The Pros and Cons of Vulnerability

Vulnerability has become a buzz word of the day. I remember hearing the word in a very negative context as I was growing up. I heard about vulnerability in the context of “Senior adults are vulnerable to telephone scams.” Fast forward twenty years, and now vulnerability is something that is praised. Is vulnerability always a good thing?

My journey toward vulnerability was a long one. I did not exhibit this quality until I was in my thirties. It took depression, anxiety, divorce, and ministry difficulties to bring this quality into my life. Here is what I have learned:

Vulnerability can be a great point of connection. People identify with vulnerability. When pastors share their struggles, people often connect. Those who beat themselves up for failing to be the perfect Christian are set at ease when they hear pastors share their struggles with their words, thoughts, and actions.

Vulnerability should have its boundaries. For example, it would not be wise to stand up in a church service and surprise someone in front of the entire congregation by publicly confessing your impure thoughts about that person in detail. That is something best shared with God. Not everyone can be trusted with your vulnerability.

Vulnerability can attract the wrong element into your life. As a man going through a divorce, I met tons of vulnerable people who were looking for love (or at least a rebound). In that case, I attracted that because I was in a bad place emotionally. I have also discovered that vultures who seek to eat the vulnerable alive will try to take advantage of you. Even when vulnerability is expressed in a positive way, it can be an open door to draw people in who can drain your energy if you are not careful.

Vulnerability is hated by those who do not exhibit it or connect with it. Vulnerability has its way of cueing up the critics. They will be quick to point out how you always talk about a particular thing or share too much. If God has placed it within you to say, let the critics run their mouths. People are going to voice their opinions anyway, so you might as well get the practice of drowning out their negative noise.

Vulnerability can have repercussions. Some of those with whom you are vulnerable may use it as a means to betray you. They may think, “Well, Matthew admitted he is not strong in this particular area, so we will build our case to prove he should not lead us.” I have seen this happen in the church setting. I have had to learn that if my vulnerability comes back around through another party, I must be willing to sign my name to it and accept the consequences.

Everything in life must have balance, including vulnerability. In the day of extremists, balance is difficult to find but extremely refreshing. Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water and dismiss vulnerability, but don’t go on a “I-will-tell-all” spree either. Give vulnerability a try, using some boundaries, and watch God connect the dots. It really can be a beautiful thing.

Understanding and Addressing the Devil’s Tactics

The devil’s work has been alive and well for a long time. We don’t have to look far to see it. But I want you to think about this. How does he attack you? The devil’s tactics are pretty lame. His playbook has not changed much at all through the years. The circumstances are different, but the core of the enemy’s MO is very much the same.

Matthew 4 records the devil’s encounter with Christ. I laugh when I think that the devil actually thought he was going to take down Jesus. He has failed repeatedly and continues to do so. This biblical record reveals these 3 basic tactics of the devil:

The devil attacks through isolation. He waited until Jesus was alone in the wilderness. I am an introvert. Although I love to be alone and often work better alone, I know that I must be around people to some degree. I have discovered that constant isolation has a vicious cycle. Isolation leads to loneliness. Loneliness leads to boredom. Boredom will often lead us to fill our time with things that we shouldn’t be doing. Beware of isolation because the devil is often lurking right around the corner.

The devil attacks us when we are weak. Matthew 4:2 says that Jesus had been fasting 40 days and 40 nights without food. He had a physical body and all that came with it. Hunger is one of those things. The devil waited until this sensitive most to attack.

The devil also casts doubt on God’s Word. Three times, the devil twists Scripture to lead Jesus into caving into temptation. He said, “If you are the Son of God…” Jesus came back each time with, “It is written”, then quoting Scripture in context. The devil went away.

These three tactics were used by the devil in the Garden of Eden. He got Eve alone, played on her desire for food, and cast doubt on God’s word. The devil is not as clever as we think. We just need to be aware of and counter his attacks.

Rather than isolate, we need to gather with godly people. Hebrews 10:25 says we should not forsake assembling with other believers. In fact, we should do this often, encouraging one another, because the end is approaching. Godly community is a threat to the devil. That’s why he tries to cause disunity.

To counter weakness, we must take good care of ourselves. We need proper rest, diet, and exercise. A weak and poorly fueled body prevents us from being on our A game.

When the devil casts doubt on God’s word in our lives, we need to know Scripture to throw back at him. The Bible is called the sword of the Spirit, so we should be using it all the time. When the devil says you are a loser, remind him you are more than a conqueror. When he says you are condemned, remind him there is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus. When he says God does not love you, pop back with the truth that nothing can separate you from God’s love. All of these are found in Romans 8.

You and I have no excuse to be the devil’s toy. We have all the equipment we need to be victorious in the Christian life. The reality is we need to be disciplined and use it. Now that you are reminded, get up and make the devil run.

The Call That Kept Me on Track

Seven years ago, I was pastor to this couple. From the time they met me on my trial weekend to determine whether I would be the next pastor of Tar Heel Baptist Church, Charlie and Jennifer loved my family and we loved them.

I’ll never forget a Sunday night in February 2014 when my phone rang, and it was Charlie. I was a discouraged man who had stepped away from the pastorate and was going through a divorce. I was determined to never preach another sermon. When I answered the phone that night, Charlie’s greeting was “Hey there, Preacher!” That might not mean much to many, but it meant the world to me. Charlie encouraged me to remain true to my calling.

For several years now, we have made it a tradition to see each other on July 4. Couples like this (and I have had many through the years at Tar Heel and other ministries) are the reason I keep going, second to my devotion to Christ. Thanks for refreshing me! You are a blessing to the body of Christ.

Bon Jovi Couldn’t Be More Accurate

Photo from Pinterest

I don’t doubt that many of you read this post title and thought, “Matthew has lost his mind!” My response – “You have stated the obvious😂.” Seriously. I would not label Bon Jovi a theologian, but his lyrics, “Oh, we’re halfway there. Oh, living on a prayer,” is right. The year is halfway over, and prayer is very much on the minds of anyone who is concerned about the status of our world.

As I reflect on this, I can’t help but think how many of us would agree that prayer is powerful while our prayer lives do not reflect it. We may pray over meals or when we want something from God. I know I’m guilty of not desperately crying out to God in this crucial time in history like I should. If we’re honest, I’m not alone in this.

Here is what the Bible says about prayer – “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians‬ ‭4:6‬). God says here to pray about everything. It’s a command. Some of the “everything” should include our government, the Coronavirus situation, and the racism we see in our country. I don’t care where you are in this discussion, I think we can at least agree we need some prayer.

We are halfway there…well, at least to the end of 2020. Some of us are probably thinking we are over halfway gone as a nation and a society. Don’t build your theology off Bon Jovi and just live on a prayer. Live on a bunch of them! Better yet, live in full confidence in the God who answers prayer! You might be amazed at how He works.

My Rescue Story

“For he has rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us into the Kingdom of his dear Son,” (Colossians‬ ‭1:13‬ ‭NLT‬‬)

There is not a single born again believer who does not have a rescue story or more than one. Sadly, we have fallen into the trap of comparing stories. I have heard some people who think that they do not have a rescue story because they didn’t have sexual relations with at least 25 people, spend at least 30 years hating God, and use every drug known to man. I thank God for every rescue story, whether great or small in HUMAN perspective. In God’s eyes, there is no small rescue story.

My rescue story began when I was a young boy. God pursued me with the gospel until I chose to respond to Him in faith at the age of 6. What a sweet time that was! But little growth happened between the ages of 6 and 14.

I remember God beginning to get my attention about His calling on my life when I was 14. I loved music and was decent at the instruments I played. The musical influences of my life had big dreams for me, but God had other plans. My problem was I was beginning to follow the plans others had for me because it was an escape from God’s call on my life. I knowingly ran from God’s call while preaching every Friday night in a nursing home. You may wonder how you can do what God wants while trying to avoid the call. I can write a book about that😀.

My junior year of high school was a huge year of spiritual turmoil. I was so miserable that I went home after school and slept a few hours before waking up to eat, do homework, then go back to bed. God wasn’t going to let me run for long. Friday, May 2, 1997, I preached in that nursing home with such passion. Something clicked. That Sunday, May 4, 1997, I told my mom I could run no longer. God rescued me from my own will.

I wish I could say I had no struggles after surrendering to God’s plan, but that would be a lie. There was a struggle that began in my childhood that lingered…this ugly thing called depression. I would stay on the emotional roller coaster ride into my twenties and thirties. What I didn’t realize was the roller coaster would malfunction in the Spring of 2012. Anxiety got into the mix. The few months leading to successful treatment were agony. Through it all, God was faithful and rescued me once again from the pit of my despair.

What seemed like light at the end of the tunnel was temporary. Despair hit once again toward the end of 2013. I was finally pastoring my first church when my marriage came to an end. Because of church challenges in addition to the collapse of my family life, I found myself without employment and a ministry. The thing that contained my identity for so long was stripped away. God rescued me once again, this time from a false sense of identity.

My rescue story is still being written. While I know my eternity is secure, I still struggle. And God is still faithful!

Disqualified?

For many years, I have heard about things that would disqualify someone from doing something in Christian service. I have seen this taken to an extreme in Christian circles. I’ve seen churches allow a sexually promiscuous teenager (a non-member, I might add) to represent the church while denying someone who missed some services. They would brag about having high standards for those who represented the church in this way while those standards were extremely and politically inconsistent. I have come to the conclusion that whether one is disqualified all depends on how much political clout he or she has within a church, denomination, or religious circle.

Why didn’t God disqualify Abraham from being the father of many nations when Abraham stepped out of God’s plan to have a child with Hagar? Why did God call David (a man who committed adultery and was responsible for murder) a “man after God’s own heart”? Why did God use Peter to preach in the book of Acts and lead thousands to saving faith when he denied Jesus, thus leading to His crucifixion? Shall I continue?

This post isn’t in any way condoning consistently blatant sinful behavior. Those of us who continually, with our fist in the face of God, sin without caring bring shame to His name. But what about those who genuinely repent (turn their back against their wrongdoing)? Somewhere, with Abraham, David, and Peter, I see God demonstrating some grace. They may have messed up royally, but they got back up and God continued to use them.

For those of you who are quick to disqualify someone from Christian service for one sinful act committed 55 years ago (definitely sounds like politics), I ask you to reconsider. I would hate for you to have to stumble royally in order to get a glimpse of what God’s grace truly is. So many things are often left undone for Christ because someone says that some man or woman can’t do anything for Jesus anymore. You and I will have to answer for that. This is something worth pondering.

Encouraging Guest Post from Sally Johnson: How to Begin This Post

How to begin?  

For hours, I’ve been fighting with my sentences. My computer keys aren’t spilling out eloquent words. My mind doesn’t have scholarly solutions for the conflict-ridden divisiveness that’s rocking our nation. Somehow, it’s simply my heart that wants to be heard.

Just my humbled heart—speaking to yours.

Across our nation hearts are

bent over by the current chaos that torments our lives,

seeking out truth amidst the swordfight of opposing opinions,

searching for direction for each step forward, and

needing strength to plod on one foot after another.

​​​​​

Across our nation hearts are

broken and wounded, searching for healing,

hungry for mercy, grace, and compassion, and

yearning for a place of refuge.

Take heart and be encouraged!

Across our nation (and the entire globe), 

The LORD

supports all who fall and lifts up all who are bent over,

heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds, and*

directs our steps if we humbly ask Him to.**

The LORD is our

refuge and strength and our

ever-present help in trouble.***

He is a God of

Precious grace,

mercy, and

compassion.****

Let’s take care of our hearts dear reader, by deeply breathing in His lavish love for us. During these complicated times, may we each find His answers to our unique needs as well as find rest and refuge in the shadow of His wings.

(Based on *Psalm 147:3; **Psalm 37:23; ***Psalm 46:1; **** Psalm 36:7)

On This Father’s Day

Happy Father’s Day!

  • First to my own dad…You worked hard and pushed through years of agonizing physical pain so Mom and I would have what we needed. I love you!
  • To many influential men who have been a blessing in my life. In my years of ministry, my dad has been a few hundred miles away. Several men have invested in my life and have been a tremendous blessing. Thank you!
  • To the men who keep making a difference even if you have no biological children, thank you for being men of influence.
  • For those who are missing your dad today or find this day to be painful because of an absentee or bad father, you are in my prayers.
  • To my Heavenly Father, thank you for loving me unconditionally. You have showed me how to be a real dad.

God bless each of you today and always!

When Criticism Comes Your Way

I recently received a message from a critic. I cannot judge the intent of this individual. We all receive criticism at times. Some of us receive it more than others. I want to examine the criticism I received and make some practical application to us all as we receive criticism.

Be willing to search your own heart to see what parts of the criticism might be accurate. In this case, some of the things that were said were accurate. I was told my perspective is limited. That is totally true. I grew up attending a Christian school for my entire education. Then I went off to attend a college with the same views. After that, I went to work for churches with the same views. Sounds limited, doesn’t it? I can’t undo my past. Truthfully, none of us can. We can try to remove reminders, but it still exists. I’m so thankful God can and will use me, limitations and all!

Be willing to correct what needs to be corrected. I know that, going forward, I can listen and glean from different perspectives. That does not mean I have to agree. That willingness will often need to lead to repentance in cases when it is a matter of sin.

Eat the meat and leave the bone. Criticism can be skewed to some degree. I’m not sure if this individual was telling me to be quiet because of my limited perspective. If that is the case, none of us should speak. God is the only one with unlimited perspective, and He is the only One who is 100 percent correctp pop 100 percent of the time. I will do my best to speak when the Spirit says speak (or write) and be quiet when appropriate. God knows I have been very quiet on many things over the last few years because I didn’t need to throw another opinion out there. Plus, to be honest with you, I didn’t want the drama, and I knew the comments could get venomous.

Be sure that you will have critics if you haven’t already. Some mean well, while others don’t. Don’t be like me and internalize it. I was about ready to quit everything and wait for Jesus to come get me. I don’t say that in the strictest sense, but I had to just remember God will pull the plug on my life when He is done with me. While that criticism was being used by the devil, I had to redirect my focus to how God will use me at His discretion. My job is to be available, obedient, and content with however He chooses or does not choose to use me. At the end of the day, do your best to be who God wants you to be and let Him do the rest. We won’t hit perfection, and that’s okay. No saint of God had it all together, so I’m not the first. I’m just another story of how God makes beautiful things out of the dust, and so are you! Let Him have the final say!

I Need a Fresh Anointing

Many who read this blog don’t know me that well outside what they have read. I have spoken to some personally, but many of my readers don’t know me outside of my writing. They have read about some of my struggles, but tonight, I desire to share my extremely deep need for a fresh anointing upon my life.

I will give a little bit of back history, mainly because I believe someone can benefit from this because of your own personal struggle. My ministry hit its peak between 2009-2012. I was leading worship in a church and really seeing the hand of God bless it. It was also during that time that I was coming to terms with anxiety and depression and the need to be authentic. Because of my calling to preach, this church licensed and ordained me for ministry. This church will always have a special place in my heart.

At the end of 2012, I left for my first pastorate. I knew it would be a challenge because it was all new territory. What I didn’t realize was that the demise of my marriage would culminate during that time, and that life and ministry as I knew it was over. Broken and wounded, I returned to the city I left (the place with the church that ordained me).

When I returned to South Carolina, life was different. I was determined to rebuild my life and had high hopes that ministry could be great for me again. I served two churches upon my return, but ministry had lost a lot of its joy as I faced the challenges of dating again and dealing with my kids adjusting to my life shifts. Due to some issues arising in the church I was serving along with the family changes, I stepped away from church ministry for a while. Four churches contacted me that week about positions they had open, but God made it clear that I was not to step into any of those situations.

Here is where it’s going to get honest. During my time out of vocational church ministry, opportunities to preach and minister were slim. Some of the pastors who contacted me immediately after I left the other church took it personally because I did not go to their churches. I was disheartened by what I was seeing in a lot of churches, and thus the content of my dissatisfaction became a blog. The blog had tons of hits, but I’m pretty sure I made some enemies along the way. While no one has shared this with me, I’m pretty sure I hurt some people who were actually a blessing to me. If I could undo the past, I would undo it quickly. I pray that one day God will allow some healing to take place with those I offended.

The desire for future ministry was still present at that time along with my hurt from some church situations. Coupled together, I took these emotions and started a church. I was trying to be what I did not have the liberty to be in my previous church situations. That was great for a while, but it didn’t end so well. When it didn’t become what I desired it to be, I had to honestly step away and admit I was not in a good place to lead a ministry.

That left me pretty bitter with God. I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t get a decent chance at ministry again. Why did I have to sit on the sideline because of my divorce and remarriage? Why were political moves allowing some pastors to climb the ladders of ministry? I wanted no part in the politics or games I saw played by some. I just wanted an authentic move of God, and I wanted to be a part of it. I wanted to see God’s glory revealed in my midst.

Six and a half years after my last full-time church position, I still want that. I still don’t feel like I fit the mould from my previous denominational camp. There are many I love from that group, but many of us are on different pages now. I still struggle some days with the reality of where I am. One thing I know – I need a fresh anointing.

In Second Kings, Elisha asked for a double portion of the spirit Elijah had. When Elijah was caught up, he gave that to Elisha. I want that.

For ministry in these unprecedented times, we need that. Nothing less will do. I don’t want to relive my glory days of ministry. I want new glory days, and I want God to define what that looks like. The same old methods and ways won’t do. I don’t know what that will look like, but I want the glory of God’s presence flowing through all I say and do. Would you join me in desiring that?