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?

I Don’t Know What to Do!

These last few weeks and months have been overwhelming. We have faced some things we have never faced while also being forced to face something we have ignored for a long time. Our nation is more divided than ever before, and agendas are being politicized while hurting people are being used as bait rather than receiving and giving ministry.

I’m weary. An honest thought – I don’t know what to do, but I’m going to try to do something. The problem is too many good people are doing nothing. I’m reminded that while I don’t know what to do, it’s better to do something than nothing at all. If we get it wrong, let’s learn from our mistakes and try again. I have missed out on a lot of opportunities because of fear. I don’t want to miss out anymore. I want to pray. I want to hear from God. I want to walk in boldness and courage. I want to be here for all people. I made a commitment to God to be available to serve everyone I possibly can regardless of race, socioeconomic status, and any other labels, and I stick by that commitment. I’m here to listen. I’m here to love. And I will not rest until I have done all I can to be a part of the solution rather than the problem. God, I need your help, and I know You won’t let me down.

The Church is a Blended Family

Of all the things I have ever done, walking into a blended family is the hardest. When my wife and I met, I had 3 children, and she had 2. Five children is already a lot. Whether we like the thought of it or not, you might as well say the exes and their new spouses “live with you” though not physically. All these people play into the family dynamic. While the Brady Bunch sitcom from the 1970s depicted this happy blended family with few problems, that is so far from realistic.

As I was contemplating my challenges in a blended family, I began to think of how the church is a blended family. Think about it! You bring people from different ethnic backgrounds, different religious views, different everything into one body. Sounds like a recipe for disaster, right? If we follow God’s guidance, it can be a beautiful thing.

Blended families need the right leadership. As the church needs Christ at the center, so does the blended family. Both need someone to guide that. In the church, it is a pastor with the church body coming beside him. In the home, it is the father with the mother coming beside him. God has given an organizational chart. When we follow it, we see things flow. Allow anyone and everyone to lead, and you have chaos.

Blended families need to know the rules. For both church and home, God has a set of rules outlined in the Bible. For functionality, we can also apply the principles found within the Bible to guide the more practical things of the church and home.

Blended families need the wisdom and guidance of others. So does the church! My wife and I have discussed having mentorship for some time, but we finally sought the advice of a couple who knows the struggles. The body of Christ cannot function and does not function well on its own. The various members must work together. We must lean on the wisdom God gives to others through the Holy Spirit.

Blended families are not for sissies. Nothing could have adequately prepared me for this. But greater challenges have existed, so I move forward with the assurance that God will help me. I feel like pastoring a church was an equal challenge. There is no way to please everyone. We simply must do what God says and let Him handle the rest.

The Selection of a King and Its Relation to a Pastoral Search

I have been on staff in two churches when the membership had the daunting task of selecting its next pastor. In both situations, I served in an interim worship role. In 2012, I was the candidate in consideration for what would become my first pastorate. As I said, discerning God’s will for a pastor is a daunting task. What I think many fail to realize is the Bible gives a lot more direction about the process than many search committees utilize. The most surprising thought is that it may be found in a passage of Scripture related to the selection of King David.

In I Samuel 16, Samuel the prophet was charged to go find the second king of Israel. Saul, the current king, proved to be a bad choice. Samuel went to the house of Jesse, a man who had several sons who could have easily fit the bill. There was one, however, who was not present. The absent son, David, was out in the field tending to sheep. Everyone assumed this shepherd boy did not meet the qualifications for royalty, but God has a way of redefining what qualifies a person. God said this to Samuel in I Samuel 16:7 – “But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Don’t judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him. The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.’” With this in mind, here are some considerations:

God’s system of qualification often differs from man’s. Think about it! When we are searching for a “qualified” individual for a pastoral staff candidate, here are the things I often see. I will share from a Southern Baptist perspective because that was my alignment for many years.

XYZ Baptist Church of Anytown, USA is seeking a qualified pastor with a minimum of 5 years experience to lead our church. This candidate must possess a minimum of a Master of Divinity from 1 of the 6 Southern Baptist seminaries in our country. Doctorate preferred. Must have a proven track record as an effective leader in personal evangelism, discipleship, and church growth. Candidate must be between the ages of 30-50. If interested, please submit resume and sermon links to pastorsearch@xyzchurch.com.

If anyone looks on the outward appearance, it is a pastor search committee. Look how limiting this is! David would have never become king of Israel had some pastor search committees looked at his resume. Let’s face it! The boy stunk like sheep. He was too young. He didn’t have “royalty training” from 1 of the 6 SBC seminaries in the country. The only thing David had going for him was that GOD QUALIFIED HIM! God qualifies the called rather than calling the qualified.

I have been passed over by many committees who have looked at me for Lead Pastor or Worship Pastor. You may ask, “Why?” Here are some reasons. One church removed me from consideration because my choir didn’t smile enough. Another dismissed me because my degrees from Liberty University were not included in 1 of the 6 SBC seminaries. Never mind I have a Master of Divinity. One pastor almost passed me up for a worship position because I didn’t have a music degree (despite 13 years experience at the time), but God ended up leading me to that church. Some didn’t like my age. Now, most won’t touch me because I’m divorced and remarried. (Spoiler alert: the woman at the well became a 5-times divorced evangelist! That won’t fit the narrative for many churches.)

My advice to pastors and churches who are seeking God’s direction for staff positions – Stay open to God’s will! Your ideal candidate may not be God’s ideal. He or she may not have the education level, age, or socioeconomic status you have in mind. That’s okay! The first disciples were an odd mix of people, but they were the ones God chose to get the good news of the Gospel out to the world. If someone is chosen by God, who are we to do anything but approve?