Billy Graham’s Reward

Many of you are probably aware that Billy Graham passed away this morning. He was a very prominent American evangelist of the 20th century. Only Heaven knows the number of people impacted for eternity because Billy Graham faithfully proclaimed the gospel. More importantly, he lived the gospel.

I grieve today because that generation of preachers is almost gone. I’m not saying that they are dead. I’m saying that this current generation is full of those who prostitute the gospel for selfish reasons and live a lifestyle that is extremely questionable. No one can live a life of sinless perfection, but we can at least aim to be like Jesus. Some of the top preachers in this country now are popular because they are blatantly disrespectful and have little to no regard for personal holiness. Amidst a generation of narcissistic preachers who are quite scandalous financially as well as in other areas, Billy Graham lived a life of personal integrity. I know people today who will not darken the doors of an institutional church or watch any preacher but Billy Graham. He was a man who was well-respected.

May this be a call for believers today to rise up and share the truth that only Jesus saves. We must stop delegating this to preachers in hopes that they actually will teach how to be right with God. People may disagree with what I am about to say here, but we are in a post-Christian society. It was once popular to at least play the Christian game. Not now! Eternity hangs in the balance. What will you and I do for Jesus?

Lessons Learned as a Preacher

I preached my first sermon when I was 13 or 14. I wrote out every word, and read for a total of 8 minutes (Overcomers probably wishes I still kept it to 8 minutes). I had no instruction but a ton of good intentions.

In 1998, I went to Bible college. This was a totally new world. I learned how to interpret the Bible in context and a ton of other things to which I had never been exposed. The big thing was the “art of preaching”. We heard preachers almost daily, and many of us aspired to be like some of them. We mimicked vocabulary, vocal inflection, and various mannerisms. However, we were quickly taught that our messages needed substance rather than performance. Hence, we were exposed to what is called expository preaching (or as one preacher on the radio called suppository preaching…God bless his zeal).

Expository preaching is a systematic way to preach through passages of Scripture in context. Many preachers preach through an entire book of the Bible chapter by chapter, verse by verse. It is a good way to be true to the real meaning of a verse rather than go off on a tangent. Plus, it is easy to plan your preaching calendar. Most everyone knows what is coming next, and it can become strictly academic if the preacher does not illustrate and apply. If the preacher follows the formula given him in Bible college or seminary, it can easily get very predictable.

After hearing multiple expository sermons, I began to notice that people did not always know what the takeaway was from the message because they were loaded with tons of information in one message. Although we were highly discouraged from preaching topical or textual sermons, I discovered that people walked away with a better understanding of certain things when I preached on a topic like the Holy Spirit or preached strictly from one verse. Because of this, I aimed for a balanced preaching ministry which included various styles of preaching. This does by no means imply that I am some superb preacher. It simply means that I have learned a few things about preaching (and am still learning) from the perspective of one who has been on both the listening and preaching side.

  1. Be yourself. Don’t try to be the next Billy Graham, T. D. Jakes, Steven Furtick, or Joseph Prince. Be the person God created you to be.
  2. Utilize humor. People tend to be extremely tense in worship services. Somebody has to loosen them up. We are permitted to enjoy the Christian life, so set the tone and example.
  3. Use real-life illustrations. If you are teaching or preaching to various generations in one room, you want to be able to connect. Use current events or personal stories in addition to things from the past to support your point.
  4. Make complex doctrine simple. If all you do is use big words like eschatology, justification, sanctification, and hermeneutics, most who listen to you will be clueless. Explain it in such a way that even someone with minimal understanding of the Bible can grasp.
  5. Call people to action. You are not simply a dispenser of information. God has called you to inspire people to take the Bible and obey it. Give them a call to act upon what you preached.

I know there is probably so much more I could say. Don’t be getting up on a stage putting your knowledge on parade. Preaching is not about the preacher. Preaching is done to magnify Jesus Christ and communicate His truth to people. Don’t get so lost on the ego trip that you forget who called and equipped you to be His spokesman.

Photo from justinbuzzard.net

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.

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!

Is Your Church Growing? If So, How?

The denominational statistics in numerous denominations display a disturbing percentage of churches that are plateaued or declining. This is disturbing. What is even more disturbing is that they often do not want to change anything, so eventually they die. Another disturbing trend is among growing churches. This trend is that many growing churches are growing because of transfer growth (aka Betty Sue got mad because her husband wasn’t elected to be a deacon so they uprooted and joined another church…no offense to godly ladies named Betty Sue because I know one).

To those who are following my blog, how many of you are experiencing conversion, meaning that you are growing because people are giving their life to Christ, being baptized, and becoming fully devoted followers of Christ? What is the difference in your church’s culture versus the ones that are “sheep swapping”? Is all the evangelism coming from the leadership? Do you have countless people in your church sharing their faith? Is it event-driven?

Please share about your growing church that is growing because people are being born again. Please comment. We want to hear your story.

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.