An Explosive 4th of July

I think we all think explosion when we think of July 4, but it is typically related to fireworks. Today, our church had a few explosions. Let me say these were good and, well, not so bad explosions.

First, let me begin with the good explosion. I have now been pastor for 2 months. On a Sunday when most churches would have a significant number on vacation, we had the largest crowd since my arrival. I was told by our elder who counted that it was the largest in 3 years. We have had several guests who have been continually returning and speaking very positively about their experience with our church body. Needless to say, I’m thrilled over this positive explosion.

After our service, we had a meal and time of fun with indoor and outdoor games. We were having a blast until another “explosion” took place. This explosion was water from the outside spigot coming in through my office, down the hall, and into the fellowship hall. Members and guests alike jumped in and cleaned up the mess quickly. No one complained or looked at it as an inconvenience. We were able to clean up and be out by the time another church who uses our facility was coming in to set up.

The day isn’t over, and I have no idea if anything else will happen today, but I’m thankful to experience what is happening at the church. Whatever “explosions” come our way, one thing is certain – God saw them coming, and He will see us through!

Tests and Lessons

Deer and drivers seem
to really like this door😂.

Since I returned to the pastorate, I have been reminded about tests and lessons. It was so much easier when I simply attended a church and listened to someone else preach a message. I still had a responsibility to put the Bible into action, but I’m tested a lot more now I’m the one preaching weekly and providing spiritual leadership to a church. Today proved just that!

Last Sunday, I started a series in the book of James. If you haven’t read that part of the Bible, then you don’t realize how much it gets all up in your business. The first message I preach was about trials and temptations (a very timely message, considering what some of our people at church are going through). This week, I spoke on the subject of what real faith looks like. My first point was “How we respond to trials tells us what our faith looks like.” Based on James 1:19-20, we are to be swift to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger. We must hear out a matter first, hear from God on the matter, and then respond (not react). We are often quick to fly off the handle. Let’s just say I got tested on what I preached today.

After our church service, I was going to take my mom back to her place and grab lunch on the way. On the way to eat, a man decide he was going to ease over into my car to change lanes. Thankfully, no one was hurt and his car had no damage. I did just fine while we waited for the police officer to arrive and then finish the report. After that, let’s just say some “hangry” people flew off the handle for just a little bit. I laugh now, but we were super grouchy because of the shifts that we did not plan for our day. I was reminded how I must practice what I preach, and that can be ever so challenging.

What does this have to do with tests and lessons? I was tested after I gave the lesson. I didn’t pass so well, but I pray it was just a practice quiz and I can learn from this when the real difficulties come. Some of us get tested first and then get the lessons, but we all receive tests and lessons.

Whatever you’re going through, I challenge you to be teachable and trust the hand of God in the matter. Good and bad happen to us all. How we respond/react is what makes the differences. Yet another reminder for me (and all of us) to choose joy!

It’s Their Fault!

Blame is something that is a few thousand years old, going all the way back to the Garden of Eden. We watch it happen multiple times a day. I see my kids do it. I even see myself do it. For the purpose of writing this blog, I’m going to blame some people for my predicament. Indulge me for a few minutes.

I won’t bore you with all the details of the last 3 years for those who know me, but you know that it can pretty well be summed up in a church plant that didn’t go as expected, 2 interview processes with churches where I didn’t belong, and me throwing up my hands and planning to never be on a church staff again. That got ruined quickly😂, but I was still telling God I wouldn’t pastor again.

As I was telling myself I would never pastor again and that no church would want me, God was preparing spokesmen to tell me I was wrong. One of those was a man named Dwight Whitworth. I had contacted him about his consulting business, and he had my number. His discernment radiated in that call, and he told me what I already knew – I needed to re-establish myself as a pastor. He also connected me with a pastor who had a similar story. This pastor was living proof that divorced and remarried guys don’t rot until God calls them home. Then, Anita Parks from ServantCARE spoke some healing into my life. From the mouth of two or three witnesses…

I jokingly say “It’s their fault”, but I say that with thanksgiving. I believe I would have continued floundering had Dwight not spoken directly into my life and these others confirmed it. Please understand that many others were doing the same thing, but we often dismiss those with whom we are most familiar. These three I mentioned don’t know me that well, but they were in tune with God enough to know what to say to direct me.

We all need someone to blame for keeping us accountable and provoking us to do the right thing. Who is that person in your life? If you don’t have that, find it. I’m the type of person who turns over rocks looking for these people, and God never disappoints. I’m so glad God led these people my way to speak the truth boldly. I’m back in the pastorate today, and it’s their fault😀.

The Icing on the Cake

I love cake…a bit too much, but it has to have the right icing. The wrong icing, in my opinion, can ruin a cake. When the phrase “icing on the cake” is used, the implication is that the cake is good, but the icing makes it so much better. This could be an accurate description of my weekend. My last post covered the highs and lows of Thursday thru Saturday. Today (Sunday) has been a good day. Let me hit the highlights of the day.

Today began with a good day at church. This is my eighth week back in the pastorate. Although several of our regulars were gone, we had 3 guests who became acquainted with us through our Facebook page. People continue to respond well to the preaching, and an atmosphere of love is in the air. Sunday is the highlight of my week.

The day continued to go well as we ate at one of my favorite restaurants. It was so good to sit around the table with 7 of my 8 kids. There was lots of laughter. I wouldn’t trade that for anything.

I went home after lunch to take a nap. Naps are a sweet part of my Sunday afternoons, but I have not been able to relax and enjoy a nap for weeks until today. I count today’s nap as a blessing.

After my nap, my wife and kids gave me my Father’s Day gifts. They gave me a My Pillow and some Air Pods. I asked for one of those, but the other was a surprise.

As I conclude this post, I must confess I have been too busy and overwhelmed to enjoy the icing or the cake. I typically jump out of bed every day, jump into getting ready, jump into the car, jump into work, slow down for a few minutes during lunch while carrying burdens in my mind, jump back into work, jump into the car to go home, jump out of the car to go in the house and face the chaos of a big family, and long for the moment when I can jump in the bed for a break before I repeat the cycle the next day. I have been living for the weekends which can sometimes be equally hectic and dread the upcoming week. I’m done with that. I’m still in the process of adjusting to two major adjustments – a new job I started in April and a new pastorate in May. I preached today about having proper perspective. Today, I choose joy. Today, I choose enjoying the icing and the cake. If you’re living from event to event, slow down and enjoy the journey in between. These are by honest thoughts!

A Weekend to Remember

For our family, the weekend began on Thursday. I left work around 1:30 to drive to the lower part of the state for my oldest son Micah’s high school graduation. My wife and the kids left home within a few hours of that. We had to drive separately because we were adding two kids to the trip, and our entire family can’t fit into one vehicle. Those are the woes of having of what feels like 100 kids😂. I arrived to our destination during the 6 o’clock hour. My wife and the kids arrived during the 9 o’clock hour (reasons that will be discussed later in this post).

Friday morning was the moment I have been emotionally preparing myself for since I can’t remember when. I knew I would cry quite a bit, and I did just that. We had a family reception that afternoon with both sides of the blended family together, making the most of the moment. Micah had to return home, as he now lives in North Carolina, to do what responsible people do – work. I see him less frequently now because of work, but I am thankful for what God is doing in his life.

The rest of Friday was spent relaxing. Some time during the day, my wife told me about van problems that delayed her arrival on Thursday. The problems subsided until around 6:00 Friday night. We knew we would have to find a mechanic before returning home (a 4-hour drive). I did a little research and found one I hoped would be good.

This morning (Saturday) was checkout at 11:00. Because of the van problem, they allowed us to extend checkout to 1:00. We discovered close to noon that we were in for a 4-hour repair that had to be done because to ignore the problem was no option. God clearly led us to the right mechanic. The owner came to pick us up from the hotel, drove us to Golden Corral where we ate lunch until the van was finished, and picked us up to get the van. The mechanic who did the repair stayed 2 hours after the shop closed to fix the problem. I discovered during the drive that the owner is a Christian man. We didn’t get to talk long, but I sensed he knew the same Lord I know. I’m forever grateful for God directing us to the right place, preventing my wife from experiencing the worst of the problem while alone on the interstate with the kids, and providing the means to make all this happen. God is good like that!

The weekend isn’t over yet, so who knows what Father’s Day has in store. I do know that I will get to do what I love most – preaching and shepherding the flock of believers to which God has entrusted me. Sunday is definitely my favorite day.

I could be lamenting this weekend, but I’ve learned something. Life is so much about perspective. I was reminded of that as I heard the story of a young lady on America’s Got Talent. If you haven’t heard her story and song, watch the video below. You’ll be glad you did.

The Very Merry Month of May

This is probably the most action-packed month I have had in years…well, at least POSITIVELY action-packed. I returned to the pastorate on Sunday, May 2. God has graciously allowed me to pastor a wonderful church in Anderson, SC. I am having the time of my life preaching and leading a church.

I also preached a week of revival services the week of Mother’s Day. I was sick the first night and did not get to preach, but I was able to preach Tuesday through Friday. I drove back and forth between 2 1/2 to 3 hours round-trip each day, but I made it. I had a wonderful time preaching, but you better believe I slept like a baby that Friday night – 10 1/2 hours without interruption! I did all of this preaching while working a regular 40 hour per week job (shoutout to the many pastors who do this!). While I have been tired, it is extremely rewarding to do what God has called me to do. Nothing beats knowing you’re in the center of God’s will!

Maybe you’re lacking joy in your life. It could be that you are living out your own plan for your life when God has something different in mind. Living for yourself will never satisfy. You may have happy moments, but do you have joy? There’s a huge difference between happiness and joy! As someone once said, “Happiness comes from happenings; joy comes from Jesus.” I choose Jesus, and I choose joy. I hope you do too!

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!