The Expectations of Others

I would be hard-pressed to find someone who is not living under someone else’s expectations. We go to work and have to perform up to the company’s or supervisor’s expectations. Students must perform up to the teacher’s expectations. Children must perform up to the parents’ expectations. Everywhere you turn, you are having to please someone.

In the effort of people-pleasing, we have forgotten to live in a way that pleases God. We will often sacrifice pleasing God in order to please people. Pastors do it too. We have expectations from our church members. They want us to preach a certain way or conduct ourselves a certain way. As a church planter, people expect me to be much more innovative than everyone else. People are expecting different for the sake of being different.

What about being Christlike? What about being genuine? Authentic? Led by the Holy Spirit rather than culture? To experience the glory of His presence without manipulating music, smoke, and lights? Cannot content of Scripture and a biblical understanding of God move us to experience Him in a way most professing believers truly miss?

As a pastor, I am sick and tired of reinventing the wheel. I’m sick of worrying myself sick because our church might not be attractive enough for some people. We must crawl before we can walk. People in impoverished countries are simply thankful to have Jesus, and we as American consumers want to try to top that. I know God’s heart must be breaking because we have a form of godliness but no power.

Obviously, I’m not trying to win the approval of people, but of God. If pleasing people were my goal, I would not be Christ’s servant.” – Galatians‬ ‭1:10‬ ‭NLT‬‬

The Hardest Thing I’ve Ever Done

As I reflect on my life, I can think of many difficult things – going away to college, leaving places and ministries I loved, stepping from 17 years of music ministry into the pastorate of a very small town, traditional church. These things were hard. So was the divorce after my resignation from that pastorate and the rebuilding of my life. Those major changes really catapulted me into this season that I call the most difficult – the early days of church planting.

It began as a dream in my heart shortly after I surrendered to the call to ministry in 1997. The dream started stirring in my spirit again in 2016. By the end of that year, I was going crazy. I had big huge visions of what this would look like. It wasn’t going to be a carbon copy of every new church plant because I hate manmade formulas. I’m crazy enough to want a move of God because Matthew Winters cannot manufacture squat!

I entered this leap of faith with a fear-faith mix. As the weeks went on, I was excited to preach again and hopeful that things would take off. Since our beginning, we have been stable. My problem is that I don’t want to wait. I cannot understand why God has not given fruit to every step I have taken for Him in this process. Where is that youth leader I asked Him for? The children’s leader? The money needed to make things happen? Haven’t I waited long enough?

Some of you are probably laughing because you have been impatient like me. You wonder why you don’t have more time to give to do what you love. You wonder why this season is full of things you would rather return to customer service for a refund.

Church planting has been the hardest thing I have ever done. I have wondered if I got this thing wrong. Maybe I should have copied NewSpring or Elevation’s model. No I shouldn’t have! God didn’t call me to be those pastors or to lead those churches. God will move on His timetable. I cannot hurry Him.

While I have questioned if I should be doing this, I cannot bring myself to quit. I think of it and shudder. Why? This statement from Pastor John Houston sums it up: “The calling is the keeping.” God called me to this, and I will keep pushing through until God reassigns me. At this point, the vision is too big to even think about stopping. I will most likely go down doing this task God assigned for me to do.

It is easy to let the voice of the enemy and the voice of the critics cast doubt. I was reminded in the same message by Pastor John Houston that my labor in the Lord is not in vain (I Corinthians 15:58). God never promised that this would be easy. I will agonize while giving birth to this vision. But one day, eternity will show the fruit of faithfulness. Until then, I will fix my eyes upon the One who called me – the One who is faithful (I Thessalonians 5:24).

I Think I Understand Moses a Little Better

Don’t you just love how some preachers will get up and preach against various characters and their downfalls? I can’t tell you how many times I have heard messages against Thomas for his doubt, Peter for his denial of Christ and the many times he “put his foot in his mouth”, Abraham for not waiting for God to give him Isaac, and the list goes on.

One character who has been landblasted by the pulpit-pounders is Moses. They are quick to criticize Moses for his quick temper. But think with me for a moment. God chose Moses. God knew Moses would be this way. God knew why Moses would break the tablet upon which the Ten Commandments were chiseled. How would you react to decades of whiny, ungrateful people? (And don’t you tell me you would love them just like Jesus would love them and never get upset with their foolish actions!)

With some circumstances in my life right now, I can understand why Moses would get angry. Sometimes, enough is enough! I am not justifying his behavior, but I can understand it. Many of us get to that place where we are just fed up. One more person comes to voice a complaint, and they might get the “what-for”. I know you’ve been there.

Sometimes, we just need to unplug. We need rest. We need prayer. We need people to speak life into us. We need a renewed focus. We just need God to show up in our wilderness.

Please allow me to leave you with this song and remind you (and myself) that God does work in our wilderness.

Is Serving the Lord Worth It?

Some who are reading this have felt at various points in your life that serving the Lord has not been worth it. You have questioned why you did something for God, and some of you have walked away completely.

This message from Pastor John Houston from Point Harbor Community Church in Chesapeake, Virginia will strike a note with you. I encountered this ministry in 1997 when I was developing a growing hatred for evangelical Christianity. This church showed me that the truth can be preached and lived with love. May God use this to meet you where you are.

Unexpected Endings

I just finished watching a movie that was written by someone who is known for story lines that are pretty pointless. I decided I would hang on for some laughs with no expectation of a moral to the story. Oh, was I surprised!

The movie was about a wedding. The first hour and a half was nothing but far-fetched comedy. The wedding was an epic fail until the fathers of the bride and groom got into a conversation before everything went awry. The father of the groom was a man who had money but played the field and had no respect from his family. The father of the bride was a bit of a nerd who was determined to pay for his daughter’s wedding, even if it meant giving her the cheapest and cheesiest wedding possible.

When the reception required evacuation from the building, the father of the bride apologized for not allowing the groom’s father to pay. The father and daughter cried, and there was an emotional conversation between them. All ended well. I was reminded that life is not without its challenges. Each family had its dysfunction, but one clearly had love.

Then I began to think about when my daughters get married. The bride’s father in the movie thought the wedding was his last shot before their relationship was over. He realized it was only the beginning of a new chapter.

Maybe you are reading this and feel like you have blown it. You are in transition, and you don’t know what to do. This is the beginning of something new. The change will not be easy, but I want to encourage you to slow down and enjoy the new season. God will teach you lessons and bring people into your life, some who will test it and some who will bless it.

Seasons (and movies) do not always end the way we expect. The movies (and seasons) often leave you wanting a refund. I do my best to remember that what doesn’t kill me makes me stronger, with or without the refund.

3 Habits for Altering the Altar Service

I don’t do this every Sunday, but I do most Sundays. I agree with William on these guidelines for an “altar service”, “invitation”, or whatever you prefer to call it. Every believer should follow this example. Imagine how the power of God would move as we obey Him and are sensitive to His Spirit.

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I Can’t Believe I Have 1,000 Friends😮

I just noticed last night that I have exactly 1,000 friends on Facebook. How did I get SO MANY FRIENDS? Seriously, it cracks me up at how many really make any connection during the course of a year. On my last birthday, I heard from less than 200 of those. I was grateful that I heard from that many. The real test is how many will reach out to you in times of crisis.

I want to challenge each of you to look for true friends. I’m not talking about people who tell you what you want to hear or those toxic people who will drain you. I speak of those who will stick with you through good and bad. No matter what, you know you can call them at any time with full assurance that they like and even love you.

I remember someone telling me many years ago that you will be blessed to count the number of your true friends on one hand. I know who my true friends are, and the number does not reach 1,000. As I look at the big picture, I see many on this “friends” list whom God placed there by divine appointment. Don’t underestimate how God may choose to use you. You may be used of God through your Facebook posts in greater ways than you know.

People are watching you. Rather than accuse them of being nosy, let them see Jesus in you. If you find yourself being the only one giving in this case, remember that the Lord will give back into your life. No investment in people is ever wasted.

Where Were You?

Today marks the seventeenth anniversary of the tragedies at the twin towers and other locations. Do you remember where you were? I do.

It was my second day on the job as part-time band director at Emmanuel Christian School in Hartsville, SC. We had live there 5 days, and I was teaching a band class first thing in the morning. My custom was to pop in to the school office before I left.

One of the school secretaries received the disturbing news via a phone call from her husband. It was unbelievable. I went home and watched television on the only day I could pick up antenna television during the 2 years I lived there. The scenes played over and over. For many, there was a brief awakening. Churches were a little more full for a few weeks, then most everything went back to normal…except for the families who were directly affected.

I asked where you were then. Where are you now? I’m not talking about your physical location. Will it take a tragedy to get you close to God, or are you walking closely with Him now? Don’t wait for a loss or something horrible to happen. Jesus is standing at the door and knocking, waiting for you to let Him in. Will you let Him in while you still have the opportunity?

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Happy 3rd Wedding Anniversary!

Today marks 3 years my wife and I have been married. God sent her into my life when I least expected, and you can only imagine the challenges and joys that could all take place in that short amount of time.

When I met Jennifer, we both had been recently divorced. We were at the stage in life where we knew what we wanted and were stubborn enough to refrain from settling for less. I had 3 children, and she had 2. That’s 5 total! Sounds like a good-sized family, right? Wait! It gets bigger!

We married within less than 3 months of meeting. God made it clear, so we jumped right in. Since September 11, 2015, we have had 2 babies of our own, started a church, moved, and experienced the challenges of life and parenting that most in our life stage face.

It was definitely different finding love at age 34. I knew it would be risky. I was sure my call to ministry would run Jennifer away, but she has been right here with me through it all.

To my divorced audience, I can assure you that there is life after divorce. Does it radically change in a lot of ways? Absolutely! Some of you may have been totally blown away by your situation and wonder if love will ever come your way. There is a healing that eventually comes after the pain. It may not come in your time, but God will use your story to help someone else.

To my wife, Jennifer, thank you for your love, support, and grace for these last 3 years. I’m thankful to share the journey with you.

Praising God in the Mundane

I am a people watcher. Let me clarify that I am not a stalker 👀. It would be better to say that I observe people. As I notice the behaviors of people, I am noticing a disturbing commonality – so many people are satisfied with a lack of excellence. They have no desire to better themselves.

I remember a day when excellence was something that was engrained in me and those around me. Family cheered me on to be my best. People at church cheered me on to be my best. The generation that encouraged that has gone to the grave, and somehow the generation that followed is happy to just wake up another day. They don’t strive for a better family atmosphere, better community, or a better anything.

I look at myself and see that I, in some areas, given in to this “mediocrity is enough” mentality. For me, I believe that I allowed many of life’s setbacks to discourage me to this point. If I were a betting man, I would wager some big money that I am among many who once had big dreams and now feel they are unattainable. Some of us even feel like the little dreams have a zero percent chance of happening. We now refuse to set goals to protect ourselves from further disappointment. I think many people are at this level.

What happened to our fight? Our determination? Sometimes we must travel through the mundane on the path to better. You may feel that rut will last forever, but it is a test to see if God can trust you with what is ahead. If He can’t trust you in the little things, He will not promote you to bigger things.

So what do we do when life seems to be boring and mundane? When every day looks like the day before? Same problems? Same routine? We worship…while we work, while we play, while we fulfill household responsibilities. We do it “as unto the Lord” (Colossians 3:23). When your boss can never say a positive thing about your work, look up and say “Lord, this is for you not him.” When your spouse is overwhelmed and taking it out on you, say “Lord, I will love her as Christ loves the Church.”

So before you just decide to throw in the towel, fix your focus on Jesus. He could have easily walked away and chose to leave us in our sin, but He pushed forward to the cross because He knew that was God’s way of reconciling us to Himself.

I believe I am “speaking” (in written form) and connecting with a lot of people right now. Keep praising! Keep showing up! Keep loving! Keep choosing integrity while everyone else is lying and cheating! The payoff is worth it!

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