National Day of Prayer

The first Thursday of May always sticks out in my mind. This day has been set aside as the National Day of Prayer since at least the 1990s. I remember a small ensemble from our high school choir singing at City Hall in Portsmouth, Virginia where I grew up. Ever since then, this day has been engrained in me.

While many use this as a day for corporate prayer, let me challenge you to use this day as a time of intense private prayer. Many of us have more public prayer time than we do private. We can check off the prayers at meals and with other people. For me personally, I knew I needed some time this morning to pray alone.

If you are like me, you need to talk to God about things within that need to change. You need to face some facts about yourself and lay them at the feet of Jesus. In order to lead well in your home, community, church, or wherever, the same old coasting just won’t do. As you examine your own life, you see areas in which you’ve been negligent, and you can’t go on that way.

On this National Day of Prayer for 2022, I want to challenge you to face the issues within. We cannot neglect personal responsibility. It would be easy to turn today’s prayer meetings into a public performance. Let’s start with the man in the mirror so we can authentically lead by example. Leadership is more than a title; it is a lifestyle.

Anniversaries

Anniversaries can be a good or bad thing. For a few years, there were some anniversaries I dreaded. When I realized the date, some painful memories came along. This is not the case with May 4.

Twenty-five years ago today, I surrendered to the call to preach. It continues to be one of the happiest days of my life. I realize more and more that His call had nothing to do with me and everything to do with what He could do in and through an unlikely candidate. I’m more humbled than I was then.

I also celebrated another anniversary this week – the 1-year anniversary of serving as pastor at the church I currently serve. I never thought I would pastor a church again, and God sent this wonderful group of people into my life. Interestingly enough, we relaunched the church one day shy of my 1-year anniversary. I celebrate the goodness of God as I reflect on these anniversaries. It’s all Him!

What dates are milestones in your Christian growth? Please share those with me. I would love to rejoice with you.

Social Media Etiquette

Picture it. Hazlehurst, Georgia. 2006. A man sitting at a computer, attempting to use a new social media account called “MySpace.” Okay. Enough of the Golden Girls attempt at storytelling! We quickly dumped MySpace for Facebook, and one thing was apparent – people had no restraint. Facebook posts rapidly went from innocent posts and pictures about what they ate to men and women ranting about their relationship problems and venting about any other issue that was bothering them. Before you knew it, those who were meek as a lamb offscreen became ravenous lions onscreen. One of my cemented childhood memories is of my paternal grandmother giving us grandchildren talks about meal etiquette. She was raised in a home for girls, and this stuff was enforced. As my grandma had dinner etiquette drilled into her, it would not hurt for us to take a little refresher course on social media etiquette.

So, class! Let’s begin!

If you are a Christian, I would say rule number one is pray before you post. Some of you might be saying, “Matthew, if I prayed before I post, I wouldn’t post much of anything.” That’s okay! Not everything that is on your mind needs to be said. The book of Proverbs says that a fool utters all of his thoughts, so don’t be so quick to brag if you are always giving someone a piece of your mind. Ask God if you need to post it. I promise He will show you. I have been guilty of posting junk that clearly revealed a lack of wisdom on my part. This will prevent you from posting simply for the purpose of posting or to get the shallow attention we frequently seek from social media.

Edit before you post. I’m not just talking about misspellings and punctuation. Sentence structure is also key, but analyze how it might be interpreted before you post. Nine out of ten people (maybe even 10 of 10) are quicker to assume what you didn’t say in a post than what you did say, and they will attack you, especially if it strikes a nerve. I would love to say Christians show much more grace on social media than unbelievers, but some believers are quick to attack under the guise of “contending for the faith.” Analyze it to death before you post.

Choose to respond if necessary and be quiet a lot! This is HUGE! Not everything needs a response. I can’t tell you how many times I have had to cool off after I receive a comment from someone. We often feel like we have to defend ourselves. Let God defend you! He does a much better job. Show grace! Be kind! Know that there are a ton of trolls on social media who are looking for a fight. Don’t engage them! It is a waste of your time and a poor use of God’s time He has gifted to us as a resource for His glory.

Social media can be a powerful place of ministry and encouragement. Don’t blow it! People are watching you like a hawk. In a sea full of people who don’t use proper social media etiquette, set a good example. You never know who you may properly influence.

Monday, Monday

This blog is called “honest thoughts from a pastor”, and it’s probably easier to give you some pretty honest thoughts on a Monday morning. Our church had its relaunch service yesterday, then I spent roughly 4 hours on the road and got back in time for a high school choral concert. Needless to say, I’m tired. I did sleep in for a bit, so that helped. I might be feeling a little bit of the adrenaline crash like Elijah felt on Mount Carmel.

This is a plight not only for pastors. Many of you probably dreaded starting a new work week. You probably got to rest this weekend and unplug from your daily routine. Today, you had to get back up and face the usual. Karen Carpenter sang that rainy days and Mondays always got her down. That song does come to mind some Mondays. I typically remember these lyrics from a song by the Mamas and the Papas:

Every other day, every other day
Every other day, every other day of the week is fine, yeah
But whenever Monday comes, but whenever Monday comes
But whenever Monday comes, you can find me cryin’ all of the time

It’s funny how we are quick to pronounce doom upon our own week before it even starts! We should be singing something like “every day with Jesus is sweeter than the day before” or “the longer I serve Him, the sweeter He grows.” Why do we let the world’s mindset about Mondays determine the believer’s mindset?!? It’s time to change our perspective about Mondays.

As you go through this Monday, Jesus is at the right hand of the Father praying for you. He wants you to thrive today, even amidst the junk that comes your way. Surrender your Monday mindset to God. You’ll be glad you did.

Blogging from the Middle of the Highway

Here I am, sitting in the middle of a popular 2-lane highway in South Carolina. I took this road to avoid the hectic traffic of the interstate, and here I am sitting still. I am in the middle of nowhere, so my GPS almost had a hernia as it attempted to reroute. I find it interesting that this happens in the middle of a conversation I am having with God about some selfish tendencies I fight. Then He tests me by making me wait. The funny part was that the fire truck that is blocking both lanes moved and got my hopes up, then it parked back in place. It made the waiting even more testy.

Here is the thing about such matters. We can be so quick to think about how much it inconveniences us, and we are slow to think of the potential emergency up ahead. At this moment, I have no clue what is going on. I pray that whoever is involved is okay. If not, may God give grace to those affected and provide His touch to the situation.

The next time you are stuck in the middle of the road, whether literally or figuratively, remember God has a purpose and something He can teach you if you will be His student. He may be telling you to slow down. He may be telling you to be still and meditate on His goodness. Whatever it is, resist the urge to pout. It’s not worth it!

Things That Break a Pastor’s Heart

As I was reading statements from pastors about how they responded to the Coronavirus onset in 2020, I could really sense the emotions at hand. Pastors did not want to have to cancel services. They agonized over the decision for various reasons. Then I began to think about the various things that break a pastor’s heart.

Wayward people break a pastor’s heart. While some may think pastors are heaping up some big judgment, it really does grieve us when we see people making poor choices.

Criticism breaks a pastor’s heart. I can tell you that constructive criticism did hurt, but that was for my benefit. But when people began to gossip and assume my intentions about things, that hurt.

The list is really much longer. One of the hardest things is possessing the gift of discernment. This gift often feels like a curse as you see the train wreck happening long before it happens. I can foresee the deacon who appears supportive creating division, the negative comment coming, the family splitting up, etc. I can discern things happening within the people sitting under the sound of my preaching. It’s a heavy weight.

Here is one thing I know above all others – God is near to the broken-hearted. The Bible says so! Are you grieving today? God is near! Is your life a wreck? God is near! Don’t lose heart! You are not alone! God cares!

Leading Yourself Well

I love connecting with my Twitter connections offline. Occasionally, I will contact different ones and set up a conversation, especially if I want to learn more about their line of work. One of those people is a lady named Jan McDonald. She is a certified coach through the John Maxwell program. She is a dynamic lady with a powerful story.

In my conversation with her, she said something that has stuck to this day. I find myself thinking about this statement daily – “Most people don’t know how to lead themselves well.” They want to lead others, but they can’t lead themselves. It hit hard because I knew there were areas of my life where I was not leading myself well, and other areas of my life were paying for it.

How are you doing at leading yourself? If your answer is “poorly”, do you have a plan to change it? God didn’t design us to try to be a lone ranger, so you might need some help. Find someone who can help you on the journey – someone who will hold you accountable. This is too important to go left unattended. Your life, your family, your finances, and so many other things hang in the balance. God wants you to be your best. He will help you, but are you willing to take the first step?

Thoughts About Friendship

I have never been one to be the life of the party. I’m not the guy who people go out of their way to invite to special events. If I get together with anyone, I’m usually the one to initiate it. But there is one exception!

When I moved to the upstate of South Carolina, God gave me a choir member named Howard. If you know Howard, you know he doesn’t meet a stranger. He was a salesman for most of his career. When Howard is in the room, you know it! The only reason you might not like Howard is if you like the status quo. Howard and status quo don’t blend, and he will be quick to call it out.

Howard and I connected before I officially moved to the area. On my trial weekend, I discovered he had a sister who lived in the town I was getting ready to leave. We had something in common. After I moved to the area, it became at least a quarterly tradition that we would have breakfast together. Almost 13 years later, it’s still a tradition. Despite the fact that we are no longer at the same church, that hasn’t stopped us.

Here is what I know about Howard. I have been through some junk. While some people were quick to write me off, Howard never did. I have watched Howard love people even when they were wrong and royally screwed up. Howard is the embodiment of Proverbs 17:17 – “A friend loveth at all times and a brother is born for adversity.” When I think about the times he has helped me move, lined up people to do repairs at our house when we couldn’t, and a plethora of other things, I almost cry as I think about how blessed I am to have this friend.

Howard is 85 now, but he still plays basketball once a week and mows approximately 3 lawns a day. His wife went to be with the Lord last April, and I had the privilege of walking through some of the journey as his chaplain when she was under hospice care. If you don’t find Howard on the basketball court or on the lawnmower, you will most likely find him in a restaurant doing what he does best – eating and encouraging some man to be the best he can be for the Lord. When I grow up, I want to be like Howard.

Writer’s Block

From 2015 until 2018, I was a rather prolific writer. Ideas came left and right. I must admit that my writing was rather impulsive. The adrenaline rush of becoming a rapidly growing blog at that time became a god. My blog became a place to process hurt and gain the affirmation I missed. Soon, my writing took a turn.

In 2017 and 2018, most of my writing was about my journey of trying to get a church off the ground. I posted excerpts of the sermons I preached. The horrible reality is that I was trying hard to make MY dream of a church work while simultaneously trying to convince the world that everything was great. I am a horrible actor, so I gave up the church in September 2018 and the old blog shortly thereafter.

Some may wonder why I would give up a blog for which I was so passionate. I finally realized the bitter undertones beneath my writing, and I knew I could no longer spew that venom at an audience that was growing tired of it. While some of that can easily sell, that is not my calling. I am called to encourage and share the life-changing message of Christ. I am called to help others. Writing for the sake of writing is not enough. No wonder I had writer’s block! God blocked it and rightly so!

Another thing that blocked my writing was a hurtful comment. The comment was not on a blog, but it was on a famous social media site. After that, I went silent there for a long time. I started this new blog with the hopes of reigniting the fire I once had for writing. Here was the problem – God wanted me silent while I finally came to terms with the hurt and pain in my own heart. Until I did that, my blog posts were only going to be about me and would offer no help to anyone. Some still say the things I post are too much about me. Here is what I learned – God has used my life experiences to help a lot of people. So many have thanked me for being transparent and vulnerable. My stories are not to put Matthew on parade but to connect with someone’s internal struggle and help them through it.

While the “pen” doesn’t flow as frequently as it once did, this writer is much more careful to pray before he posts. God often blocks my writing, and I’m learning to be okay with it. He knows best!

What’s Happening?

If you are older than I am, you probably watched a sitcom called “What’s Happening?” I love older shows, so I enjoyed watching it. Since I’ve been silent for a while, I thought I might write about what’s happening. This sitcom had a character named “Rerun.” I feel like “rerun” might be the story of my life, but we have had some nice twists and turns in the mix.

Last year around this time, I returned to the pastorate. It has been a pretty glorious journey as I have watched God breathe new life into the church and into my own life. We have baptized 4 people, witnessed a rise in giving and attendance, and seen some new folks step up and serve. That is just the beginning.

When I became the pastor, the leadership discussed a relaunch. The thought scared me half to death since I flopped at my church planting attempt and stepped down 11 months into my first pastorate due to family issues. My first thought was, “Lord, we will do this in about 2-3 years.” The leadership was eager, signs pointed toward “GO” within 6 months, and we made the announcement with applause from the congregation. We waited until late January to begin the process, and God has aligned things beautifully. From the decision for the name to logos to building renovations, God has unified the people, and they are ready to share the love of Christ like never before.

This coming Saturday and Sunday is our opening weekend for the relaunch. Saturday will be our Spring festival with the opening service on Sunday. I would ask you to join me in praying for this. I just want what God wants for this beautiful body of believers. I simply want God to write the story and receive all the glory.

Maybe after next weekend, I can return to writing regularly and keep you in the loop on “what’s happening”…