Considering Your Critics

Critics…gotta love them, right? The truth is we all have them. If you are in leadership, you have a ton of critics. Many struggle with the idea of critics in the church, but we quickly forget that people act like PEOPLE FIRST and Christians second.

While we can be so quick to get frustrated with our critics, we have to think beneath the surface. Our first inclination is to throw them across the room or snap back with sharp words. If you desire to take a more “spiritual” approach, you may try to justify praying an imprecatory prayer like David did in the Psalms, praying that get a taste of their own medicine.

In his book “Pathetic or Proactive Christianity?”, author Stan Belyshev says the following things about critics:

– Those who criticize frequently have accomplished nothing in their lives but will gladly criticize those who have.

– Those who criticize are usually suffering from a personal identity crisis and have yet to discover their God-given identity and purpose on this earth.

– Those who criticize are frequently motivated by jealousy.

– Those who criticize are usually insecure and full of fear.

– Those who criticize are known to harbor resentment and unforgiveness.

– Those who criticize may be doing so blindly, as a result of their own brokenness and emptiness.

We are quick to consider all the first five statements here, dismissing all critics as “bitter old hags” or “crotchety men” whose sole purpose is to spew their wicked venom wherever they go. While some people have wicked intentions, many are broken, empty people who have no idea how to process that. We often want to write the “Eeyores” out of the story, they teach us a lesson in patience and love.

When you consider your critics, I challenge you to take some time to look a little deeper. Respond rather than react. Consider yourself. There may be a strong critic looking you in the mirror.

Social Media Friendships

When social media became the craze over 15 years ago, I reluctantly got onto MySpace. Most younger people don’t even know what that is. It became unpopular as quickly as it became popular. When Facebook came out, I was slow to join. It took me years to do anything with it, but it eventually became a part of daily life as I connected with friends from high school and college. Despite moments of being burned by hateful people, I stuck it out and discovered that God could use it as a powerful ministry platform. Through it, He allowed me to make some lasting friendships that were very unexpected.

Today, I met a Facebook connection for the first time in person. We connected on a blog post by a well-known ministry leader. From that post, a friendship began that has been maintained through phone calls and times of prayer for one another. This brother in Christ has often refreshed me, and today was no exception. After almost 6 years, we were able to meet in person and have lunch. He was ministering in the area this weekend and decided to linger as he is making a vacation out of this.

We tend to underestimate social media. It definitely has its evils, but I have been able to meet some of my greatest friends through it. I could go on and on about fellow bloggers and various other connections. My best prayer partners are men and women whom I may never meet this side of Heaven, but they will drop what they are doing and call me when God puts me on their heart.

If you are on social media, don’t waste the opportunity. If God can use unlikely people like me, He can do the same for you. You might as well use social media as a tool for God’s glory to further the gospel and encourage others. Only eternity will reveal the fruit.

Called Out on Social Media

Social media can be a lot of fun. It can also, however, be full of opinions. Some of those opinions are on target, and some are pretty far-fetched. Yesterday, I had both. Both individuals called me out, and I was left alone to process the comments.

The first comment was a bit out there. I was accused of being “in it for the money”. My initial reaction was, “This person doesn’t even know me. How can this individual make such a confident comment about me?” After a few minutes, I laughed. I thought, “If you saw my financial situation, you are probably a lot better off than I am. I don’t make a lot of money, but I’m content in knowing that I am doing God’s will for this stage of my life.” It was a reminder that we all have critics. These people feel they are experts on our life. They “know” our every motive and intention. I’m convinced they just might have a little too much time on their hands. We just have to let them talk, do our best to love them despite their critical spirit, and know that God truly knows our hearts (which should be the most sobering thought for us all).

The next “callout” was a bit more of an accurate assessment. The bottom line of this assessment was that I did not pray before I shared a particular tweet. This honest thought might get quite a few stones thrown at me, but I didn’t pray before I posted that. Half of my intention was good because I really needed prayer as I am getting close to Sunday, and I am unclear about exactly what God would have me preach. Part of it was semi-related to the rest of the tweet. Did I commit the unpardonable sin by tweeting this? No! Did this individual challenge me to prayerfully address what is often considered something less significant like a tweet? Yes!

The truth is that many of us do things with little to no prayer preceding the action. We often operate on feelings and are more prone to use prayer as a last resort or for something we deem important. Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, said in Philippians 4:6 that “In EVERYTHING by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God.” We should be in constant communion with God, even about what we consider to be little things. When we do not approach something prayerfully, we can often do big harm with small actions.

I know social media can be enough to drive us crazy. There are times when I am tempted to delete it all. Then God uses something He gives me to help others. While social media has the tendency to make lions out of kittens, there are people on these platforms who know how to use it properly. Let us make the choice to be among those who use it wisely.

Difficult Decisions

All I can say is that 2021 was full of difficult decisions. The easiest decision, though still emotional because I was leaving a great church, was the decision to obey God and pastor the church I currently serve. The other decisions were a bit challenging. This post will give you some honest thoughts as well as a potentially surprising curveball.

Early last year, I left my job I had for almost 7 years. I worked with a wonderful team – a team I still pop in and visit occasionally. This was my 8:00-5:00 family for a long time. Because of some changes with the company, I thought it might be best to move on.

I quickly discovered that moving on had a little more to do with my flesh than I wanted to admit. It was a more established company, but I never sensed I was at the right place. God confirmed that in September.

I took yet another job to sustain us, and knew yet again that I was not at the right place. Not that it was a horrible place, but it began to present schedule challenges that conflicted with the church and with my family. Many people would say, “Forget the time with your family. You have to put food on the table.” My response would be, “I would much rather my wife and kids remember my presence than a plate full of fried chicken with an absent father.” The challenge of the blended family, especially when some of those kids live 3 hours away, is unique when you are trying to work and pastor. I know God has called me to this church and has called me to my family, so I’m just crazy enough to believe God will take care of us.

I love when God confirms the twists and turns of my life, primarily the work choice to make some income while having schedule flexibility to focus on family and church. I have a very dear trusted prayer partner I shared several things with about a week ago. As we talked today, she shared with me, “Matthew, as I prayed, God wanted me to share with you that you make your family a priority and He will take care of the rest.” She shared other tidbits of wisdom. I couldn’t help but wipe away tears as she shared and confirmed what God had already made so clear to me.

When you seek the Lord, He gives peace amidst the difficult decisions. When you make your own plans, life brings the chaos to which I can testify. God had to sift me in order to bring me to a place where I would obey and trust Him. Yet He has a beautiful way of confirming His direction through men and women who walk with Him. While 2021 was a year of difficult decisions, I would not trade the lessons for anything. My prayer is that all I have learned from the Lord will make me a better husband, father, pastor, and servant of God.

Some Balances Shouldn’t Be Transferred

If you are like me, you may find yourself needing to transfer a balance from time to time. Our checking account is set up to transfer $1 for each transaction into our savings account. As life happens, we occasionally need to transfer some money from savings back into our checking account in order to prevent a negative balance. Not every balance in life should be transferred.

As we usher in a new year, some things need to be left behind. Some things are not meant to be carried into 2022. We often cherish mindsets, ways that no longer work, attitudes, and all kinds of things that we should have never embraced to start with. People often know they need to change, yet they hold on to the very things that kill them.

As you prepare to enter a new year, I encourage you to assess your life. What needs to stay behind? What people, attitudes, mindsets, etc. need to be left behind in order for you to walk in the joy of the Lord? If you truly want to know, the Holy Spirit will reveal these things to you. The choice is yours whether you will continue to walk in bondage or walk in freedom. My recommendation is you walk in freedom. You’ll be glad you did!

Christmas Passed Me By

I, like many others, had some wonderful plans for Christmas. This is my first Christmas as pastor of our church, so I was looking forward to this church’s customs and festivities. Then, December 11 came…and along came COVID! It decided to linger in our house for a bit. For a solid week, I did little more than stay in the bed. While my mind seemed extremely foggy, God reminded me of a few things.

The first reminder came in the form of a verse of Scripture that hangs on our bedroom wall. The verse says something to the effect of the Lord will fight for me, so I need only be still. Being still was all I really wanted to do while I was sick, so it seemed like a great option😂. I found it sad that sickness had to force me to be still so I would relinquish my battles to the Victorious One.

In being still, it forced me to notice the little things. The “little thing” I kept noticing was the house across the street which is visible from our couch through the dining room window. The stone on the house is gray. It looks so calming in the rain and fog. At night, it is subtly lit with Christmas lights that is has a calming effect on my spirit. Even now, I gaze upon this house on this cloudy day.

This time of sickness forced me to go back and enjoy memories of Christmases past. For many years, the “Newsong” Christmas albums were a huge part of celebrating the season. Thanks to Apple Music, I was able to bring those back and listen on Christmas Day. These sights and sounds of Christmas were able to bring moments of joy to what could be considered less than desirable.

I must admit this Christmas has made me very emotional. My schedule with my oldest kids got messed up this year due to COVID (on both sides of the family). I’m an emotional bird anyway, so I have found the tears flow just a little easier. While it may feel Christmas has passed me by, the reality lives with me daily.

This is the true reality of Christmas – “But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons” (Galatians‬ ‭4:4-5‬). With this said, Christmas didn’t pass me by; it came to live among us. So, to anyone else who seemed to have a less than desirable circumstance this year, remember the truth of Christmas and let it flood your heart with joy.

Living the Dream

When you use the phrase “living the dream” here in the United States of America, people think many different things. They think of having a job with lots of money, owning a boat, a nice house, a nice car, and a plethora of other things. Fat bank accounts and retirement accounts are also among these things that are a part of this “dream”. While for others, “the dream” consists of none of these things. I would be among those.

While I’m not rich by the world’s standards, I’m rich in Christ. I’m blessed with a wonderful family. I’m able to pay my bills. I have a dependable vehicle. My needs are met, and, on top of that, I get to do what God called me to do.

Today was one of those days that felt like a dream. I was able to baptize 4 people. God has led these precious people to our church within the last 3 months. They have been believers for quite a while but needed to take that next step. They have already found their place in serving in the church and in the community. They are passionate about the Lord and what He has for them. This is just a part of the dream. The other folks that have been faithfully attending and serving in this church for quite some time are excited about what God is doing. I watch them, week after week, welcome people into the doors like they have known them for years. They are a blessing to this pastor on a daily basis. God has been preparing this moment for quite some time, and I get to live in this community of faith with joyful contentment and expectation.

You may wonder if you will ever live the dream. When you live out the will of God, you can live the dream. The whole world could be crashing around you, and you can live with joy and peace because you know you are obeying God. There’s nothing like it! It begins by trusting Christ as your Lord and Savior and continues as you walk out your faith moment by moment. Walk in faithfulness to your Lord and live the dream.

The Power of Journaling

What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of journaling? For me, it’s all the fancy doodling that ladies are so much better at doing than men are. I think of the drawings and calligraphy surrounding the body of what someone writes. I hate to break it to you, but my journaling doesn’t look a thing like that. No doodling and lots of sloppy writing, but thoughts are therapeutically written on a page, and I find great joy and release as I pen these words.

This is a challenging time for me. Let’s face it, many are facing challenges right now they never assumed they would face. When we should be supporting each other, we are more divided than ever. I never thought I would see the day when we were medically divided, but I digress.

Over the last few weeks, I have written about hard decisions I am facing. Frustrations with life and work. Joys of family and church. So much has filled these pages. Fear of the unknown coupled with excitement to step out and do some things that some may ridicule while I know God is opening some unique doors for me to help others while providing for my family.

You may be like me and have a difficult time wording your thoughts to God during certain seasons of life. Right now, I am writing my prayers. I’m still praying, and my concentration during written prayer is so much better. Journaling has brought a depth to my walk with God right now that I have missed for a while.

Maybe it’s time you start writing your thoughts. You might find yourself with greater concentration. The beautiful part about this is that you can look back later and see different things God did and you may easily forget if you don’t record it.

I encourage you to prayerfully consider journaling. I’m not recommending anything fancy. My “journal” currently consists of scrap paper. Don’t worry about the method. Just sit down and pour out your thoughts. If you do, let me know how it goes. If you already do this, drop a testimony in the comment section. Sending my love to you all!

6 Years!

I’ll never forget how things happened overnight in 2015. In June, I met my wife. In July, we began our courtship. On September 11, we were married. Remember the song by Bonnie Raitt “Let’s give ‘em something to talk about”? Jennifer and I got everyone’s curiosity up here in the Golden Corner of South Carolina. Today, we celebrate 6 years of marriage.

These 6 years have not been without their challenges. In 6 years, we have had 3 babies and had to move out of our house due to circumstances beyond our control. Add to that the challenges of blending a family. It’s not for the faint of heart. I firmly believe our past hardships from our previous marriages helped us be able to weather these storms a little better.

To Jennifer, I want to thank you for taking this journey with me. I warned you that I was still called to ministry, and the road would be bumpy. You were willing to sign up for the roller coaster. Thank you for riding the waves and handling the challenges with grace and faith! Here’s to getting old and wrinkly together😂!

Remembering Pastor Ken Fetuao

Approximately five years ago, I was reaching out in a Facebook pastors group for support. I knew I was still called to be a pastor, but not many churches would touch a divorced guy with a 39 1/2-foot pole. Several pastors commented with their platitudes, but I received a message from a guy who had been in the same boat. He wanted to talk on the phone, so we set up a time and had a good conversation that would open the door for periodic contact over the next several years.

Many Facebook connections never get to meet face to face, but Ken and I met for lunch when he was in the area last September. He was looking for preaching opportunities in our area, so I connected him with a local denominational leader. It was the least I could do for a man who encouraged me.

Around lunch time today, I found out Ken went into the presence of the Lord he faithfully preached. In this stage of his life, Ken had a heart for churches that were struggling. There was no price tag to ministry for him. Based on the posts I have seen so far on his Facebook page, my life was not the only one that was touched by his kindness.

Please pray for those who have been touched by his life and ministry. I pray the Lord will give me the heart for souls that this dear brother had. Enter into your reward, Pastor Ken! Until we meet in glory!