Trailblazers

Today, I attended the funeral of a man in our church who had Down’s Syndrome. He was 67. Some of you may read this and think, “Lots of people have Down’s Syndrome, what is so special about this guy?” When you factor in that he was born in the 1950s in a rural area without the advancements of many places, you will find that the story of his life is one of a trailblazer.

Brent Powell was not satisfied to be left out or not do things everyone else did. His brothers went to school, and he asked why he could not. His parents were not willing to accept that’s how things were. These trailblazers were instrumental in the development of a place where those with special needs could learn. Brent also wanted to see the Special Olympics come to this area. His efforts were instrumental in making that happen.

It is easy to sit back and accept that things are a certain way, but it takes someone special – one with tenacity and persistence – to challenge the status quo and push until things change. Brent did that. I can only remember seeing him a few times, but I wish I would have known him. This man made it easy for those who spoke at his funeral. He blazed a trail and delivered a challenge to us all. Thank you, Powell family, for giving Brent all the love that could be given and allowing him to set precedents in our area. God bless you!

Does God Instantly Smite and Rebuke?

Many of us were raised with an extremely judgmental view of God. We were told all the stories of God smiting this person dead and rebuking another with fierce anger. While God did do those things in some cases, they always followed warnings from God. God didn’t just wake up one morning and say, “Who am I going to smite today?”

I know some of you are already thinking I’m a compromiser and don’t believe in the full counsel of God. How quick we are to base an opinion on an isolated statement rather than receiving the full intention of a statement! I believe in God’s justice and judgment. He does punish sin. Now that this is clarified (at least for some😀)…

The book of Job really does give a good thought process relating to God and life’s difficulties. Job had it worse than most of us ever could. He lost everything but his wife who told him to “curse God and die”, his three “friends” had it all wrong, and he was left with a lot to process. Did you ever notice that God gives Job chapters and chapters to process and does not speak until the last few chapters of the book? Think about it.

God is gracious to allow us to process our pain and then speaks when we are in a place where we are ready to receive. Beware of those who “have the answer”. They will be quick to come along with their bandaid sayings and verses. While they may mean well (or not), let God speak into your life as you process. You’ll find that God isn’t always the mean guy in the sky. He does have to punish sin, but He also rewards right and heals the broken-hearted. Let Him heal you today!

Rebuilding Strength After a Setback

Photo from Men’s Journal

If you and I are honest, each of us has had at least one setback in life. It may have been a financial setback, a flight delay, or a sickness. Setbacks don’t have to be very detrimental, but they often are. How do we rebuild strength after a setback? The biblical prescription might shock you.

When we experience a setback, most of us don’t want to stay where we are. We want to make a comeback. In fact, the quicker the comeback, the better. We get so discouraged in our setback, but many of us don’t want to do the grunt work or follow the “doctor’s orders”. When you read the biblical prescription, you will most likely want to do something different.

Isaiah 40:31 gives the prescription. Many remember the part in the verse about soaring like eagles. Who doesn’t want that? Some remember even more of the verse that talks about running without being weary and walking without fainting. Sounds great, right? But the first part is key if we are going to soar, walk, and run.

Here is what the verse says:

“But those who wait on the LORD Shall renew their strength; They shall mount up with wings like eagles, They shall run and not be weary, They shall walk and not faint.”
‭‭Isaiah‬ ‭40:31‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

Who are the ones who renew their strength? Those who WAIT! (Mic drop) All of a sudden, strength renewal has lost its appeal. You mean I have to wait in order to renew my strength? Yep!

Here are a couple of things to note about waiting:

Waiting still requires active obedience. What do waiters in restaurants do? They serve. We still continue to obey and serve the Lord while we wait.

Waiting sometimes requires stillness. The psalmist said, “Be still and know that I am God.” In that stillness, we exercise faith. We still trust and believe (know) that He is still God and that all His promises are Yes and Amen. Isaiah refers to this as quiet confidence. Isaiah 30:15 says, “In quietness and confidence will be your strength.” Sometimes, God says, “Shut up and trust Me.”

This prescription goes against the philosophy of the day. We are accustomed to instant gratification. God says we have to wait and trust. As we build these necessary patience-building skills, we will find supernatural strength.

Friend, give up your little formulas to prove to everybody you’ve got it together. Your plans are gonna mess you up like Abraham screwed things up. God promised him a son named Isaac, but the timing of his birth wasn’t quick enough. Abraham’s wife told him to have sexual relations with their handmaid, Hagar (stupid move). She conceived a child, and the drama began. What happens when you try to rush God? Chaos!

I guarantee you want to rebuild strength if you have experienced a setback. The thing is you must do it God’s way. God has been so gracious in giving us direction. Let’s receive it and obey it.

IN Everything Give Thanks

The last almost 24 hours have been action-packed. Last night, my mom called with a medical concern and ended up in the ER. We got her back home at 11:00 pm, and I was in the bed at 11:50. I was awakened by a 1 year old at 3:45 am, and I could not sleep after that. I got out of bed at 5:50 am to meet someone for breakfast at 6:30. As I was driving, I got in the way of a buck who was trying to cross the street, and the picture above shows you some of the damage he did. There was a mixup with the person I was to meet for breakfast, so I ate alone (which was probably best since I was a little shaken). I will leave work to spend time at the church getting ready for Sunday, so I will probably crash tonight (no relationship to the accident with Bambi’s husband this morning).

As I reflected about these events, I began to give thanks IN the circumstances. Notice I said IN not FOR. There is no way I will thank God for the $500 of my tax return I will have to pay for car repairs. But I will thank God that the damage done was not worse. I will thank God that I was not injured. I will praise God that my mom’s scare was nothing major.

Although I am tired and ready for the day to be over, I see God’s hand in this. Things happen. How we respond to those things will make or break us. Choose to give thanks IN your circumstances.

Coming Back to Life

Tears easing out the corners of my eyes, I sat there and listened to a man who had given his entire life to ministry speak passionately about his love for the Lord and serving others. Something awakened within me that had been buried for quite some time. I had allowed life’s circumstances to suppress the fire that once burned within. For the last several years, I have been in survival mode because striving to get back up might cause disappointment. Have you been there?

Such is the story of my life. The year 2012 was a year of struggle and victory. It was the most passionate year of ministry I ever had. I went into 2013 with that same passion, but the circumstances that lurked around the corner were some for which I was not adequately prepared.

The demise of my family had been long in the making. It was in 2013 that everything came to a head. By mid-December, my wife (now ex) and the kids were out of the parsonage, I was unemployed, and I was alone in a parsonage with a few of the church people who were bold enough to vocally be on my side. I was alone in a town of 117 people, and I was unsure who I could trust.

Move forward a month. I was back in South Carolina, still unemployed, and wondering who would hire me since I was told that my years of church experience and education were either too good or not good enough. Because of my circumstances of kids living 4 hours away, along with my broken heart, full-time ministry was nowhere in sight.

After a few attempts at part-time ministry and a church plant, I walked away with no desire to serve in a church again. Oddly enough, a few interview processes began with churches in our area shortly thereafter. After each one, I was relieved it didn’t happen. They weren’t bad churches, but I did not see myself serving in those capacities. I had no calling nor desire. I returned to my home church after the last one, determined I really didn’t want another church vocational role. The vocational church scene had changed so much from 2013 to 2019 that I did not see myself fitting in at all. The thrill and passion for ministry were gone. It was obvious.

This past October, our home church asked me to serve in an interim role with the traditional service music. It has been a good experience. I know it will be for a season, but it has been refreshing to serve in a different denominational context.

Now…why all this history? I sat there yesterday, realizing my passion for ministry was buried beneath years of disappointment. I don’t think I’m the only one feeling this way.

Let’s connect to your life. It may not be ministry, but your marriage has been in survival mode and you’re longing for renewed life. Your kids have broken your heart, and you have put up a wall to keep from more heartbreak. You’ve experienced another financial disaster, and you just can’t take another one. You’ve received another bad health report, and you just don’t want to live like this.

God is the God of resurrection! He wants to breathe life into the dead places of your life. He wants to heal your broken heart. But remember it is a process!

I’m still God’s resurrection project. But I rest in His promise that He who started the work WILL complete it (Philippians 1:6). Let’s believe God together that we will rise again.

Why Friends Come and Go

Friendships are much like a revolving door. I have had a ton of friends come in and out of my life. Think about it. It’s going to happen when you serve 11 churches in 24 years. (Gotta love when the nature of your ministry is short-term!😂) I made some pretty close friends that I wish I could have held onto moving into the next season. Most of those now are acquaintances at best, or we no longer communicate. Why is that?

Location – Out of those 11 churches, 4 of those are in the area in which I live now. So 7 of those are in other states or other parts of this state. Unless you have plenty of money to travel, most of these friendships will decrease in intensity. That’s just how life goes. Other people close in proximity are more convenient and can better provide a depth of friendship you no longer can. Don’t take it personally!

Life stage – I had friends during the stage of singleness that did not fit into the married phase. They didn’t relate. Add kids to the mix, and they really didn’t relate. Their exodus or lack of prominence in your life is not because they hate you. They just don’t connect with where you are in life now, and that’s okay!

Seasonal change – Some friends are only meant to be in your life for a season. They, or you, will serve a specific purpose. When that purpose is fulfilled, one or the other moves on.

The busyness of life – I understand this one. I wake up in the morning, I go to work, I come home, I deal with 4 of the 7 kids (all when it’s their time to be here), put them in bed, try to enjoy some down time, and go to sleep. Repeat cycle the next day. I won’t be in this cycle forever, although it feels like it. I do get in phone calls with people when I am traveling. I have a dear friend from Georgia who has withstood the test of time and life phases. Also, a dear couple from my first pastorate stays in touch. Then, I have people in ministry I stay in touch with. Although I strive to be on the giving side, the encouragement is mutual.

Once again, don’t take it personally when these friends go away. That’s life! Some go, and new ones replace them. When the old ones go, pray and ask God for you to have grace to accept that. Don’t try to hold on to something that isn’t meant to be! God knows what He is doing. Trust Him!

Passion, Love, and the Holy Spirit

Each of us is passionate about something. For some, it’s sports. Others are passionate about yard work, hunting, or fill in the blank with one of your favorite things.

Today, I had the privilege of attending the Creative Evangelism Summit at Southern Wesleyan University. It included three generations of the Clyde Dupin family. Clyde is the patriarch. His two sons (both are pastors) and three grandsons (two pastors and one who is not in vocational ministry) were all on stage. My friends, Pastors Mark Wilson and Heath Mullikin led the discussion. They shared several things about this often dismissed subject of evangelism. Many pastors and churches have emphasized discipleship to the point that they fail to remember that disciples share the gospel and led unbelievers to Christ. There were three key elements that kept popping up to me in this event: passion, love, and the Holy Spirit.

Passion is contagious. When someone is passionate about something, you see that in the way he or she talks about and actually does anything related to it. Clyde Dupin was very passionate about the times he shared the gospel. This man who is in the latter years of his life is so passionate about sharing Jesus with those who don’t know Him. Passion is key to a thriving ministry.

Love is also a key ingredient in a thriving ministry. As Clyde Dupin shared about the times he shared the gospel, you could hear the love for the souls of people as he spoke. He did not share the gospel out of obligation. He shared because he wanted to see unbelievers cross from death to life. No matter how wicked someone had been, Clyde Dupin lovingly and relentlessly shared the gospel with people.

The Holy Spirit is the One who does the work. We are obedient vessels, but God’s Spirit moves in the hearts of people. One of the Dupins spoke of the need for us to seek and invite the work of the Holy Spirit into the work we do for the Lord.

I know I need these three ingredients in what I do. I want to be fully passionate about my service for the Lord and for people to pick up on it. I want to love people so much that I will relentlessly share the gospel until they are saved. I want to be full of the Holy Spirit and see Him working at every corner. May we all long for these things and see God’s power at work through them.

Go Get Some Real Friends!

Cue up “Friends Forever” by Michael W. Smith. That song drove me crazy because every end of school chapel service contained this song along with some senior girl crying about how she will miss her friends. I was in Christian school, so this will sound foreign to many of you. It was very much part of our Christian school culture.

Fast forward almost 22 years. I don’t want to admit I graduated high school that long ago, but I did. How many of my friends from high school are still friends? What about college? What about those from 5-10 years ago?

Many of you think you have friends. They are great to hang out with, party with, but how do they treat you when you’re wounded? You know those moments in life like a job loss, divorce, disease, etc.? If they aren’t ministering to you in your worst moments, they’re not friends. The Bible says, “A friend loves at ALL times.”

Assess your “friends” you have right now. If you seriously question if they will be there for you when all hell comes against you, you might want to get a new set of friends.

Missionary/Pastor to Pastors – Why Is It Needed?

One of the last sermons I preached before I stepped away from the church I started

In October 2018, I began reaching out to pastors. I was coming out of a season of burnout and depression after giving nearly two years to the church I started. Because of that, I knew other pastors and ministry leaders were experiencing what I was on varying levels. I didn’t want them to walk the road alone, so I started sending messages to the ones I knew, asking them how I could pray for them. The responses confirmed what I already knew. In my heart, I knew I wanted to minister to those in ministry.

Why would this be a necessary ministry? Don’t pastors and Christian leaders have homies they hang with all the time (gotta love the word choice😂)? Often, the answer is no. Ministry leaders are often competitive and are out to have the biggest church. But that’s not the main problem! Many pastors feel they trust anyone. What if they were vulnerable and talked about their real struggles? They are expected to minister to the world, but who will minister to them.

Here are a few quotes I think will help solidify the need:

“…everyone comes to me for pastoral care and advice, even my extended family and friends. Who does the pastor get to go to. Yes, God, but God has given us brothers in the ministry to lean on and hold us accountable and hear confession/offer absolution.”

“I believe that every pastor should have a pastor. We as pastors are human. We sin, we fall short, we feel discouraged, and we carry many burdens of others. It’s heathy for a pastor to ‘unload,’and be pastored along the way.”

“When I was just a church member, I had guidance, advice, empathy, understanding, biblical training and edification from my pastor. Now that I’m pastor, I dont have that any more. I give that to others, but I have nowhere to turn for my own needs.”

Here are some poll results I gathered:

I asked this question, to which 90 pastors answered: Pastors, do you have someone (humanly speaking) to talk to about the deep things on your heart and the issues that arise in your ministry? Someone you can trust and completely be yourself with? Thirty-nine percent said, “No”.

I also asked this question, to which 31 pastors answered: Pastors, if you needed/desired counseling, would you be able to afford it financially? Seventy-one percent said, “No”.

Look at these statistics from pastoralcareinc.com:

  • 80% believe pastoral ministry has negatively affected their families. Many pastor’s children do not attend church now because of what the church has done to their parents.
  • 65% of pastors feel their family lives in a “glass house” and fear they are not good enough to meet expectations.
  • 35% of pastors report the demands of the church denies them from spending time with their family.
  • 66% of church members expect a minister and family to live at a higher moral standard than themselves.
  • Moral values of a Christian are no different than those who consider themselves as non-Christians.
  • The average American will tell 23 lies a day.
  • 57% of pastors believe they do not receive a livable wage.
  • 57% of pastors being unable to pay their bills.
  • 53% of pastors are concerned about their future family financial security.
  • 75% of pastors report significant stress-relatedcrisis at least once in their ministry.
  • 40% report serious conflict with a parishioner at least once in the last year.
  • 35% of pastors battle depression or fear of inadequacy.
  • 70% of pastors do not have someone they consider to be a close friend.
  • 27% of pastors report not having anyone to turn to for help in a crisis situation.
  • 34% of pastors wrestle with the temptation of pornography or visits pornographic sites.
  • 84% of pastors desire to have close fellowhip with someone they can trust and confide with.
  • 1 out of every 10 pastors will actually retire as a pastor.

Sarah Eekhod Zylstra wrote, “More than half of pastors have counseled people who were later diagnosed with a mental illness (59 percent), and about a quarter say they’ve experienced some type of mental illness themselves (23 percent). According to LifeWay, 12 percent have been diagnosed with a mental health condition.”

Our state of South Carolina has led the nation in pastoral suicides for quite a few years. The need for ministry to pastors is great!

I have been both on the side of looking to a pastor for spiritual direction and being the pastor who provides spiritual direction. It’s a tough place to be. With these realities stated here, pastors need pastors too. That is why I became a Shepherd with Standing Stone.

Standing Stone provides confidential care to lead pastors, associates of sorts (discipleship, executive, worship, student, etc.), leaders of parachurch organizations, missionaries, etc. We understand that healthy pastors lead healthy churches. That health includes physical, emotional, spiritual, and mental health.

If you would like to find out more about this kind of ministry, please reach out to me at Matthew.w@standingstoneministry.org.

Three People We Need in Life

I’m not sure what crossed your mind when you read the title. I don’t know if you were receptive, or if you are one who is all about the self-reliance, letting no one into your life but you. If that is the last, I must warn you that isolation is worse. Just saying!Anyway, we have three types of people we need in our life.

Everyone needs someone older and wiser in his or her life. I have always been blessed with those people. In the Bible, Paul was that to Timothy. I have been blessed with both men and women who gave sound advice to this young, struggling boy. Among my favorites was a lady named Myrtle Griggs. Myrtle went to be with the Lord nearly three years ago. I still wish I could pick up the phone and call her, but God has blessed me with several others who provide a similar level of wisdom.

Everyone also needs an encourager. Scripture tells of a man named Barnabas, whose name meant “son of consolation (encouragement)”. The world is full of negative people. Find one or more who will speak life into you. It’s a blessing to have a cheerleader in your life who will see your strengths and potential and praise those qualities.

Finally, everyone needs someone to correct you when necessary – one who will teach and rebuke. Scripture says, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend”. A true friend will speak up when you are about to screw up. That is real love.

I can’t take credit for these thoughts. Someone from Twitter commented, and I couldn’t help but share these with my blogging audience. If you do not have each of these three people in your life, find them. They may be at work, church, or in your family. Wherever they are, humble yourself enough to benefit from the contribution they can make in your life. You’ll be glad you did.

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