Trouble on the Horizon
About the Guest
Each life has defining moments. And for Brad Mathias, his couldn't have come a minute too soon. Brad tells Dennis Rainey how his self-obsession led to his failed marriage, but even that didn't detour him off his destructive course. It wasn't until a middle-ear condition landed him in the hospital that his heart began to turn to the Lord, and he experienced God in a powerful, life-changing way.
Brad MathiasDr. Brad Mathias is president of Bema Media LLC, the parent company of iShine, the world's largest preteen Christian media group. He also serves as co-pastor of the Four Winds Anglican Mission in Spring Hill, Tennessee. Survivors of an almost-divorce, Brad and his wife, Paige, have been married for over twenty-two years and are the parents of three teenagers. Blessed with a redeemed marriage and a restored home, Brad is actively engaged in public ministry to families in crisis.
Brad tells how his self-obsession led to his failed marriage, but it wasn’t until a major infection landed him in the hospital that his heart began to turn and he experienced God in a powerful way.
Trouble on the Horizon
Bob: Brad Matthias can look back now on the time when he chose to separate from his wife and his kids. He cared about his family, but he left in pursuit of other things.
Brad: I think when you’re apart from Christ and you don’t have the Holy Spirit within you, life is really about you. Your focus and intensity is about your own pleasure / your own satisfaction. I had concern for my children, but they were secondary to concern for myself. I was the poster child for narcissism.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, March 13th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. What Brad Matthias didn’t know was that he was about to get a spiritual wake-up call. We’ll hear his story today. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. What was the longest road trip you ever took the kids on? Would you know where you went or how long you were in the car together?
Dennis: Probably Yellowstone.
Bob: From Little Rock to Yellowstone?
Bob: So—a week?—a little longer than a week?
Dennis: Oh, it was longer than a week. You don’t drive that far to stay there for—
Bob: —a day, or two—[Laughter]
Dennis: —for three days because it takes two days to get there—unless you’re—you know, some folks have daddies in their families who are these men on a mission. It’s no—
Bob: “Okay, we saw the geyser. Let’s go!”
Bob: “Get back in the car. We’re going home.”
Dennis: That’s right. There are no stops for food, or potty, or anything along the way.
Bob: We took a trip to Yellowstone when I was a pre-teen, I think—my sister and me and my mom and my dad. It is part of our family lore that—at a restaurant in Kansas, coming back home, my mom made my sister and me leave the table and wait outside. She would come tell us when the food was there—she had just had enough of our foolishness.
Dennis: I can’t imagine that, Bob. [Laughter]
Bob: After a long period in the car together,—
Dennis: How old were you, again?
Bob: I was probably 11 at the time.
Dennis: Well, that’s kind of pre-wiring of the teenage years. You were probably pretty mild compared to what you really became at adolescence.
Bob: I still had some ornery in me, at that point. I still did.
Dennis: Well, we have a guest with us who took a road trip. He’s written a book about it. Brad Matthias joins us on FamilyLife Today. He’s written a book called Road Trip to Redemption. Brad, welcome to FamilyLife Today.
Brad: It’s my pleasure. Thanks for having me.
Dennis: Brad is the husband of Paige since 1991. He’s the daddy to three teens. He is a pastor and also the president of Bema Media, which is the parent company of the world’s largest pre-teen Christian media group. It has produced iShine. Explain to our listeners what iShine is all about.
Brad: iShine is the faith-and-family friendly version of Disney. It’s a platform of media. We have a television series called iShine KNECT—it’s award-winning. We’re in our fifth season. We have a live tour that we do in the fall and the spring. Then, we have a record label and a series of websites at iShineLive.com.
Dennis: It’s not to be confused with Disneyland or Disneyworld—it’s the media side of Disney.
Bob: And most of it is viewed online today, I would imagine, because I haven’t seen iShine in between the cartoons on Saturday morning on my local TV station; right?
Brad: Correct. iShine is on Christian televisions—so NRB, TBN, Smile Child—it’s also on Amazon. You can get any episode of any of the five seasons on Amazon.
Bob: I was really interested in—your story in your book, Road Trip to Redemption, is a story about a trip your family went on with a distinct purpose; but you start the book long before the road trip ever comes into view.
Tell our listeners where you chose to start the book and a little bit about why you chose to start it there.
Brad: I started the book at a moment of conversion for me, as a dad, from the old man—the man that I used to be before Christ—and how that process occurred and the depth of that decision that I made to follow Christ.
I felt like the book needed context because parents today, I think, are not only struggling with changes that are happening culturally—with digital / social media—but also just the fact that we don’t feel like we’re good parents. We have this heavy baggage of “all the mistakes I’ve made,” and, “Now that I’m raising teenagers, they must be having these problems because of things I did.”
Bob: You didn’t grow up in the church?
Brad: I did grow up in the church. I just didn’t grow up with a relationship with Christ.
Bob: So, when did you realize you weren’t a Christian? Just walk us through how that all developed for you.
Brad: Without trying to minimize the impact—I mean, there was this culture in the ‘80s—that I grew up in—where, you know, we were frightened into following Christ.
Brad: We all ran to the altar call. We all prayed the prayer, but there was really no depth to that decision. As you grow up in church camp or in church culture, there’s certainly a familiarity with Scripture and an understanding of the normal behavior of church; but there’s also this adapting that occurs—where, as a teenager, I quickly learned what I wanted to do versus what my parents wanted me to do. To keep the peace—being a non-confrontational kind of guy—I chose to fake it.
Bob: When did you quit faking it?
Brad: Well, I think I quit faking it when I got to college. I realized that there were other people like me, who had deep skepticism of Scripture and the Bible. Actually, deeper than the skepticism about the faith is just the Christians, in general, that we were surrounded by—were really not necessarily inspiring.
Bob: You weren’t a hypocrite, at that point. You just kind of ousted yourself and said, “I’m just going to be who I am; which is, I don’t believe.”
Brad: Well, actually, it was more subtle than that because I had a girlfriend that I fell in love with, who was a Christian. I had to be honest with myself—which I was for the first time—but I certainly was less than forthcoming in answering the questions, if you will, of life. Pretty vague—
Bob: She asked you whether you were a follower of Christ, and you answered—
Brad: I said, “I’m a Christian.” In my world, that meant that I believed more in Christianity than anything else.
Dennis: But not the person of Jesus Christ.
Dennis: And that woman ultimately became—
Bob: Your wife.
Brad: She did.
Dennis: Fast forward to the year 2001, when you’re in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. It’s a summer night. You get a phone call in the middle of the night. What happened?
Brad: The context is that I’m two months into separation from my wife and children after a very difficult season in our marriage—where we’d been married approximately eight years. That’s when I’m called. I received a call that my wife had discovered that I’d been having an affair.
I remember, in the book, Road Trip to Redemption, I really painfully described the emotions that came across there because I think there are so many couples / so many marriages that have experienced infidelity. I think it’s important that there’s an honest and transparent discussion of it within the church.
For me, as a man, to describe what the man feels when he’s discovered, was important for the story to be authentic—but also because I wanted to be authentic deep-down in my own heart. For the first time, I quit faking. That call became a pivot-point for me—of living authentically.
Even if I was dishonest, I had become authentic because I had been discovered.
Dennis: So, who called you?
Brad: My wife.
Dennis: What did she say to you?
Brad: Well, I don’t want to repeat most of it on the air. It was pretty hard-core. I mean, this was a woman who just found out that her marriage had been a sham—that a husband had been faking it and had been deceiving her with another woman. So, there is cliché in “Hell hath no fury like a woman spurned.” That’s definitely the truth for me—to hear someone who’s been hurt that deeply, in real time, responding to you with such frustration, and anger, and shame.
Bob: You were separated at the time. Your marriage was headed toward its end. So, it’s kind of like, “Well, now she’s found out—doesn’t matter—we’re not going to be a married couple any longer anyway,” right?
Dennis: You had already taken the exit ramp; right?
Brad: For sure. I had tried to take the graceful exit—which was, in my mind, to not hurt her any more by disclosing what had happened—but that’s not how it worked out.
Dennis: You had three children by that point; right?
Brad: I did.
Dennis: Tell me about how that impacted you emotionally—to think you were leaving them and their mother. How’d you handle that?
Brad: Well, I think when you’re apart from Christ and you don’t have the Holy Spirit within you, life is really about you. Your focus and your intensity is about your own pleasure / your own satisfaction. I had concern for my children, but they were secondary to concern for myself. I was the poster child for narcissism. I think sin does that to us. It creates in us—sort of—justification for incredibly selfish and destructive behaviors. I was in the middle of a very selfish and destructive behavior pattern at that time of my life.
Dennis: So, you finished taking the exit ramp—all the way out of your marriage and family. Where did that road take you?
Brad: Well, it took me to Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. I was an intern CEO of a Small.com there, and I was having a blast. I was living a very fun, thrilling, external life. I was making a lot of money, and I was enjoying myself in ways I’d never been able to before. I was seeing the kids every other weekend. I was taking care of what I thought were my fatherly duties, at that point. I was pursuing a career. I was on the fast track with some investment banks in Chicago to really make a go with this.
Bob: Did your kids know all the details of the fact that you’d been unfaithful to their mom?
Brad: They really didn’t. My children were pretty young, at that time. They just knew that Mommy and Daddy were having a fight. They’d seen a lot of fights by that time. So, that wasn’t necessarily anything new. During that process of separation—when I lived in Lake Geneva and Paige and the kids lived in Davenport, Iowa—they were unaware of what was really happening.
Bob: And when you would spend a weekend with them—
was it tearful? Did they have questions? What—did you just have a party for the weekend and then send them home?
Brad: Single fathers have this ability to sort of shuffle by the real issues. So, when you’re dealing with kids that small—for me, it was just the zoo, it was theater, it was Chuck E. Cheese®, it was ice-skating, it was bowling. I mean, there was just an endless variety of activities that I kept us going through so that time with Dad would always be fun.
But again, the emphasis I would make is that when you’re in sin—when your life is completely wrapped up in what you want and what you desire—the needs of others drop rapidly. You hear what you want to hear, and you see what you want to see. I was definitely caught in that.
Dennis: You know, Brad—just listening to your story—I think, sometimes, those of us peer into divorces and to the break-up of a family, and we go: “How could that happen? How could that family split? Where’s the conscience? Where’s the sense of responsibility?” What you’ve just explained is how it happens.
We get deceived. We turn inward to ourselves. Frankly, all of us are just a step away from doing the same thing. What you’re describing is really—all too often, what happens, even among professing followers of Christ—where they get deceived. They don’t realize it can happen to them, and it can split their marriage and their family.
It’s why we really need to take heed to stories like yours, and just take a time-out and go, “How are we really doing here in our marriage?” Bob, we have a lot of couples coming to the Weekend to Remember ® marriage getaway, who are coming—not on the last-ditch effort of their marriage—but they’re just in need of taking that time-out and investing in their marriage so they don’t end up going down the same road and taking the same exit that Brad did.
Bob: Yes, if folks would like to find out more about the Weekend to Remember, they can go to our website—which is FamilyLifeToday.com. There’s a link there that they can get you more information about how you can attend a Weekend to Remember marriage getaway.
Brad, I’m just curious: “How long had you been separated when you found yourself in the hospital?”—because that’s really where the wake-up call came for you; right?
Brad: It was approximately a year—
Brad: —between the phone call in the middle of the night—where the fireworks started, emotionally. Those calmed down when I was served divorce papers. We went through the process of a formal divorce. The quiet comes, at that point, because you’re talking to lawyers.
During that period of approximately 10-12 months, I began reading everything I could about world religions / about different ideas behind faith. I began to really explore for myself. For me, it began a process of really searching: “If I don’t believe in the church—and I don’t believe in Christ—what do I believe?”
Bob: So, it’s a year later. How did you wind up in the hospital?
Brad: I made the mistake of flying too many times. I developed a middle ear condition. That middle ear condition proceeded to the point of becoming a pretty significant chronic infection. The specialist told me not to fly for a period of time to let it heal. I ignored him and went ahead and flew again. My ear drum ruptured in mid-flight.
Bob: So you’re in the hospital. How does—just tell us what happened because you said it was kind of a supernatural thing.
Brad: I hesitate to go into much detail because I know how much sensationalism occurs with stories of divine encounter. I can tell you this—I was in the hospital. I was sick as I’ve ever been. I had vertigo so bad that if I lifted my head from the pillow I would vomit. I was that sick. I also knew that—with the fever I had and the infection at the level it was—if it crossed the blood-brain barrier, I could die.
In that moment, as I considered that I might die alone, I was not afraid to die; but I was embarrassed to.
I had this deep sense of loss—that there were things in my life left undone. I remember, in my heart, saying, “If there’s a God, I would like to know who You are before I die.”
The next thing I know, I’m in darkness. I can’t explain it. I know it wasn’t a drug, and I know it wasn’t a side effect of what I was going through. I can’t tell for how long I was in that place, but that place was so dark—there was no sound. All I could feel was hopelessness and that there would be no hope ever again for me. In that darkness and in that deep sense of despair, I remember asking, “But who’s God?” I had an image of a man. He said, “My name is Jesus. You know who I am when you believe in Me.” In that moment, I said: “Yes, I’m done. I’ve found my truth.”
I can tell you that my conversion was a thread of the beginning of the fear of the Lord, which leads to wisdom. My experience with God started with awareness that I could step across the line and lose my soul. So, I turned and repented in a moment. I was Saul; and then, I became Paul—I mean, I was that changed by that experience. I remember getting up, and leaving the hospital, and driving to Memphis, Tennessee, to apologize to my wife and kids for what I’d done.
Dennis: You talking about immediately?
Brad: I’m talking about immediately I got out of that bed.
Bob: The guy who couldn’t lift his head.
Brad: Here’s the sensational part. Yes, I know—look, I can’t explain; and I don’t try. All I can tell you is that I had an experience I can’t explain. I saw Jesus—I saw a place that you can’t describe. I was well. I left. It sounds like something in the Bible; right?
Bob: The man in John 9, who said: “I can’t explain it. All I know is this.” [Laughter]
Dennis: Yes. As you’re talking, I’m just thinking about John 14, where Jesus said: “Let not your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you; that I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go to prepare a place for you, I will come again, and will take you to Myself; that where I am, there may you be also.”
Just a few verses later Jesus—in responding to Thomas—Thomas said: “How do I get there? What’s the road to get to this place you’re preparing?”—this is the encounter you had. Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me.” You encountered Jesus Christ—who redeemed your soul from darkness.
Brad: There’s no question in my mind—that was over ten years ago. I remember it as if it was yesterday.
You cannot encounter the presence of God and not be changed. It’s impossible. So, for me, I had an experience. If you were to interview my wife, if she was sitting in here with us, she would say to you: “That has to be true. The guy that I was married to is not the guy that drove back from Lake Geneva in the middle of the night.”
Bob: What did she say when she answered the door and you were there?
Brad: Well, I knew she was so angry with me still that I called ahead of time so there would be no police involved or anything like that. I called her and said, “I think I’m a Christian.” I was crying. She knew I didn’t drink. I didn’t have a problem with alcohol—so she knew something was up. I said: “I need to talk with you. I’m driving down to talk to you and the kids. There’s no joke here. I’m not trying to get money. I just want to talk. Something’s happened to me; and I feel really strongly that I’m supposed to talk with you, immediately.”
What I didn’t know is that—as a Christian, she hadn’t actually signed the divorce papers.
They’d been sitting on our dresser for quite a while. She had begun to pray—instead of God saving our marriage—she just started praying for God to save me. So, she immediately sensed this was an answer to prayer.
She saw something genuine in me, but her counsel was to walk away from this: “This is a ploy.” It took a few weeks for us walking through some things with the pastor before she really, firmly received what I had to say.
Bob: And so the reconciliation—there was no need to go be remarried. You’d never been officially divorced?
Brad: Never officially divorced.
Bob: When was it that Paige finally said: “I do. I’m ready to go again.”
Brad: Without her being here, I hesitate to speak specifically; but I can tell you that there was a process of six months from when I showed up at the door and we moved in together.
Bob: Let me just say, “Good for her—that there was a six-month process.”
Dennis: Yes, I agree with that because it’s not immediate trust. You can’t restore trust by flipping a switch.
Bob: There have been guys who have showed up and appeared to be one thing; and over the next several weeks or months, the reality of who they are gets revealed. In your case, it got proved out.
Brad: It did. I can honestly say that my intent in reconciling wasn’t to save the marriage. In my mind, I didn’t even know that was a possibility. My intent was to restore the relationship. So, I didn’t have a pressure of, “We have to reconcile and get re-married,” or, “We have to move back in.” All I knew is God was saying: “You have to own this. You have to own this with your kids.”
So, I did. I got on my knees and told my three children, “Daddy really messed up and really hurt Mom.” At the level of their age—for them to understand—I explained what I had done. As they got older, over the years, I filled in more of the blanks.
Dennis: And they forgave you?
Brad: They did. They did. But it sets the setting / the context for what happened later with my daughter, Bethany, when she was 14, and how the past had a long shadow.
Bob: Yes. We’ll unpack that this week; but I really want to encourage our listeners, if you find yourself in a place like Brad has described—where you recognize the spiritual deficit in your life and God’s awakened you to that—let me encourage you to go to our website, which is FamilyLifeToday.com, and click the link you find there that’ll say: “TWO WAYS TO LIVE.”
It will explain to you the two paths that everyone is on because the reality is—everybody’s on one of these two paths. You can see where you are, and see if it’s leading you where you want to go. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com. Click the link that says “TWO WAYS TO LIVE.” Find out more about what it means to be on the path that leads to hope and redemption—ultimately, leads to Jesus Christ.
While you’re on the website, we also have copies of Brad Matthias’s book, which is called Road Trip to Redemption. It tells more about what we’re going to hear more about this week from Brad—the story of the road trip he and his family took—and about how God worked in that road trip in the life of their daughter.
Find out more at FamilyLifeToday.com. You can order a copy of the book from us, online, if you’d like; or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY to request the book. Again, the website—FamilyLifeToday.com; the toll-free number is 1-800-FL-TODAY. The name of the book is Road Trip to Redemption by our guest, this week, Brad Matthias.
Let me take just a minute here if I can and say a special, “Thank you,” to a special group of people who really make FamilyLife Today possible, month in and month out.
It’s our Legacy Partners—those folks who are linked up with FamilyLife Today—providing financial support for the ministry on a monthly basis. We really appreciate your partnership with us in this ministry. We’re grateful for you.
During the month of March, we’re asking regular listeners, who are not Legacy Partners, to consider joining the team. You can go to FamilyLifeToday.com and click on the button that says, “I CARE.” You’ll find out more about what it means to become a Legacy Partner there. You can sign up. When you sign up, this month, we have a special welcome gift we want to send to you. It’s our brand-new Legacy Partner Cookbook, filled with recipes from Legacy Partners, all across the country, and from Dennis and Barbara, and from Mary Ann and me, as well.
We’ll keep in touch with you, throughout the year—keeping you up to date on all that is happening, here at FamilyLife Today. Being a Legacy Partner really is joining the team and being a part of what God is doing through this ministry on an ongoing basis. We hope you’ll consider doing that.
Again, go to FamilyLifeToday.com. Click the button that says, “I CARE,” to sign up as a new Legacy Partner and get the cookbook, or call 1-800-FLTODAY. You can sign up as a Legacy Partner over the phone, and we look forward to staying in touch with you.
We hope you can join us back tomorrow. Brad Matthias will be here again. We’ll find out about the road trip he and his family went on and about how God used that in his family’s life—particularly, in his daughter, Bethany’s, life. Hope you can tune in for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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