Not the Path I Would Have Chosen (Part 1…Maybe)

I am always blown away by the people who have the “picture perfect life.” They make good grades all through school, go on to college with scholarships, take out little to no student loans, land a high-paying job fresh out of college, get married, buy a nice house, have 1-2 children, and appear to manage everything perfectly. Needless to say, that’s not me. “Not the path I would have chosen” might be a great title for my autobiography.

The path I would have chosen looks something like this – my current degrees (maybe add a doctorate) minus the student loan debt, having the perfect little family with a few kids, and maybe 1-2 pastorates that grew and thrived. While I wish life would have taken these turns, there are days when I struggle accept what is versus the life “I” planned. God didn’t want me to take a few of the turns I took, but He still uses me despite that.

When I started to type, I planned something different than how this will end. I believe God wants me to drive home the reality that He does not throw us away after one or even multiple wrong turns in life. Scripture is full of these stories. Peter, the man who denied Jesus 3 times, was the man God used to preach the gospel in Acts 2 and multitudes were saved. If denying Christ 3 times won’t take you out of the game, what will?

May I remind you that He who began the good work in you will be faithful to complete it (Philippians 1:6)? Life may not have turned out the way you planned, but it’s not over! May this song encourage you!

Pastor Appreciation

Pastor Appreciation Month is about to come to a close. I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge some pastors who have been instrumental in my journey.

When I was growing up in the United Methodist Church, Paul Kube, Bill Clarke, Milford Rollins, and Karen Whitehurst were extremely key in the early years. They gave me opportunities as a young man that most churches would not. I became a paid choir director at age 15 and preached my first church sermon at age 16. While I went a different direction theologically, I will always be grateful for their contribution in my life.

Pastor Lynn Hardaway was the first Baptist pastor that didn’t repulse me. He was my grandparents’ pastor, and he gave me the opportunity to use my musical and preaching ability there at the church. It was the first time I ever saw Baptists happy.

Pastor John Pritchard gave me my first church role as a Baptist. He and the people of Calvary were beyond good to me. I was so young and green, but I’ll be forever grateful for the opportunity I had.

Pastor Jim Melton was my next pastor. Although this was an interim role, he modeled humility and steadfastness despite some horrible attacks upon him. His love and kindness remains to this day.

Pastor John Hamilton gave me a chance at a church that was a dream come true. The building was 2 years old when I got there, and was everything a choir director could have wanted. Although he left rather quickly after I got there, I’m thankful he saw some potential in me and was willing to have a hard conversation that brought me out of my shell.

Pastor Ben Glosson…there’s a lot I can say! Anyone who knows him knows he has a rough exterior. I was one among many staff members who didn’t see eye to eye with him, but he entrusted his pulpit to me roughly 75 times over a 6-year period. I don’t take that lightly, and I praise God for the opportunities to grow as a preacher of the gospel.

Pastor John McKnight gave me tremendous liberty and the opportunity to obey the Holy Spirit as a worship leader. He never micromanaged me but often encouraged me. When I was at a low place in my life, John called me to serve and experience some awesome days in music ministry.

Pastors Lynn Hardaway and John Pritchard later became two pastors who helped me navigate the path forward as a divorced and remarried guy in ministry. These guys were fundamental in the early months as I was a deer in headlights. Pastors Steve Roberson and Randy Burbank were among others who cheered me on. These guys are living proof that God doesn’t throw the clay away.

Pastor James Gibson was the first pastor who took a chance on me when I returned to music ministry as a guy headed for divorce. He assured me that I was not “uncalled” and gave me many opportunities to preach. He and the people of Maranatha were just what I needed.

Pastor Jimmy Boggs has been a long time friend. He gave me a second opportunity to serve alongside him, the second time with him as the senior pastor. Jimmy is a high-energy innovator who is all about the second chance. His friendship is also a blessing to this day.

Pastors Josh Ratliff, Mark Wilson, and Tim Engelsman were the best during my days in the Wesleyan church. I never got to serve with Josh, but he was a friend when I needed it most. I did, however, get to serve with Mark and Tim. They all affirmed my call to ministry and let me know that the best is yet to come.

I could go on and on with other names. Some of these have popped in and out over the years. Guys like Andy McDaniel, Tim Tate, and Alan Bagwell who gave me a chance to preach during my lean years when others tossed me to the side. Men like Clarence Dalrymple who will call just to check in and are available for wise counsel. And I definitely can’t leave out Dustin Hutto. He was a choir member and friend before he was ever a pastor. I have never laughed so hard with another pastor in all my life. He has been a friend through thick and thin.

Which pastor(s) has God used in your life? Give a shout-out to God for using these individuals in your growth.

People Are Cray-Cray!

When I first surrendered to the call to ministry as a teenager, I had grand and glorious ideas. I imagined that people would flock to me as I would have all the answers. They would all love me, and everything would be great. It didn’t take long for reality to set in. I quickly discovered people are cray-cray.

The Bible is full of stories where people were at their worst. Moses broke a tablet because he was so angry with those crazy Israelites. Jesus turned tables in the temple because of crazy money changers. Our Lord spoke above the multitudes and their craziness, describing them as sheep having no shepherd. People are going to act crazy, especially when they have no relationship with Christ. Believers, outside the will of God, will even act crazy.

What do we do with this craziness? Jesus was moved with compassion, as recorded in Matthew 9. We should also be moved with compassion, remembering that people most often don’t know better.

While I deal with a fair share of crazy, God, help me see them through Your eyes. May I be patient with them like You are with me. In the mighty name of Jesus, Amen!

Meeting with God on the Side of the Road

Anyone who knows me knows I love to travel on back roads. Over the last few years, back roads have become much more calming. The additional time does not matter to me. I adjust my schedule accordingly so I can enjoy my travel. I spend a good bit of time on the road, but I didn’t think I would meet with God on the side of the road a few days ago.

As I shared in a recent post, life has been a bit hectic for me as I started a new job in August. In addition to that, I pastor a small church and am husband and dad to a good sized family. Overwhelmed is an understatement. As I was returning home on Sunday evening, I decided to pull over on the side of Highway 11 near Pickens, South Carolina to talk to the Lord while I gave upon His majestic creation. They created a nice little place for about 5 cars to park. I sat on one of the two benches and just quieted my heart.

As I wrap up this post, I want to end with the lyrics to stanza 2 of “How Great Thou Art” along with a picture of the beauty I saw as I poured my heart out to the Lord. I pray that you will take some time out this week to “behold the beauty of the Lord”.

When thru the woods and forest glades I wander
And hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees,
When I look down from lofty mountain grandeur
And hear the brook and feel the gentle breeze,

Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to Thee;
How great Thou art, how great Thou art!
Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to Thee;
How great Thou art, how great Thou art!

The Spiritual Gas Station

Since I have been back in the pastorate, I have been reminded of how important it is to go to the spiritual gas station. You may ask, “What do you mean by that, Matthew?” As one who is always dispensing ministry, I have to have my tank filled. So I have a spiritual gas station routine.

I began this Sunday morning spiritual gas station routine about 2 months ago. A rather intense season of life landed me sick in bed for about a week. I had to take the Sunday off because I was too sick to preach. During that time, the Spirit of God led me to watch a church I have not watched in years. There are three perks to watching this: they still have a choir (the kind that actually knows how to lead in worship rather than entertain or fill up service time), the preaching is biblical and lively, and they have an 8:30 am service I can listen to live on the way to church every Sunday.

This morning, I was able to catch most of the sermon. This afternoon, I decided to get a second helping of the service and catch the entire sermon. Good thing my daughter was in the car because she picked up on 3 important points. I would like to share those with you: Don’t compete! Don’t compare! Don’t complain!

As a pastor, I needed to hear don’t compete! I’m not the competitive type, but it’s easy to get discouraged by all the pastors I see who make everything a competition. It can be simultaneously discouraging and annoying.

I also needed to hear the words “Don’t compare!” This is the most discouraging part. I see the highlight reels of all these pastors. Some days, I just want to remove them all from my social media or delete my own social media. The enemy loves to use that against me, whispering into my ear that I’m a washed up bivocational pastor who isn’t successful like these others. I definitely don’t have the time and energy these other guys do who don’t have a full-time job to worry about nor a large family. They have the means to live near their church and work their own schedule without feeling guilty for having to scrap up what time they have left to minister to others after working 40 hours somewhere else. God knows I’m giving it my best shot, and thankfully I’m not called to be like these others. While I wish I had the results they have, it is what it is! God is speaking loudly, “Matthew, quit comparing!”

Don’t complain! I needed this reminder too. It’s easy to have a pity party of one. No one else wants to attend and hear it. I tend to complain after I compare. It’s no fun! I have always said that complaining make the complainer and the one who has to endure listening to it miserable.

I’m glad I fueled up again today. I don’t just need it on Sundays. I need it daily. The truth is you need daily refuelings at the spiritual gas station. Make spiritual nourishment a priority! You can’t afford to skip it!

I Can’t Believe People Still Read This Thing

I have been on somewhat of a writing hiatus. This has not been on purpose, but circumstances have necessitated it. Between a new job I started in August and the challenges of ministry and family, my writing creativity has been dry. The thing that blows my mind is that people still read this blog.

It’s crazy how often we feel forgotten. We get out of touch with those we love because life circumstances don’t allow us to cross paths anymore. We feel like we are off the map to everyone, and it sometimes feels like God has even forgotten us.

Dear friend, people will forget you, but God won’t! Just when you think you’re down here doing your best and trying to make a difference in the world to no avail, let this verse of Scripture bring you back to reality –“For God is not unjust to forget your work and labor of love which you have shown toward His name, in that you have ministered to the saints, and do minister” (Hebrews‬ ‭6‬:‭10‬).

Times are getting crazier, and the world seems to feel a lot more lonely. If you are a follower of Christ, this is not your home. You have something to look forward to! If you have yet to trust Christ, eternity is not a toy with which to play. Follow Christ today!

What a Lack of Prayer Reveals

A lot of my life has been spent in careers that had become comfort zones. For the first 16 years of vocational ministry (and intermittently after that), I spent that time in music ministry. Most of those years were average with the exception of 2009-2012. Exceptional or not, it was very much a comfort zone. Then I entered the world of hospice as a chaplain, bereavement and volunteer coordinator. I settled in to that role too. The saddest part was that my comfortability was high and my prayer life was low. My prayerlessness revealed some disturbing things about me.

Prayerlessness reveals deep arrogance and pride. I had come to a point in both music ministry and hospice work that I felt extremely competent to the point that I prayed very little. I thought my ability was more than enough. I felt like I could do these jobs in my sleep. When pride took over, the power of God was barely evident in anything I attempted to do for God. There was a lot of Matthew but very little God. I’m not minimizing God at all, but I’m sadly saying that I minimized the emphasis on God in my attitude. I wasn’t depending on Him like I should, and it showed.

Prayerlessness also reveals a lack of faith. Some erroneously teach that you should only pray about something once, because praying twice or more would not be leaving it at the feet of Jesus. The last time I checked, Luke 11 teaches persistence in prayer. Ask, seek, and knock in Matthew 7 mean in the original Greek to keep asking, keep seeking, and keep knocking. When I don’t pray, I’m revealing that I don’t believe God is going to do anything about my prayer requests. My actions say that I don’t trust God enough to answer my prayers.

I am in a place right now where I feel the need to pray more than ever. For all intensive purposes, I shouldn’t be a lead pastor. I’m an introvert. How on Earth could God use an introvert to lead a church? It’s the extroverts who are the church builders. You know the guys who can fit into the skinny jeans, wear designer clothes, and all that junk. My talent and personality are not going to draw anyone to our church. I have nothing but the power of God to draw from, and that’s the way it should be! The church I pastor will fall apart unless God does the work. I need Him!

My new job also demands I pray and lean heavily upon my Lord. My personality is one that would rather follow than lead, yet I’m a business manager. God led me to this ministry, yet every single one of us on staff realizes that anything good that happens is solely from God. This ministry was built on that reality, and we all lean upon Him to do much with little.

Does your life exhibit prayerlessness? Consider the fact that arrogance and a lack of faith are prominent in your mind and heart. Recognize your desperate need for God in all things and start praying. Pray about everything and watch God turn some things around. The greatest thing He will change is you. Are you up for the challenge?

Seasonal Anthems

When I was a child, the first connection I have to the word “anthem” is “The Star-Spangled Banner” which is America’s national anthem. As I grew older, I became acquainted with choral anthems. Our church choir normally presented at least one of those each service. As I grew even older, I began claiming songs as anthems that carried me through specific seasons.

As I walk through this challenging season personally and ministerially, I have a new anthem – “God, Turn It Around”. I play and pray this song daily.

Maybe you’re up against something that seems hopeless. A situation in which the odds seem insurmountable. You need to do what the song says and call upon the name that changes everything because all of your hope is in the name of Jesus.

I’ll leave you with the link to the song. Maybe you can connect with it. It may even become your seasonal anthem.

House Cleaning

Time to break out the cleaning solution, mops, rags, etc., right? You may be thinking it’s time to run. This morning, I took some time to work on some things I had let go at home for quite some time. It was a small step, but I felt extremely accomplished. Afterward, I began to think of the areas of my life that need “house cleaning”.

When you think of house cleaning, you may be thinking of filth. Not every area of life that needs cleaning is an emergency situation. Some things just need someone to tidy them up a bit. Maybe give it some better organization.

It’s amazing how quickly a small bit of disorganization can become a huge mess. Christians, and even churches, often ignore the minor until it becomes major. What could have been manageable ends up taking years to correct.

Take some time to assess your house. When I say your house, that could mean your thinking, your health, friendships, etc. Manage it now before it controls you.

Pray About Everything?

Prayer is a buzzword for everyone in the Christian community (even for many outside the Christian community). Other religions practice prayer too. As a Christian, I look to the Bible as my guideline for teaching about prayer. Philippians 4:6 says, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.” Yes! You read those words correctly – In EVERYTHING!

This contradicts our self-reliance. We have been taught by this world’s system that the answer lies within us. The God of Heaven teaches us that the answers are in Him, so we should stay in constant communion with Him about all matters of life. Easier said than done, right?

I have been in a season where I am stuck. There are habits I want to develop, but I’m stuck. Things I want to happen in my home, church, and personal life…but I’m stuck. I have relied on my own puny efforts and occasionally on the thoughts of others, and I’m still stuck. The problem is I haven’t asked God a whole lot about anything.

Today began the journey of asking God about the little things. I woke up this morning and began asking God when I should eat, what I should eat, etc. I haven’t been perfect, but it has changed my awareness. My thoughtfulness about God’s will in what seems meaningless and mundane has increased. It has improved many things for me today.

Are you praying about everything, or is the whole “leaning on your own understanding” thing working out for you? You may think you have bragging rights on being self-made, but the fall will be a lot harder when your abilities fade, even if you’re surrounded by the “comfort” of your money and investments. I don’t have that comfort, but I do have the comfort of knowing that any good thing in my life has been built by my Lord. You can have that same comfort too when you pray about EVERYTHING.