The Unforgiving Pastor

Forgiveness is something with which many of us struggle. There is not a single one of us who has not been offended or outright sinned against. Depending on the depth of our hurt, the road to forgiveness is longer for some than for others. For me, it was much longer than I anticipated and much more complex.

You might say, “Matthew, you’re in ministry, and you’re supposed to forgive.” Yes, and the biblical command to forgive others applies to everyone. No one is excluded. For the purpose of this post, I will share the surface of my unforgiveness journey.

For me, I had been harboring things for years. I was able to forgive many things throughout the years, but there were a few matters I couldn’t shake. These things hurt deeply, and I never processed through them in a healthy manner. The fruit of this unforgiveness and bitterness was ugly. It stole years of joy from my life, and I was captive to it.

One of the greatest tools I have come across to aid in the forgiveness journey is a book called Forgiving What You Can’t Forget by Lysa TerKeurst. I heard the author’s interview on “Focus on the Family”, and I immediately connected. Within a month, my wife and I were invited to begin this study with some friends of ours. We have gone all out with it…DVD, study guide, Forgiveness journal, everything! It’s one of the greatest biblically-based resources to ever come into my life. I’m only 4 chapters in, but this resource breaks everything apart and makes you confront all the fragments of your brokenness. The thing I realized was that I had forgiven an event but not the impact of an event. Forgiveness, as the author says, is a complicated grace.

I know I’m not the only one struggling in this area. What about you? Has something or someone hurt you deeply? Are you struggling to move on because the impact lives with you daily? I’m not writing this to condemn you but to share that there is hope. The road to forgiveness is a process that we cannot shortcut. While it seems very ideal to be able to wake up one day and say, “Oh, I think I’m gonna forgive _____ for abusing me today.” It’s nice in theory, but the reality is much more complicated. I’m so glad our patient God is willing to get down in the middle of our mess and work with us. Let Him work with you to peel back the layers and experience the joy and freedom of deep forgiveness.

Gone Too Soon: Thoughts on the Brevity of Life

I have had the privilege of meeting some of the most wonderful people over the last 40 years. Of course, I don’t remember the first few years of my life during my infant and toddler years. I do, however, remember from age 3-4 forward. I have lived in 4 states, ministered in many churches, and met people who, by the world’s standards were just ordinary people. They may have been last in their class, never on a sports team, and the greatest of all introverts. God defines greatness in a completely different way than we do. When He confirmed His call upon my life to ministry, He showed me I Corinthians 1 – God does not call the mighty or noble but the weak so that He gets the glory.

One of these great people I met was by way of Twitter. His name is Dewayne. We connected last year. One day, He reached out to me and asked about my beliefs. Shortly thereafter, he shared that he was taking ministry classes and needed a mentor. Dewayne reached back out to me and asked if I would be his mentor. I was up front with him that I had been divorced and remarried because some people don’t like that. It didn’t bother him, so we began the mentor-mentee relationship.

Here is what I learned about Dewayne. He was extremely intelligent. As far as a theologian and writer, I feel like he knew and wrote circles around me. He made money proofreading, so I felt a bit inadequate. I quickly discovered Dewayne’s humility and his willingness and openness to learn. He possessed a deep love for Christ, biblical truth, his family, and others. We met by phone every other week and later monthly, geeking out on theology and encouraging one another. While I was the mentor, I feel Dewayne invested equally. In him, I saw an example of humility and contentment (the kind of humility that would despise that I wrote this post about him, but I am highlighting the work God has done in and through his life). By what he shared with me, he was not rich by the world’s standards, but he had Jesus, his loving wife, a roof over his head, and the necessities of life, so he knew he was truly a blessed man. The interactions allowed me a chance to be open about where I had succeeded and failed in ministry and life, and I always left the conversation encouraged and blessed by the fellowship of a dear brother in Christ.

Today, I received a voicemail from Dewayne’s wife. She let me know that He is now with Jesus. When Dewayne and I spoke last, I never imagined cancer would take him within a month. While I will miss our phone calls, he leaves behind a wife, mother, brothers, and other family who will miss and grieve a loved one who was gone too soon.

Life is short. The book of James says it is like a vapor. Dewayne left this world behind at age 42, but he was ready. He placed his faith and trust in Christ, and today he is healed and whole in the presence of the Lord. Whatever stage of life you find yourself in, be prepared to meet God. We never know when our last day will be, so let’s resolve to make each day count and live for the Lord while we still have breath.

What Resurrection Looks Like

I couldn’t think of a better time of year for the celebration of Resurrection Sunday to take place. Flowers are blooming, and everything that was dead is coming back to life. I saw this and more at our church’s worship service today.

The event started with tailgating and family-friendly activities. I looked around and saw people I haven’t seen since pre-COVID. People were playing the games and enjoying food together. The sense of despondency that loomed because of COVID was nowhere present. Our service happened under a giant tent as we blended our worship teams from both traditional and contemporary services into one. As I saw the excitement in the air, I thought “this is what resurrection looks like”.

The resurrection of Christ from the dead is far-reaching. Its effects touch every born-again believer. We have resurrection power on the inside in the person of the Holy Spirit. We are made alive, and that life reaches its peak in the presence of the Lord for all eternity. I’m reminded of the lyrics, “It’s all because of Jesus I’m alive. It’s all because the blood of Jesus Christ has covered me and raised this dead man’s life.” Because of Jesus, I’m what resurrection looks like. If you are saved, you’re what resurrection looks like.

If you don’t have a relationship with Christ, I have no doubt you feel dead. Call out to Him today experience what resurrection feels like and looks like today. God is calling out for weak and weary sinners to come home. Accept His invitation!

Hospice Saved My Life

Almost 7 years ago, I joined hospice. Not as a patient, but as a chaplain. A friend of mine recommended me for the position. When he called me, my initial thought was “Hospice is about sickness and death, and those are the two things I least like about church ministry.” I didn’t resist the recommendation though because I was working a janitorial temp job that made me miserable. It helped pay the bills, but it was not where my heart was. Divorce limited my ministry options, so hospice chaplaincy could be an avenue of ministry worth exploring. Indeed it was! That’s why I say hospice saved my life.

When I went in for the interview, I met two great nurses who loved hospice care. They were down to earth and seemed like they would be great to work with. I had the privilege of working with them and several others. One of the CNAs, who had been a friend for quite a few years, introduced me to my wife, for which I am grateful. As I mentioned, team members came and went. One thing remained the same – these were men and women who laughed together, cried together, and even came pretty close to screaming together. These men and women taught me the value of a team. I will be forever grateful to God for allowing me the privilege of working with such wonderful people.

Patients and families were no less special but in a different way. These were people of all ages who were walking through what the psalmist called “the valley of the shadow of death”. Despite that fact, these were people I laughed and cried with. We laughed in the home and cried at the graveside. While I was the one who was called in to minister, these folks often ministered to me equally if not more.

In hospice work, I learned things I would not have learned otherwise. I would have easily stayed in my comfort zone of church ministry, where many won’t reveal their raw emotions for fear of judgment. In hospice care, the church face rarely exists, and people are revealing the worst of themselves in hopes that someone will come along and offer hope, unconditional love, and a safe environment to be real.

Hospice saved my life in so many ways. It saved me from thinking ministerial work was over for me. It provided me with rich experiences with a wide variety of people I would not have encountered within the walls of a church. It gave me a reason to get up in the morning, especially in that first year when I was adjusting to the loneliness and quietness of the single-again life. I knew that, despite the intensity of hospice work, there was a team in the office that was the family I needed and will continue to be, despite my recent shift away.

Yesterday, I said “see you soon” to many wonderful people. For the first time since I left my last full-time music ministry, I had the dignity of leaving well. It was a healthy transition out. I didn’t leave angry or hurt. I didn’t leave with an “I can’t wait to get out of here” attitude. The team asked if I would pray with them before the day closed, and we exchanged all the sappiness that would be expected.

On April 5, I will begin a new role at a different place. These precious people I mentioned above will go with me. Not physically of course, but the things they taught me about life and compassionate care will. I’m a better person because of these last several years. Thank you for pouring into my life!

<, >, and = (Lessons from Mathematical Symbols)

Image from Pinterest

Insecurity has been something that has plagued me for most of my life. I was overweight from the time I was a 6 year old boy, and I was 9 times out of 10 the one who was overlooked to be picked for someone’s team when playing on the playground or in PE. (Because I was overweight, I really preferred the options of not having to exert myself or being invisible, but PE class was a grade, so I had no choice but to put forth a little effort.) It’s amazing how this last year has revealed to me how some mathematical symbols have played out in my life.

For most of my life, I have felt like less than <. I felt like that because of my weight and lack of athletic ability as a child and teenager. I continued to feel like that as a college student because, once again, I was not athletic, still overweight, and not a great conversationalist with my peers. Those who actually remember me from college have some pretty weird memories (I pray they don’t drop them as comments under my social media😂). On into adulthood, I was bullied by a few pastors I worked for, and I was pretty convinced at one point that I had mistaken my call to ministry. Becoming a divorced man made life a lot tougher. I felt “less than” once again because 9.9 out of 10 churches wouldn’t touch me with a 39 1/2 foot pole (could there have been a grinch on the committee?).

I’ll never forget the day this “less than” revelation dawned on me. I was eating breakfast with my pastor, and he said, “Matthew, you have no reason to feel less than.” Those words touched me deeply. He had not been the only one to affirm my calling on this side of divorce, but I needed to hear those words.

Dear friend, you might be feeling like you’re “less than” today. You may have been belittled, abused, cheated on, bullied, let go from your job or whatever, but the God of Heaven who is greater than all loves you deeply! He loves you so much He sent His Son to die for you. He wants to reveal His love to you each moment of every day. He is extending that invitation for you to come to Him and find a new identity in Christ – an identity that is greater than words can express. What you find in Christ cannot be equaled by any other!

I did not share this post with you today for anyone to feel sorry for me. I shared this because I know many other adults are struggling with this very thing. You’re not alone! God is ready to reveal the truth to you about yourself. Let Him dictate your identity!

When Everyone Is Against You

Have you ever felt like everyone is against you? Maybe you had a falling out with many in your family? Maybe you went through a divorce and your “friends” sided with your ex? Maybe you were wrongfully accused and no one believed you were innocent? You’re not alone!

King David found himself in a rough situation. He was running for his life, and the person who was trying to kill him was his son Absalom. I couldn’t imagine anything more discouraging than my son wanting me dead. This difficulty led David to pen these words we find in Psalm 3:

“Lord, how are they increased that trouble me! many are they that rise up against me. Many there be which say of my soul, There is no help for him in God. Selah.”
‭‭Psalms‬ ‭3:1-2‬ ‭KJV‬‬

These verses sound pretty grim, but I’m glad David didn’t stop there. Amidst one of the worst times in his life, he was able to see God for who He is. When we are surrounded by enemies, we must remember the following things:

My Lord is my Shield (Psalm 3:3) – “But Thou, O Lord, art a shield for me.” The fiery darts of the enemy and darts from those who seek to harm you will come, but your Lord protects you.

My Lord is my Strength (Psalm 3:3) – “my glory and the lifter up of mine head”. If you have been depressed and have come out of that depression, you know what it means for the Lord to lift your head when it hangs low in despair.

My Lord is my Supplication (Psalm 3:4) – “I cried unto the Lord with my voice, and he heard me out of his holy hill. Selah.” What a beautiful thing to know we can cry out to Him and He hears us!

My Lord is my Sustainer (Psalm 3:5) – “I laid me down and slept; I awaked; for the Lord sustained me.” At times when I didn’t think I would make it, the Lord carried me through. I have no doubt you can testify of the same.

My Lord is the Settler of my fears (Psalm 3:6) – “I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people, that have set themselves against me round about.” I am reminded that God is not the One who gives us a spirit of fear (2 Timothy 1:7). He gives us courage when courage doesn’t make sense. He can speak peace when all around us is chaos.

My Lord is my Savior (Psalm 3:7, 8) – “Arise, O Lord; save me, O my God: for thou hast smitten all mine enemies upon the cheek bone; thou hast broken the teeth of the ungodly. Salvation belongeth unto the Lord: thy blessing is upon thy people. Selah.” God is the ultimate Rescuer! He rescues us from sin, self, and those who devise sinister plots against us. When we cry out to Him, He stands ready to rescue us and save us.

I’m reminded of the lyrics “It may look like I’m surrounded, but I’m surrounded by You.” Our immediate vision may only allow us to see the enemies around us, but there is One bigger surrounding them. Our God causes enemies to flee. Trust yourself to the One who is mighty to save!

“Grace in 280 Characters”

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of being on the “School of Kingdom Writers” podcast with host Brad Pauquette. Brad is a great host and has been a Twitter connection for the last few years. I was extremely nervous about doing a video podcast interview, but Brad set me at ease, and it made for a very natural conversation. Brad gave my story the title “Grace in 280 Characters”. If you would like to go listen to the interview, I encourage you to check it out at https://sokw.org/2021/02/27/influencer-interview-matthew-winters-grace-in-280-characters/.

Most importantly, I want to give honor and glory to Jesus Christ for extending His grace to me and opening doors to extend grace to others through social media. I never imagined God would allow me to connect with over 14,000 on Twitter. As long as He will allow, I pray that this account can be used to reach many with the truth of God’s word.

You’re in the Wrong Lane 😱

One Sunday night in December 2001, I was leaving the church on a high. Not a drug high, but one of those highs after you have had an awesome church service. As I was driving, I saw a deer in the road and tried to swerve to miss it. As I got back onto the road, my car went out of control, weaving back and forth from my lane into the lane of oncoming traffic. Thankfully, no one was coming toward me. As I attempted to hold the steering wheel still, it was to no avail. I prayed to the Lord, “Either You have to take control of this car, or I’m coming to see You tonight.” Immediately after that prayer, my car turned around, rolled over, and landed on its side in the grass. The fear of weaving out of the wrong lane was real because of the potential danger, but God took control.

Many of us have a tendency to drive in the wrong lane rather than our own lane. Switch gears as I am now talking about life rather than on-the-road driving. As a young minister, I started out wanting to be a particular thing. There were far too many times in ministry when I tried to be something I wasn’t. It took me years to accept how God wired me. Many years were spent in frustration because I wasn’t comfortable with who I was in Christ. Here are some pieces of advice I would give others based on my life lessons:

Learn how God wired you and be proud of that! This principle goes back to Paul’s teaching about the body of Christ in I Corinthians 12. Not everyone is a hand or a foot or a mouth in the body of Christ. Each person is designed by God with a specific function to play. When we do not operate in that role, we become frustrated and cause frustration to the body of Christ. I attempted to be contemporary in my worship leading, but I can tell you that I am not contemporary worship leading material. I even made it into the interview process to lead worship in a predominantly African-American church. While I love their worship style, I didn’t get the position. I was relieved because I knew I was not a good fit, which leads me to my next thought.

Passion does not equal calling! I was passionate about multi-ethnic worship, but I do not possess the gifts for it. I know my gifting, so I do my best to stay within that. I had to learn some valuable things when it came to preaching too. I tried to be “cool” and do some of the things the popular preachers were doing. The attempts were pathetic! I often wish I could be like these preachers who can go really deep and communicate like no other. Here’s the thing! I’m a “cookies on the bottom shelf” kind of guy. I’m practical. You won’t hear me take apart the original Greek from the New Testament, but you will hear me explain the Bible in such a way that you can live and apply it when you leave the building. My style is mine, and that’s okay. The goal at the end of the day is to glorify God.

May I encourage you to be comfortable with the person God made you to be. Will we grow, learn, and be transformed by the Holy Spirit? Absolutely! I’m not promoting stagnation. I am promoting contentment. Learn who you are in Christ and be bold in being that person!

Did the Church Pave the Way for Cancel Culture?

The term “cancel culture” has been a pretty hot topic for some time. In my reading, most references to this point back to a person. When we “cancel” a person, that person’s accomplishments, failures, and even victories are “removed”. While we can remove or “cancel” people from social media, history books, and other records, these people and events cannot be erased from our minds. Positive and negative contributions will be there and can be passed on to another generation if we choose to do so. Eventually, there will be a generation that will bear the effects of certain events and mindsets but will have no history from which to understand why they are the way they are or why their surroundings are the way they are. After seeing a tweet from a pastor I deeply respect, his tweet challenged me to question if the church did not lead the way in this movement.

I will be the first to say that the church does have a few things that should be canceled. If things like hypocrisy, abuse from clergy (sexual, emotional, etc.), hateful protests, and other negative marks like the “good ole boy system” within some denominations could be canceled, that would be great. These things have given the church a horrible reputation. Sadly, many people bear scars and gaping wounds from such behaviors. The effects of these things will affect future generations whether we like it or not. But I want to focus on some things the church canceled in order to be “relevant”.

The church led the way in canceling appearance. While many absolutely adore such things as stained glass windows with depictions of biblical accounts, crosses hanging on walls, and steeples on top of buildings, many church leaders were quick to cancel these things because they did not appeal to unbelievers. Many structures and places of worship now bear no resemblance of anything biblical when you walk in.

The church led the way in canceling form. Many have cherished such things as reciting the Lord’s Prayer or the Apostles’ Creed, singing the Doxology, participating in responsive readings based on Scripture, and other types of meaningful liturgy. Some churches were quick to dismiss all of the above and more because we didn’t want to appear antiquated to those with no church background or desire to be in a church building or service.

The church led the way in canceling a traditional sound. Many churches didn’t want to sound like church did for centuries, so they changed the music. They eliminated preaching against sin, mentions of the cross, and what it truly means to deny yourself, take up the cross, and follow Christ.

I don’t write this to target anyone. While there are things and people I would wish to cancel in my life, these things and people are a part of my story – a story I will share with my children and future generations as long as God allows me. While I do not find every single church tradition I mentioned here as meaningful as some do, I will respect those who do adore them. I will come alongside them and do my best to lead others to Christ as long as we can dwell in harmony (by the way, harmony is much more beautiful than unity/unison – musicians will totally get this).

We should not want to cancel what God cherishes. We should want to cancel what God hates while still teaching the lessons of the pain that comes when we violate God’s directives. My prayer is that the church will come back to a place of wanting to honor God over making a statement. Anyone can make a statement, but no one can produce what the Holy Spirit alone can produce. And Holy Spirit power is something I don’t want to cancel.

It’s Not About Me – A Needed Reminder

A dear brother in Christ shared these thoughts with me earlier today and gave me permission to share them. His thoughts resounded with me as the number of celebrities seems to increase while the number of servants decreases. May God convict us all and bring us to the point where our life’s motto is “Not I, but Christ”. I trust you too will be convicted by these words.

“The mission of every theologian, of every Christian, of the church itself, is not to draw attention to ourselves, our ideas, or our achievements. Our job, like that of John the Baptist, is to point others toward the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” Timothy George, ThD.

Most people in ministry that I know either preach themselves, politics, signs & wonders, and almost anything you can think of except for Christ and Him crucified. They only talk about the work on the cross maybe 1% of the time, if at all. I have been to several churches where it was never even mentioned. If your ministry is not about Jesus Christ and Him crucified, are you really a Christian Minister? Many ministries only cater to momentary, worldly issues. Isn’t our focus supposed to be on the eternal? Why are so many ministers so concerned with having titles and posting things that are meant to be about God but always have their own photo attached to it? Why do they care so much about building their brand or their “tribe” instead of leading others to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ or discipleship? Are they trying to create a religion of themselves? Why do so many ministries, after everything that has been done to have a Bible in the hands of every person, never use the Bible? And if they do, why do they pull verses way out of context to fit what they are trying to sell to people? For example, the one many prosperity people use 3 John 1:2.

“Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth.” 

Many famous ministers use this verse out of context and teach it to mean that we should all have financial prosperity and perfect health, that it is a promise of God. However, reading the verse in context, it is painfully obvious that it is only a greeting in a letter. Just like how we say in letters, “I pray that this letter finds you well.” If financial prosperity were a promise from God, then why did Paul write in 1 Corinthians 4:9-13 

“9 For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men. 10 We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. 11 To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, 12 and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; 13 when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things.” 

And these were Christ’s Apostles! Paul said he has been rich and he has been poor, and through it all, he has learned that he can do all things through Christ who strengthens him. Out of context that would say that Paul could literally do anything because Christ gives him power. However, in context, it is that he can endure all things because Christ gives him strength. Philippians 4:10-13

“10 I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. 11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” 

In other words, be content with what you have and trust in Christ. Rabbit trail ended. 

If you are to be a minister for Christ, then everything must point to Him. If you teach or preach the OT, then show how it points to Christ. If you teach or preach the NT, show how it points to Christ. In all that you do and teach, it goes to Christ. Where is the fear and awe of the almighty God who created the universe? Have so many lost the respect of our Lord? Everything is not about you. The Bible is not about you. You are not David. You are not Moses. You are not Elijah. The Bible is and has always been about only one person, the Son of God, the only Jesus Christ. The Bible is for you, but not about you. Your ministries are for the hurting, the dispossessed, and the lost, they are not about you. We are servants of Christ, in all that we do, we do for Him. To Him be all the glory, not us.