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”…

The “Fauxs” of Social Media

I will never forget when social media first became the rave. The year was 2006, and I was living in the southern part of Georgia. MySpace was just coming out, and people were flocking to it like crazy. That was until Facebook came out. While I liked MySpace, others were much more attracted to Facebook. Before I knew it, MySpace was a ghost town. At that time, these sites appeared to be a gift as they reconnected me with friends from high school and people in previous ministries I served. At the end of the day, it seemed as though as few curses came with that gift along with lots of “fauxs”.

Faux Image. Social media has produced a false image. I cannot help but crack up as I reflect on how a profile picture can give us a false representation of who a person really is. Thanks to filters and other editing, we can convince people we look younger or thinner than we really do. These social media outlets have almost become glorified dating websites, leading us to say the “right things” that will attract an audience. We put our “best self” forward. But is it really our best self?

Faux Confidence. I have seen the most socially awkward people in person become the life of the party on social media. The thrill of hiding behind a screen gives them this false confidence, equipping them to say bold things they would never say to someone’s face. Then the social media platform becomes a virtual bar room fight as people hurl their virtual punches at each other. It is especially sickening as I observe Christians engage in this behavior, showing off their “spiritual muscles” to see whose spirituality is bigger. The real you is not who you portray on screen; it is who you are in the dark.

Faux Intimacy. I do not doubt nor negate the reality that people make real friendships or even romantic relationships that begin on social media, but I also recognize that people often feel a sense of false intimacy on these platforms. It is very easy to type false words of affirmation to a person you do not really know and create false bonds or emotions that are more of a fairy tale than reality. There are too many tales of men and women that chased relationships, often leaving their spouses, for this false intimacy they found in the virtual arms of another.

These “fauxs” are really foes. They are enemies to your life. While this is not a sermon against social media, it is a warning against the fake. This is very much common knowledge that is often ignored. People are feeling a void in life. Many have a horrible self-image, lack of self-confidence, and little to no true intimacy in life. While it is great to have affirmation from people, it is better to have security in Christ.

We have no full guarantee in life that we will not receive superficiality from people. People will always act like people, and people are fickle. They are much like the box of chocolates Forrest Gump described – you never know what you’re gonna get! Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He wants a relationship with YOU! He wants you to come to Him and experience the freedom of knowing your sins are forgiven! He wants to give you the stability you cannot find elsewhere!

If you do not Christ as your Savior, you can trust Him today. It is a decision you will not regret.

Love Ain’t Got Nothin’ To Do With This

This post is from the archives (4 years ago today). It’s a persistent struggle we all face. I pray this reminder helps us all.

Gotta love my grammar, right? I preached a 3-week series called “What’s Love Got to Do with It?”. Today, I talked about something love has nothing to do with – fear. First John 4:18 says that perfect love casts out fear.

We all are afraid of something. It may be strange like the fear of hair, bathing, or peanut butter sticking to the roof of your mouth. For most of us, these fears are more like the fear of what others think of us, the fear of failure, or the fear of being lonely. Fear is a natural response of the flesh, but it is not a discipline of the Spirit.

  1. Fear is not from God (2 Timothy 1:7). God has not given us the spirit of fear. The devil is ultimately behind it, but we have some responsibility in choosing to operate continually in fear.
  2. Fear is not rooted in faith. It is the opposite of trust. Furthermore, it is a misplace of trust. We begin to trust in our circumstances rather than in the God who is in control over our circumstances.
  3. Fear is not rooted in facts. These facts are the promises of God. We are promised God’s presence, yet we feel like He has left us alone. He has promised to fight for us, yet we try to do things in our own strength. He has promised to provide, yet we try to help Him out with credit cards, loans, and more extreme measures. Fear is not rooted in the promises of God.
  4. Fear is rooted in improper focus. Matthew 14 illustrates this well. Jesus was walking on the water. Simon Peter says, “Lord, if it’s You, ask me to come out onto the water.” Of course Jesus was going to take him up on the offer. Peter walks on the water until his focus becomes improper. When Peter takes his eyes off Jesus, he sinks. When we focus on Jesus, our fears become lost in Him.
  5. Fear is rooted in feelings. We are emotional beings who often allow our emotions to overrule. Sheryl Crow sang, “If it makes you happy, then why…are you so sad?”. When we live by feelings, we are never fulfilled.
  6. Fear is a trap. Proverbs 29:25 calls it a “snare”. Fear causes stagnation because we never take risks. Fear makes us lose self-confidence because we ultimately do not think we can do anything even with God’s power. It makes us pessimistic, always expecting the worst.
  7. Fear should be a part of our past. Notice what Romans 8:15 says: “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’.” When you and I entered a relationship with Christ, God did not give us the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear. Fear should have no place in the life of the child of God, yet we have to fight it daily.

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!