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

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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.

Many Open Doors and the Bible’s Fine Print

In last night’s post, I shared how God has been opening many doors to preach. Because of God’s call on my life, these open doors thrill my soul. This is what I’ve believed God for. I waited longer than I wanted, but God did His work in His time. I have, however, noticed something about open doors – they come with opposition.

Notice what I Corinthians 16:9 says – “For a great and effective door has opened to me, and there are many adversaries.” In the previous verse, Paul mentioned staying in Ephesus until Pentecost. God was doing something, but Paul was not ignorant of how the devil works. Paul knew the enemy fights hard against the forward movement of the gospel. The devil hates nothing more than to see unbelievers trusting in Christ, believers growing in their faith, and churches accomplishing the Great Commission of making disciples. Because he hates it, he will do everything to hinder it. If you want to know you’re doing the right thing, look around and see if you have opposition. It’s inevitable. God never promised you “cake walk Christianity”. Jesus promised “in this world you WILL have tribulation” (John 16:33). Paul told Timothy that “the godly in Christ Jesus SHALL suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12). If your growth isn’t a threat to the devil, he will leave you alone. Try to honor God, and rest assured that difficulties will come.

Prosperity teachers would try to convince you that the Christian life is easy if you’re “living right”. They somehow missed this “fine print” that assures us that there are many adversaries. Those adversaries come in different forms. The most disheartening reality is that some of these adversaries are those who claim to be your brothers and sisters in Christ, yet they rise and stand against you. These adversaries can also be little disturbances that the enemy will cause to look large in order to steal your joy and kill your momentum. Whatever you do, don’t let the adversaries cause you to lose sight of the open doors of opportunity.

As God is opening these doors of opportunity to come your way, be aware that adversaries are present. In your awareness, remember that God is greater than your adversaries. His power will cause you to triumph amidst the difficulties. Keep your eyes fixed on Him and allow Him to work in and through you. His Spirit will stir boldness within to push through the reality of adversaries. Don’t forget that greater is He that is in us than he that is in the world (I John 4:4).

The Latest on Me: Many Open Doors

Have you ever felt like you had a passion for something but there was not a sign of an open door for years? I felt like that until last year. The end of 2018 was discouraging as my attempt to church a plant did not end well. The next year (2019) was full of a few interview processes at some churches that also didn’t end well. By the Summer of 2019, I told God I was done with serving Him in a church staff role. I would just spend the rest of my ministry encouraging pastors because I didn’t appear to be good at anything else. Then 2020 came. My first preaching opportunity in almost a year and a half came. The fire that had burned since I was a teenage boy to preach was as much alive as it was then. That led to 4 more preaching opportunities at the same facility and one at the church we attend.

This year is even better. I preached twice in the month of January. I have a podcast interview on February 17, 5 preaching opportunities in March, and a 5-day revival meeting in May. I am beyond pumped. God reminded me once again He is not done with me, and the call He placed on my life nearly 25 years ago is still valid.

You might be reading this and wondering where your open doors are. I was there. I wondered why I got passed by while many others got all the opportunities. I felt punished because of a divorce. Rest assured that people will label you, but God has a way of vindicating you while people act the way they are going to act. God has a way of shaping us while we are in the waiting room. He is either preparing you for something, preparing the people you will minister to, or both. He worked on me a long time before this moment, and I give Him all the glory. Would you pray with me about these opportunities?

The “Magic” of Preaching

You may read the title and think I’ve lost my mind, potentially going mystical or new age. Let me clarify – I’m not! There’s something amazing and supernatural about preaching. I have done it for over 25 years (preaching my first sermon when I was either 13 or 14), and I have watched God do something “magical” over and over. Only God could take a shy, backward only child from Portsmouth, Virginia, give Him a divine message from Scripture, and produce divine results.

Today was no exception. Every time I’m invited to preach somewhere, I ask God to reveal to me the message He would have me deliver. It’s not that there is a shortage of material, because we have 66 books of the Bible full of material. The challenge is discerning what is the message for that hour. God led me to a particular message, and I really questioned if I should preach this as I felt that maybe the people were beyond that place in life to need that message. (It’s crazy how we make assumptions!) Before I left, I knew who needed that message.

In this stage of ministry, it’s funny that I still fear being transparent in my preaching. Many preachers won’t share personal examples, especially about the ugly parts of their life. One of my ugly parts is that I’ve been divorced. Most pastors I know would try to hide it or avoid it. Some people told me that God wouldn’t use me post-divorce. I’m glad to tell you He still uses me. Not everyone appreciates my honesty, but some do. And that’s perfectly okay! I will continue to walk through the open doors He gives, be obedient and transparent, and watch Him do what He does best. The hour is crucial, and people need the message of Christ more than ever. God is still doing the supernatural through ordinary people like you and me. Find what it is He has given you to do and do it will all your heart. He’s got the rest taken care of.