Temperature

I have ministered in countless churches, and the temperature is different in every body of believers and in every service. You may think I’m talking about AC and heat. Although that is true also, I’m talking about the spiritual temperature. I’ve preached in a lot of cold and lukewarm situations, but I have also had some opportunities to minister where the spiritual temperature is hot.

As a pastor, I have to help set the atmosphere. Ultimately it is a work of God’s Spirit. Yesterday, I knew by the atmosphere before we started that it was going to be a tough day. I’m not saying that because we have bad people. We have great people, several of which were tired. I opened the service (as one of the tired people) and we sang a song. I asked the people to be seated. One of our guitarists began his Christian life in a bluegrass church, so I put him on the spot. I asked him to play and sing something a little upbeat from his bluegrass days. It changed the atmosphere. We are primarily a contemporary church in that we sing the modern worship songs, but we have not abandoned other styles of worship. The temperature had to be changed.

As a believer in Christ, you can help change the temperature where you are. You can chill it with negativity and lack of vision, or you can set it on fire with faith and vision.

My prayer is that God uses our group at Overcomers to be temperature changers. Oconee County needs us (as well as the other gatherings of believers in the area) to shine in the darkness. Wherever you are, determine that you will help to positively set the spiritual temperature there. You may be the instrument God uses to bring revival where you are.

  • Matthew

Drought

What is a drought? It is a season of dryness. I remember a summer when it was dry for almost the entire summer. People in that area began having nightly prayer meetings for rain. After months of praying, the rain came.

Spiritually, we hit these seasons of drought. I go through seasons where I have great ideas for messages I will preach, blog posts I will write, and other ideas for various areas of my life. Then I hit a dry spell. Blog posts are dry, preaching falls flat, and I get into a rut. We all get into a rut, living life from paycheck to paycheck, going through the daily routine with little to no excitement, and rising out of bed to do it all over again.

Scripture speaks of the longest drought in history. It lasted 3 1/2 years. First Kings 18 tells of how this drought ended following the victory over the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel. Elijah prayed and first said there was the sound of abundance of rain. No one could see the signs until after looking the seventh time. Then there was only a cloud. Elijah had enough faith to know that the rain was coming, so he told King Ahab to make preparation before the rain would stop him. Then it poured.

Our seasons of drought vary in length. We can experience spiritual dryness for days, weeks, months, or years. Eventually, the Lord will rain down upon us. We wrestle with God in Bible study, prayer, and various acts of obedience while we feel like God is overlooking us. He’s busy doing something in you that you cannot see. Just hold on! Rain is on the way!

This HAS to be Right!

Earlier in my life, I struggled with a perfectionist spirit. As I grew older, I let go of some of that. When it comes to what I do for the Lord, I want it to be the best it can possibly be. It will not be perfect, but I will strive to give my best.

Praise demands a sacrifice! I love this verse: “Then the king said to Araunah, “No, but I will surely buy it from you for a price; nor will I offer burnt offerings to the LORD my God with that which costs me nothing.” So David bought the threshing floor and the oxen for fifty shekels of silver” (II Samuel‬ ‭24:24‬ ‭NKJV‬‬). The king could not offer to the Lord that which cost him nothing. We will sacrifice time, energy, and numerous other things to give God our best. He is worth every sacrifice!

While we should avoid the extreme of a well-polished yet heartless performance, we should strive to give God the best we can with what we have at every given opportunity. My best and your best may differ, but God desires it.

Many of you will go to a place of worship tomorrow. As you do, give God your best. If you can’t sing, so what? Sing with all your heart. You may not preach like a megachurch pastor, but preach with all your heart. As Gary Colboch (one of my former pastors) would frequently say, “If it bears God’s name, it deserves our best.”

Enjoying the Journey

As I was conversing with my coworkers, we were discussing the upcoming arrival of another baby in May. One of my coworkers asked me if I was excited. I had to admit that I’m more nervous than anything. This will be my fifth child (I can’t believe I’m typing that because I feel like I’m creating my own tribe). I have always been one who gets caught up in all the details about provision, etc. I think that most men have that on their mind.

I also began to think about how my oldest three are growing up. They are 14, 12, and 10. I see them every other weekend. So many weekends, I focus more on what I can’t give them rather than the personal investment of my time and love that I can freely give. I don’t want to miss this.

We often spend our lives worrying about the destination rather than enjoying the journey. I should be enjoying the sweet, sassy, hilarious, strong-willed, and stubborn moments I go through with them because they will soon be college students then adults. They will go on to marry and give me grandchildren (which I hope will be in at least 10+ years because I don’t want to age any faster). Seriously, why rush life? The book of James says it’s a vapor.

Sure. I can treasure what I see in the rear view mirror…first words, first steps. Funny moments. I can also treasure them now. New moments of laughter. Some moments may frustrate me now, but we will look back and laugh one day.

One final application to believers – stop focusing so much on the evil in the world and looking forward to Heaven that you don’t enjoy life and try to get others on the Jesus journey with you. I know way too many people who call themselves Christians whose anthem is “this ole world is an unfriendly world to me”. It might be, but you have a friend named Jesus who gives you songs in the night and joy in the morning. What a wonderful Savior we have!

Culture Versus Truth

I most definitely feel least qualified to write on such a subject, but I am disturbed by how many people who claim to be Christians allow American culture to take precedence over truth. Honestly, it’s not just American culture. Other ethnic groups have forced their culture upon Scripture, and God’s absolute truth has been thrown out the window.

In the southern part of the United States, sacred cultural cows consist of Bible versions, musical preferences, pastors wearing suits, pews versus chairs, wooden pulpits versus plexiglass, etc. People are dying without Christ, and people in the church are fighting over things that don’t matter. Or the other extreme is forcing modern lifestyle preferences by pimping a twisted view of a permissive God Who does not care about what we do as long as we are happy and mean well.

Many churches and pastors are paralyzed today by people in their congregations who care more for culture than they do Truth. We can be culturally relevant without compromising. God meant what He said in Scripture. He said, “I am the Lord; I change not.” Does that mean that He decides to allow certain things because it’s 2018 and we are a much more tolerant society? NO!!!!!! Despite how many people tried to convince me that morality is a gray area, I beg to differ.

When it comes to culture versus truth, I pick truth because it is from God. He is Truth! When it comes to tradition or truth, I pick truth! When it comes to what my family said or God’s truth, I pick truth (no disrespect to family). God’s Word is forever settled in Heaven, and no good intentions on my part will change His standards of holiness and truth.

What’s the Answer? The Church or the Christ?

I cannot tell you how many times I have talked with people about their loved ones’ standing with God. This is a good thing. I have loved ones and pray for their standing with God. The thing that has disturbed me about how some have requested me to pray is that they ask me to pray that they get back in church. Honestly, I believe there is a much better prayer to pray. The root of this issue is this – Is the answer the church or the Christ?

The answer is Christ. I pray that people will fall in love with Jesus not an institution. You may think, “But you’re a pastor! You shouldn’t be praying such things or publicly blogging such things.” My response is that no one should exalt a building over the One who died so that those who trust in Him can meet together to glorify Him and grow together in Him. The true church is not an organization but people all over the world who have trusted in Christ to wash away their sins. Believers in nearby locations meet together for worship and growth. The way they do that doesn’t have to fit cultural expectations. The church gathered has taken on many expressions, and many of them are different but still accomplishing the Great Commission. I will not criticize a church because it doesn’t look like mine. God uses us all to accomplish His Kingdom Work.

With all that said, the answer is the Christ. The church may help lead people to the answer and grow deeper in Him, but people will face a Christless eternity if they put the cart before the horse. You can say a thousand prayers, sing a thousand churchy songs, get wet in a baptistery, join a church, and serve on 15 committees and die apart without a relationship with Christ. He is the answer. So here is what I say…Take me to the King!

Throwing the Baby Out with the Bath Water

I grew up in a denomination that, for the most part, is pretty liberal. I know some great conservatives within it, but it is more well known worldwide as liberal. The pendulum of my life went to the other side to a denomination that is very conservative. On one side, I found love without doctrine. On the other side, I found doctrine without love.

For fear that the conservative denomination may be associated with liberalism, it generally did not embrace the season of Lent. Although I grew up in a denomination that was fairly liberal, I had a relationship with Christ and appreciate the various parts of the liturgical year. I embraced the emphasis of prayer and self denial (something that doctrinal conservatives could embrace more). Good Friday deepened my appreciation for the death of my Savior as He shed His blood for my sin. Easter Sunday was much more meaningful because we had taken that 40-day journey from Ash Wednesday to Resurrection Sunday.

Because of fear that we may be negatively associated with a group or person, we often throw the baby out with the bath water. We refuse to celebrate Lent because some liberal church does it. Conservative churches also celebrate it. As a friend of mine from college said in the midst of a ridiculous argument, “Eat the meat and leave the bone.”

I would like to close by asking do we “eat the meat and leave the bone”, “throw the baby out with the bath water”, or “throw out the baby and bath water along with the tub”? Hear this plea for balance and choose the first option.

Some Time Alone (Communication in Relationships)

For the first time in a little while, my wife and I got to enjoy dinner alone. My oldest 3 spent time with my mom while the baby spent time with my mother in law. A huge thank you to both! These ladies love their grandchildren (and us too).

I was telling my wife how nice it was to be out with just her. She looked at me and told me how she doesn’t need that time because she is such a people person. I love spending time with people, but I enjoy when she and I can simply enjoy the company of each other without children. I personally need a little bit of alone time, and I communicated that to her verbally. No guess work necessary!

Many marriages struggle because one of both parties are poor communicators. Here are a few suggestions:

Talk! Talk about your joys, sorrows, irritations, expectations. Verbalize your appreciation for the other. Let it be positive not just negative. If something is on your mind, talk to the other person before you go getting counseling from people who have no business knowing the more intimate details of your life. Ask questions rather than jumping to conclusions. Say what you mean.

Listen! God gave you two ears and one mouth. Hence, we should listen more than we speak. Listen to what is not being said as much as you are what is being said. Be caring enough about the other person that you know when he or she is struggling. Communication is both verbal and non-verbal.

Seek counsel if necessary! I recommend someone who is trained in this area. Some pastors will admit that they are not the best in this area. If one or the other is emotionally constipated, there is nothing like a counseling laxative.

Let God guide the relationship! Many relationships fail because Christ is nowhere near it. The relationship is about what makes one or the other happy. What about honoring God and the other above self? A relationship without Christ as the foundation is a setup for failure.

Alone time is more than just “intimate relations”. Kevin Leman said it well in his book “Sex Begins in the Kitchen”. He explains the way to spice up the bedroom is to have intimacy in other areas of life. Set some time aside sooner rather than later to share your heart with your spouse.

My wife made my evening when she said, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” She knows I’m a visionary, so I said what I Envision. She lives in the moment, but it thrilled me for her to ask. These moments mean more than you think. Make communication a priority.

  • Matthew

Church Games

What Are church games? Monopoly? Parcheesi? Rummy? PlayStations and X-boxes in the youth room? I wish it were that innocent. The types of games I see played in church can potentially send some people to hell.

What do people have to accomplish with church games? Who are we impressing? The preacher? Deacons? Small group leaders? They probably see right through you. Do you think you’re impressing God? He definitely sees right through it! You can’t pull the wool over God’s eyes.

Are you tired of playing church games or watching them being played? Then you might like this song.

Real Love

This morning, I preached about those who have religion but lack a relationship with Christ. These are the ones who go to church to impress with their suits, big Bibles, fancy prayers, and “Christianese” (a language foreign to only “true believers”). These are the ones who have to go to fancy buildings and follow rigid structures. They are the first to rise up and speak against anything that doesn’t fit their way of doing things. They hate kids being kids. They don’t want others who aren’t “their kind of people” to be bussed in or drive themselves to their pristine facility. God forbid you have a past. If you do, it might be best to try to hide it lest someone approach you about it or use you as a prayer request in their gossip circles.

With this introduction, do you understand why people are still choosing a relationship with Christ over the institutional church. Some say you cannot have it. Because the traditional church almost burned me, I asked God to raise up a safe place for people to be real and be loved. A place where the recovering addict will be loved even during a relapse. A place where we don’t put our stamp of approval on sin while loving people to a place of restoration and victory.

The bottom line is that people want real love. Not a fake “love you”. Religion leaves you empty. Christ satisfies. I think this song by Blanca says it better than I can.

Lowering God to Our Level

I know that God took on a human body in Jesus Christ, but some people have made God a bit too cozy. He is not my beer buddy nor is He someone with whom I go cow-tipping. He is high and lifted up. His thoughts and ways are higher than mine. He is all-powerful and all-knowing, so why would I want God on my pathetic, powerless level? Maybe it’s because I would want to be comfortable in my sin or I have a blatant disregard for Scripture. Maybe I view the Bible loosely rather than literally. This is not my view. I’m just trying to think like a liberal.

I know a religious group voted today to remove any gender-related descriptive of God. I understand that John 4:24 says that God is Spirit. However I have no qualms about God being personified as a father or the male Jesus. Evidently some do. What is wrong with gender differences? God made me physiologically different from my wife. For that, I am very grateful.

Bottom line: a denomination has no right to force its preferences upon God’s Word. I want to worship the One true God who is worthy of all my praise rather than some watered down version that man has created to accommodate self.

Fitting In

Many of us go through life trying to “fit in”. In an attempt to be accepted by an individual or group of people, we pretend to be someone we are not. From a totally different angle, some of us are comfortable with who we are while being unable to fit in our clothes. That’s where I am.

We can respond to this a few different ways:

  1. We can change the outside. We do this by getting clothes that fit. In this, we are changing the environment to fit us. It is a form of change, but we have made no personal change other than a new outfit or wardrobe. I’m not saying that is wrong. Changing the environment (wardrobe) to suit us may be the best option because our physique is where it should be.
  2. We can change the inside. This will demonstrate itself outwardly. If we lose weight or develop muscle, we are changing what goes into the clothes as well as the clothes themselves.

What do I recommend? I would recommend the latter. Any of us can try to force what is close to us to change, but it takes work to make personal changes. Our personal changes can lead to a chain reaction where we influence change around us.

You and I were created to stand out. Play it safe if you wish, but God has put a pioneer spirit within me. Be a trendsetter! Walk into the room and set the thermostat! I’m not talking about changing the temperature on a little box. Be the kind of person who walks into a room and sets the atmosphere because of the type of person you are. May your positive energy bring joy and influence.

While you may look at “fitting in” as a problem, it may be a blessing in disguise. I spent years trying to fit in, only to discover that I was in an environment that stifled me. I had to be in a situation where I could help change the atmosphere. Don’t settle for less! Choose to stand out! It’s the only way you will make a difference.

The Christian Sex Problem

I can already hear the gasps. I have only announced the title and some people are getting uncomfortable. Why? Because Christians have a sex problem. Let me explain.

I grew up in Christian School. I remember most of my teachers stumbling across the word like it was completely sinful. Outside God’s design, it is sinful. Within God’s plan, it is beautiful. Why would God create sex if it was 100% perverted? The enemy perverted it, and mankind has perverted it. God never did. God does not blush on the throne of Heaven when someone says the word “sex”. He delights when a husband and wife engage in what He designed. A husband and wife can glorify God while doing so. If that were not the case, there would not be a whole book of the Bible which focuses on this subject within the marital relationship. If you’re wondering what that book is, it’s Song of Solomon (Song of Songs). I dare you to study it. Proverbs has some good coverage on the issue also.

You may be wondering what provoked me to post such a topic. It’s because too many teachers and preachers don’t have the guts to preach about it, then they wonder why there is a ton of sexual sin in their churches and in society. Preachers and parents have been way too bashful and have avoided the facts way too long. The less we talk about it openly and honestly, the more people are going to go out and experience it for themselves. Human nature is to rebel. If we teach what the Bible says in a nonjudgmental way, we just might be surprised at the results. We might actually see our youth want to save themselves for marriage. We might actually see people keeping sex within their own marriage. We might see less porn addiction. Furthermore, we might see less sexual abuse. The more we make it taboo, the more we silently encourage people to do the wrong thing.

Do you think there is a Christian sex problem? It isn’t because God doesn’t encourage sex in the most wonderful way. It is because Christians are too embarrassed and choose the avoidance method.

To parents, pray and be open and honest with your children. Answer their questions and keep an open environment. Proper teaching begins at home. You can’t delegate parenting to the church nor the school system.

To pastors, do not be afraid to address this issue biblically. Don’t be so clinical or professional that people cannot relate. Yet, on the other hand, don’t be so irreverent that you turn your preaching and teaching into a big joke.

Dear Christian, our avoidance has created a lot of problems but we still have time. Don’t wait until there is a problem in your home or church to talk about it or go to the other extreme by creating an atmosphere of shame. Let’s get biblical and talk about the beauty of what God designed and still has for a husband and wife to cherish.

World’s Worst Advice

I hear people give advice ALL THE TIME! A lot of it is horrible advice. They will give it whether you ask or not. Here is my list of horrible advice that will screw you up every time.

  1. Do what makes you happy! Sheryl Crow sang, “If it makes you happy, then why the **** are you so sad?” She was no theologian, but she had enough sense to know that happiness is based on circumstances which fluctuate. What makes you happy today probably won’t make you happy tomorrow.
  2. Follow your heart! Really?!? Your “heart” can be on an emotional roller coaster, and you plan on following your heart? The Bible says the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked (Jeremiah 17:9).
  3. Do something for yourself! I am not denying that we should care for ourselves, but most people go overboard and buy themselves a boat or spend money they don’t have. If doing something for yourself will cause World War 3 when you get home or put you in massive debt, do a small kind gesture for someone else and find out how truly fulfilling that is.

If you get your advice from a fool, you’re likely to do something foolish. Get your advice from a wise person, and you are likely to make a wise choice. Whatever you do, don’t go getting advice from someone who will tell you what you want to hear. I speak from experience on this one!

When Your “Friends” Forsake You

I have been hearing a lot recently about how people have thought they had great friends and are discovering that the friendship is very one-sided. We all have these types of people who are in and out of our lives. You may be reading this, and you are disheartened. That friend who meant the world to you now acts like you don’t exist. I would like to share with you some things God taught me as people exited my life.

  • Some people are toxic and need to go. They are they to drain your energy and pull you down so they can feel better. Let them go while praying that they will see how self-centered they truly are and become selfless.
  • Some people are only meant to be in your life for a season. They will serve a purpose in your life for a brief time and move on. You and I have to learn how to understand these seasons and purposes and accept God’s timing for their exodus.
  • Some people must go because they are unintentionally keeping you from your purpose. This has been the case with many who have exited my life in the last few years. I cherished some friendships and put people on pedestals. I’m not saying that there is anything wrong with these people, but I would not be on the path I am today had I continue to walk with them. Their exodus from my life ultimately led me to greater compassion and understanding for those who are hurting. I would have never stepped out to start Overcomers Church and would have been sitting safely within a denominational comfort zone feeling like a fish out of water.

I discovered that the ones who stayed love me despite the different path I have taken. I have received such encouragement from them. We may not see eye to eye philosophically, but those who love you will be there through disagreements and all.

The Bible has many great things to say about friends. My favorite is this: “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends” (John‬ ‭15:13‬ ‭NKJV). When a friend will go through the fire with you and sacrifice anything for you, you know you have a true friend. I am glad to tell you today that the greatest Friend you will ever have is Jesus Christ. Others will betray you; He will never forsake you.‬‬