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

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.

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.

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😂!