The Definition of Success

What is success? What are its indicators? As a younger minister, I was driven by all the definitions from the “professional church community”. According to the “experts”, a certain number in worship attendance defined success. Or the amount of money collected defined success. According to these criteria, I was successful in some churches and unsuccessful in others. 

What does God say about success? Does it have anything to do with money or personal possessions? Can you be broke and be successful in God’s economy? I’ll let you decide based upon the only verse where the word “success” is used in Scripture.

Joshua 1:8 says, “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.” God says nothing about possessions. God measures success by what you and I do with the Word of God. Do we meditate on and obey Scripture? If the answer is yes, then we are measured by God as successful. If the answer is no, we may only be successful by the world’s standards. God won’t care about the money we made nor the accolades nor the accomplishments in our workplace if we were not obedient to Him. 

Based on God’s definition, what do you want for your life? Do you want to waste your time with attention, possessions, and things that won’t go with you when you die? Or would you prefer to potentially do without these things and focus on pleasing God? You can have both, but obedience to Christ outweighs anything else. Are you willing to pay the price for God-success?

A Tribute to a Class Act

In 2001, God sent me to serve Emmanuel Baptist Church and Christian School in Hartsville, SC. There was a widow named Myrtle who was one among many who loved us and took us in like family. My first impression was that she was very prim and proper and did not joke around. I had the element of class correct, but I seriously underestimated the sense of humor. 

She joined the choir within a year after I got there. She invited us out to eat, to other functions, and eventually to her home. Any meal she prepared was always enough for an army, and she would apologize for it not being enough. We would laugh. She was a queen of hospitality.

She was someone who endured a lot in her life. Her daughter preceded her in death by over 50 years, yet she handled it with such grace and was able to help others who went through something similar. She had many health issues, yet she bounced off many times. I often joked with Myrtle and said she would sing at my funeral. She would laugh and tell me how I wouldn’t want that. We shared many laughs together.

She was a lady who was highly respected by those in Hartsville who knew her. People were quick to bring her food, mow her grass, and do anything she needed. Myrtle was just as quick (if not quicker) to do for others. She cared for the sick even when she wasn’t feeling 100 percent. She modeled selflessness, and many admired it.

She was a wise lady. Whenever I needed guidance, I would call her. She would always give a good answer because she had a great deal of life experience. When I was getting ready to Pastor my first church, she said, “Matthew, you won’t be there more than a year. I know you, and I know that area and you won’t be a good match.” I knew she was right, yet I sensed God was leading me there for some reason.

This morning, she saw her Savior face to face after 92 years of life. She followed her sister only by two earthly days (time doesn’t matter in eternity). She is reunited with her husband, daughter, siblings, other relatives, and friends who preceded her. 

Myrtle was a class act. I’m thankful that God used her for 15 years to be a blessing in my life. Due to changes in my life, I was unable to see her for the last 3 years of her life. We would talk on the phone periodically and catch up. I was able to talk to her on the phone 3 months ago. She was not well that day, but she chose to talk to me for an hour despite the fact that she did not feel up to it. I offered to let her rest, but she insisted on talking.

I look around and pray that God will raise up some more Myrtles. She wasn’t world-renowned, but she left a lasting impression on all who met her. Please join me in praying for her family and all those who grieve.

Time for a Change (Again)

After several months of the same layout, I thought it was time for a change. Just like the website design was in a rut and predictable, our lives so easily become that. We fall into the trap of doing the same old thing because it is easy and comfortable. If we do the same thing, we get the same results.

If you are a Christian, God definitely does not want you in a rut. The Christian life can be the most exciting adventure if you are truly seeking God. I would have easily remained in my comfort zone of Portsmouth, Virginia had God not called me into ministry. I would have never had the opportunities I was afforded so early in life had I played it safe.

Maybe you are reading this today and you are not satisfied with your life. I am not saying that every season of dissatisfaction has anything to do with God. If you are truly seeking Him through prayer and Scripture, He will reveal if this unrest is something He is placing in your life. The bottom line is that God wants you growing. Second Peter 3:18 commands us to grow in His grace and knowledge.

How are we doing in this area? Are we in the place where we were 3 years ago, or are we taking steps or even leaps of faith? Maybe it’s time for a change!

Love Ain’t Got Nothing to Do with This!

Gotta love my grammar, right? I preached a 3-week series called “What’s Love Got to Do with It?”. Today, I talked about something love has nothing to do with – fear. First John 4:18 says that perfect love casts out fear.

We all are afraid of something. It may be strange like the fear of hair, bathing, or peanut butter sticking to the roof of your mouth. For most of us, these fears are more like the fear of what others think of us, the fear of failure, or the fear of being lonely. Fear is a natural response of the flesh, but it is not a discipline of the Spirit.

  1. Fear is not from God (2 Timothy 1:7). God has not given us the spirit of fear. The devil is ultimately behind it, but we have some responsibility in choosing to operate continually in fear.
  2. Fear is not rooted in faith. It is the opposite of trust. Furthermore, it is a misplace of trust. We begin to trust in our circumstances rather than in the God who is in control over our circumstances.
  3. Fear is not rooted in facts. These facts are the promises of God. We are promised God’s presence, yet we feel like He has left us alone. He has promised to fight for us, yet we try to do things in our own strength. He has promised to provide, yet we try to help Him out with credit cards, loans, and more extreme measures. Fear is not rooted in the promises of God.
  4. Fear is rooted in improper focus. Matthew 14 illustrates this well. Jesus was walking on the water. Simon Peter says, “Lord, if it’s You, ask me to come out onto the water.” Of course Jesus was going to take him up on the offer. Peter walks on the water until his focus becomes improper. When Peter takes his eyes off Jesus, he sinks. When we focus on Jesus, our fears become lost in Him.
  5. Fear is rooted in feelings. We are emotional beings who often allow our emotions to overrule. Sheryl Crow sang, “If it makes you happy, then why…are you so sad?”. When we live by feelings, we are never fulfilled.
  6. Fear is a trap. Proverbs 29:25 calls it a “snare”. Fear causes stagnation because we never take risks. Fear makes us lose self-confidence because we ultimately do not think we can do anything even with God’s power. It makes us pessimistic, always expecting the worst.
  7. Fear should be a part of our past. Notice what Romans 8:15 says: “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’.” When you and I entered a relationship with Christ, God did not give us the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear. Fear should have no place in the life of the child of God, yet we have to fight it daily.

Fear is a choice. We do not have to worry and fear, yet we choose to do so. What are your fears? Are you willing to replace your fear with faith and proper focus on Jesus? Today is your day to be set free!

What Good Is the Church?

It depends. I want to give you a pros and cons look at this subject.

It is obvious by the dwindling number of church attendees that the institutionalized church is not effective in many ways. I was a part of the political machine for many years. My observations were disturbing. I was disturbed by the level of fake, the politics, and tradition-worship that went on in many churches. Please let me be clear that I met some great people in institutionalized churches who did not fit this bill. So much of this happens because people have a traditional rather than biblical understanding of “the church”.

When Jesus mentioned “the church” for the first time, it was a radical concept. He was not talking about a place of teaching, a place of worship, nor a place to experience God’s presence. The word “church” in the original Greek means “called out ones”. Jesus says, “I will build My church (army of believers who are called out of sin into His marvelous light), and the gates of hell shall not prevail against these people” (my paraphrase). 

This was set in motion in Acts 2. Verses 41-47 show these early believers living in real community. It wasn’t a production nor a well-orchestrated performance. They shared their possessions, they obeyed God, they studied His Word, and ate together on a regular basis. No steeple. No stained glass. Just real people loving a real Savior.

The writer of Hebrews later reminds these Jewish Christians why they need to get together: to encourage one another toward love and good works (10:24, 25). When you “go to church”, do you see this biblical activity going on? Or is it a mechanical process of singing, preaching, and programs?

I see a generation (mainly those in their 20s and 30s) who are longing for a real encounter with God. They do not care about business meetings and voting on things. They are not interested in denominational programs like previous generations, AND THAT’S OKAY! 

What good is the church? Once again, it depends. If it is nothing more than a religious country Club, I will be so bold as to say it’s not pleasing God. He isn’t impressed with the facade. When He sees His people doing things His way, then we can say based on the authority of Scripture that this group of believers pleases Him.

If you are a part of a group of believers that is healthy and biblical, thank God and fulfill your role there! If not, find a group of believers that is striving to be what God wants and make yourself at home.

Do I Really Love God?

I worked for a pastor several years ago who loved to assign me to visit people he didn’t necessarily want to visit. I always knew I was in for a treat when either he or the secretary contacted me to visit a particular person. I went to the local hospital to visit this lady, so I told her who I was. She was quick to say, “I’m a member at your church. I haven’t been in 20 years, but I love me some Jesus.” I couldn’t make a judgment call on her love for Jesus, but I asked myself if I love Jesus like I should and what Scripture I can use as a measurement. I shared this in our worship service this morning, and I pray it will help you ask by asking yourself these eight questions.

  1. Do I serve God (Deuteronomy 11:13)? Love is an action, so I display my love through serving God. We must be careful that we always serve out of love rather than obligation. This eventually leads to burnout, and then we have to repent and repair.
  2. Do I rejoice in God (Psalm 5:11)? I didn’t ask if you and I rejoice in our circumstances. They waver, but God is constant. If we love God, we rejoice in Him and brag on Him.
  3. Do I love His presence (Psalm 26:8)? If we love God, we love to spend time with Him. 
  4. Do I hate evil (Psalm 97:10)? Hating evil does not involve hating the person who commits it. Our responsibility there is to love the evil person to Jesus while hating what the evil is doing to him or her.
  5. Do I love God’s Word (Psalm 119:97)? I’m not just talking about reading it to say you fulfilled your duty. This verse talks about meditating on it. It will not impact us unless we get all we can from it.
  6. Do I love others (John 13:35)? Jesus said our love for others proves that we follow Him. He didn’t say that impressive buildings, rocking worship services, and big giving to religious causes was the litmus test. The real proof is loving ALL people, even the most difficult ones.
  7. Do I keep God’s commandments (John 14:15)? Jesus made it clear by saying, “If you love Me, keep my commandments”. We won’t keep them perfectly, but a true child of God will want to honor and obey God.
  8. Do I invest in others (John 21:15)? Jesus asked Simon Peter three times if he loved Him. This was after Peter denied Christ leading up to the crucifixion. Jesus’ response to Peter’s affirmative answer was, “Feed My lambs.” In other words, invest in other people. God did not put you here for you. Your story can help someone else if you let it. The bigger picture of our life is us pouring into others who can do the same. That is when we find our greatest fulfillment. 

Love is not measured by the warm and fuzzy feelings we get when we think about God. Love is measured by how we strive to know and obey Him. So, how do you score in these areas? I think we can all improve as we strive to draw closer to Jesus.

Easier Said Than Done

My wife and I were discussing something this morning that made me evaluate myself and my blogging. By nature, I love to encourage people. My writing is geared toward helping people find restored hope. The struggle I have is that I believe what I write but I have moments when my faith isn’t as strong.

I don’t believe that I am alone in this struggle. Some of you have more consistency in your faith, and you are the ones I admire and seek to learn from. I want to do my best to make it clear that I struggle just like many of you. I have days when my faith is strong and days when it is weaker. I am a student of my Savior and am learning on this journey of life.

It is so easy to give good advice. Surround yourself with people who are strong where you are weak so they can potentially sharpen you to grow in those areas. My prayer is that God would strengthen us in our weaknesses so that we can be mighty warriors for Christ who are shining examples of faith for God’s glory.

A Day of Release

On our third Sunday of Overcomers Church, I believe we experienced a day of release. I preached on the subject of “How Do I Forgive THAT Person?”. It is first an act of surrender to the Holy Spirit who will produce His fruit in us. It also requires an understanding of God’s love: an impenetrable, sacrificial, unconditional love without discrimination. The thing that convicted me the deepest as I prepared this message is the fact that God loves me just as much as He loves those who have sinned against me. Today, people were released from the bondage of bitterness to a life of love that will spread throughout their homes and communities.

People were also released to pursue their God-given potential. Most of our core group met today for lunch to discuss how we can impact our community. The discussion kept going because these people are passionate about what God can do through them. 

Sadly, some churches (some intentionally and some unintentionally) have told certain people that they were no longer useful to God’s kingdom work. Others had enough people, so the gifts of those outside the clique were out of luck when it comes to using their gifts. The most rewarding part of the day was seeing dry bones come to life. God renewed the vision of people, and they are seeing a God without limits. 

Are you bound today? God wants to set you free. Maybe you are bound by a sinful habit. God wants to release you. Maybe you have believed the lies that you can’t do something. God can do anything He wants in and through you. Be open to the work of the Holy Spirit and allow Him to release you.

Understanding God-Given Dreams

The first message I preached at our church plant was from the life of Joseph. I could relate to some principles from his life, though I never experienced the level of oppression he did. I want to share with my WordPress audience what God gave me to share on the first week of Overcomers Church.

  1. God puts a Dream within all of us. Please note there is a difference between a God-given dream and our selfish amibitions. Joseph was a guy who was living the dream, a dreamer himself, and one whose dreams came to pass. 
  2. Some people will hate you for your dream. When God puts something within you, expect opposition. For Joseph, the opposition came from his brothers. For many of us, it will more than likely come from those who call themselves our Christian brothers and sisters. Jesus promised that we would have hardship in this life, but He would overcome the world (John 16:33).
  3. Some of us experience delays in our dreams coming to pass. Joseph was sold into slavery and went through many hardships before he lived the dream. Although we hate detours, detours are always for our development.
  4. Dreams often offer a glimpse of hope followed by a setback. Joseph was promoted by Potiphar. His wife attempts to seduce him, but Joseph runs. Potiphar’s wife lies and falsely accuses Joseph, thus landing Joseph in prison.
  5. Dreams become reality in God’s time. Joseph begins interpreting dreams for Pharoah which later led to his promotion. He later reconnected with his family.
  6. Dreams accomplish God’s purpose (Genesis 50:20). Joseph made it known to his brothers that what they meant for evil turned out to be for good. We may walk through the Fire, but God has our best interest at heart.

Don’t give up on the dream God has put within you! God has a plan despite the delays and detours. Keep persevering and watch God honoring faithfulness to what He has commanded.

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