Solving the Problem

On Thursday I had the chance to visit Hope Rescue Mission for their annual Thanksgiving meal.  The mission serves around 250 people between the guys living there, their families, and others that come in off the street.  The dining area was full as more than a hundred volunteers served plates of food and cleaned up after.

The crowd, and volunteers, spanned a range of ages, genders, and ethnic backgrounds.  The local news arrived and taped a segment from the midst of the action. It was a moment of peace and inspiration.  This is the time of year where we should be helping, serving, and giving thanks.

And yet, we know that it is a struggle.

Media, and social media, is fighting a war hundreds of years old. Cities are rocked with violence and protest. Police struggle to maintain order and recover some level of trust with the general public.

So, as a parent, believer, and writer, where do we begin?

The issue of racism is large and encompassing. As a white male, there are things that my sons and I will be able to do much more easily than other men of differing ethnic backgrounds. My sons will have opportunities based on their appearance and gender alone. They will enter school systems where teachers will not cringe or assume when they walk in the room.

At ages 6 and almost 2, they do not know any of this. They don’t see color, they see friends at a playground and on the baseball team. They trust and love, openly and honestly.

My goal is to keep it this way. My goal, as they grow, is to help them be good citizens and be socially conscious. I want them to be activists, to stand up for a kid being bullied and speak up when they see something wrong. I want them to be men of God, to lean on their faith when they are pressed in darkness, and praise when the sun rises again.

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These thoughts were in my head as I stood against the wall watching the Thanksgiving meal at Hope.  I found Steve Olivo, chaplain of the Mission, seated at his table and went to his side.  We talked about the book and I mentioned that, with every interview I conduct, everyone has their own answer for poverty.  He said:

Jesus is the answer.  He changes people.

He is perfectly correct.

We can talk about systematic change, about societal shifts in power and political influence.  We can reform the education system and encourage small businesses to create jobs in cities where they are needed.  We can train police officers and public officials to be more aware of the cities they work in and communities they inhabit.  We can empower those who suffer to make the gains they need to find happiness. These are all valid efforts.

They must all be capped by the perfect love of Jesus.

We are called to serve. To love. To give water to the thirsty and food to the hungry.  We are called to meet needs and give of what we have since it is not ours anyway, merely provision from God. We are called to have the difficult conversations.

We know that grace is enough.

It is time for more churches to get their feet wet, to get involved, to be on the front lines.  Too many are too content to stay in their buildings and have their meetings, to drop off donations monthly and go back to their existence.

It is time for believers to show the love we had modeled for us two thousand years ago.

Everyone is worth it. Communities can be rebuilt. Peace can spread like the fires that light up the night sky in cities around this country this week. Radical love and grace can change hearts. Hands can be held and fists lowered.

It can happen and, I believe, one day it will.

~Matt

Soundtrack Inspiration:

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Giving Thanks For Ignition Moments

My dad spent twenty years working at Limerick Nuclear Generating Station.  Limerick is a town about an hour north of Philadelphia. The power plant was built the year I was born.  You could say that I grew up in the shadows of the twin cooling towers that constantly sent steam into the sky.

His job as an operator led to some great conversations as a kid and he has a number of great stories.  He worked twelve-hour shifts on day and night rotations.  One night, around three in the morning, he was monitoring a diesel engine that helped to operate one of the plant’s functions. He was in the room with the engine when a voice came over his radio.

It said that a large flame had shot from the exhaust on the roof of the building.  He had started to leave, stopped, and turned back to check it out.  Before he could clear the corner of a concrete wall just inside the entrance, the engine exploded.

The wall saved him from severe harm.  He was able to go home that night without any adverse effects.

Ignition moments are powerful.

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I’ll never forget my college adviser telling me I wouldn’t be successful as a writer.  Deep down, the fire started.  I knew I would prove him wrong, even if it took a lifetime.

Tomorrow, as we give thanks with our families and friends, recognize and grasp your ignition moments.

Was it a conversation? A prayer? A story or an image?

What moment started you on your path today?  Every success has a beginning. Every great story has a first word. Every goal was an impression spoken into your soul from the outer reaches of Heaven.

As you think about these moments, share them with someone else.  Shared stories create movement.  You never know who needs to hear what you have to say.  Take a chance and see what happens.

Have a great Thanksgiving!

~Matt

Soundtrack Inspiration:

Mindset Matters

I’ve spent more than a year working the insurance side of rehabilitative medicine. For those of you not familiar with the term, a rehab hospital takes on patients after their surgeries, illness, or accidents. They work on restoring function and daily life activities with exercises for the body and mind.  This experience has taught me the importance of mindset.

Those hurt most deeply can heal if they believe they can.

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Now, don’t get me wrong.  I’m not a name-it-and-claim-it guy. God isn’t a fax machine that receives our requests and returns a response as soon as our faith level is higher than a set point. The battle, the fight that flows one step at a time, relies on mindset.

I’ve seen patients come through the door in severe states of injury and illness.  The ones who believe they can improve make the highest gains. The others who do not can, and will, get stuck.

I’m on the email list of John Lee Dumas, founder of Entrepreneur on Fire. If you are interested in starting your own business, or already in the journey, check out his site.  In his most recent email he wrote the following:

The only way out of following your dreams is that you have to quit.

Read that again.

Following your dreams can take many forms.  It can be personal, emotional, financial, health, or wellness.  It can be writing that book that’s haunted your soul for years, running that marathon, losing that first pound, and having a single good day.

One day of victory. One day of hope available for anyone willing to chase it. Everyone deserves a shot to follow their dreams.

Mindset matters.

Know any people who just bring down a room? When the caller ID shows their number you cringe just a little inside.  We can carry the weight of our pain and make it our identity.  We take out our resentment on the closest target, whether we know them or not.

Nothing is easy. We are told in Scripture that we will have troubles in this world, but we know who has overcome the world. We remember the verses, talk to friends, pray, journal, and take on the next day to fight again. We choose how we feel and enter into a mindset.

We pick our lens to view the world.  So, how are you seeing things today? What is your frame of reference?

What dream are you chasing?

~Matt

Soundtrack Inspiration:

Something different for today.  David Jack is an athletic trainer. He’s appeared on more than one television program and publication.  He’s an inspiration and a man of God. This video is the first in a series of three.  Every statement he makes here is golden and speaks volumes about the importance of mindset in life.

 

Feel Good Saturday-11/22/2014

At the end of a long week, I thought it would be nice to add a positive note on things by hijacking a Feel Good Friday post and moving it to Saturday:

Jason Brown  was a center for the St. Louis Rams. Brown decided to leave football behind to chase something he had never done before.  He used his contract money to purchase a thousand acres of land and start a farm.

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Brown is self-taught, relying on local sources and internet research.  His first crop yielded over 100,000 lbs of sweet potatoes, which he donated to the needy in the St. Louis area.  He intends to continue this practice with each crop that he grows. He said this effort was inspired by his faith and a calling to live a life of service.

Imagine, spending your life preparing for a career in professional sports.  You make it, sign the big contract, and walk away to answer a higher calling.  Could you walk away from $37 million dollars? How about to start something you’ve never done? Brown is a hero and his food will made a huge difference for his neighbors dealing with hunger.

“My agent told me, ‘You’re making the biggest mistake of your life,’” Brown told CBS. “And I looked right back at him and I said, ‘No I’m not. No I’m not.’”

This time of year, remember to be thankful for what you have and to do what you can for those who have less. It doesn’t take a farm to make a difference.  You can do it on your block and in your city. Never forget what is important.

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6: 19-21

 

Soundtrack inspiration:

Putting Out Fires

I don’t know about you, but our lives seem to move in waves.  I can track from when Val and I met, almost twenty years ago now, and the graph would look like an amusement park ride with highs that soared and lows that plummeted. This week is one of those low weeks. Ever have a low week?

-Both of the boys are getting over a cold/respiratory thing that had them fighting fevers and congestion

-Car had a flat tire

-Medical issues

-New bills arrive

-Rough week at work

And on and on it goes.

So much time spent putting out fires.  For me, it is genetic.  My mom is a “handler.” When a problem presents itself, it gets handled.  I find myself having the same impulse, not at the frequency she has though.  Val would be the first one to tell you. I’ll let something sit until I just can’t take it anymore and it will be handled.

Life levels off.

Then the next challenge arrives.

Light

It gets so hard to just hold on and hope.

One of the biggest challenges we face as believers and communities of faith is Suffering. We have our classes, sermons, small groups, and devotionals. After every major news event, the talking heads emerge with explanations and fingers point our way.  How could God let this happen?

Why? Why me? Why our family?

One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever heard is from my friend Tim Boden.  Tim is a pastor, musician, and author. We’ve exchanged long messages on more than a few dark nights and he always told me that God can handle my honesty.  Prayers can be upfront and uncensored.  Check out the Psalms.  David didn’t hold back.

Jesus asked, on the cross, “Why have you forsaken me?”

The why question has passed through my lips more than once. In these moments we need to remember there is a light that never goes out. It cuts through the darkness. We have hope. We dream.

I dream because I can’t imagine the alternative.

I believe because I know my heart has been changed.

I love because Val deserves more than I could give her on my own.

I serve because my boys need to see what a man should look like.

I write to tell the story.

 ~Matt

Soundtrack Inspiration:

Just Say No

I love freelance writing.  It has provided some side income and offered a chance to work with people around the world.  I’ve participated in a few different side projects and genres. You get the chance to test your limits as a writer and see just how far you can go.

You also learn to say no.

As an entrepreneur, I’m still learning my limits, learning when the balance of work and compensation leans too far one direction. I’ve learned that my time is valuable and there are moments when you need to walk away, to pivot a different direction and keep moving.

We are raised to accommodate, to listen to every authority figure and follow our marching orders. We are told to submit to the status quot. Our fear keeps us from setting boundaries. If we say yes, everything will be okay. If we don’t make waves, we can go with the flow.

Then life happens.

Jobs are lost. Family members get sick. The car dies. Our kids get in trouble at school. Favor seems to pass for someone else. We read the Bible and are told, more than once:

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What if God is calling us to something greater? What if we need to step out on the water? Peter had to and this man, first person contact with Jesus, caught sight of the waves and starting sinking. His fear pulled him down.

That dream, that passion that sets your heart on fire, is not just a passing moment.  That desire you see staring at the ceiling at night, it is a hand reaching out from the divine, pulling you towards a future more than you could imagine.

This journey starts with saying no.

No to the old ways, the old life, the old body. You turn away from the chains of the past, from destructive people and relationships.  Weigh everything and, if you find it lacking, have the courage to set it aside.

The apostles, after the Great Commission, went out into the world.  They faced harsh opposition and every single one died for their faith. They set the world on fire.  They stood up to the established world and changed it forever.

Do not fear. Do not lose hope. Don’t be afraid to say no.

It can be the start of something big.

~Matt

Soundtrack Inspiration: Tenth Avenue North, a great band with powerful music. Check it out!

Take it All

On Wednesday we visited a church in York, PA with friends to see worship leader Kristian Stanfill and the Passion tour.  Passion City Church is based in Atlanta and is home to Chris Tomlin, Stanfill, David Crowder and head pastor Louis Giglio. They hold a conventions yearly for college students age 18-25 and their leaders.  These conventions include dynamic speakers and great music.  If you have a chance, buy or download any of the Passion worship albums and you will not regret it.

Stanfill’s message for the night was centered around the concept of this year’s Passion conference: Take it All. He wrote a song about it that I’ll include at the end of the post. The song contains part of the hymn, I Surrender All and a member of Stanfill’s band, also a pastor, delivered a short message about its writing.

The hymn was written by a man named Judson W. Van DeVenter.  Van DeVenter lived in western Pennsylvania.  He was an art teacher and struggled with his desire to be known for his art and an increasing pull towards evangelism.  One night, he had an experience that changed his life. He said this:

For some time, I had strug­gled be­tween de­vel­op­ing my tal­ents in the field of art and go­ing into full-time evan­gel­is­tic work. At last the pi­vot­al hour of my life came, and I sur­ren­dered all. A new day was ushered in­to my life. I became an evang­el­ist and dis­cov­ered down deep in my soul a tal­ent hi­ther­to un­known to me. God had hid­den a song in my heart, and touch­ing a ten­der chord, He caused me to sing.

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We spend our lives chasing something.  It can be money, fame, stuff, love, sex, children, anything.  We fill in our blanks, “If I just had ____, then I’d be happy.” Our nature is to search for security, for guaranteed results, for a five-year plan that happens step-by-step.

God calls us to a different path.

At the end of his ministry career, in the 1930’s, Van DeVenter taught at the Florida Bible Institute. A young student at the institute studied and worked with him.  This student went on to use I Surrender All during each one of his crusades and revivals. His name was Billy Graham.

Van DeVenter’s sacrifice led to the millions of people impacted by Billy Graham’s ministry.

There are many opportunities in this country to serve, many places that need people with talents like yours. There are open doors waiting for you to walk through.  There is hope and grace, new each morning at the foot of the Cross.

When our lives are in his hands, anything is possible.

Soundtrack Inspiration:

 

 

Filling the Hole in Your Heart

I usually spend time on Yahoo’s main page during the week to check out news items.  The internet if full of time-killers and this provides more than enough material for a lunch break.  Today, I came across a story that I had to share.

Here’s the headline from the Good Morning America article (a little wordy for my taste):

Meet the Men Having Sex With Strangers to Help Them Have Babies

Take a second and wrap your mind around it.  Meet the men, having sex with strangers, to help them have babies.

The story gives two examples of men advertising free sex to women for the sole purpose of procreation.  The first guy profiled chose to use an alias as he is married with two children and didn’t want his wife knowing.  That should be enough of a red flag right there.  He claimed to have more than a hundred sexual partners.

The other guy was a young adult, a college student who believed he had great foundational material to give a woman quality offspring.  The article even profiles a woman, in her mid 40’s, who sought out this one-time encounter because she had “waited too long” to find a husband and get pregnant.

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What have we done with sex?

I can see both sides of the debate.  Women have the right to do what they want with their bodies.  If they want to find a guy for a purely physical experience, then so be it.  “Guys do it all the time.”

We’ve taken this act and debased it down to a transaction.

Everyone has a void in their life.  We are created with a space in our hearts that draws us towards our Creator.  This void can also take you in different directions.  We, as humans, do whatever we can to fill the hole. We drink, smoke, do drugs, buy things, write, paint, draw, and find whatever is possible to fill it.

We lean on love and physical connections to feel like we are not alone.

It is time to reclaim the value of sex.

Any man willing to create a child should be willing to father that child. Women need to know they are worth it to find partners who love and respect them. Teens must understand that the babies don’t go away when they get that text message that says, guess what? I’m pregnant.

I read articles all over the place from blogs to churches and marriage coaches. They say to have sex with your spouse on a daily basis.  It will do wonders for your marriage. It will cure everything.

Your husband will love you again.

Your wife will be happy

Sex can cure it all.

They are wrong.

Remember having homework? How did it feel to have something required every night after you got home from school?  Did you appreciate the value of what you were doing? Did it get tiring? Did life get in the way?

How about a shift in focus? What if sex, even if it is one night a week, was an amazing experience of focus and effort from two people dealing with the stresses of everyday jobs and kids? It can be a divine escape. Escapes, when they are daily, become routines.

Routines create men who sleep with women to “help them get pregnant.” Routine sex is devalued sex.

We need intimacy.

There is no more intimate relationship than one with God, no more holy transaction than death on the Cross.

I believe that marriages can be fixed.  Kids can have their innocence again. Love, effort, and faith can exist together and energize relationships. A guy like the one in the article above can find the connection he wants with his wife and children, not the women he finds for hook-ups. Sex can be returned to its rightful place and the holes in our hearts can be filled.

~Matt

Soundtrack Inspiration: Kristian Stanfill covered this in concert last night.  Powerful song!

A Drunk Walk to Remember

The internet has grabbed onto a new trend at the moment.  The Woman Walking in New York video drew a massive amount of views and started valuable discussions about the ways women are treated in public spaces. Responses spanned from support to threats of violence (oh how easy it is to make threats in a comment thread). It looks like we aren’t finished as I read about this today:

The gist of it is an actress, pretending to be intoxicated, approaches men in Hollywood looking for help to get home. As you can imagine, her inquiries were met with interesting results. Yahoo posted an article about it here. The men filmed were ready to help her get back to their houses for more beer. A majority of them even approached her first to offer their “help.”

Let the bell ring for Round 2 in the fight against “men.”

A few things to remember:

1/A Youtube video does not represent the entire male population.  Both short clips were filmed in urban environments, one on each coast. They were edited and formatted for maximum result and, yes, they were powerful.

2/ It is a real and true reality that women face this kind of stuff on a daily basis.  For every guy who has moved past the caveman mentality, there are ten others stuck there.  They can be a product of their environment, family, or even outside influences.  Not every guy is grown up just because he’s left the teen years. Women have a right to not be harassed, to walk down the street without catcalls, to ask for help and get it without secondary motives.

3/ Every conversation is an exchange of power.  I’m married to a woman I love deeply. When we talk, we can read the levels under our discussion. I know when she’s angry, when I fail, when she needs something.  We give and take. The issue is impulse control, psychological filters, and respect.  Too often, men think with something other than their heads or their hearts, and this can get many of us in trouble.

As a father, husband, and believer, I find myself reacting with a mix of disgust and hope.  If anything, hopefully the conversation started from these videos will raise some awareness and create second-thoughts before open mouths. I look at my boys and pray I can raise them to offer help to any woman who asks without anterior motives, to be gentlemen and genuinely nice. I think of my wife, of the women in my family and friends who have ever had to deal with this treatment and I’m sorry.  None of you deserved it.

Maybe one day us guys will get this “man” thing right.    If only we had an instruction manual.  Oh, that’s right, we do.

“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28

Now if only we lived that way.

Soundtrack Inspiration: We are going to see Kristian Stanfill tomorrow night with friends.  I’m excited for some quality worship!

 

 

Choose Life

This morning, in church, we had our service remembering veterans and their sacrifices to our country.  The service is traditional and powerful, always including a time to invite veterans in the service to the stage to be recognized.  Every year the stage is full of men and women, young and old, from all branches of the military. I’m always touched by this display and thankful to my friends and their loved ones who have served.

Two young men split the message today, both wounded in action in the Middle East, and both representatives of Operation Warrior Reconnect. They were poised, eloquent, funny, and emotional. The first spoke about being talking to his wife on the cell phone, in his bunk in Afghanistan, and having the building hit by a rocket attack.  He spoke about the desire to keep fighting, even with deep injuries to his leg, back, and head.  He talked about coming home and the struggle of his wife and family, about the challenges of adapting to normal life.

This soldier, and his wife, had both attempted suicide more than once.

A line from his story stuck with me.  He said:

You don’t have to be in combat to get wounded.  The key is to choose life.

Every day is a choice. You can live or stay on the sidelines. I’m tired of the sidelines. There’s too many goals I’ve put off for tomorrow, too many missed opportunities.  What if we lived every moment as a chance to be at our best? What if every situation was there for the taking? How would your life look if you grasped all the promises of the next sunrise?

Layka Wardog

National Geographic made this their most recent coverage image.  Photographer Martin Schoeller snapped this shot of Layka, a Belgian Malinois, who lost a leg from three AK-47 rounds in Afghanistan. Layka took this fire protecting a squad of troops.  You can see her medal in the picture. There is something of beauty and power there.

I’d take a thousand magazine covers like this over the usual crap at the grocery store.

So this month, don’t forget to say thank you and welcome home to a veteran you know and love.  We are free because some chose to stand and fight, to protect the innocent and right the wrongs of the world.  Use their sacrifice and service as inspiration to fight your own battle.  Find your day one.  Turn away from the addiction. Call that person you’re avoiding. Write the first sentence.

Write the first word. Take the first step.

Seize the day.

~Matt

Soundtrack Inspiration: This music video made national headlines as the David Crowder Band actually used Lite Brites in the filming.  The story of the song will touch your heart.