A Light in the Darkness

Yesterday I had a fairly deep conversation with a friend.  We don’t often have deep talks but he started with this question, “If we believe that God knows the past, present, and future and we have free will, then why does choice matter when it has already been decided in God’s plan?” Take a second and read that again.  We worked on refining the issues at hand (the whole thing could be the basis of a philosophy class). We talked about a person actively not making a choice.  I said that we are all making choices, that choosing to abstain from a decision is a choice in itself.  I said that we are all moving towards something, trying to fill a void in our souls left for reconnection with the creator.

This attempt to fill the void comes in many forms.  I watch my oldest son, who turns six in six days, and can see the battle.  He spans the gap between playing with his brother and beating up on him, listening to us and doing his own thing.  He is working out his identity before our eyes. He is shaping his wants, needs, and emotions. He is starting to understand choice and consequences.  He begs us for every single toy on television! This fatherhood thing is still a mystery to me.

As the nation processes the death of Robin Williams, the issue of suicide comes to the forefront.  More information has come out about his struggles and time in rehab.  Depression is a serious disease, I’ve dealt with it before, and without help it can be fatal.  I can only imagine the conversation in his head Sunday night. How did it sound? The debate, the causes and effects of taking his own life? Or maybe it wasn’t even a question. Failure is such a powerful word and the weight is too much for some people.

In 1999 I was a junior in high school.  I still remember the day Columbine happened.  I remember watching the news at school horrified that two kids would commit such an act of violence.  These young men had their own issues and anger and chose to take it out on others.  We look at tragedies and death and question why.  Much like my friend, we wonder about free will and the big picture.

Darkness provides an opportunity.

10484

It can make the light of God shine brighter. It can ignite the fire of faith in the coldest of hearts. I believe God is moving in this world every day. I’ve spoken to people who have experienced the touch, the intersection of the trajectory of our lives with his divinity.  Tragedy draws us closer on spiritual ground.  We pull together as family and friends. We become aware of suffering.

Maybe, today, one person who read about Williams decided to walk into a hospital and get help for suicidal thoughts.

If we as believers can recognize that need, that void that demands fulfillment, we can see the open door.  One time I was talking to a friend who is a counselor.  He asked me what was my biggest fear.  I thought about it and said “not being in control.”  He replied that God meets us in our biggest fears and he was interested to see what would happen as I dealt with my fear of losing control.

He was right.

I’ve dealt with losing a job, gaining others, having children, starting a business, following my dreams, and struggling to make ends meet. I’ve looked in the mirror in praise and heartache. I’ve seen myself as a success, failure, and work in progress.  The procedure isn’t over.  God is still working me through my fears and I know he will carry me to the other side.

He will do the same for you.

~Matt

When the Laughter Stops

Yesterday we had a great day, a powerful time of worship at church, and a fun evening with friends.  Today was brutal.  It was a typical Monday dealing with the issues of work and life. I came home and told Val that the hardest thing is to get so refreshed on Sunday and dive back into the grind for the week. If only we could hold it over. We try our best, stay in the Word, pray, listen to worship music, and spend time with God.  Our struggles continue and our worship must follow.

This evening the news broke that Robin Williams was found dead in an apparent suicide.  According to the press, the comedian was struggling with depression and relapse of his addictions.  He was married and left behind children. It is sad to see the loss of an actor responsible for so many amazing roles.  He spent a career making people laugh and, behind the jokes, battled his own demons.

One of the hardest things I ever had to see while working in the emergency room was the suicides. In the two years I spent there, more than one came through. You would find out the details and my heart always broke for the families. Suicide is not a victimless crime and mental illness is very real. If you or someone else you know is dealing with depression, reach out for help. Go to a hospital or doctor, stop in a church and talk with clergy. Tell a family member or friend.  There is always a reason to fight.

I believe, even in our struggles, that help is coming. Through the night we keep our eyes upward and know that the sun will rise in the morning. Robin Williams had a gift to make people laugh and he did so through his own darkness. I pray his family can find some peace.

We’ll miss you Robin Williams. You played a huge part in all of our childhoods.

~Matt

The Power of Information

My wife and I met in high school.  We’ve been a couple for close to twenty years now. We have had this conversation more than once:

Val: “Hey did you get me _____ at the store?” (Fill in the blank with any item, usually a gallon of iced tea)

Me: “I didn’t know we needed it. Why didn’t you tell me?”

Val: “I thought you knew.”

At this point I remind her that I’m a guy, we are not psychic and we need to be told things. This is true. She knows what we need at all times and I do my best to follow. How many of your moments in the past week were spent in interactions where one party needed more information? Where it was assumed that someone knew something they didn’t? Whether in business, church, or life this is a consistent reality.  We live in an information saturated age. People are searching to have needs met and those providing the answer will be accessed.  As business owners, we need to be in touch with this fact. Where are you positioned in the market? In the community? Are you a knowledge base, an expert?

Information is also power.

I have had that exact conversation at work numerous times. Did you get the memo? Yes I did. I’ll make sure you get another copy. Office Space is one of my favorite movies and it uses satire to make great points. Ever work with a boss, or coworker, totally disconnected? Where they don’t listen to what you say or even seem to care? That short conversation is a power exchange. Lumbergh has the authority, tells Peter about the memo, ignores his answer, and moves on. Basic life in the corporate world.

Yesterday I spoke on the phone with the assistant director of Berks County Women in Crisis.  It is an organization devoted to helping women, and sometimes men, who are victims of abuse from partners and loved ones. We spoke about the services they offer and the experience of moving through their program and one statement stuck in my mind.  She said that their biggest asset is information.  If only the community knew what the did and how they could be contacted.  If only more schools and businesses could be educated in how to identify signs of abuse.  If only more commercials and fliers were available to distribute.  They have no funding for marketing and this is a major handicap.

My hope is that the publication of Overcome will help to get the word out and spread the information they desire.  If one person reads the book and decides to go and get free from an abuse relationship, I’ll be happy.

~Matt

Change Agent

What if?

The answers were out there.

Needs were provided.

Free medical care came from compassionate doctors and nurses.

A network existed to find jobs for any applicants.

Childcare was available for the single mother or father who had to work to make ends meet.

A listening ear waited on the other end of the phone, twenty-four hours a day.

Youth had a resource, a refuge, and a place to figure out life.

A warm bed waited on a cold night and no one was homeless.

Every child had breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day of the year.

What if we are missing the point?

What if the church, your church, could provide all of these things?

17827

After spending time at the outreach ministries I’ve visited, I’ve come to this conclusion. The church can be the front line. Not a news channel. Not a political party. Not an agenda. The church can be a pair of open hands, ready to serve. I’ve seen churches die in less than five years. The Hope Rescue Mission has existed for more than a century. God moves on the front line. When we insulate ourselves behind politics and policies we miss the point.  We are content to let the missionaries work the “mission field.” Step outside, look left and right. Congratulations, you are there.

In the last few weeks I’ve heard so many stories about God moving, real and tangible, touching the lives of those going to these outreach programs. We need more front line work and less insulation. We need to get our hands dirty. We need to stop talking and start doing. We need to be, in the terms of Hope Rescue Mission, a hand up and not a hand out. If that happens, service and teaching, meeting needs and presenting the gospel, we will become change agents. Light can overtake the darkness.   The world can be different, and better.

I look in the eyes of my boys and know that it is possible and that I will fight make their future a better place, to give them a world better than I inherited.

~Matt

The House on Fire

Today I spent almost two hours at the Mercy Community Crisis Pregnancy Center in the city of Reading.  Mercy is located directly across from the main branch of the Reading library system.  I’ve been in the library many times and never noticed the buildings across the street. They are set of old row homes and one of them is the entrance of Mercy.  I met with Sherry, the executive director, and had an amazing experience.

The building was the former residence of a doctor and has a place on the registry of historic homes. She took me on a tour of the floors, meeting rooms, and supply areas.  Mercy handles 1200 client visits a year and takes in no outside funding. They provide classes on life skills and parenting, clothes, supplies, and pregnancy tests. All of this with two full-time employees, a staff of volunteers, and money from donors.

Their focus is on helping the entire person, whether a young lady expecting her first child or a single father not knowing what to do. They present the Gospel, and a listening ear and their referrals are all by word of mouth.  They have generations of family members using their services to help get a solid foundation.  Sherry and her staff care for their clients like family.

22102

As I was sitting in the waiting room speaking with her, I felt an impression clear as day.  This is what I am supposed to be doing. These are stories I need to tell. These are people I need to help.  I’m not overly sensitive to the Spirit but, it was a Field of Dreams moment, the voice saying “if you write it, they will come.”

“I tell my volunteers, we are all comfortable with the front door gospel,” Sherry said, “Here we are the house on fire. We need to be like firemen, able to go through the basement windows and claw through the smoke and help put out the flames.”

As you go through this week, try to find the fires around you. They can be friends or family, coworkers or neighbors. When you move to serve, great things can happen.

~Matt

Martyrs

In church today we has a message delivered by a missionary living in Africa. Our church supports over eighty missionaries in various spots around the world.  They are often asked back to discuss their ministries and each month we have a mission’s offering. The stories are always powerful and they are thankful for the support.  Living in this country, I know my viewpoint is skewed. I have trouble wrapping my mind around life in the world of the persecuted church. We can’t connect with the reality that there are believers facing death every day to live a life of faith.

4167

One of the television shows I loved to watch was True Life on MTV.  MTV hasn’t been responsible for great programming recently and forget about music, but True Life had some amazing episodes.  For those not familiar, it was a documentary following around multiple subjects based on a sentence description. Topics ranged from addiction to social issues, with characters tragic and funny. One show was based around three kids living as teenagers in Israel.  I remember one girl talking about the fear of violence every day on her walk to school. I couldn’t get my head around the image of being scared of walking in your neighborhood.  I grew up in a relatively small town and spent years walking home from school with the girl who I would marry years after our time in high school.

I remember buying one of the publications of Voices of the Martyrs. I devoured the book, filled with historical and current accounts of people dying for their faith.  Jesus consistently draws images from death.  We are told to pick up our crosses and follow him. We are told to lay down our lives. We are meant to live dead, spending each day in the knowledge that we are not home yet.

After each one of the messages on Sundays focused on missions, each person would ask if we felt the call of God to serve in a foreign country.  I never felt the pull to uproot my family and move across the world.  I feel like God has called me to serve here, now, in this community. That is the point behind this business and the Overcome book. You can serve where you live and, as you do, never forget those lose their lives for Christ. We are family, one body living for one cause. The stories of our brothers and sisters should serve to inspire us in our daily walks to know we will all worship one day, every tribe and tongue, surrounding the throne in Heaven.

~Matt

Guardians of the Galaxy

I’m a fan of the current push to make movies based on comic book characters. I loved every effort at X Men that has been attempted. I grew up watching the cartoons on Saturday mornings. As a society we treasure the idea of being different, of having powers that help to overcome our challenges. As kids we pretend to fly and fight the bad guys.  One of the most recent movies released is Guardians of the Galaxy starring Chris Pratt. Pratt is married to actress Anna Ferris. The couple had a baby boy born nine weeks premature.  He spent a month in the NICU and Pratt recently talked about how this reinforced his faith in God.  You can read the article here: http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/entertainment/2014/07/chris-pratt-says-premature-son-restored-my-faith-in-god/

1357325960_chris-pratt-anna-faris-lg

I can identify with his feelings.  Both of our sons were in the NICU.  Carter had an infection and Aiden had fluid in his lungs. When the nurses tell you they have your child in an Intensive Care bed your heart sinks. You go and visit, washing your hands and disinfecting. You look down at the small body and tell yourself that other parents don’t have to go through it. You spent months picturing the delivery and having your baby in the room with you and now it isn’t happening that way.  Both our boys recovered and are as healthy and crazy as they should be.

Suffering can either draw us towards or pull us away from God. In Scripture, Paul asks God to remove his suffering but realizes he must persist.  In the Garden, Jesus asks if his suffering can be taken from him but, he states, that his Father’s will be done.  We can learn from their examples. Keep moving. Keep living and know that you will be pulled out stronger and better than before.

~Matt