice; we leaped over the million click mark, gained a tremendous number of new readers, and made progress on relaunching the podcast. I deeply appreciate your confidence and support. Thank you for allowing my writings into your life. God bless you all, and may 2020 be your best year yet. If you’re new to the Apostolic Voice family, welcome and I hope you find something helpful, inspiring, or at least mildly interesting.

The Burden of Truth (A Poem)

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

The burden of Truth is heavy. Sometimes it feels like too much to bear. The weight of knowledge is forever. It grips the heart with an icy stare.

Wondering soldiers know that home is elusive. They search for solace, yet it’s just not there. They look for hope in the strangest places. They search for kindness in angry faces.

The burden of Truth is an honor to carry. It hurts much more than we show or share. The cost of honor is expensive. It takes a toll yet most don’t care.

The dutiful soldier knows something of pain. A lesson that most have never retained. Opposition to Truth brings death to the soul. So, to the Truth we tenderly hold.

Dear one remember that life is a vapor. It’s not what we’re feeling that matters the most. For hearts are deceitful and often don’t know. It’s where we are going that matters the most.

Dear one remember that life is a vapor. It’s not what we’re feeling that matters the most. For hearts are deceitful and often don’t know. It’s where we are going that matters the most. #apostolicvoice #ryanfrench

What we touch today might be gone by tomorrow. Making the burden of Truth a blessing most hallowed. For what we can’t see will endure beyond sorrow. And, the depths of despair are blessedly shallow.

Kanye West Might Be Sincere (But Sincerity Alone Is Not Salvation)

If you’re a social media user it might feel like a non-stop Kanye West extravaganza has taken over your feed lately. The frenzy from all directions has been palpable. Many people in my inner circle didn’t even know who Kanye was until a few weeks ago. For me, his name was associated with lyrics and artists that I purposely avoided because of the vulgarity, sexuality, violence, and substance abuse they promoted.

This article is late in the making. Frankly, I just didn’t care about the Kanye kerfuffle until the noise escalated into a fever pitch. Beyond that, lots of people have already been contributing wise words to the ongoing (seemingly neverending) conversation. One of my favorite Apostolic bloggers, Search of Kings has a must-read article about the “Kanye Conversion”. Others have convincingly commented that Kanye’s sincerity might be less suspicious if he would remove all his old music from circulation. I’ve noticed several people expressing frustration at the Apostolic hype over Kanye’s new album Jesus Is King, by pointing out the lackluster support Apostolic artists typically receive. We Apostolics do tend to demean our own and glamorize (perhaps even idolize) artists who are distinctly non-apostolic.

Speaking of idols, the flip side of the coin is the ardent, almost breathless support many Christians have afforded Kanye’s new album. It reeks of an adolescent desire to finally be accepted by the “cool” kids. The internet is littered with comparisons of Kanye’s conversion to Saul’s transformation into Paul. Others dream of stadiums packed with people who would never listen to “Jesus” music being deeply impacted by Kanye’s newfound faith. Many elders felt this way about Elvis Presley in past decades. I still frequently hear people mention how sincere Elvis was about his Christian (perhaps even Apostolic) faith.

So, the speculation about Kanye’s sincerity has become a lightning rod of controversy. For what it’s worth, I think Kanye might be sincere. Admittedly, I don’t really know if he’s sincere or not. I struggle to know if people around me are sincere sometimes. I’ve never met Kanye and I doubt anyone reading this has either. Sincerity is a hard thing to judge in a short period of time. It’s even harder to judge from a distance. Even Paul had to undergo many years of scrutiny and training before he was fully accepted as a new creature in Christ Jesus. That’s one of the reasons Paul wrote to Timothy and said, “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15)”. Regardless, Kanye’s sincerity or lack thereof is a moot point. Why? Because sincerity is not salvation.

Yes, sincerity is a good thing. I like sincere people. Most of us are drawn instinctively to sincerity. In fact, sincerity is so compelling we often trust sincere people even when they are completely wrong. Sincerely incorrect people can unintentionally do great damage to their circle of influence in countless ways both big and small. For example, it took thousands of years for doctors to finally realize that bloodletting was actually more likely to kill than to cure patients (read this disturbing article, 7 Unusual Ancient Medical Technique). Last year statistics shockingly revealed that over 800,000 people died because of medical devices prescribed to them by very good and sincere doctors (read that article HERE). Lets not even start thinking about how many sincere judges and juries have sentenced innocent people to prison or death (How Many Innocent People Are Sentenced to Death? and A Leading Cause for Wrongful Convictions: Experts Overstating Forensic Results). Clearly, in certain situations, sincerity without correct information is extremely dangerous.

We easily understand that principle when it comes to the physical, but we’re a little fuzzy when it comes to spiritual things. We don’t just want doctors to be sincere, we want them to be sincere and correct at the same time. Frankly, the latter is far more important than the former. But when it comes to spiritual leaders and influencers we’re a little less cautious. Maybe its time to consider that we Christians are overly concerned with sincerity? Perhaps we’ve elevated sincerity above biblical sanctification? Is it possible many Apostolics, either consciously or subconsciously, equate sincerity with salvation? Do we believe that sincerity without biblical salvation can save us? If so, we are doomed to become just another variation of the Catholic church. The Catholic church now officially teaches that Muslims, Jews, and really any sincere person can be saved without converting to even the mushy Catholic perversion of the Gospel (Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 1260).

If the prescription for sin is the blood of Jesus it can only be accessed via the Gospel of Jesus Christ (John 14:6, 1 Timothy 2:5, Acts 4:12). At the heart of the Gospel is the teaching that we must undergo our own spiritual death, burial, and resurrection just as Jesus did physically (Romans 6:3-8Galatians 2:20Colossians 2:12-13). There is one recorded instance in the Bible where bystanders clearly asked a question about salvation (Acts 2:37). Peter gives the most concise biblical answer in the following verse and everyone in the early Church followed that apostolic foundation for salvation. The apostle Peter preached: “…repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost (Acts 2:38).” That precise formula is the only way to be birthed (John 3:31 Peter 1:23) into the Kingdom of God.

Essentially, repentance is our spiritual death (Galatians 5:24Romans 6:11Galatians 2:201 Peter 2:24Romans 6:6)baptism in Jesus’ name is our spiritual burial (Romans 6:3-4Colossians 2:12-13), and the infilling of the Holy Ghost is our spiritual resurrection (Romans 6:5Colossians 3:1Romans 8:8-14). Furthermore, the infilling of the Holy Ghost is first evidenced by supernaturally speaking in unknown (previously unlearned) tongues (languages) just as they did in the book of Acts (Mark 16:17Acts 2:4Acts 10:46Acts 19:6) and every time from then on. And, baptism is only salvific when done in the name of Jesus (Acts 4:12Colossians 3:17Acts 2:38Acts 22:16Galatians 3:27Acts 10:48Romans 6:3).

After we are obedient to the fullness of the Gospel all the old sinful things pass away and we become a new creation in Christ Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:17). We walk in agreement with the Spirit (Galatians 5:16). Meaning, God not only saves us from our past sin, but He also empowers us with His own Spirit to live righteously (2 Peter 1:3-4). The extra good news of the Gospel is that God doesn’t just save us and leave us the same: He saves us, changes us, dwells within us, and continues to strengthen us daily.

Having said all of that, I am far more concerned with Kanye’s salvation than I am his sincerity. I hope he’s sincere and that his sincerity leads him to salvation. Otherwise, his sincere religious error will probably do far more damage than good. Furthermore, any sincere, yet theologically incorrect preacher is more dangerous than any charlatan could ever hope to be. Charlatans are eventually exposed, but sincerely wrong people fight with misled convictions that are deeply influential to others.

Let me leave you with a passage of Scripture to ponder where Paul addresses the issue of zealousness for God without a proper understanding of God’s word. This passionate sincerity without knowledge will cause them to be lost unless they learn to walk obediently to God’s plan.

Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved. For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God (Romans 10:1-13).

Hey, if you’re looking for awesome Apostolic music check out Nathan + Rachel. You’re welcome!

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Don’t Settle for an iTunes Version of the Gospel

My kids inherited their daddy’s deep love for music. Unfortunately, they’re also picky and opinionated about the music we listen to on a regular basis (also something they inherited from me). My iron-fisted reign over the music played in the car is being overthrown a little more each day. Complicating things even further, my kids aren’t in total unity about which songs are “super great”. So, when they both really like a particular singer a little shred of heavenly peace fills our daily commutes.

Recently, we accidentally discovered Matthew West, a Christian solo artist. His lyrics are godly and the kids are wild about it. Julia loves Becoming Me and Talmadge thinks Amen is the anthem of the ages. After about a week straight of playing the “Anthem of the Ages” and the “Sweetest Song Ever Penned” I simply couldn’t take it anymore. It turns out, you can have too much of a good thing. So today, I gathered the kiddos around my outdated iPhone, fired up the iTunes store and started sifting through all the Matthew West songs available. Fifteen dollars bought us all a little much-needed peace and sanity.

For those that don’t know, when you’re searching for music on the iTunes store it allows you to listen to short clips of the songs before making a purchase. This had my kids up in arms. They reasoned that people can’t possibly decide if they like a song in just a few seconds. Which is kinda true. Their recommendation was to just buy every song, but Matthew West has a big musical portfolio and that was out of the question. So, we settled for doing our best to sort out which songs we truly enjoyed with limited information.

This whole process conjured up all kinds of happy memories from my childhood. Memories I happily shared with my kids. They were shocked to hear that in the good old days you couldn’t buy one song at a time and store them on your phone. They gasped at the concept of having to buy an entire CD and needed a detailed explanation of the word cassette tape. My eyes probably shined with joy telling stories of running into the Family Christian Store to buy the newest Steven Curtis Chapman album and listening to the entire thing from beginning to end. Not only would I listen to every word of every song, I’d open that slipcover and read all the lyrics, credits, and thank you’s too. Yep. Those are some of my favorite childhood memories.

Those days are long gone. The only album I’ve purchased in full in the last several years is this one – and you should too. In fact, people typically buy one song per album. Usually, it’s a song they heard on the radio and anyone with any musical taste knows the radio hit is rarely the best song on the album (told you I was musically opinionated). We miss so much great music in the age of iTunes, Spotify, Pandora, and whatever the other newfangled digital platform is ascending nowadays. We bypass wonderful songs because the little five-second clip doesn’t do it justice. We totally ignore songs because they’re not on the local Christian radio charts. Charts that increasingly seem to only have about five songs in rotation.

I may be pining for the old days now but in reality, I love the convenience of not carrying 300 CD’s around in my car. Also, it’s nice having all my music available at the touch of a button. Music is much cheaper when you aren’t forced to buy the entire album. In other words, there’s no going back now. And musically speaking, maybe that’s fine.

Every cultural revolution and technological advancement has unintended (or at least corresponding) sociological consequences. For example, many people approach the Bible like an iTunes playlist. They get little biblical snippets here and there, mostly from easily accessible digital sources. They’re familiar with the top ten Bible verses, but rarely know the context or framework of their favorite scriptures. Their theology and resulting understanding of the Gospel is based on sound clips and abbreviated versions that sound great but lack depth and richness. This is evidenced by nationwide lagging attendance during midweek Bible study services. And further demonstrated by Christians who lack transformation and basic biblical knowledge. For unbelievers, they see and hear the lack of mainstream Christianity’s depth and want nothing to do with that slick, naive, cheap, polished brand of empty believe-ism.

It’s not possible to pick and choose the “highlights” or the “best of” moments of the Bible and leave the rest out. Jesus put it this way: “Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word the proceeds out of the mouth of God (Matthew 4:4).” Many churches are filled with sincere unsaved people who have not truly obeyed God’s Word because they unwittingly settled for an iTunes version of the Gospel. And the world is full of people who have rejected the iTunes version of the Gospel because they easily recognized it as inconsistent, indefensible, and unsatisfying. You see, cheapening the Gospel doesn’t make it more palatable, it actually renders it worthless to the world. A little fly in the perfume gives the whole bottle a bad smell (Ecclesiastes 10:1).

The saving power of the Gospel is more than mental assent, a moment of sincere belief, or an ecstatic emotional experience. Simply stated, the Gospel is the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. Before you can even enter into the plan of salvation you must believe that God exists and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him (Hebrews 11:6). Many people believe in the idea of God but reject Jesus. But to embrace the Gospel we first must believe that Jesus Christ is both Lord and Savior (Acts 16:31, John 3:18, John 4:42).

At the heart of the Gospel is the teaching that we must undergo our own spiritual death, burial, and resurrection just as Jesus did physically (Romans 6:3-8, Galatians 2:20, Colossians 2:12-13). There is one recorded instance in the Bible where bystanders clearly asked a question about salvation (Acts 2:37). Peter gives the most concise biblical answer in the following verse and everyone in the early Church followed that apostolic foundation for salvation. The apostle Peter preached: “…repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost (Acts 2:38).” That precise formula is the only way to be birthed (John 3:3, 1 Peter 1:23) into the Kingdom of God.

Essentially, repentance is our spiritual death (Galatians 5:24, Romans 6:11, Galatians 2:20, 1 Peter 2:24, Romans 6:6), baptism in Jesus’ name is our spiritual burial (Romans 6:3-4, Colossians 2:12-13), and the infilling of the Holy Ghost is our spiritual resurrection (Romans 6:5, Colossians 3:1, Romans 8:8-14). Furthermore, the infilling of the Holy Ghost is first evidenced by supernaturally speaking in unknown (previously unlearned) tongues (languages) just as they did in the book of Acts (Mark 16:17, Acts 2:4, Acts 10:46, Acts 19:6) and every time from then on. And, baptism is only salvific when done in the name of Jesus (Acts 4:12, Colossians 3:17, Acts 2:38, Acts 22:16, Galatians 3:27, Acts 10:48, Romans 6:3).

After we are obedient to the fullness of the Gospel all the old sinful things pass away and we become a new creation in Christ Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:17). We walk in agreement with the Spirit (Galatians 5:16). Meaning, God not only saves us from our past sin, He empowers us with His own Spirit to live righteously (2 Peter 1:3-4). The extra good news of the Gospel is that God doesn’t just save us and leave us the same: He saves us, changes us, dwells within us, and continues to strengthen us daily. Now that’s really good news, and we’ve only scratched the surface of what it means to be transformed by the power of God.

I know that isn’t the slick version of the Gospel many people have seen on TV or heard on the radio. It doesn’t fit nicely on a bumper sticker. God didn’t design the Gospel to blend in with our overly commercialized culture. No. The Gospel is timeless, changeless, and sacred. Please don’t settle for an iTunes version of the Gospel that doesn’t save or satisfy.

8 Preacher Traps – That Can Develop Over Time

Preachers need our prayers and support more than ever before. I’m a fierce advocate of preachers and preaching. I’ve written in defense of preachers on numerous occasions here, here, and here. That doesn’t mean I view preachers as superhuman or little deities; however, God ordained the foolishness of preaching as the mechanism for reaching the world with the Gospel (1 Corinthians 1:18-21, Acts 17:18, Mark 16:15). Preaching is Divinely designed to preserve, encourage, strengthen, equip, and correct the Church (1 Corinthians 15:2, 1 Peter 1:25, 1 Timothy 4:13, 2 Timothy 3:16). Bottom line, preaching is really, really, really vital for the overall health of the Church and the advancement of the Gospel. It only makes sense that Satan would set traps for preachers faster than a poacher on a wildlife preservation.

Preaching is Divinely designed to preserve, encourage, strengthen, equip, and correct the Church (1 Corinthians 15:2, 1 Peter 1:25, 1 Timothy 4:13, 2 Timothy 3:16).

Without descending into a pit of needless negativity, I can safely assume everyone reading this post has witnessed at least one sincere preacher turn, shall we say… less than sincere. With very few exceptions, preachers do not begin ministering with nefarious intentions. For the most part, preachers make tremendous sacrifices to enter the ministry. Preacher problems develop over time as they fall into traps either because of carelessness or unresolved character flaws the enemy cleverly exploits.

Preacher problems develop over time as they fall into traps either because of carelessness or unresolved character flaws the enemy cleverly exploits.

My motivation for writing isn’t to criticize the fallen; there’s plenty of preacher bashing going on without me jumping unceremoniously into the ring. Instead, I’m writing with the earnest hearted preacher in mind. Additionally, I’m writing for those who may have stepped a toe across a line yet still have the capacity to feel a surge of conscience. One thing is for sure if you labor in ministry long enough, you will be forced to navigate around or fight your way out of a preacher trap. I’ve identified eight common traps in the hopes of building awareness, fortifications, and wisdom.

One thing is for sure if you labor in ministry long enough, you will be forced to navigate around or fight your way out of a preacher trap.

1. Success & Popularity

Most preachers have tons of incredibly humbling moments in their early days of ministry. My brother has a “blackmail tape” containing one of the first sermons I ever preached to this day. I sounded like a scared parrot that only knew four words. After those four words, everything else was just squawking, and weird chirping sounds. It was horrible. God bless that precious congregation and Pastor James Fielder for loving me enough to be encouraging despite that pathetic, although sincere attempt to preach.

Yep. Early days of ministry are filled with epic fails, empty blusters, false starts, zealous stumbles, learning curves, knowledge gaps, unrestrained enthusiasm, and embarrassing awkwardness. Some endure that maturation process longer than others, but over time the resilient step into a season of ministerial success. Now, measuring ministerial success can be tricky because it really has nothing to do with money, fame, large congregations, or popularity. God defines success differently than most people define success, but that’s another post for another day. Regardless, even achieving a godly standard of success can suck the humility right out of a sincere heart. Once that humility is gone, all kinds of nasty things compete to fill the void.

Measuring ministerial success can be tricky because it really has nothing to do with money, fame, large congregations, or popularity. God defines success differently than most people define success.

Success is not the problem. Success is a good thing. Responding correctly to success is the key. Most people spend a lot of time figuring out how to deal with failure but very little time preparing their hearts to handle success and popularity.

Most people spend a lot of time figuring out how to deal with failure but very little time preparing their hearts to handle success and popularity.

2. Talent

When a preacher realizes he is talented enough to move a crowd without relying on the anointing, his foot is poised above a preacher killing landmine. Lawyers, politicians, comedians, actors, false prophets, and motivational speakers move crowds emotionally every day without the anointing’s help. Having talent is great, terrific even, but it is the anointing that breaks the yoke (Isaiah 10:27).

When a preacher realizes he is talented enough to move a crowd without relying on the anointing, his foot is poised above a preacher killing landmine.

Lawyers, politicians, comedians, actors, false prophets, and motivational speakers move crowds emotionally every day without the anointing’s help. Having talent is great, but it is the anointing that breaks the yoke (Isaiah 10:27).

I firmly believe that preachers should work to develop strong communication skills. I think preachers should work as hard as possible to communicate biblical truths effectively and with as much excellence as possible. This is partially what the Apostle Paul was alluding to when he admonished Timothy, “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15).” But all the talent, work, study, and charisma in the world is no substitute for prayer, fasting, and humble reliance upon the Lord.

All the talent, work, study, and charisma in the world is no substitute for prayer, fasting, and humble reliance upon the Lord.

Every talented preacher should remember the warning of the ever-somber prophet Jeremiah: Cursed is that man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength (Jeremiah 17:5-9). Learning how to move a crowd emotionally is a cheap substitute for the genuine power and demonstration of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:4-5).

Learning how to move a crowd emotionally is a cheap substitute for the genuine power and demonstration of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:4-5).

3. Loving Preaching More Than People

This is one of the most common traps to ensnare preachers. It shames me to admit that I’ve had to fight my way out of this trap a time or two. This one takes a lot of self-introspection to detect.

Upon reflection, I’ve pinpointed a few things about my preaching while wriggling out of that devious little trap. One, I preached way longer than needed to communicate what God laid on my heart. Two, I chased many rabbit trails that interested me but were of little help or value to the hearers. Three, I resisted the Spirit when it prompted me to deviate from my prepared notes. Four, I rebuked out of personal anger rather than real righteous indignation. Five, I spent less time weeping over the lost and broken than concocting just the right wording for each sermon point. Six, in the preparation process, I resisted the Spirit’s directing, opting instead to build my favorite soapbox or pursue topics that were intellectually stimulating to me personally. Seven, I was more passionate about winning arguments than winning hearts. Eight, I preached condescendingly, smugly, and arrogantly.

Preaching cannot and should not be solely directed towards the “felt” needs of a congregation. Neither should preaching be spineless, compromising, or afraid of necessary confrontation. Nothing mentioned here should leave the impression that preachers should be push-overs, milquetoasts, or overly obsessive about offending the hearers. But the fact remains a preacher’s motives matter. Preachers should always stand behind the sacred desk driven by love for God, God’s Word, God’s Church, and lost people.

Preaching cannot and should not be solely directed towards the “felt” needs of a congregation. Neither should preaching be spineless, compromising, or afraid of necessary confrontation.

A preacher’s motives matter. Preachers should always stand behind the sacred desk driven by love for God, God’s Word, God’s Church, and lost people.

4. Forgetting the Main Mission

As I mentioned earlier, preaching has many noble purposes, but none more vital than the propagation of the Gospel (Matthew 28:19-20, 2 Timothy 4:17, 2 Corinthians 10:14, Acts 8:12-17). Preaching can quickly devolve into mere motivational jargon if it isn’t Christocentric. During the endless quest to remain relevant, creative, engaging, inspiring, and fresh, some preachers lose sight of the Great Commission and ultimately fail their mission.

Preaching can devolve into mere motivational jargon if it isn’t Christocentric. During the endless quest to remain relevant, creative, engaging, inspiring, and fresh, some preachers lose sight of the Great Commission and fail their mission.

5. Valuing Crowd Size Above the Spiritual Growth of the Congregation

I’ve written a fair bit on church growth here, here, and here. No preacher in their right mind wants seats to be empty while the Word is being preached. Every empty seat represents a soul that needs God. Regardless, God never called preachers to build large congregations. Instead, we are called to plant the seed; God alone gives the Harvest (Matthew 9:38). Every preacher reading this knows that is the case, but it doesn’t stop us from feeling like failures when church attendance dips or doesn’t grow at the pace we had envisioned. All of that is normal and acceptable to a certain degree, yet very dangerous if we begin to value large crowds above the people’s actual spiritual health.

Just gathering large groups of people together every Sunday isn’t the ultimate spiritual objective. Otherwise, the NFL would be one of the most spiritual organizations in America. When preachers become inordinately focused on crowd size instead of spiritual maturation, they will suffer depression, discouragement, insecurity, jealousy, and struggle with the temptation to become people pleasers rather than God pleasers, which leads nicely to the next trap.

Just gathering large groups of people together every Sunday isn’t the ultimate spiritual objective. Otherwise, the NFL would be one of the most spiritual organizations in America.

When preachers become inordinately focused on crowd size instead of spiritual maturation, they suffer depression, discouragement, insecurity, jealousy, and struggle with the temptation to become people pleasers rather than God pleasers.

6. Willingness to Sacrifice Scriptural Integrity

There are many reasons a preacher might be tempted to compromise biblical truths. Some compromise due to the illusion of assured numerical growth, desired popularity, personal carnality, outside pressure, peer pressure, spiritual battle fatigue, greed, or any number of other factors. Regardless, failing to preach the whole Truth and nothing but the Truth is a gross betrayal of God’s calling and the trust placed in us by others.

Failing to preach the whole Truth and nothing but the Truth is a gross betrayal of God’s calling and the trust placed in us by others.

7. Burnout

Unresolved physical, emotional, and spiritual exhaustion can result in burnout, and burnout produces bitterness. For every preacher with a golf course “ministry” reputation, there are ten others burning the candle at both ends. As I’ve written before, the ministry is incredibly demanding. Burnout usually manifests itself as depression or anxiety, or both. The tragedy of the burnout trap is that it takes advantage of a preacher’s good intentions. We want to be all things, to all people, all the time. It’s just not humanly possible.

Unresolved physical, emotional, and spiritual exhaustion can result in burnout, and burnout produces bitterness.

Burnout usually manifests itself as depression or anxiety. The tragedy of the burnout trap is that it takes advantage of a preacher’s good intentions. We want to be all things, to all people, all the time. It’s just not humanly possible.

8. Ministering to Others While Neglecting Family

I understand that a preacher’s family must be willing to make sacrifices for the sake of ministry. I get that. Been there. Done that. Still doing that. But a preacher’s first ministerial obligation is to his family (Genesis 18:19, 1 Samuel 3:13, 1 Timothy 3:1-12, Titus 1:6). Many dynamic ministries have been rendered powerless because their family fell apart. They were so busy ministering to others; they lost sight of their primary responsibility.

3 Revival Killers

The Christmas season is upon us with all the hustle and bustle that it brings. The busyness of the season can distract us from the important work of the Church that Jesus came to establish in the first place. From the moment that Jesus was born the institutions of this world have been trying to snuff Him and the message that He brings out. But the message of Jesus is not a candle in the wind it is a raging fire that no human can destroy. When they couldn’t kill his message they settled for killing Him instead. Unwittingly, they had fulfilled the ancient prophecies and made the Gospel complete by enabling a powerful resurrection.

The forces of darkness are still intent upon killing the work of the Gospel at every opportunity and will use whatever means necessary to do so. It is the high calling of the Church to protect, preserve, and promote the Gospel, especially during the Christmas season when commercialism seeks to compete with the true reason for the season. And so rather than be distracted, we must keep revival ever at the forefront of our thinking.

People who’ve experienced real revival know that revival is hard work. I had a wonderful godly man confide in me one time that he felt guilty because he didn’t really want to see his church grow. I asked him why and he said, “Because I have lived through one revival and it wore me out.” I knew what he was trying to say. If you visit the birthing wing on a busy day at any hospital, you’ll see a perfect illustration of revival. A church goes through the process of pregnancy, and the pain of labor, and finally gives birth to spiritual babies in the Lord. All those babies need constant care and constant attention or they’ll perish. Let me share with you three things will kill revival just as surely as Herod tried to kill baby Jesus.

  1. CONFLICT & COMPETITION

Technically these are two things, however, usually conflict within the Church is directly related to competition. That’s why Scripture instructs us to prefer our brethren over ourselves (Romans 12:10). Pride, self-promotion, a heart that is easily and quickly offended, and competition will destroy the work of revival and hinder the flow of the Spirit. Refuse to participate or fall into the trap of these revival killers.

  1. COMPLACENCY

Complacency is the state of being satisfied with how things are and lacking any desire to make them better. In a spiritual sense, there are varying degrees of complacency, but the bottom line is that the Church is mandated to be constantly reaching, reaping, preaching, and growing. We can be satisfied with nothing less. Laziness, selfishness, self-righteousness, lack of passion, lack of compassion, and small-mindedness are all contributors to the dangerous prevalence of spiritual complacency.

  1. COMPROMISE

There is an overwhelming trend towards diluting the Gospel placing a stranglehold on churches around the world. Tragically, when you dilute the Gospel it ceases to be the Gospel. Cafeteria Christianity does not save, it does not deliver, and although it will initially attract crowds it ultimately fails to sustain. Easy believe-ism does not endure when the rubber meets the road. Those unwilling to buy the truth and sell it not (Proverbs 23:23) will abandon the cross like a child discarding a broken toy on Christmas night.

 

9 Types of Church Services

Many people approach church with preconceived ideas or expectations about what makes an excellent service. Rather than allowing God and the ministry the liberty to lead us, we stand (or sit) in judgment if God doesn’t “show up” in the way we expect Him to. In the Old Testament, God revealed Himself in many ways: burning bush, cloud by day & pillar of fire by night, whispering, thundering, and the list could go on and on. The moving of the Spirit is more than just a dance (and I’m all for dancing in the Spirit), and it’s more than only a time of blissful silence (and I’m all for those quiet and deep moves of the Spirit). Verse number two in our Bible gives a clue as to how the Spirit operates; “…And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters (Genesis 1:2).” John 3:8 compares the Spirit to the wind that blows where and when it wants to blow. My point is simply that the Spirit of God is not predictable, controllable, entirely understandable, and it is certainly not able to be manipulated by you or me.

The Spirit of God is not predictable, controllable, entirely understandable, and it is certainly not able to be manipulated by you or me.

It seems counterintuitive for an Apostolic to say the Spirit’s moving is more than emotional (although it can often be emotional). It’s foolish to relegate the Holy Ghost’s operation to mere emotion because our emotions often play tricks on us. The Holy Ghost can and should cause us to celebrate, speak in tongues, sing, shout, become demonstrative, and extravagant in our praise. However, we should also be receptive when the Spirit convicts, corrects, rebukes, teaches, perfects, and other various things that are sometimes painful. In other words, if we are genuinely seeking God’s will every time we gather together as the children of God, we will lay aside our manmade expectations and sincerely ask God to have His way. With this in mind, I have compiled a list of nine types of church services.

It seems counterintuitive for an Apostolic to say the Spirit’s moving is more than emotional (although it often is emotional). It’s foolish to relegate the Holy Ghost’s operation to mere emotion because our emotions often play tricks on us.

Comforting Services (John 14:26). Some church services are meant to bring comfort to our hearts. This can happen in many ways, but the Holy Ghost is indeed the great Comforter (John 15:26, John 16:7).

Evangelistic Services (Acts 2:38). Often church services are designed to evangelize the lost and answer the question, “…what shall we do (Acts 2:37)?” When the Spirit moves to reach the lost, it is vitally important that those of us who are already saved remain involved in the process. Spiritually mature Christians are ok when a service isn’t explicitly aimed at their needs. If you emotionally check out of evangelistic services, you need to check your Holy Ghost pulse.

When the Spirit moves to reach the lost, it is vitally important that those of us who are already saved remain involved in the process. Spiritually mature Christians are ok when a service isn’t explicitly aimed at their needs.

Reminder Services (John 14:26, Jude 1:5). Regardless of how long we have been following Jesus, we still become forgetful. Even worse, sometimes we slip into complacency, and so the Spirit often moves in our church services to remind us of things that we should already know.

Proclamation of Truth Services (John 16:13). When the Spirit moves, it guides us into truth. Proclaiming truth is one of the Church’s primary functions, and all of its activities should lead to the Truth.

When the Spirit moves, it guides us into truth. Proclaiming truth is one of the Church’s primary functions, and all of its activities should lead to the Truth.

Prophetic Services (John 16:13). Apostolic churches must be comfortable with the reality that God has not changed, and the gift of prophecy is still authentic. I know that prophetic gifts are sometimes abused, but so is everything else. The Church as a whole profoundly needs genuine prophetic gifts to be in operation.

Prophetic gifts are sometimes abused, but so is everything else. The Church as a whole profoundly needs genuine prophetic gifts to be in operation.

Family Reunion Services (Galatians 4:6). God is our Heavenly Father, which makes us brothers and sisters in the Lord (Galatians 3:28). Therefore, it is appropriate that we gather together and honor our family heritage. I think of this as a family reunion because the Church is not just one congregation. The Church is comprised of a massive number of congregations from all over the world. There should be times when we connect, refresh, uplift, and encourage one another.

Teaching Services (Ephesians 4:11). It’s important to remember that the apostle Paul included teaching within the parameters of the Five-Fold Ministry. Teaching services equip, train, and solidify our minds. Mature Christians covet good teaching.

Teaching services equip, train, and solidify our minds. Mature Christians covet good teaching.

Celebration Services (Exodus 15:19-21). We should celebrate the goodness of God all the time, but when God does something especially tremendous, we should focus our celebration around it. Some services will celebrate the goodness of God.

Giving Services (1 Chronicles 29:9, 2 Corinthians 8:1-5). Although consistent giving is needed, sometimes a spirit of sacrificial giving is required to advance the Church’s mission. This is the type of service that usually meets the most resistance. Even pastors fear this kind of service. Don’t let fear or carnality keep you from reaping the blessings birthed out of sacrificial giving.

Although consistent giving is needed, sometimes a spirit of sacrificial giving is required to advance the Church’s mission.

Conclusion

Healthy churches experience a blend and balance of the nine types of services mentioned above. Furthermore, healthy Christians are comfortable with each of these service types. Unhealthy churches get stuck overemphasizing two or three types of services to the exclusion of the rest. This creates a spiritual imbalance. Every church service contains some elements of the things mentioned above, but there is an overarching theme that God is directing us towards. Learning to be sensitive to the Spirit is one of the most important spiritual disciplines a believer can cultivate.

Learning to be sensitive to the Spirit is one of the most important spiritual disciplines a believer can cultivate.