Episode 4: Faith, Critical to a Fulfilling Life (Guest Dr. Matt Judkins)

This episode features an interview between Jimmy J. Williams (JW) and Dr. Matt Judkins (MJ):

JW: Well, good morning and welcome to Live a Life by Design. The Monday morning weekly podcast to give you an empowering message to start your day and build a better life. What an honor, today I have with me as a special guest my good friend, Dr. Matt Judkins. Welcome Matt.

MJ: Thank you Jimmy, it’s good to be here with you this morning.

JW: Man I tell you, I have been waiting to get this gentleman in the studio, just so I can visit with him for a few minutes over his life. He has been a very positive influence on me, in the community, as well as I know a lot of youth and a lot of my friends that attend his church locally. So I’m going to ask him some really tough questions today. And Matt would you like to know if there’s a right or wrong answer?

MJ: You bet.

JW: Well, there’s not one. So you just tell me what’s going on in your world. And I want to start with, you were raised in a very small town in Oklahoma called Buffalo Valley.

MJ: Yep, yep.

JW: What’s it like being raised in Buffalo Valley, OK?

MJ: Well, actually I was raised outside in the suburbs of Buffalo Valley, there’s a community about halfway between Buffalo Valley and Talihina called Falfa. Welcome to Falfa and now leaving Falfa are on the back of the same post. It’s real tiny. It’s just a great place to grow up, out in the county, raised on a farm with cows, chickens, all kinds of animals and good place to have a childhood.

JW: You know, you and I have a lot in common. I too was raised in the greatest part of the country called rural Oklahoma. My father, I said in a previous podcast, had a theory about us as children. I’m the youngest of six. He had a theory, Matt, he said, if you’ve got time to breathe, you’ve got time to work. I mean, we always had something to do on the farm. So let me ask you this, friend, what hobbies do you participate in that keep you in your best shape to serve your family and your congregation today?

MJ: Well, that’s a good question and I think it’s really important because whatever you do in life, you really have to take care of yourself. And I’ve just started doing crossfit, here in the community, and been doing that close to three months now, and that’s had a real positive impact on my life. Gives me something to look forward to and something to look forward to being done with after it’s over. But that’s one of the things I do. I like to read, that’s another hobby I have and the rest of the time I’m just kinda keeping up with my kids and doing that sort of thing.

JW: Wonderful. As you probably know, I’m a big crossfit fan myself. I’m a L1 crossfit trainer. So, man, I love this stuff. Just for those in our audience listening, Matt’s a lot younger than me. He looks a lot more cut than me, but we old guys have to work a little harder at everything I think. So tell me this, I have a big theory of routines set a day for success. I’m certain you probably have certain routines on your, what I consider your congregation days. And you probably have routines on days one which you’re not going to speak. Give me a little break down. What is your basic routine on a day like today?

MJ: Yea, so my routine doesn’t vary a whole lot on my days off from the days that I work. Right now, just because of our schedules I’m getting up really early. I go to the 5 AM crossfit class, so get up at 4:15 so I can have some coffee and sit for a little bit before I get up and going. Then go workout and after that I’ll come home, and while the family’s still asleep or getting ready, I’ll pray and read the bible and for me that’s really important to get the important things in first and start your day off on the right note. So, you know, even before I go to work, or right after I get to work, if I get there before everybody else that’s what my routine looks like. And on my days off, you know, I try to do the same thing for the most part, in terms of starting off with some time with God and really focusing on what’s important to me. Then over the course of the rest of the day, it kind of depends on the day of the week. Ministry is great in that there’s never really a routine. I kind of enjoy that, you never know what you’re going to encounter over the course of the day. People drop in to visit, you have different kinds of activities that you’re a part of. And so you don’t get too set in kind of going through the motions, or that sort of thing. But that’s kind of in general what my week looks like. And sometimes I’m there all throughout the day, and come back from meetings at night and get home anywhere from 7 to 8 o’clock on meeting nights or nights that we have other things at the church. Otherwise, the evenings are taking kids to practice and finishing up homework and that sort of thing, we have three kids. Got a pretty full life right now.

JW: You’ve got what’s call a full house.

MJ: Yep. Absolutely.

JW: I’m proud you used that term, “those big chunks” or “most important things”. We talked about that in a previous episode. Where I’m trying to help people focus on those things that make the most impact in their life. And speaking of impact, can you give me someone that’s a mentor to you? Someone you’ve looked up to that’s help guide you in your career, or coming up through the educational process of your career?

MJ: Well, after my wife and I got married, we grew up in different denominations then we’re a part of now. She grew up in the Catholic church, and I grew up in a Baptist church, and so when we got married, we really wanted to find a place that we could call ours together, and so for us, because of a few different connections, the Methodist church just felt like home when we started going there. A home for both of us. And so, my first pastor in the Methodist church was a man named Guy Ames, and he was really for me the first pastor that I looked at and could see myself doing that. I grew up in a really small church so a lot of our pastors, to put it nicely, were mature in age. And so, I just couldn’t really relate with that and so even when I was a kid I felt a call to ministry, and so he was someone I looked at and thought, you know he’s not just doing this because nothing else worked out in his life, he’s could have been successful in any field. And he’s just doing this because it’s his calling and his passion, so he became a real mentor to me and I joined a small group with him and some younger men and he really helped me understand what God was doing in my life and heart and helped set me on this journey to ministry and I really owe a lot to his leadership and his teachings influence on my life.

JW: We don’t use, in the Church of the Nazarene, we don’t use the term grey haired, older, or senior, what we use is the term closer to heaven. That’s how we do that. Well, that’s a fantastic story, so I want to carry this forward just a little bit more. So if you could change one thing in your career, what would that one thing be to make you feel more empowered, more passionate, if there is such a thing. I know you’re very passionate about what you do. But what would be that, what I call, one little incremental step that if taken would give you exponential growth in your field?

MJ: Well, you know, I love what I do and, so I need to tell you a story to share this. I’ve talked to people in our church about calling and careers and I often tell the story of one of my professors in college, he said one day, when he wasn’t really sure what he wanted to do he was working at home over the summer, and he was working for the city of Talihina. And while he was working, one of his jobs was to go out on the local sewage disposal pond and break up all the clumps that had kind of accumulated out there, and he called it, breaking up the floaters. And he said it was about 98 degrees that day, and he was out in the flat bottom boat, doing this job and he said, you knew right then and there that I wanted to get an education. And I always kind of laughed about that because I thought, he got away from that, and yet no matter what you do in life, there’s still floaters in your job.

JW: That’s a term I’m going to remember now, Matt, thank you.

MJ: Yeah, you can focus on that or you can focus on all the things that you love to do, and so I say this with a little bit of caution, because no matter what you do in life, there’s always going to be things you don’t want to do. You know, cleaning toilets, whatever. But for me, I wish I had more time to focus on my strengths, some of the things that kind of take away energy from me. Doing paperwork, and doing things that we have to file on the denominational level, so I wish I had a little less of that to do. But every job has those kind of things, it doesn’t matter if it’s, you know financial manager, dentist, doctor, lawyer, pastor, we all have those things, and so I wish I could focus more time and energy on my strengths, then some of the things that are kind of energy suckers, but that’s just part of life.

JW: So Matt, I’ve got a solution for you, you didn’t ask for it, but let me tell you what I do in this area. Because you’re right, even in my world, and I love what I do. I feel like I make an impact like you, in a different area of a person’s life, and I want to make them feel bigger about their future, better about their future, and bolder about their future, and you do the same thing on a spiritual level. But I’ll tell you what I do, the stuff that I really don’t enjoy, but know that it’s critical to making sure the tasks are done so the job is completed, I batch them all into one day. So I am pumped for four days, then I come in, ok this is the day to take the medicine, right? And so I lock my office door, literally don’t lock it, but I shut the office door, put my do not disturb on the phone and I just make myself grind through it. That’s probably not the best approach, but it works for me. So man, I encourage you, about that paperwork, you put that at the 11th day you have to do it, and just get it done. And you know, once we’re done with those kinds of tasks, we think, well, that wasn’t so bad. So that’s great advice and I think that you’re actually right. So really what I want everyone to understand is no one has the perfect job. So I’m fortunate, I get to speak all across the country for companies, associations, and groups, that ask me to come speak as a keynote speaker, and I will tell you, I love being on the stage. You can probably tell just by talking to me, I enjoy the process of creating and delivering. Not so much all the travel, to be truthful, and I try to sit in very comfortable plane seats. I try to stay in very nice hotels, it’s still just away from my family. So I’m really what’s call a front stage person, when I talked to our subscribers on this podcast, I want to let them know not everybody has a 100% front stage. I’ve not met an actor yet that is always front stage. He’s always goes behind the scenes, works on the lines, do the costuming. Get the stuff done right, Matt, it’s important to set the stage for a successful front stage. Great work there, so how do you maintain positivity in your life? I see you around town, everywhere I see you, You’ve got a smile on your face. Believe it or not folks, even after crossfit, he is sweating, he’s all worn out, but he’s a positive guy, Matt, tell me what you do to stay positive.

MJ: Well, I do think positivity is a choice. We have a tendency as human beings to kind of scan our surroundings for threats, and you know keep our antenna up for the negative things in life. And if you’re not careful, you can magnify those negative things. And when you do that, you really stop noticing all the positive things going on around you. So for me, I think the number one practice to kind of overcome that is gratitude. Just being thankful for what you have, what the Lord’s done for you. When I get in a funk one of the practices I’ll sometimes do, is just start out my day and write down three or four things I’m grateful for. I do that over the course of a few weeks, I’ll notice that instead of focusing on the threats, the negative things, I’ll begin to notice all the things that are going right around me. I think even on your worst day, there are things going right. There are things that God is doing, there is grace, and love available in your life and so the more you can be grateful for those things, the more you can cultivate an awareness of those things.

JW: Man, that is a great answer. I’ve been a big fan of what I call a gratitude journal that I keep. I do a lot of journaling anyway, and I use that as a way for me to get my mind focused, get things off my mind as well. Kind of empty the file cabinet so to speak at the end of the day. But I do have a gratitude journal, and I tell you, there are things that I write down there that are numerous times repeated. And I’m going, that is a really wonderful blessing to have that in my life and that does take your mindset to a more positive area. So I know you are a fan of habits, as I am, you get up at 4:15, have that coffee, and I go workout at crossfit. I’ve got some habits as well, what are your top 5 habits that you use in your life that really make life simpler, more efficient, or more effective for you.

MJ: Well, for me, and I know that this will sound like the preacher answer, but it’s incredibly important to me, and I think, it would be beneficial for everybody to practice, and that’s prayer. That’s the number one habit in my life. I really have to create an awareness, not just in the positive things in life, but in God, being connected to God, and setting your whole day up for success always involves having some time in prayer. So prayer, and I would put the second habit as study, whether that’s reading the bible, or spending time in a positive devotional book of some kind. Or something else that helps me develop my faith, those are real key habits for me, prayer and study. Working out and taking care of our bodies, that’s another habit that as weeks get really busy, it’s interesting, you know, you’d think that if you’d fit working out in it’d just make you tireder, but it’s an investment, and the more you invest the more you keeping yourself healthy and practicing physical fitness in some way, and that pays great dividends in your life. And so, those would be the first three. Gratitude, like we mentioned before, that’s something that when I’m really intentional about that, that helps my life, greatly. You know there are a lot of other things that are coming to mind, whatever it is spending time in community, focusing on my family, those kind of things, but I think I would say something that people maybe neglect sometimes is making sure that you get time to do things that you love, that aren’t specifically focused on your job, so you know, I love to go fish, I love to be out in the country, and just kind of get away from everything and for me that’s kind of a combination of some of the other stuff. I get to spend some time alone with the lord and I can tell after the course of three or four weeks if I’ve been working really hard and I don’t take that time. Scripture calls it the Sabbath and I think it’s important to get it every week, but if I don’t have that, I notice my temper get shorter, things that normally wouldn’t get me frustrated or angry, they start to kinda get on my nerves a little more.

JW: I’m sorry to interrupt, but are you saying that even you are human?

MJ: Yeah, absolutely.

JW: So we all need this daily feeding, if you will, of the spirit and our mind as well. That is great stuff. Absolutely, I love that. So let me ask you, you’re a busy man, you’re a dad of three children, you’ve got a lovely wife, you’ve got a big congregation you’ve got to take care of in town, you also have duties, I’m assuming for the national and the regional church, and district things, you’re also very involved in our local school systems, supporting the kids from your congregation, so wow man, how much sleep do you get a night?

MJ: Well, that’s another habit that I think is important for people, and that’s not one that I’m practicing real well right now, I do keep track of it, because that’s another thing, if I notice I’m not getting consistent sleep then all those things I described before kind of happen. Right now I’m getting between six and seven hours, I function a lot better on eight, so I’ll get back to that some day, but not during this season.

JW: I understand. And I’m going to send you a book home with you to read. That I’d like to lend to you, and it’s called Power Sleep by Dr. James Maas. I read that book and it transformed my way of approaching my sleep as more of a necessity as opposed to a luxury. So when I was in undergrad school, just as similar to you I didn’t really respect my sleep. I could just take four hours and keep going. But you know, when you’re 21 or 22, that’s easily done. I’m in my 50s now and I’ve got to be honest with you, I’ve got to have 8 hours, or I’m just not as sharp as I’d like to be.

MJ: And for me, coming from my perspective, it’s a biblical principle too, there are so many scriptures that come to mind, but the first one that I think of is God saying, be still and know that I am God. You know God is still working even when we’re asleep, and sometimes I think a lack of sleep is a lack of trust, we think that if we’re not doing it then it’s not getting done. But if you really trust in the Lord then you can rest and know that he’s got this under control. And you can relax and rest and I think it’s a pretty important principle for living the kind of life your trying to encourage.

JW: I agree, and I’ve got to be honest with you. My sleep, when I wake up from a nice 8 hours rest that’s where I come up with ideas, creative projects, and so forth. So I think God kind of puts things in your mind while you’re sleeping cause you finally got still enough and quiet enough to listen to him right, so I tell people, he hasn’t moved. I have. Wonderful stuff. So let me ask you this, how do you allocate, or manage your time a week, serving a congregation, a community, your family and your congregation has some that may be of a an older state of age, and you have to visit them in hospitals, I know you do a lot of that. How do you manage all of this?

MJ: Well, there’s a couple things, and you kind of mentioned this before, you put in the big pieces first. You have to schedule the things that are essential. Making sure I stay in prayer, making sure I have time to study, making sure I’m taking care of my own relationship with God because when you’re on an airplane, you hear the flight attendant stand up and say, in case of an emergency put your own oxygen mask on first. You can’t help somebody else if you don’t have life in you. So that’s the first thing. The second thing is, first and foremost I have kind of a system each week where I will go down and I take sticky notes out and I’ll write every task that I have that’s sort of secondary big tasks and I’ll put those on my desk. Some people use a to do list, or whatever, but for me there’s a real satisfaction, once I complete something I can just crumple up that note and throw it in the trash. But after that, again this answer is for people of faith I try and do my best to rely on the holy spirit. And if somebody keeps coming to mind, I’ll visit that person. If I can’t get a situation off my mind, I’ll take that as an indication that God wants me to deal with it, or focus on it. So I’ve seen that really make a difference in my life over the years in ministry. I know in my very first church, there was a family I was thinking about, and I couldn’t quit thinking about them. I prayed for them, but I thought I might need to give them a call, see what’s going on. I called them, and they said I could go over and see them, and I went and had coffee and after a little while the wife said, how did you know that today was an important day to come over. And I said, what do you mean? Turned out their son had been killed on that day years earlier. I didn’t know. The Lord knew. And by being attentive to God and being obedient to that voice, it ended up being a huge blessing. So from a human perspective, I can’t manage it all. There’s no way. But from God’s perspective we’re not in this alone. We have someone to guide us, direct us, so it’s a balance. You use the best techniques you know from a human perspective, but then ultimately you’ve just got to rely on God to get it all done.

JW: That is powerful stuff. You know, I think the key thing said was obedience, the keys got to be obedient and listen for that small voice as I tell people. A lot of times you know, you really had said something there that focused on my mind immediately as you said it was that go ahead with those big rocks, but I also leave myself open to hearing where the direction may be changed. I do want to ask you kind of a controversial question, and you don’t have to answer if you don’t wish, but hey, our listeners want the honest truth and that’s what you’re going to give me. Have you ever, on one of your post it notes, completed a task and then wrote it down just so you could tear the post it note up and feel better?

MJ: Not recently, but there have been times I’ve written down completed tasks, just to know kind of what I’ve accomplished over the course of the week. There are times when you feel like you’re not getting a lot done, but when you write down everything that you have done over a week you realize you haven’t wasted the week, you really did accomplish those things.

JW: So I was setting you up for success there, so what I want to tell you is that I’ve actually done that a few times. If I’m in the middle of doing something and I get a task done, and I look at my planner and I realize I didn’t even write that down, I just knew it had to be done, I’ll write it in, check it off, man, that just fills my mind with joy to do that. So let me ask you this, friend, what in your life has given you the greatest fulfillment so far?

MJ: You know, I think we all have a calling. Not just pastors, but everybody who seeks to follow God, and for me, my calling is real close to what our vision is as a church. And our vision is to invite people to experience the life changing love of God. And so when I see someone experience that, and I’ve had some role play in that. You know, someone becomes a Christian for the first time, someone decides to take that step of baptism, someone sees their life impacted by knowing that God loves them. Man, there’s nothing greater for me. That’s what keeps me going. Those are the days that when those things happen that I go to bed at night and feel like I’ve done what I was created for.

JW: Let me ask you this, Matt, if I understand your bio correctly, you actually have a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry and molecular biology. Now how to you take those two and reconcile a to a doctorate of divinity and become a minister.

MJ: I hate to correct you a little bit on that, but my bachelor’s is actually in biology. And I was in a PhD program in biochemistry and molecular biology, I’ve got a masters in biochemistry. But all it does is sit on the wall. I don’t use that anymore. How that happened is, I was about two years from finishing my PhD, we had just been growing in our faith as a family, my wife and I at the time. And God just wouldn’t let this calling thing go. I reached a point where I realized, life it too short to do something you’re not called to do. So for me that was full time christian ministry. That’s not the ultimate calling, there are people that are called to be teachers, doctors, coaches, whatever, but if you’re called to do something, that’s where you’re going to find fulfilment. I was on a path to be a professor, a teacher, a researcher, that wasn’t fulfilling my life. And once I realized that, it was time to switch. I’ve got this fancy degree that doesn’t get a whole lot of use, I can barely tutor my kids in high school chemistry anymore at this point. But it helped me learn and it helped me know how to learn. So I still use it. You know people ask me sometimes, I’ve had people laugh and say those are two completely opposite things and I disagree with that. I think because God has creator, that when we discover the intricacies of the human body, and the really the beauty of the world beyond what we can see on the molecular level, to me that paints a beautiful picture of a God who cares from the biggest picture to the most minute details of our lives.

JW: I’ve always said that God is so omniscient and omnipresent and such a miracle maker, he made the world in 6 days, as Genesis tells us, he rested on the one day, called that the sabbath, but I will tell you he cares as much about the atom as he does the whale, right? So let me ask you a couple of crazy questions then. Who is your favorite historical American president and why?

MJ: You know, when I was a kid I liked to learn about the presidents and I have not focused a lot on politics as an adult. So I don’t really have a favorite president, you know, I think we can learn important lessons from all the presidents, like you said about as a minster, they’re definitely all flawed human beings, and they have a job I wouldn’t wish on anybody, to lead a nation especially right now, when the country has a lot of conflicting opinions. Even the worst president, or your least favorite president probably accomplished some good. And even the greatest president, whoever that is for you, whether it’s Lincoln, they had personal struggles, and difficulties, but were still able to accomplish some important things.

JW: I know you’re a very wise man, Matt, because you just picked my favorite historical president. I have been a big fan of Abraham Lincoln, and it’s only because of how he bootstrapped his way through his education, self taught himself how to read with very little tutoring, and then he also taught himself through law school, then he failed at a couple of things he tried to do, running for Congress, so what he really did, when he became president, he had the wisdom of those learned life experiences, and he applied them well. I love the fact that he took our divisive country and he brought it back together for a common good, and we wouldn’t be the United States of America today, had it not been for the price paid for by President Lincoln at that time. A little flashback real quick. So I go to Washington D.C. for business about every 6 months or at least once a year and I always go to the Lincoln Memorial and I read both walls, Gettysburg Address on one, and read those walls and really ponder what he was saying about our country and the difference it made and stand there in awe and look at that giant statue of him sitting there, and I just sit here and wonder, and I think had it not been for Abraham Lincoln, where would we be today, as a country? So, one of the amazing things about that city. So if that’s the case, what would you like to be remembered for in your life?

MJ: First and foremost, I want to be remembered as a good dad, a good husband. Those are things that, those are the people that are going to be at your funeral no matter what happens. And who you have a profound impact on. But I also want to be known as a guy who took his faith to heart and that wasn’t just something that I preached Sundays in front of people. But something I lived, everyday, behind the scenes. I want to be known as someone who loved the Lord and did his best to follow him.

JW: Fantastic. As we’re getting ready to wind down, I do have couple of really difficult questions to ask, and I know you will be able to just give me these verbatim what your thoughts are, so I’m just going to as real quickly, what are your priorities over the next 12 months and how did you determine what they should be?

MJ: Sometimes your priorities come from yourself, or from your own inspiration, sometimes your priorities are dictated by the organization you’re a part of, and so this one is a little bit of both, but this one priority is this, we’re going to be building a sanctuary at our church, so this is something that as far as real tasks, that’s something we’re going to be focused on this next year. Outside of that I have about 10 things that I’m really passionate about that I think God has really stirred up in me , in fact I just shared these with our staff on Tuesday this week, and those are things that came from a lot of prayer, lot of really time spent with the Lord. It would be things like raising up younger leaders, talking to the young adults in our church and helping to inspire them. It would be things like, you know I think our church has a real strength in the area of prayer, you know, helping people learn to pray better. I think that’s something that is a priority for us. That’s just a sampling of kind of that list of ten things, those are the big picture items.

JW: So now I want to end this, Matt, you’ve been so generous and so giving of your information, advice, and your history, I love all that. I’m going to get a little bit personal with you a little bit, can I do that for the last question. Can I do that?

MJ: Sure.

JW: Folks and so I want everyone to pay close attention what his answer will be to this very invasive question that I’m going to ask. What was your favorite Christmas gift received as a young child, and why was it your favorite?

MJ: You know, there are few things that come to mind immediately. One was a telescope, I don’t know why I’d asked for it, I don’t know what had inspired me to do that, but I just remember that Christmas really well, and being excited about it, and the funny thing is I think we used it to look at the moon sometimes, but when you look at the stars from a cheap telescope you pretty much just see one bright light, then another bright light. At that age, I didn’t know what was what. So I would use it, we kind of lived across the valley in from a mountain, I would use it just to kind of scan the mountain and look at things, and I just had hours of enjoyment from using that telescope and looking around. You know there were other things I remember, my grandmother got me a commodore 64 computer back when they were brand new.

JW: that was powerful back then, that came out after the atari.

MJ: Eactly, and I played on that a lot. And it was fun, but lots of great memories from Christmases as a kid, that was a special time

JW: You know, I can always remember, I’m the youngest of 6 as I said, and I remember the gifts got progressively better, Matt, as the older kids got married and moved out. I went from getting maybe a pair of boots and some clothes and one toy as a five or six year old until I was about ten, my oldest brother moved out and I remember I got a new bicycle, things just got better, I got a motorcycle when I was 13 things just got really good. So you know here I am asking my dad when does my sister Marilyn move out. It’s just how kids are. I want to thank you so much for your time today. This has been so empowering to me and our audience. I got to tell you, there’s a lot of meat in what you said today, sincere about it, I appreciate that, cause on Live a Life by Design, Matt, it’s all about what your choices are, and you made some very much premeditated habits and choices in prayer and solitude to help you build a day that you want to see happen for good. And I appreciate that. I want to thank our guest today again, Dr. Matt Junkins, for coming in and giving us some insight on his life and how he lives it by design.

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