Category: Life

I Am a Hypocrite

That’s right. I said it, and I mean it. I am a hypocrite. I wish it wasn’t so, but it is, and while it’s not something I’m proud to say, I truly believe it’s something I need to say. I hope this inspires others to also let go of their insecurities and “Confess their trespasses to one another, pray for one another, and be healed, (because) the effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much” (James 5:16).

Let’s start with an obvious statement that must be said – no Christian sets out to be a hypocrite. In fact, most of us wake up with the very simple goal of being faithful every single day. I’m not sure there’s a verbal acknowledgement of that goal, but there’s certainly a hidden drive to do better or be better.

The real problem lies in our definition of faithful. Far too often, we equate that idea to perfection. That’s our first mistake and ultimately a debilitating one because we know it’s impossible to be sinless, even though we try. That misguided definition crushes us when we fail or give in to temptation. It sets an impossible goal just beyond our reach and if we’re not careful, separates us from the reality of our own salvation and God’s grace.

Jose Emilio Pacheo once said, “We are all hypocrites. We cannot see ourselves or judge ourselves the way we see and judge others.”

Too many Christians (myself included) are really good at hiding our sin from others so our reputation remains spotless even when our conscience is seared. It doesn’t matter what we’re hiding, hiding it is dangerous, maybe even deadly. If you happen to add a healthy mix of shame and sorrow to the guilt that accompanies that sin you find a situation that can easily turn ugly fast.

Thankfully, with a mixture of repentance and forgiveness, you can wash that shame and guilt away with a genuine trust in God and the blood of Christ. After God does His part, and you come to terms with your own weakness, a pattern can develop to give you a clean conscience before God.

You see…

I am a sinner, but I’m saved by God’s grace. I am a hypocrite, but I’m trying each day not to be. I am wrong, but in my weakness I see how great is My God.

There’s a ton of Scripture to help us understand this but ultimately, I believe these three really stick out:

Romans 8:26 “Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.”

How thankful can we be that God Himself “groans” on our behalf when the struggle we face is more than expected? That “groaning or sighing” comes from the Greek word stenagmos which is only found one other place in the New Testament (Acts 7:34). There it is used to describe the “groaning” of the Hebrew slaves in Egypt that God heard before sending Moses to free them. I can’t help but make the connection that the Holy Spirit groans on our behalf because He feels our pain, knows our sorrows, and understands our weakness.

Psalm 73:26 “My flesh and my heart fail; but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”

There are passages galore that point us to God and His strength. In fact, four different verses in the Old Testament (Exodus 15:2; Psalm 28:7, 118:14, and Isaiah 12:2) emphatically say “The Lord is my strength.” Not many Christians will argue that God is weak, but many do forget how strong He truly can be right now at this very moment. We do that because it’s easy to see God from a distance, on His Holy Mountain, to busy or even occupied to worry about my needs. When we do that, we unfortunately rely on our own strength and far too often fail miserably. That’s why I personally love this passage because it points out first that “even though I fail, God is still strong.” At my lowest, in my weakest, and on those days when my hypocrisy abounds, it’s reassuring to remember “when I am weak, He is strong.”

First Peter 5:6-7  “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.”

The idea that resonates most in this passage is the phrase “in due time.” I must admit that I’m not a very patient person. I often find myself wondering when will God get to work. When will His timing match up to my timing? The humility it takes to wait on God is not always something I possess, however, the more I cast my concerns on Him (see Proverbs 3:5), the more I let go, the more trust, the more I actually see His care for me.

Right now, more than any time in my life, I’m thankful for Isaiah 64:8 which says, “But now, O Lord, You are our Father; We are the clay, and You our potter; And all we are the work of Your hand.”

I’m not thankful to be a hypocrite and I wish no one had ever thought of me as one. Since I can’t change that, I’ll work every day to be better than I was yesterday. Some days I’ll fail at that goal and some days I’ll be better. No matter the outcome, every single day I’ll be grateful to be an unformed lump of clay. I’ll be satisfied with what I am and content with what I’m not yet. I’ll be grateful that my Heavenly Father isn’t done making me over and thankful my sins are forgiven.

I am a hypocrite but my life is not defined by that imperfection, it is defined by God’s perfection working on me.

I Am…

Identity is an important part of our modern society. In fact, it might just be the single most-discussed topic of the day. Identity is the driving force behind movements, political divides, and even religious bigotry. So, who am I and why does it matter?

Let me start by trying to answer the question above – who am I? Secular reasoning wants us to believe our identity should be seen as an ongoing process. Rather than a static snapshot, we should embrace a flowing sense of self, whereby we are perpetually reframing, reorganizing, rethinking, and reconsidering ourselves.1 That fluid, theoretical view (and meaning) gives room for interpretation in every single choice, every single idea, and every single facet of life. However, it fails to give genuine, inherent, tangible meaning to just about anything and creates a world where I’m free to be whatever I choose to be despite the ethical, moral, biological, or theological implications.

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life (Steve Jobs).

I’m sure that the Word of God describes it must more concretely. Instead of a constant evolution of self-identity, God paints a different picture when He inspires the Apostle Paul to say, “by the grace of God I am what I am,” in First Corinthians 15:10.

In that passage, the Apostle doesn’t excuse his sin, or overinflate his worth. He simply honors God’s redemptive work.

The Apostle Paul knew, “that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief,” (1 Timothy 1:15) and was unwilling to hide from his previous self. He boldly declared “I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day,” in Acts 23:1, yet was confident enough to also say, “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!” in Romans 7:24-25.

He knew who he was, a sinner saved by God’s grace. So am I. That identity supersedes every other identity I possess.

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to explore several different identities that Christians can be fairly and unfairly labeled. From hypocrites to saints, Pharisees to fundamentalists, I’ll explore them one-at-a-time and answer the question, “Who am I?” Maybe I am a hypocrite and a fundamentalist, maybe I’m not. Hopefully, at the end of this series, we’ll find some common ground and you’ll see what I see – who I am is much more complicated that a simple term or idea. It just might be the most important question I ever ask myself.


1 Follow this link to read more from Psychology Today.

The Bulletin Board No. 3

It’s Fall, my favorite time of the year. That means cooler temperatures, changing colors on the trees, bonfires, and, if we like it or not, pumpkin spice everywhere. I hope you enjoy the wonder of Fall, but if not, don’t worry too much. Your favorite season will be here soon enough. 

When seasons change, it makes me think, do we see the seasons changing in our own lives? Do we see the leaves falling, the temperature rising, and the inevitability of another season done when it happens to us? The answer is profoundly simple, sometimes we do and sometimes we don’t. 

I’m not sure what season of life you find yourself in right now. I hope it’s a joyous one, worthy of celebration. I hope it’s a contemplative one, encouraging growth when you can’t even see it. Honestly, I know it’s a rough one for some of you. It’s full of heartache, agony, and uncertainty. 

Whatever season you find yourself in right now, I want you to know another season is coming. It may be for the better or the worse, no matter what, it is coming. That’s why I urge you to remember the famous words of Ecclesiastes 3:1, “To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven.” 

Your season has purpose, even if that purpose isn’t something you see just yet and I know God can take this season and do something really good with it.


Originally published on September 25, 2022 in the Three Forks Church of Christ Bulletin

The Bulletin Board No. 2

Let’s be brutally honest for a minute, life is hard. And it tempts us to think less of ourselves than we should. 

It’s hard when you’re a child learning from those around you who aren’t always patient. It’s hard when you’re an adult trying to impart wisdom on an ungrateful generation. It’s hard when you’re old enough to be wise but too old be considered helpful. It’s hard when you’re too young to be respected but incredibly respectful. 

It’s hard when you feel undervalued, underappreciated, and underused. It’s hard when you feel overwhelmed, overworked, and stretched too thin. It’s hard to be the one in the center of the room leading everyone and it’s hard to be a follower doing the best you can in relative obscurity. 

It’s hard to be a man, unable to show emotion without the label of weakling. It’s hard to be a woman, unable to show emotion without the label of basket case. It’s hard to be a teenager, unable to show emotion without the label of dramatic (or moody). 

Life is hard, we all know that. Thankfully, without any reservation, Jesus lived this difficult life. He cried, He hurt, He knew what it was like to be overlooked, ignored, and undervalued. That’s why Hebrews 4:15 means so much to me because “we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.”

My Grandfather

Almost 42 years ago a baby boy was born to a young couple in Bowling Green, Kentucky. That boy was named after his grandfather, a simple man who worked hard, loved his family, and knew what it meant to be faithful. Today, that baby has grown into a man who longs to tell you why his grandfather matters.

Raymond Neal Keown passed away recently. His death was not welcomed by any means, but it was a relief to those who had watched him suffer. My grandfather’s health had been steadily declining over the last few months. After several falls and a couple of head injuries, the toll had taken its effect and his body just couldn’t sustain life anymore. Like everyone who’s ever lived, his time came to an end. He was surrounded by family and loved to the very end. He is still loved today and will be missed immensely. His place can’t be taken and his loss will leave a hole in the lives of everyone who knew him.

For those of you who didn’t know him, I’d like to take a minute to tell you about my grandfather. He was a man of faith and few words. A man I respected, loved, and hope to honor with these words. He left me an inheritance I can’t quite quantify. It wasn’t a pile of gold or silver, it was an inheritance of faith.

A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children.

Proverbs 13:22

He was faithful to his family. For those of us fortunate enough to be his, that was always known. He didn’t have to say “I love you” to see it in his actions. All of his grandchildren can remember fondly sitting in his lap, staying at his house, playing in his yard, and sitting at his table. We never went without, he made sure of that. He was constantly a part of our lives from the ball field to the graduation ceremony.

He was faithful to his country. While I don’t know many of the details, the stories he chose to tell of his service in Europe during the Korean War were memorable. I’ll never forget how he described the first night in Germany as a “cold he had never felt before.” Just a few years ago, the city of Bowling Green honored him and my uncles for their service. It was nice to know more than a few noticed his service.

He was faithful to his job. My grandfather spent the majority of his life working for the railroad. First, the L & N and then CSX. I remember his loyalty to them, going out to fix crossings on holidays, and the honor they bestowed upon him at his retirement. He was a man who knew what to do and how to do it. In his later life, he picked up an odd job here and there. One of them was for a local company. The owner of that company came to the funeral and told all of us that our grandfather was the best man he ever knew.

Railroad iron is a magician’s rod, in its power to evoke the sleeping energies of land and water (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

Finally, he was faithful to God. While I never saw him stand up and lead a song or a prayer or even preach a sermon, I still know his faith was secure. Until he was sick, he didn’t miss services. He came as often as he could. In fact, as a child, when you stayed at his house you knew Sunday morning was a day to rise early. Services would begin at 9:30 am, but we’d never arrive later than 9. Part of me knows he wanted that seat, but part of me realizes it was about getting there to save the seat for those he loved. He knew they’d be there, he knew it was important to be there as well. He knew rising to go to the house of the Lord was important because he was faithful.

Raymond Neal Keown was a great man. No one will write books about him, no one will dedicate a building to him, and most of the world will ignore or overlook his passing, but those who love him know why the world has lost a giant. They know how important he was and will continue to be. At his funeral, I read two verses that seemed to be the most appropriate. One was mentioned earlier, the other is here. I pray that when the time comes for me to be remembered, my grandson (or granddaughter) will believe it’s fitting as well.

Grandchildren are the crown of old men. And the glory of sons is their fathers.

Proverbs 17:6

He was my grandfather, the strongest man I ever knew, and I am his namesake. I pray that one day my life will say the same things his did. I pray I’ll be remembered for being a faithful man. I pray my children and grandchildren will rise up and thank the world for me.

  • – Raymond Neal Mathis


Scripture quotations taken from the NASB, (c) The Lockman Foundation.

Relative Morality

I am worried we have messed up. Not generally, but in one very specific way. I believe we messed up how we determine right and wrong. As Christians, we should only use the Bible as a source of right and wrong, but quite frankly, that simply isn’t the case in the US. We struggle to separate what God said when it compliments or contradicts what our “Christian Nation” says. We don’t know how to really define good when just about anyone who’s better than most is a “good ole boy.” And I want you to know, I think we should all be worried.

I would like to start by defining some terms we will discuss throughout this article, ethics and morals. I honestly believe many people are confused about them and don’t even realize it.

Ethics are the expectations placed upon individuals due to the society in which they reside. They are codes of conduct. A social contract between a person and a place (or a group). They provide external pressure and are fundamentally dependent upon others for definition and enforcement. Lawyers, doctors, even policemen are required to follow an ethical code laid down by their profession. To violate that code often results in criminal or professional punishment. 

Morals, on the other hand, are entirely personal. They are the principles an individual uses to determine right or wrong for them. Morals are ultimately a compass that points a person’s beliefs in one particular direction. Morality usually transcends cultural norms and is typically consistent across all contexts (i.e. something is always right or wrong, no matter the circumstance). 

Here’s where we run into problems. As a society, we often base our ethics on morally grey areas of behavior. Think about war, violence, abortion, homosexuality, divorce, cohabitation, vulgarity, even pedophilia. All of them can be viewed in a vacuum as inherently evil under circumstances or justifiable under others. 

A certain example really should hit home for the Church. Divorce rates are falling across America. That’s a good thing. For years, we’ve preached about the dangers of divorce so we can celebrate that number. But, we must admit it’s not because marriage is finally respected like it should be. Simply put, less people are getting married. More couples now live together (with marital rights) instead of taking the plunge. Many are children of divorced parents and want to avoid the pain that came from it. Ethically, as a society, that shrinking number looks good from one point-of-view, but morally, it’s creating more and more children born out of wedlock and promiscuous relationships that are not pleasing to God. That means it’s bad.

Here in America, cultural appropriation has made the balance of what’s right and wrong even harder to figure out. As a melting pot, our country offers every culture an equal playing field within reason. That brings division and even ethical degradation when we’re not careful. Consider the following issues as a primer on the difficulty of determining right and wrong in the American experiment.

First off, eating beef is morally right and ethically approved in our country by most people. I would say, millions even encourage the choice, yet it’s an immoral act in India because cows are considered sacred and holy. So, what do immigrants from India think when they drive through rural America and observe cattle farms or drive-through a fast food chain only to discover there are 33 variations of a hamburger on the menu? It must be confusing. Is it right or wrong? That depends on who you ask.

Secondly, women are free to attend school and hold a job in America while showing their face and wearing clothes that do not cover every single part of their body. My wife and both of my daughters are guilty of being educated and showing show skin (though not too much). A woman born in Afghanistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the Sudan does not have those rights. They will not be afforded the freedom my girls take for granted. Yet, how often have we seen some of those immigrants uphold wearing a hijab in American cities? It’s not common here in Tompkinsville, but I’m sure it must be in larger metropolitan areas. That must be confusing to someone. Is it right or wrong? That depends on who you ask.

The question our citizens must ask is simple. Do we compromise our national ethic to accommodate those who move to our country because their morals are being challenged when we eat a certain food or wear certain clothes? Of course not, we use the correct application of liberty and allow a person who moves here to exercise moral choice in the face of ethical acceptance.

We don’t force any black and white choice on them, because we are ethically grey, and we do not believe in a universal right and wrong for all Americans. It’s all relative. And it’s dangerous.

Here’s why all this should matter to Christians. If we’re not careful, we’ll develop a spiritual relativism in our congregations that mimics the moral relativism of our country. We’ll learn to accommodate the teachings of others due to societal acceptance. When Christianity requires an ethical and moral component that is black and white on many topics, how can we navigate with compasses tuned to grey?

It’s not easy.  

Both the group (Church) and the individual (Christian) have a responsibility to monitor what’s socially acceptable and what’s morally right within our community. That allows for some communal acknowledgement and individual preference in a healthy balance of brotherhood. Then and only then, can we use Scripture to govern our community’s standards of ethical behavior and to sharpen our own morality when it comes to thoughts, feelings, and actions. 

We have to recognize that some things are right and wrong, but others are not. The right and wrong can’t deviate from congregation to congregation or Christian to Christian. The grey areas (those areas of liberty like eating in a building, using powerpoint, paying a preacher) can be left up to each congregation and each Christian only as long as we realize it’s okay to disagree.

Here are a couple of Biblical examples to explain what I mean:

The Samaritans were hated by the Jewish people of the First Century. They idea of a “Good Samaritan” would have been unheard of. When Jesus spoke to the woman at the well in John 4, He violated the cultural ethics of His people and religious community. It was His own personal morality that created the opportunity. He saw her as a person, not someone beneath Him and He offered her grace and an opportunity to know the Messiah. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say most Jews would have resented her even talking to the Messiah, let alone becoming a disciple.

The Woman caught in adultery in John 8 is another example of faithful people using their ethics poorly. Their culture gave the men who accused her the right to stone her (see Leviticus 20:10). It’s clear, God’s Word was unyielding in that moment. She deserved to die. But she wasn’t the only one. Leviticus says both members of the adulterous couple were to die. Where was the man? Did he run away? Was he among her accusers? Had this all been a set up? Who knows for certain. We’re left to guess, but Jesus saw through their acts.

It says in 8:6, “this they said to test Him, that they might have some charge to bring against Him.” She was just a pawn in their vengeance, nothing but collateral damage. They are surely the same type of people Jesus was talking to in John 5:42 when He said, “you do not have the love of God in you.” Jesus gave her compassion when He stated “let him without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” His morality, which saw a soul in need of grace, forgave her action instead of condemning it. Ethically, He could have thrown the first stone, morally, He forgave her and plead “go and sin no more.”

We’re running into that problem today when some Christians want to justify sinful behavior. The big ideas are worth mentioning. Some congregations have compromised what the Bible says about salvation, worship, divorce and remarriage, even homosexuality. I believe many did it with noble intentions. They wanted more people to believe, they didn’t want to drive anyone away. So, they compromised the ethical standards of God’s Word by allowing the morality of the world to determine their behavior.

How is that any different from the Jews who hated Samaritans or wanted to kill that woman? Both sets of people compromised the ethics of God’s kingdom to satisfy their culture’s morality. Both are wrong, but only one was specifically called out by Christ in the First Century.

So what do we do? First of all, we must admit there is an ethical and moral truth to God’s Word. Consider verses like Luke 6:31, Galatians 6:10, and Philippians 4:8. They teach us to be good, not simply for the sake of being good, rather for the purpose of living faithfully. 

Secondly, notice that Scripture describes God as our final ethical and moral authority. His community (the trinity) is ethical and we are “made in their image,” (see Genesis 1:26). Supposedly, we model our lives after their actions (i.e. “take up your cross and follow me,” Luke 9:23), that means the society we draw our ethics from isn’t worldly, it’s divine.

To double-down on that. Isn’t the Church, the “bride of Christ?” Don’t we have a relationship with God that builds community? And since we are Christians (literally “Christ-like), don’t we have a moral example to follow a person who made choices no one else would so that we would also do the same?  

Simply put, I want to challenge each of us. Our ethics and morals must never be relative. They must be concrete. Jesus said in John 14:6, “I am the way, and the truth…” He’s not one way or one truth, He is the truth. 

As born-again disciples of God who are sanctified and justified by the blood of Christ, there are no ethical or moral grey areas for you and me.

We have God’s ethic and morality to uphold by what we teach, how we live, and where we find ourselves. Now, let’s go out and prove to the world around us that our morality isn’t relative at all, it’s firm and established on God’s Word.

Photo by Kitera Dent on Unsplash


A little over a year ago I hugged my friend Matt a day before his little girl was laid to rest. Tomorrow, I’ll do the same for my friend Chris who lost his son, John Luke, last Saturday. Today, I want to admit to each and every one of you that I’m struggling to rationalize why these things happened to two of the best men I’ve ever known.

For those of you who might not know, John Luke Pitcock is the sweetest little boy I’ve ever known. For the last few years I’ve had the privilege to be the minister where his family faithfully attends. I want you to know his smile is contagious. He makes you feel better every time you’re around him, and somehow, he actually makes the sun shine brighter. I know that sounds cliché (and in other circumstances I’d agree with you), but it’s true. Not a person who knows him would disagree with me. He is the brightest sun in a room full of clouds, the joy in a room full of gloom, and hope personified.

For years, people all across the United States have prayed for John Luke. His story and the sheer awfulness of it couldn’t be ignored. John Luke developed a rare disorder that attacked his body. He has struggled with uncontrollable convulsions and recently took a turn for the worse that couldn’t be overcome. I made the sad announcement to our congregation on Saturday evening that he had passed and encouraged them to remember the profound reality of John 11:35.

Jesus wept.

I want to admit that I have personally struggled with the enormity of his burden (and his parent’s burden for that matter). I’ve wanted to help them bear this burden, but always felt my contributions to their welfare were lacking. I know many people felt just like me. They wanted to do more and would have gladly sold every earthly possession they owned to find a cure, if only that could’ve helped. My family, like almost every family I know prayed every single day multiple times for John Luke and his family. Eventually, my prayers lost the right words and I simply sat in silence and hoped the Holy Spirit would fill in the blanks.

In the end, none of our efforts and none of the efforts of doctor after doctor could heal his broken body. That means the world is a worse place than it used to be because John Luke is no longer a part of it.

When things like this happen, it’s easy to ask why? It’s easy to point our finger at God and blame Him. It’s easy to lose some amount of hope because we simply don’t understand how this could happen. It’s easy to lose patience, and it’s easy to wish this world was different. It’s easy to turn to those thoughts because theology is hard in moments like this.

Tears are prayers too. They travel to God when we can’t speak.

Make no mistakes or assumptions. I believe in God more today than I ever have before. I’m not having a crisis of faith. I know God is good. I think you do too. We know He comforts the heartbroken. We know His ways are beyond ours and we know He understands all things, even when we don’t.

I’m glad I don’t have to understand everything, because I don’t understand this, try as much as I like.

Instead of being angry at God, I want to thank Him for the years John Luke blessed my life. I am honored his life overlapped mine and I am anxious to see him again one day in Paradise. I am also thankful beyond measure that his suffering is over. But I still wish we had more time. More time to sing Jesus Loves Me or The Little Boy Named David song.

Of all the things God is, being the One who knows “why?” is what I respect the most today. I’m so glad I can turn my undeveloped and irrational feelings over to Him without judgment or hesitation. I’m so glad that He hurts when we hurt. I’m so glad I got to worship Him yesterday with my Church family. I’m so thankful that Chris and Amber came to worship with their daughter Gracie. I’m in awe of their grace, strength, hope, and courage. I want to be more like them and I want them to know I’ve never respected anyone more in my entire life.

Today, all my theology and all my experience with death and loss doesn’t help me much, but my God and His Church does. They brought John Luke into my life and gave me just a few moments to see the beauty of that sweet boy’s soul. A soul that is still just as precious as ever. A soul that will forever be one that my family reveres.

John Luke was the best this world has to offer. He was kind, beautiful, and more like Christ than I can describe in these few short words. Thankfully, I don’t have to, Jesus already did. For there’s no child I’ve ever met who embodies this description more:

Jesus called a little child to Him, set him in the midst of the crowd, and said, “Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 18:2-4

Thank you John Luke, for being the child that taught us how to be great. I promise, we’ll never forget it, because we’ll never forget you.


All Scripture is taken from the New King James Version (c) 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. All rights reserved. Used by permission.


One week ago, I was cleared from quarantine to reenter the outside world. My wife had been diagnosed with the Coronavirus two weeks prior, and finally, my time was up. As the day began, I was genuinely excited about the ordinary things that lied ahead. I was excited to get out, to go do something, and simply leave my suburban bliss. I went with her and the kids to Bowling Green and had a day planned of eating out, buying books, and unencumbered exploration. Needless to say, it promised to be a good day until one of the scariest moments of my life took center stage.

Before we get to that moment, let me set the stage a bit. Near the end of our quarantine, after two weeks of sleeping on the couch and being a 24-hour a day dad, I was tired. I never really felt bad, but I was worn-out. Without much warning, and certainly no trauma, my chest began to be slightly irritated. It felt like a slight muscle pull, and I honestly didn’t give it much thought. After all, I hadn’t been taking great care of myself with all the care I was giving to my wife and children. I took some Tylenol, a long hot shower, and settled into my bed for a good night’s rest. The next morning, the pain wasn’t completely gone, but it was so mild, I knew I was on the mend.

A couple of days later, after I had already dropped Ashley and the kids off at school, taken her van for an oil change, and even eaten a large breakfast, I decided to go for a stroll around Target. I wasn’t looking for anything in particular, I was just walking to stretch my legs.

Near the end of my stroll, my chest began to hurt. It was the same type of pain from earlier in the week, but much more intense. I went out to the van, sat there, and waited for it to go away, until it didn’t. I drove around a bit, wondering what to do. I called Ashley and asked her. She told me to do what I thought was best so I called my doctor in Tompkinsville to set up a visit, but of course, they couldn’t get to me until the next day.

Then I sat there, in the parking lot of the Bowling Green Chipotle, and wondered, am I having a heart attack?

You might think that’s quite a leap to take, but I didn’t. My grandfather battled heart disease for years before he passed, my grandmother has had a pacemaker for several decades, and my father died unexpectedly in his sleep just a few years ago. I didn’t feel good about chest pains. Especially, pain that felt so intense and tight.

I decided to go to one of the nicer urgent clinics in Bowling Green. Ashley had gone there before and was treated quickly and efficiently. I still had hope that this was nothing more than a muscle pull after all. I checked in, went back to the room, and actually felt better. By the time the doctor arrived, the pain was gone. I assumed a muscle relaxer or something like that would be all I needed and I’d be on my way in just a few minutes.

Then, she said she wanted to run a few tests. I didn’t blink an eye when she said one of them was an EKG. I assumed all would be fine, and this was just a reassurance of that idea. After the EKG and a chest X-ray or two, I went back to the room, put on my coat, and sat there ready to head out. Then, the doctor came back and told me something I wasn’t expecting. She looked me square-in-the-eye and said, “something’s not right.” She wasn’t sure, but it was possible I had already suffered a heart attack or was about to.

I’m not sure what she said next because it all gets a bit fuzzy, but I remember her telling me I’d have to go the ER. I remember her asking what hospital I wanted to go to, and if I had anyone who could take me? You see, they weren’t allowed to let me leave, it was a ride with a friend or in an ambulance. I called Ashley at her school, and one of her co-workers rushed her over. We loaded up in the van, went to the Bowling Green Medical Center, and I walked into the waiting room as an emergency heart patient.

If you look up irony in the dictionary, you’ll probably find a definition similar to this one:

Irony is a state of affairs or an event that seems deliberately contrary to what one expects and is often amusing as a result.

I throw that word around a lot, after all, I’m a preacher. I talk about the irony of fruitless faith, needy prayer, and even politically-correct Christianity all the time. It’s not lost on me, that the best stories, even tales of grandeur, have a sense of irony in them. It didn’t seem so ironic to find myself in one of those situations though. You see, the night before, I had finally settled on a series of lessons to begin 2021. No joke, they are simply called Faith or Fear. After the year we’ve had, the instability of the world around us, and the nonsense that was unfolding due to the election, it seemed fitting.

As I sat in the lobby of the ER with chest pain, it seemed real in a way I had personally never felt before. I was scared. Scared of the unknown and the uncertain. I kept wondering, is something wrong with my heart? Will I see my children again? Can this be fixed? Thankfully, a wonderful Christian lady by the name of Brittany was my intake nurse. She happens to be from Monroe County as well, even a member of the Church. We got to talking, she could tell I was nervous, and she helped me in those moments more than she’ll ever know.

She was a lifesaver and the reason I was able to stay calm.

In a twisted way, the thought that kept going through my mind was how awesome this scenario was for the sermon I planned to preach the next Sunday. But I won’t lie to you, at one point, I wondered if I’d ever get to preach it. I did, and irony has nothing to do with it.

After a few hours of waiting, I was moved into a trauma unit in the ER. I had been a bit perturbed at the length it took to get me back, but I kept wondering if it was because my situation wasn’t so hopeless. I had even hoped that when I got to the room, the doctor would come in, say my test results were great, and send me home after all the formalities.

That’s not what happened though.

The doctor came in, dressed in full garb. He looked like an astronaut. Face shield, head-to-toe scrubs and extra layers. Gloves that looked like something you use in a refinery. He asked me a few questions and told me he’d get right on it. He said “we’ll start with your heart and work our way out.” I wasn’t sure what that meant, but it sounded good to me. Pretty soon, I was all hooked up to a blood pressure and pulse monitor, and more blood had to be drawn. I felt like a guinea pig, with everyone who came in asking questions, taking stuff from me, and wondering how I felt.

They did a CoViD test, even though I had tested negative just a few days prior. After they administered it, it felt like my nose would run for days and my brain had been dislodged. I couldn’t believe how far they went back and how long they left it there. It was awful, but just a part of the process.

By that time, Ashley was in the room with me and contacting family. There wasn’t much to tell them, but she told them where I was and what was happening. Then, we waited. And waited. And waited.

It wasn’t really that long, but it felt like an eternity. Every now and then I’d cough and my chest would begin to hurt again. Ashley and I would talk, pretend to be calm, and even try to diagnose my problem. We made some plans for the kids, just in case I had to stay the night or even have surgery. I told her how much I loved her, but held back from bearing my soul or blurting out some nonsense about “when I’m gone” or “if it doesn’t look good.”

Honestly, I didn’t consider the possibility of dying, but I did wonder had I done enough if I did. I wasn’t worried for my soul, rather for Ashley and my kids, the congregation in Tompkinsville, and all my extended family and friends. I was afraid that my work was unfinished in this world. I knew there was more to be done.

I was scared, but not like I thought I would be. I didn’t fear leaving this world, just leaving it unprepared for my departure.

I tell you this story because fear is on my mind. It seems to be everywhere today. I’m not sure why it’s driving reasonable people crazy, but it is. Between the news, social media, and the fear mongering of so many people, life sees nearly impossible lately. The pandemic, the school and work closings, the deaths, and even the uncertainty of the election process has stoked the fear of my brothers and sisters worldwide.

That shouldn’t be the case for us though. As Christians, we should know fear gets you nowhere. We know Second Timothy 1:7 says, “God didn’t give us a spirit of fear, rather of power, and love, and of a sound mind.” Revelation 2:10 tells us “do not fear what is about to happen, but be faithful until death.” Isaiah 41:10 emphatically states that “God is with us.” We’re even told throughout the Old Testament, that God is with His children (see Deuteronomy 31:6-7), and to not be afraid of what lies ahead (see Genesis 46:3 and Joshua 11:6). If that’s not enough, the Psalmist boldly declared in 118:6:

The Lord is on my side, I will not fear. What can man do to me?

We know that passage and we believe those words, but are we living them out in 2021? Fear is the enemy of God’s people. It is the work of the devil, and one of his strongest champions. It drives us from God and keeps us from trusting the only one who can really deliver us from it. If we’d only believe the words of Christ from John 16:33 we’d see fear isn’t really stronger than faith. It says there:

In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.

In the hospital, I found a peace of mind I’ve never felt before. I didn’t find it after the doctor said I’d be okay. It wasn’t after he said I have pleurisy (an inflammation of the lining of my lung and the cause of my chest pain), and it wasn’t on our way home. The peace of mind that came to me was when I realized I have work to do. When I was afraid, not of what could happen, but what hadn’t happened.

I woke up last Wednesday with a renewed sense of purpose. No longer am I afraid to say what needs to be said, do what needs to be done, be what I need to be. I don’t feel constrained by political correctness or even cultural expectation. I feel liberated, to do God’s work and be His servant, no matter the cost or consequence.

I discovered I was afraid and didn’t even know it. But now I realize that fear was holding me back, not keeping me safe.

I guess thinking I had a heart attack was just what I needed. While I won’t wish my experience upon anyone, and I won’t call it a divine intervention, I am thankful for it and how it has helped streamline my thinking. It has given me a reason to say some things that needed to be said, write about things that need to be written about, and do the things I was always hesitant to do before.

My brush with fear was a wake-up call that thankfully wasn’t as serious as it could have been. I’m perfectly fine. Healthy, and ready to get to work in a way I can’t quite put in words. I’m no longer afraid, and I’m so thankful for it.

All Scripture is taken from the New King James Version (c) 1982 by Thomas Nelson Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Screentime No. 2

Last week, I spent some time talking honestly about my technology use. This week, I’d like us to have a talk about social media. I want to begin with a caveat – I believe in social media. I believe it has the power to connect us in ways we previously did without. I believe it can make us closer and unite like-minded individuals But I don’t believe that’s what it’s doing in 2020.

While I have no tangible evidence to support this, I believe social media is driving a wedge between the citizens of this world. It’s giving us opportunity after opportunity to attack the opposition instead of mend the difference. I don’t believe it’s a place of genuine discussion anymore, instead it’s become a visual tabloid full of sensational accusations and outrageous propaganda.

In a word, it’s become dangerous.

Much like last week, I’d like to begin with some statistics that help set the stage. Before I list them, I’ll point you to several links that allow you to dig into the research yourself. Take a good look before you read on. After looking myself, I came away with three ideas and some thoughts to help each of us navigate our social media better. Here’s what stuck out to me the most.

As of 2020, 79% of Americans above the age of 13 have at least 1 social media account. They may not all be active, but they are present in the lives of most Americans. That number increases to 89% when we do a closer inspection of the online activity of 18-29 year olds. In what might be the most outrageous statistic, the average social media user spends close to 3 hours per day on social media. That’s a lot of likes, dislikes, comments, and scrolls. When you compare that to how much time we worship, read, and even sleep each day, it’s pretty shocking how much time (and energy) we invest in social media.

After some serious consideration, I urge you to undertake this endeavor with the most obvious reality of the whole megillah up front. Social media is a platform. Essentially an online version of Speaker’s Corner in London’s Hyde Park minus the rainstorms or cold front. It’s a place where views can be shared by a random assortment of invested believers. That doesn’t imply the views are right, well-thought-out, or even necessary. It doesn’t validate them as something worth listening to, and it sure doesn’t give them an audience. It simply gives any message at any time a platform to stand upon.

As a preacher, I can tell you, I believe in the power of a platform. A platform (both figurative and literal) has elevated historical figures like Michael Collins or Abraham Lincoln to legendary levels of respect. It’s served as a place for the Martin Luthers and the Martin Luther King Jr’s of the world to express both wisdom and outrage. It has also allowed the world’s biggest fools to speak up and leave no doubt to the rest of us. A platform is a good thing (or at least it used to be), because it separates those who have something to say from those who are just saying something.

Lately, I have longed for an old-fashioned Vaudeville Hook for some of my social media neighbors. In a serious sentiment, I wish I could have simply pulled certain voices off the stage and out of my life. Their act was DOA, yet they continued on without much concern for my ears or my soul. While the Unfollow or Block buttons go a long way, they don’t quite do enough to silence the stupidity and self-service.

Instead of bemoaning the platforms I don’t like, I have resolved to be a platform myself. There is quite a bit of Scriptural precedence for that. Consider what the Apostle Paul told the young evangelist Timothy:

I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

2 Timothy 4:1-5

Knowing that we have a platform worth standing on should give us the courage to stand up and “shout it from the mountaintops.” I’m especially mindful of the thoughts of verse 3 about false teachers that the crowd “heap up for themselves.” After all, isn’t that where these insufferable know-it-alls come from – a crowd of simple-headed disciples fully willing to drink the proverbial Kool-Aid?

In their examples, we see something that isn’t lost on Christians, people are sheep (see Psalm 23, John 10). We crave leaders who rise above the crowd and demand our devotion. Predictably, we don’t always follow the right shepherd and find ourselves led by wolves-in-sheep clothing instead (see Matthew 7:15). If social media is a platform, then it can be used to share bad advice alongside of good advice, bad doctrine alongside of healthy doctrine, error alongside of truth. I believe that implies some careful consideration of who we listen to online, not just what we’re listening to. Perhaps, Ephesians 5:15 is worth remembering every time we venture onto social media.

See then that you walk carefully, not as fools but as wise.

Secondly, I couldn’t help but notice social media is an influence. In fact, it might be the greatest influence of 2020. We should know that everything and everyone is influential, if we choose to acknowledge it or not. We’re all spheres of influence because we are all inflicting some pull on everyone else. Naturally, some are more charismatic than others and pull more to them. Sadly, that doesn’t mean their charisma and message has any actual value to society.

When that many people spend that much time on those places, they become, by their very existence, influencers. And if you like it or not, the people you meet and the platforms you follow on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Tik Tok, or anything else is influencing you. It’s validating the choices you already made, attacking the opponents of your choice, and providing information to those who supply your choices.

It’s influencing you, if you know it or not.

So, is that good? It certainly can be, but it might take some work on your behalf. You might need to curate who’s allowed into your online social life. You might need to divest yourself of some harmful characters and surround yourself with some who are uplifting. You might need to let go and start again. Two Bible verses seem to set a precedent for our behavior among the influencers.

Proverbs 13:20 says, “He who walks with wise men will be wise, but the companion of fools will be destroyed.” That’s true on the battlefield, the ballfields, and your homepage. In First Corinthians 15:33, the Apostle Paul quotes Menander’s play Thais and highlights the truth of a simple statement, “evil company corrupts good habits.”

Simply put, if you play in the mud, you’re going to get dirty. Social media has become a muddy, complicated mess that often influences good behavior in a negative way. Thankfully, that doesn’t have to be the case. Because it’s a platform, influence can be found in positive places and voices as well.

Don’t forget the approval you need is from God, not social media.

Seek His thoughts, His ways, and His affirmation instead of those that come from the social media influencers that permeate your digital home.

Finally, social media is an opportunity. This idea really piggy-backs off both of the first two. You might say, they’re all connected at the hip. If you treat it as a platform, and you influence others for good, then you’ll get an opportunity to do something with that influence.

You don’t have to go very far to see the value of an opportunity in Scripture. In Galatians 6:10, we’re commanded “as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.” Then in Colossians 4:5, we’re told to “walk in wisdom toward those who are outside, redeeming the time.” We even see the example of Jesus in Acts 10:38 who “went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him.”

Make no mistake about it, we are expected to do good with the time we have in this world. That good can be found in our social media just like it can be everywhere else. So go, take the opportunity to support noble, valuable causes, praise truth when it is spoken, and share wisdom as often as possible. We both now that’s something social media needs more of, because life needs more it as well.

At the end of the day, I believe social media is a great tool. One that connects people all across the world. It allows the genuine message of God’s truth to be shared, with one downfall, it also allows false teachers and Satan himself the same opportunity.

We need to be wise, prudent, and careful as we navigate social media.

We don’t need to abandon it, for then the good would leave with us, but we need to handle it with care. As one bit of advice, I ‘d like to encourage you to streamline your social media portfolio. Instead of having multiple accounts across different platforms, pick the one that works best for you and your message. Then invest in it. Make the online world of you a better place because you’re a part of it and then, see the change it brings.


All Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright (c) 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Coincidentally, this is not the first time I’ve felt compelled to write about our social media use. If you’d like to visit (or revisit) what I wrote several years ago, simply follow this link.

Screentime No. 1

I was recently punched in the mouth. Not by an angry parishioner or bystander, rather, by a sermon.

What I want to do right now is encourage you with all my might to stop reading this article and follow the link I’ve embedded. It’s to the sermon series entitled Screentime from the Athens Church in Athens, Georgia. Then, after you’ve had some time to digest their material and you’re still looking for more, come back and read on.

After watching those lessons, I knew it was time to preach a series of lessons here in Tompkinsville. I believe the best sermons are the ones that are most personal, and I needed to study and hear the sermon(s) I was about to deliver. I learned so much about myself and our society and I couldn’t wait to get it out there.

Here’s what I learned. First and foremost, I thought technology dependance was a you problem, but actually it was a me problem. I started off with a simply resolution, I would be better. I went home that night and apologized to my wife and kids for being distracted by technology. They were all gracious, but I knew it meant something by their response. While I felt ashamed, it wasn’t because of some sin, rather some neglect. I honestly knew at that time, I had been preoccupied with nonsense in the face of substantial relationships and experiences.

The verse that kept running through my head was Matthew 6:21 when Jesus said, “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” I believed that my heart hadn’t always been invested in the greatest treasure this world has afforded me, my wife and kids. I did some research and found some surprising numbers. The Pew Research Center (follow this link) found that 80% of Americans own a smartphone (that’s roughly 200 million individuals). While that number seems astronomical to me, it’s not absurd at all. Consider your friends, how many of them have a smartphone? How many don’t? The number that shocked me was one I found at this link. It’s more emblematic of the problem we all face – the average smartphone user (that’s me and probably you as well) spends 215 minutes (or 3 hours and 35 minutes) on our phone each day. Even if these numbers have some slight variable in them, they are still emphatic.

We spend too much time on our devices.

After presenting the research I declared my first frightening conclusion. Simply put, our relationship with our phones is creating a lopsided reality. Instead of the phones needing a consumer to engage them, the consumers (me and you once again) need the phones to function. I couldn’t help but be drawn to Jesus’ words in Matthew 18:8 which says, “If your hand or foot causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you. It is better for you to enter into life lame or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet, to be cast into the everlasting fire.”

While you and I both know Jesus wasn’t actually calling us to become physically harmful, He was demonstrating (with hyperbole) a need to prioritize our “needs.” We are not physical beings after all, we are spiritual beings “made in God’s image,” (see Genesis 1:26), and our journey in this world is but a temporary pitstop on an eternal life. Yet here we are, worried about our physical needs because that’s who we are – and our cell phones are feeding our earthly wants, not our spiritual needs. Maybe, if our problem is deeply engrained, we do need to cut off our technology and throw it away before it costs us our very soul.

One of the analogies made in the sermon above and in mine was about technology and gluttony. I loved the expression (and used it) that gluttony is defined as an endless appetite meeting endless content. I called the technology problem an all-you-can-consume buffet of information.

While we all know gluttony is bad, it’s something we don’t spend much time talking about. If you’d like to dive into a deeper study of gluttony, I’d encourage you look here and also there. The analogy makes total sense when you take time to consider the universal scroll of social media on your phone. Technology provides something that is a temporarily satisfying while actually offering very little spiritual or physical nutrition. It sucks you in and you need more to fill the bottomless pit of your soul.

I know, I know, you probably think that last line was a bit heavy-handed. Let me prove to you it wasn’t.

If you have an iPhone go to your Settings and look under the tab entitled Screen Time. It gives a daily account of how much time you invested in your phone over the last week. What does it say? 4 hours a day? 5 hours? 10 hours? I’m not here to tell you how much time is too much, you already know.

When you see it, you know.

If you’ve invested too much time, like I had, you’ll realize that phone is becoming a dangerous device you carry around as if you can’t live without it.

I finished my sermon with a few practical steps to improve your screen time. The theology of technology discussion in the sermon from Athens was very helpful. It gave me some thoughts that seem to be truly helpful. Here are the steps I’m taking to be better:

1 I ask this question every day – how much is enough? What is more important than the phone? Do I need it right now, in this moment, or can I live without it?

2 Does the technology at my disposal help or hinder my faith? I encouraged everyone to consider its place by acknowledging Colossians 3:17. That passage says, “whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” That might seem overly simplistic until you begin to realize you weren’t doing it and it was creating an idol you carried around in your own pocket.

3 I created a technology-free zone and time in my house. The dinner table is now our TFZ. That time has been set apart for family, and nothing else. It’s not a long time, but it is a valuable time to cast out the world and focus on us. I also began to simply leave my phone charging instead of keeping it with me in the house. I still answer text messages and calls when they come, but I’m not tempted to look at it anymore in the downtime between anything and everything.

4 Finally, I made it a priority to just let go. I’m afraid I was creating a world where my phone took more from me than it gave. I know I love God, my family, and my friends more than my phone, but the “fruit” of my life didn’t always reflect that. My treasure was being overlooked because of the idol in my pocket. It was taking the blessing of time and helping me waste it.

I share all of this with you because I want you to avoid my mistakes. I’m thankful it didn’t spiral out-of-control and cost me something I can’t replace. I’m grateful for the wake-up call I received and I’m thankful to be able to share it with you today.

We all struggle with something, some of us with the technology sitting in our pocket. I pray that won’t be your struggle, but if it is, now you know you’re not alone. At the end of the day I want you to realize technology is a wonderful gift that allows us to connect with like-minded individuals, find communities that strengthen us, and even worship with our brothers and sisters from afar, but it can not and will not ever be able to replace God. The acceptance and knowledge you get from it won’t eclipse the true value God gives His faithful followers.

So unplug a bit and dig into your family and faith. You just might find, as I did, that your life is better because of it.

Neal Mathis
Neal Mathis

The founder and editor of The Merger and a man who longs to one day be a scruffy-looking nerf herder.

Photo by gabe bult on Unsplash