Feeling Trapped? Time to Break Down Walls

Percussive power.

Everywhere I turn, I encounter people who feel like they have walls in their life. Walls of bitterness. Walls of insecurity. Walls that keep them from reaching their God-given potential. We also have walls of division within our country and specifically our churches. I was sharing with a friend about the vision God has given me for our 4-month old church plant. We live in a rural area where the ethnic lines are drawn. Whites worship in their churches, African-Americans worship in their churches, and Hispanics worship in their churches. Call me crazy, but I believe that these walls of division can be broken down (even in a rural southern community). This friend reminded me that I am called to break down walls. I never thought about it, but I know that my calling will require no less than a miracle from God in our community.

What about your walls? Your personal walls? The walls that protect you from being hurt by rejection or whatever you fear? God wants to demolish those walls, so I want to look for just a moment at Joshua 6 where God demolished the walls of Jericho and the principles that can apply to us.

  1. God sets His people up for a breakthrough (v. 1). In this verse, no one could come out of the city and no one could go in. God’s plan was for the Israelites to conquer Jericho, but the walls were in the way. God set up a miraculous plan to demolish the walls that prevented victory for His people.
  2. The strategy will make no sense to you, but obey, work, and wait (vv. 2-7). Imagine God telling you to walk around the perimeter of your city once a day for 6 days in a row. That would be exhausting. It wouldn’t make much sense. Nevertheless, God gave the orders, so we must obey, do the grunt work, and wait for Him to bring about the victory. The waiting is the hardest part, but no growth comes apart from waiting and building spiritual muscle.
  3. The road to your breakthrough always involves acts of worship (vv. 2-7). In these same verses, God gave specific instructions regarding the ark of the covenant. John Waller sang it best when he sang, “While I’m waiting, I will worship…while I’m waiting, I will not faint. I’ll keep running the race, even while I wait.” Keep doing what you know to do while you await the victory.
  4. Silence precedes a breakthrough because we need to be focused only on God (v. 10). Here, the people of God were instructed to be silent. It is only in the stillness that we hear God’s voice. Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still and know that I am God.” Even Jesus withdrew from the crowds to get alone with the Father to pray. If He needed it, we DEFINITELY need it!
  5. Praise God BEFORE you see the breakthrough (v. 16). The Israelites were instructed to shout BEFORE the walls came down. The praise preceded the victory. This is faith…praising God even when we cannot see the results.
  6. Sinful thoughts and behavior will delay your breakthrough (v. 18). The Israelites were given clear instructions for things to avoid. They should have known this from their delay in entering the Promised Land because of disobedience and unbelief (among other sins). God will do whatever it takes to get our attention when we are living outside His will. We should not obey for selfish reasons, but many of us can testify that sinful thoughts and behaviors added unnecessary steps to our journey and delays to our breakthrough.
  7. Breakthroughs are permanent acts of God to take you to another level. God was only moving His people forward when He gave them Jericho. He wants to do the same for us. He wants to grow us and use us to break down the personal walls and the walls that we encounter in life.

Do you feel trapped? What is blocking the breakthrough in your life today? Unbelief? Laziness? Impatience? Distractions? Sinful attitudes and actions? Today is the day to surrender and see God begin to knock down walls in your life!


More Than Just a Blog (How Can I Help YOU?)

A little over a year and a half ago, I began to spew my thoughts onto WordPress (pretty picture, huh?). My original intent was to just write about where I was in life in hopes that someone could relate and find it to be of help. Now I see the need to be more intentional. 

God has given me a variety of experiences, and He does not want us to selfishly hoard the insight He gave us. He wants us to share it. I set out to help others when I surrendered to the call to ministry in 1997, and my mission is still the same.

With that said, how can this blog help you? What issues could I address that would help you in life? I want my writing to be of help to the audience God has given me, so please shoot me an email about an issue I can address on this blog. My email address is matthewwinters1980@gmail.com or you can comment if you feel comfortable.

Don’t Believe the Label!

In my blogging, I have had the privilege of getting to know a fellow blogger through telephone conversations. Our phone conversation today led me to this post. I encourage you to check out his blog at dontlabelmykid.wordpress.com. 

In our discussion, we talked about how people are treated for physical, emotional, and psychological issues. Many “professionals” give them a label that they use as a crutch or it ends up becoming a stigma, and these people can never see past that label. They become a slave to a label placed on them by a man or woman…a label they allowed themselves to receive.

Then I began to think about labels in general. We go to the grocery store and see labels on what we buy. The truth is that we cannot trust the label. There are often ingredients that are not listed on the label. There are dates on the label that say “best by…”, but these items often expire before the date. You cannot trust a label!

Maybe you are reading this and you have been labeled. You were told that you’ll always be overweight, addicted, promiscuous, etc. You were given the identity as mentally ill, suicidal, rebellious, and sold the lie that you will always be this. This is not your identity! This does not define you!

When you have a relationship with Jesus Christ, Christ redefines you. Truthfully, only He has the authority to do so. You become righteous, redeemed, justified, sanctified, and a list of other awesome things. 

I love how conversations help you word ideas that you have had but could not articulate the way you would like. Once again, I encourage you to stop by TJ’s blog, dontlabelmykid.wordpress.com. You will find a guy who has been through some difficulties in life, overcome them, and has helped other people. Others are partnering with him to provide advice and help on multiple levels. I pray that through this post and maybe something that you read on TJ’s blog that you will be set free from the label(s) that bind you.

I Got Hurt In/By the Church 

I encounter numerous people who say outright or imply that they have been hurt in or by the church. I can testify that I am among those. When I experienced one of those seasons, so many people were afraid that I would walk away from my call to ministry and turn my back on God. By God’s grace, I didn’t. However, some people are hurt so deeply that they no longer want to embrace the concept of the church. Some of those grapple with their relationship with God because of the hurt while some still cling to the Lord without the church as a part of their life. I can understand what leads to this. For the remainder of this post, I want to address the things that bring hurt to those in the church.

  1. Leadership bullies. This is most often the pastor or a deacon. These people feel such a sense of power that they bulldoze all who stand in their way. This “my way or the highway” approach is not Christlike and hurts many good people while these leaders fight for their way. These individuals who are on the power trip do eventually receive what they dish out. Many of the things listed below will stem from this.
  2. Removal from a church position. People are often removed from positions of service for various reasons. Some people are willing but were never given the knowledge or tools they need to serve effectively, so they were replaced with someone the pastor or a committee wanted. (I will be clear that I find nominating committees often cause this hurt because they do not understand the heartbeat of the church. I personally think they should not exist.) People are sometimes removed from positions because of unbiblical attitudes, often without someone ever addressing the attitude. The biblical thing to do is address the attitude that leader has that is creating problems and help restore that person to the joy of the Lord.
  3. Abuse by church leaders. This is often verbal, physical, or sexual. We have seen, heard, and read too many stories of those who abused their position to take advantage of others. This abuse often happens multiple times because the victims are threatened. Sadly, the “good ole boy” system exists within many churches and denominational structures and these crimes are swept under the rug and victims or abusers are often shipped off to other places. 
  4. Church members’ gifts and resources are abused. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen churches say, “Hey, Roberta is willing to serve in 15 key ministries in the church PLUS she has money, so let’s put her to work and do what we can to keep her.” What is the result? Burnout! They work so hard that they don’t want to work anymore. No one is willing to help, so the easiest thing to do is worship the Lord at home. 
  5. Self-righteous people look down on others. This happens WAY too often. We find out that a young lady in the church is promiscuous. Rather than find out why she is behaving this way and love her through it, we talk about it in our gossip circles or cast stones. I’m afraid many church members have not read Galatians 6:1 – RESTORE them to where they need to be in Christ, considering that you could be the one who struggles with sin.
  6. Treated like you didn’t exist. Many people are hurt because no one ever treated them like they had any significance. They are mistreated or ignored because of financial/social status or a variety of other reasons. Some churches consist of people who are only there to punch in their hour for Jesus (more like for themselves) and have no desire to engage in relationships with anyone. On the flip side, you may not have fit into one of the church cliques. I dealt with that as a church staff member. I was an outsider who moved from another state and was not invited to be a part of many things. Now I’m a pastor who has started from scratch and am constantly emphasizing the need to be ONE community rather than separate cliques. 

This list is by no means exhaustive. I welcome those who read to add any thoughts to this. You, the reader, inspire me to be a better blogger. As one who has been wounded by my own, I understand and want to help others. I have a feeling this may have a part two on steps to healing from this kind of hurt. Stay tuned!

Lessons Going into Marriage

I don’t know too many people that think the following when they get married: “Oh, I can’t wait to get rid of this one!” They may think it later, but it isn’t typically the thought in the early days of a relationship.

I have had people tell me that I have no grounds to offer any advice on this subject because I have been divorced. I beg to differ. I can offer plenty of advice through things I learned going into marriage, going through divorce, and finding the lady God intended the second time around. With that said, I want to share a few thoughts.

  1. Don’t marry out of the will of God! Some people are great…for someone else! God commanded His people throughout Scripture that they were not to marry certain people. Obviously, God has a person chosen for you. If you marry someone else, you have married out of God’s will. Face the fact early that you were not intended to be with that person and move on before you have regrets.
  2. Don’t marry for sexual pleasure! You might think that someone is “hot” and may have even taken that person for a test drive, but that is not a good reason to get married. You better be spiritually and emotionally compatible because sexual pleasure is not enough to make a marriage last for the long haul. Many marry out of the will of God because they are told “it is better to marry than to burn with lust”. I recommend to cool the hormones down and marry the one God chose. Then you will enjoy sex the way God intended…in marriage. Don’t let your hormones pick your spouse!
  3. Don’t reject your reservations! If things concern you now, they will be of as much concern if not more in the future. Don’t wait for things to get better! They probably won’t! If you can’t love this person the way he/she is, move on! 
  4. Get counseling! I mean get a licensed counselor who will get in your business. Many pastors are not equipped to counsel on this level, so a professional counselor is best.
  5. Be who you are now so there are no surprises later! Too many couples pretend through the dating/courtship process and let their hair down in marriage. Show the ugliest sides of you before you get married. It just might prevent you from divorce court.

I’m sure those of you with more life experience could add to this list. I welcome your comments. Your contributions help me be a better writer. I look forward to gleaning from your wisdom.

What I’ve learned in 20 years of serving the Lord

On Sunday, May 4, 1997, I surrendered to the call to ministry. I celebrate that day every year because I knew what it took to get me there. I also know that God didn’t call me because of anything I could offer Him but because of what He wanted to do through me.

I had big dreams as a 16 year old. I had all these grandiose ideas of what ministry would be like, but I soon discovered that it would not be perfect just because it was about Jesus. Jesus is perfect, but all those people I was going to encounter (including the man in the mirror) are not perfect.

I would like to be as concise as possible in stating things I’ve learned. Those who have served or are currently serving the Lord can agree or maybe see some light regarding their experiences. Here is some of what I learned.

  1. Not everyone will like you. It does not matter how kind you are, some people are determined to hate you because of your position. This applies to other leaders who are outside of ministry. When you said yes, you put a bullseye on your back. If they hated Jesus, they have more of a reason to hate us.
  2. Not everyone truly wants to go to Heaven. Some blatantly hate Christianity while others don’t want to genuinely pay the price of following Jesus. You have surrendered your life while others just want a little piece of Jesus.
  3. The first person to want you in a church will be the first one to want you out. I have encountered that many times. Beware of hyperemotional people. They will go from north to South Pole faster than you can blink your eye. Love them, but keep your radar on.
  4. Serving God won’t always make sense. You’ll watch God take 10 percent of your income that you give Him (which is a major sacrifice for you) and multiply it and you can’t explain it. You’ll leave a better paying job with less stress to go into a job where people will criticize you, even if you walk on water. You will step out on faith when things don’t add up, and  you will see God put the pieces together. You can’t figure God out, but His ways and thoughts are higher than ours.
  5. Don’t take a ministry job for any reason other than the call! I took some positions I was not called to. You will soon discover that your personality and vision are a horrible fit for the church. Money will not buy happiness in any situation, so don’t pimp yourself out as a minister (or whatever your vocation may be).
  6. Don’t give up a God-given dream just because it doesn’t add up! I waited to do certain things and refused to do certain things as a younger minister. I am now following a call from years ago to be the founding pastor of a church. It is a challenge and blessing wrapped in one. I had to deal with years of settling for something else because I didn’t follow through with the call that didn’t add up.
  7. Don’t sacrifice your family on the Altar of “ministry”! A lot of things are unnecessary that we as pastors do. Some of my ministry moves hurt my family. I was busy chasing dreams. My first ministry is my family. God instituted the family before the church. I wish I would have counted the cost in certain situations because some of the damage still exists today.
  8. Don’t sacrifice a good friendship to work with a friend! Pastors told me for years how this could damage friendships. I learned this firsthand. It could be a lot worse, but the friendship is almost non-existent. In hindsight, I should have probably been flattered by the offer and chosen to stay where I was. Nevertheless, I met some great people and trust the promise that my labor was not in vain in the Lord (I Corinthians 15:58).
  9. Don’t focus so much on the administrative work of ministry that you forget about people! I lost sight of this for many years. Jesus did not sit in His office and expect people to come to Him. He went to the people. The Great Commission says “Go”. I missed out on so much because I allowed the demands of administrative tasks to steal me away from the people God wanted to minister to through me.
  10. People want a pastor to be real! I know that seminaries have trained preacher robots for many years, but most people aren’t impressed with that. Don’t be fake and impersonal! Many people have given up on trying to live the Christian life because they see all these people who supposedly have it together when they really don’t. You will lose influence and favor with people if you refuse to be transparent and genuine with them about your life and struggles.

I think I should just leave this as a top 10. If you read this, I encourage you to comment and add some of what you have gleaned. I would love to hear it, and I know others would benefit too. Here’s to another 20 plus years of surrender to my Savior and Lord!