When Anniversaries Can Be Horrible Reminders

Yesterday, I was pondering the date. It was November 25. Then it dawned on me that I passed right by the 24th without giving it a thought. I began to consider even more how I passed another date last month and gave it little to no thought. For the last six years, that has not been the case. Those dates had served as a horrible reminder.

I would say that many of you are struggling with that same thing. You remember the anniversary of a death, a divorce, or other traumatic event in your life. The calendar has a way of excavating the pain, and you relive it once again.

Grief has no timetable. We often try to shortcut the grieving process, only to add insult to the injury already present. For me, I tried to shortcut it because I was worried about what others thought. I have no doubt that many were thinking, “I don’t know why Matthew is still struggling. It’s been long enough. He should have it together by now.” Let me remind you of this – People are going to think what they want to think, so ignore it and sort through the pain in your heart, however long it takes!

Let me close with these lyrics from the song “God and Time” recorded by Newsong. While this song begins speaking of a death, other parts of the song can apply to your painful situation. I pray these words minister to you.

I know you wished that you had been there to say goodbye
I know you wished that you could turn back, the hands of time
I know the pain of loss you’re feelin’ is almost more than you can bear
But let me give you hope in your despair

Only God can truly understand how His healing works
And how He uses time in our lives, to overcome our hurts
But one thing you can be sure of, He is not surprised
By anything that happens in your life,

Oh I know this side of heaven we may never understand
But we can trust the heart of God and know we’re always in His hands

All you need is God and time to heal your broken heart
God and time, to lift you up from where you are
I don’t have all the answers, to all your questions why
All I know is all you really need is God and time

A Thanksgiving Message to the Hurting

While many of us are spending time with family and find it easy to rejoice today, others are struggling with financial hardship, loss of a loved one, grief, divorce, separation from family due to COVID-19 restrictions, etc. This has been a tough year. Reach out to someone you know today who is struggling. Days like this remind me of why the Scripture says IN everything give thanks not FOR everything give thanks. Even if you are struggling with giving thanks at all, God longs to meet with you in your struggle. Pour out your heart to Him today and allow Him to begin the healing of your heart.

Sending love and prayers this Thanksgiving!

Running from God: A Sermon and a Testimony

My kids found an old DVD of the last sermon I preached when I was on staff at Hepsibah Baptist Church in Seneca, SC. The sermon was from the book of Jonah, and the title was “Running from God”. While it contains the story of Jonah, it also contains my story of running from God’s call when I was in high school.

Almost 8 years after I preached that message, I found myself running from God again but for a different reason. I have been avoiding the same call God placed on my life all those years ago, but now I am pursuing it once again. While some say I can’t preach and pastor a church anymore, I’ll let God have the final say. I would rather obey Him than cave to the opinions of men.

To those of you who have run from God or are currently running from God, I pray this message hits you where you are to the point that you surrender to God’s plan for your life. If you dare watch this sermon, be warned that my Southern accent kicks up 1,000 notches when I preach. Running from God came be a dangerous thing, so I pray you find the joy in living God’s way.

Recalibrating

If there were ever a year when we took mental health into consideration above any other year, it would have to be 2020. The year began with the impeachment proceedings, a very tense State of the Union address, a pandemic, and racial injustices. Before we knew it, terms like “social distancing”, “quarantine”, and “lockdown” became everyday language. Many found themselves considered “nonessential”, spending more time in a month at home than they did in the last 5 years. Restrictions have varied across the country, but many found themselves isolated, afraid, exhausted, depressed, and a long list of other things. For those who have lost a loved one in the midst of this or as a result of COVID-19, all the aforementioned feelings were multiplied over and over. This year has taken its toll on people emotionally and mentally.

While very little of life changed for me in comparison to many others, the decrease in social life opened up things from the past, primarily hurts that were unresolved. Fears and anxieties arose. As we got deeper into the year, I found myself in a horrible rut that was wreaking havoc on my mental health. I knew it was time to recalibrate.

I wish I could say I have my recalibration plan fully developed. I don’t. But I do have some thoughts and steps I will take and am taking to make mental health a priority.

First, I plan to laugh more. My job affords me the opportunity of driving between patient’s homes. The drive time is often anywhere from 15-30 minutes between patients. Today, I searched for comedy on YouTube. I was surprised that my first results were clean. The search results led me to some great Christian comedy, especially Michael Jr. (a guy who was completely unfamiliar until today but HIGHLY RECOMMENDED). I listened to well over an hour of good clean humor. The Bible does say that a merry heart does good like a medicine. A big dose won’t hurt.

Second, I plan to read more. Yesterday, I had two separate opportunities to read. Because I know God wants me to preach again, I want to be ready for the opportunities. So, I will study and be prepared. I want to be so full of God’s truth that it easily flows from me.

Third, I’m working on a plan to decrease social media time. While I do most everything from my phone, I want to spend more time writing here again and less time reading the toxic interactions that occur on social media platforms.

Fourth, I want to get out and walk more each week. On average, I walk two days a week. I would like to increase that to at least four days. Walking allows me to exercise and clear my head. The benefits are great.

Recalibrating is necessary for me to be a person who brings glory to God. My mind needs to be renewed. I can’t live like a broken record. It’s time for a change.

What about you? Do you need to recalibrate? If the answer is yes, you don’t have to wait until the new year. It can begin now. Don’t get stuck and become fruitless in your Christian life! Ask God to give you a recalibration plan, then step out and activate it. You won’t regret improvement.

Words of Affirmation – My Love Language Journey

What’s your love language? You might find that to be a strange question. If you are new to church culture or haven’t spent time in certain parts of church culture, the concept of a love language may be foreign to you. Dr. Gary Chapman, Christian psychologist, wrote the book The Five Love Languages. It is a great book about how love is best expressed to you either in the form of giving gifts, acts of service, physical touch, words of affirmation, or quality time. Click here to take the quiz. My primary love language is words of affirmation. Here is what I have learned about myself in relation to my love language:

I love receiving words of affirmation. The more I receive these words of affirmation, the happier I am.

Because I love receiving words of affirmation, I have been known to go overboard in extending them. It can be especially bothersome to those whose love language is not words of affirmation.

When I don’t receive words of affirmation, my tank gets empty and I feel unloved and unwanted.

I have to work hard to keep pride at bay when words of affirmation flow freely to me.

Words of correction and criticism can feel like a death sentence. Because I love being affirmed, I can easily take the opposite too personally.

This post is not intended to cover the five love languages but rather to give you a glimpse into one from my personal experience and allow those whose primary love language is words of affirmation to connect with this. I highly encourage you to check out the link above. Better yet, get the book. Read it in order to learn about yourself and your spouse so you can effectively speak his or her language. It will also help you in relating to others close to you. Here’s to learning how to love more effectively!

Who Is the Hero In Your Story?

Several years ago, I heard a pastor at a conference preach about how Jesus must be the hero of every sermon. As I moved into my first pastorate, the desire deep within my heart was that Jesus Christ would be the hero of our church. It’s amazing how easily self can work its way in and try to compete with Christ.

I think there’s a huge temptation with most of us that resounds with the love song “I will be your hero, baby.” We want to be heroes. We want prestige. We want recognition. And many of us aren’t satisfied if we don’t get the accolades.

Our pastor shared a book with me titled “Hero Maker”. I’m two chapters in, but the thought is revolutionary when we consider how to organize ministry or really any business or organization. The hero maker is one who multiplies himself by developing other leaders. While I have done some of this, I must sadly admit that I often took the easy road by setting myself up for success while missing the fact that I was setting others up for failure.

One of the pastors I worked with early in ministry told me that I should set up ministry so that things can run smoothly when I’m gone. That stuck in my mind. No ministry should be built on Matthew. While I wish I would have taken more time to invest in others in days past, I can change the course of the future and do so now.

At the age of 40 and 11 ministries under my belt, I realize that lasting results will require me to last somewhere. I’m coming to that place where I would love to hang out a while and pour my life into something. I’m tired of spreading out pieces of me in hopes that something good will come out of it. It’s time to start making heroes.

Hero making is at the heart of what God does. The early church was built that way. Paul told Timothy to do that (2 Timothy 2:2). It’s the only way effective ministry can be done. Otherwise, ministries and people plateau or decline.

Examine your life right now. Is Christ the Hero of your story? Furthermore, are you trying to develop heroes who can soar like eagles in their service to Christ? If not, it’s time to start making heroes.

Inconveniences

Two weekends ago, I experienced a series of inconveniences. I know you have them too – those pesky, unplanned things that ruin your plans. That particular weekend seemed to have more than its fair share. I’ll try to give you a quick synopsis without boring you with the details.

Friday, 3:00 pm – Saw a screw in my driver’s side rear tire. Have to leave at 4:00, so I hoped that I could get a quick repair and be on the road within an hour…WRONG!

Friday, 5:00 pm – Leaving an hour late because the tire had to be replaced

Friday, 8:00 pm – Pulled over on the interstate, 75 miles from home, with a flat passenger’s side rear tire. The insurance company couldn’t find anyone in-network remotely close since we were in a rural area. Highway patrol came to the rescue.

Friday, 11:45 pm – Returning home approximately 3 hours later than planned, tired and exhausted

Saturday – originally planned to relax and enjoy my kids since I only see them every other weekend, but spent the day chasing down a place that was open and finally going to the dealership before it closed at 4:00 pm to get another new tire.

I know it sounds like complaining. I am a little bit but not as much as I did that weekend. God was so gracious to allow me to be safe when I could have had bad experiences with those tires. He even provided the money I would not have normally had to pay for it. There were some bright sides.

The spiritual lessons are probably more difficult to swallow than the circumstances themselves. Maybe not. In my reading following that weekend, I read something by Pastor Tony Evans that said that endurance comes from inconvenience and an unpleasant situation. I had asked people earlier that week to pray for endurance and perseverance for me (be careful what you pray for, right?😂). This came up in preparation for a sermon I preached this past Sunday night. The prayer Paul prayed for the Colossians in chapter one is that they would “walk worthy of the Lord…with all patience and longsuffering with joy.” I don’t like the patience or longsuffering, but gimme a big ole dose of that joy! James 1:2 says that the trying of our faith is what works patience. In this journey, I have to learn to suffer even the inconveniences of this life joyfully as the Holy Spirit works in me.

Inconveniences seem horrible, but there is a bigger plan to them all. God is at work, even when you don’t feel it. Hold on tight. Stay the course. There is growth and reward around the corner.

It Still Hurts

I have never had surgery, but those who have tell me they often continue to have pain at the site of the incision. The source is frequently scar tissue that forms. The pain can become unbearable, especially for those who have had multiple surgeries. The same goes for emotional pain and trauma. The pain and hurt lingers, and most of the time it lingers much longer than we ever wanted or expected.

To those who are no strangers to me and my writing, you remember I went through a separation and divorce at the end of my first pastorate. In my mind, I had a deadline for when I would “bounce back” and “have it all together”. I hate to break it to you, but 7 years hasn’t healed everything and made me magically better. Remarriage wasn’t the ultimate healing balm that made my previous marriage disappear. Having three children with my current wife didn’t take away the pain of not having my oldest three with me daily. I began to wonder what was wrong with me that would prevent me from coming to this ideal place of healing. Then I talked to others.

I find it interesting that most every divorced pastor I talked to spoke of the pain they still experience as a result of their divorce and often ministry hurt that was connected to it. Most said that not a day goes by that they don’t still feel some effects from it.

You may be reading this and are wondering when you will stop hurting. I don’t know what your emotional pain is, but God does. Scripture says He is near to the broken-hearted and He binds up their wounds. The evidence of your pain will always be there. What you do with it and how you view it will be the determining factors in moving forward.

A wise individual asked me an interesting question. He asked me how I viewed all the hardship surrounding my divorce with the following question – “Do you view your difficulty as an accusation or a testimony?” I wanted to say that I completely viewed it as a testimony, but I could see that I see it as somewhat of an accusation. Since so many who are affiliated with churches see my divorce as a scarlet D, why shouldn’t I, right? Wrong! From my broken place, I can weep with those who weep. I can let people know that weeping only endures for a night, and God does give grace.

Let me leave you with these lyrics of the old hymn “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus”:

Oh soul are you weary and troubled?
No light in the darkness you see?
There’s light for a look at the Savior
And life more abundant and free

Turn your eyes upon Jesus
Look full in His wonderful face
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace

I’m Stuck: Thoughts on Aspirations

I’m sitting in my living room on a Friday morning. I had great hopes to sleep in today, but I just couldn’t. I thought that maybe I could go upstairs and begin to work on one of my many dreams, but I found myself stuck.

As some of you know, I turned 40 on October 3. Many years ago, I envisioned that I would be very stable in ministry and have a doctorate by now. This would be the time I would be moving toward an empty nest, and I could enjoy some financial stability. Life took several different turns, so the aforementioned things are probably off in the distance by another two decades. What does a man do at this stage of life?

I must be honest with you. For a few years, I just gave up. When divorce seemingly shot my finances and career down the drain, I felt like life was over. With many telling me that my call to preach isn’t worth anything since I’m divorced (or acting like it by their actions), I quenched the passion to proclaim God’s message. Since some of my dreams cost money that I don’t have, I quenched the desire to accomplish any of it. Why set myself up for disappointment, right? I’ve already had enough of that. I found myself so low that I didn’t see myself as valuable at all to anyone, especially God. I let my health go and simply started existing. After depression and panic attacks, I knew I needed to take my life back.

At the age of 40, I still have dreams. I dream to pastor a church again full-time. I dream to write at least one book. I dream to be financially stable. I dream to have a podcast. I dream to have enough calm in my life to be able to sit down at the piano again regularly and redevelop my skills for my own enjoyment and God’s glory. I dream to be at a healthy weight again (10 pounds down in the last 2 1/2 months😀). My family needs more than a man who is just going through the motions. They need a man who knows who he is in Christ and is enjoying that to the fullest. When I am there, I can give my wife and children my best.

Has life knocked the wind out of your sails? Do you feel stuck? God doesn’t want you there. Unfair things in life happen. Divorce happens. Financial hardship happens. Sickness happens. The hateful actions of others happen. The enemy loves to use these things to help you feel worthless and useless to God and others. Start dreaming again. Set achievable goals. Celebrate every little victory. Accept that some dreams won’t be achieved. Here’s the hard advice – be patient. One of the reasons I stayed stuck as long as I did is because of my impatience. Rather than wait on God and trust that He would do His perfect work in me, I was so worried about my growth deadline (a self-imposed deadline as to when I should make my comeback based on what I thought others expected of me). I tried to make things happen in my own strength, only to make things worse and set myself back even more.

You may wonder why I so openly share my stories. I share because I know that many people aren’t this transparent, especially people in ministry. We fear a search committee or church member might read what we write and cast judgment on us and our ability to minister or, worst case, fire us from our ministry position. I write this in hopes that it might benefit someone. Why? I don’t want you to feel stuck or stay stuck.

While I may not have a physical pulpit, mine is in the homes of hospice patients and people who seek my counsel. I see people who think that “stuck” is their destiny. They stay in relationships with people they’re not even married to because they’re afraid of being alone or having to pay their own way. I see people who won’t further their education because they believe they can’t do it and their lot in life is to do something they don’t love or enjoy. Life doesn’t have to be that way. If GOD has put something in your heart, you won’t be at peace until you do it.

As I close this post, my prayer for you today is that you find the courage to get unstuck. God stands ready to dust you off and give you the grace to move forward. Here’s to a future of obeying God’s will!

What Language Do You Speak?

I wish I could say I am bilingual or more. Unfortunately, I only speak English, and I fight daily the temptation of allowing Southern slang to intertwine with the English language. I did take French in high school, graduated with the highest GPA in the class, and still remember very little. In life, everyone speaks at least one language with some speaking more than one.

Such is the case with something called love languages. Each of us had a dominant love language with some sprinkles of others. Dr. Gary Chapman wrote “The Five Love Languages” several years ago. The older I get, the more I realize how much these love languages play into more than just the romantic relationship. They affect our daily dealings with people.

If you are unfamiliar with these five love languages, they are acts of service, gift-giving, physical touch, quality time, and words of affirmation. If you don’t know yours, click here to take the quiz and find out. This link will lead you to the quiz that best suits you.

Initially, I was going to go into my love language journey, but I sense that I should help you with yours. Do you have a difficult relationship in your life? Maybe it’s your spouse. Maybe it’s a co-worker or boss. Maybe it’s a friend. I have discovered that these love languages can help in every area of life.

As I counsel pastors, I frequently hear about difficult people in their church. I ask, “Do you know that person’s love language?” Sometimes they do. If it’s words of affirmation, I ask the pastor how often they affirm that person with their words. The answer is often, “I don’t.” I normally say, “Try it. You might be surprised when you see a change.”

I know that we can’t always speak someone’s love language. If it’s physical touch and you’re dealing with someone of the opposite sex, good boundaries will let you know to skip out on that one. A pat on the back, a hand shake, or a 👊 can go a long way from guy to guy where ladies are more prone to hug each other. Acts of service can be done in good reason. Gifts…well, use some discretion and err on the side of caution. Sometimes, pastors need to give a staff member some quality time. People skills can make or break your ministry or job performance. Know those you deal with on a regular basis. How you interact makes a difference.

Whatever language you speak, make sure you speak it under the leadership of the Holy Spirit. Godly communication is key. Handle people with care and watch your effectiveness increase. You won’t regret it.