Why I Believe

I’ve seen the beauty of a sunrise over the ocean.
I’ve seen the beauty of a sunset over a baseball field
I’ve held my sons just after they were born, looked into their eyes and understood.
I’ve suffered and found meaning
I’ve succeeded and found joy
I’ve gotten lost in a guitar solo
And a good book
I’ve spoken to a homeless man happy to have a bed for the night
I’ve seen the impact of death on parents, relatives, and friends
I’ve seen myself in my father’s eyes
I deeply and passionately love a woman who completes my sentences and my soul
I’ve cried in laughter
I’ve felt the electricity in a changed and charged heart
I’ve heard the stories.

arms

What do I believe?

I believe love can change the world
I believe we can join hands across lines
I believe violence is not the answer
I believe in innocence
I believe in life after death
I believe we are here to serve
I believe in a hand up, not a hand out
I believe sin can be a window or a mirror
I believe the playing field should be level
I believe in young leaders with revolutionary ideas
I believe that Good is not Dead
I believe It is Worth It

I believe in a faith that can shatter preconceptions, create love from hate, build bridges, and give hope and strength to the person who feels they can’t get up in the morning.

I believe in difficult conversations held in a public forum where every voice is heard, from the loudest scream to the softest whisper.

I believe

Your

Story

Matters

 

~Matt

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Faith and Life in Action: 3e Restoration Inc.

I connected with Pastor Fred Liggin after publishing this article in RELEVANT Magazine. We exchanged emails and I learned of 3e Restoration Inc., a program revolutionizing the fight against poverty in Williamsburg, Virginia. Liggin is the Founder and President of 3e and pastor on staff at Williamsburg Christian Church. He’s a man of God, husband, father, and passionate activist. I’m proud to call him a friend and publish this post with the story of 3e and Faith and Life in Action. Without any further hesitation, here’s Fred:

 

I’ve been walking with folks from homelessness to holistic sufficiency now for just over twelve years. Four years ago when I came to WCC, I began walking with a family living through homelessness. This evolved into calling members of our church to serve as what we called “All In Friends.” From there I began to build a network of relationships within the city—professionals willing to donate services (mental health, job-training professionals, occupational therapists, financial advisers, dentists, etc.) to help with wrap around services.

As other local faith groups caught word of what we were doing I was asked by an inter-faith collaborative to teach other churches how to do it. We began piloting a city-wide effort together. Upon the completion of this pilot we launched a non-profit to keep up with equipping other local churches to do the work.

We now have three local churches that have embraced the process and have trained twelve leaders from seven different local congregations to move toward implementing the process in their congregations. We also have three more local churches discerning how to embrace the 3e Restoration process and engage those living through homelessness through gracious hospitality and meaningful relationships. 

A beautiful movement has begun here in greater Williamsburg, Virginia.

I strongly believe that just as the gospel was born on the margins in the narrative of Scripture, missional renewal is born on the margins for the local Church.

This is why I deeply believe in the Church despite her brokenness.

Williamsburg Christian Church found Jesus on the margins four years ago as they were a church in decline. It was there we found renewal and that has given birth to a whole host of beautiful stories to include those living through poverty, those experiencing wealth; those wrestling with addiction, those enjoying sobriety; those moving upward in their career, those working multiple jobs to make ends meet; those living with intellectual disabilities and mental illness (we have an entire assisted living home gathering and sharing in life with us now), those with PhD’s.

life is a(1)

3e Restoration was birthed out of this context and from 12 years of personal experience. So this isn’t a story about me. It is a story about our missionary God inviting His people to rediscover their identity as a missionary people who genuinely seek to be present with their neighbors—even the one’s no one claims–and make His kingdom known in tangible ways.

I find that when a church, or even a Christian, embraces gracious hospitality as a posture and way of being in society, surprising friendships are formed and healing can begin for all, even the discouraged. Sometimes when I am burdened by the frustration of the Church, I go away and be with the “least of these.” I believe that we can catch glimpses of Him in them.

Honestly some times I see more of Jesus in the downtrodden, the last, least, lonely and left out than I do myself or other Christians.

I have to just go and serve and get away from the trappings of institutionalized Christianity and its way of life. I learn from them. I see Jesus in them. I walk away encouraged.

Then I return to the institutionalized Christianity. That is important. I must come back to put my hands and feet to work among God’s people, remind as many as I can of the way we should see the world, ourselves and others, and call us back out into the margins and away from the center of society.

I think another thing is that I must believe that my life is not happenstance and neither are my encounters with others. People are too precious to God for this to not be true.

So I must be attentive.

As every day people living in everyday places we must choose to learn how to be open to the possibility that nothing or no one is irredeemable–a resurrected King Jesus makes us prisoners of hope. His kingdom is breaking-in, my job is to bear witness in word and deed, tangible expressions of grace, hope and love. And this best happens in community.

Now my resurrectional identity is more than a theological platitude. It becomes what it means to be a child of God and citizen of His kingdom. And it inevitably moves us closer to others where surprising friendships are formed and healing begins–healing for us all.

You can connect with Pastor Fred in multiple ways:  His blogWilliamsburg Christian Church and 3e Restoration. He’s on twitter @liggin and on Facebook. Be sure to follow his posts and the efforts of 3e. Their work is valuable to the national conversation about poverty.  He is an inspiration.  If you are struggling this week, consider his story of stepping out and making a difference. We are called to the margins and, when we return, we are never the same again.

For the Love of the Game

A light rain fell under swirling clouds as I stood next to Dan Clouser, founder of the Big Vision Foundation.  We looked across the Charlie Wagner Field, a replica of Fenway Park including its own Green Monster wall.

In this sanctuary, as the wind pushed against us, always blowing at home plate, there is peace.  Kids from across the country, some as far away as Canada, will travel to play here in a varied offering of tournaments. They will even set up an inflatable movie screen on summer nights for the showing of family movies, though not without a screening of Field of Dreams to start the season.

Clouser’s efforts have proved the mantra of the novel and film.

If

What started with a group of friends has blossomed to an organization changing lives in Berks County on multiple levels.  On the practical level, they generate needed income from tourism.  Local hotels, gas stations, and restaurants all benefit from Clouser’s patrons.

On a deeper level, they are building bonds that will change the shape of this area. Kids from different sides of society join in unity behind a set of uniforms. Teams from the city get a taste of baseball in an idyllic setting. They are together for one goal.

“Teamwork in baseball is different,” Clouser tells me, “Take basketball.  If you are down to the last few seconds, you can design something for your most talented player to get the ball.  Baseball doesn’t have that option.  If you are on your ninth hitter, then he needs to hit or you can go to a pinch hitter without a ton of game time. Every member of the team must be ready to contribute.”

We forget this in the mix of everyday life as our culture is set up to celebrate the star. We look to individuals as teamwork fades in the background.

When we struggle, it is too easy to get caught in the comparison trap.  We aim our frustrations on one target ranging from our spouse to our children or coworkers. We forget that we do not live outside community as that small voice yells inside, kicking and screaming against a heavy silence that can wash over us.

This week, as baseball season has started on every level, learn the lessons of the game.  Take in the sights, sounds, smells, and atmosphere. Celebrate unity and carry it through into your own life.  Find a team or create your own. Be a part of a greater cause.

One idea, shared between friends, can change lives.  It can shape the world.  You can, and will, be a part of it.

Play ball.

~Matt

 

 

The Compass

I was sitting in an office at Hope Rescue Mission interviewing a resident.  He had lived years of his young life dealing with addiction and crime, illness and death. After listening to his story, he mentioned that he was enrolled in the local community college.

I asked what he was taking.

“Addiction counseling and social work” he said, “I just thought I could give back, you know?”

His life had shifted.

life is a

In the midst of suffering, we feel thrown off the path. The way becomes blurry. Questions that were easy now present problems. Cooking dinner, at the end of the day, looks like a doctoral thesis.

Our pain points are our compass. They are construction signs better than any orange cones on the highway.

They are God’s arrows showing us the way to go.

The trick is to keep moving. How could you give back? What fires have you braved that you could help others put out? How can you turn the emotions into life for someone else who may be in the midst of the same?

We have a choice.  No matter how deep in the darkness, we always have a choice.

Your first step towards reclaiming faith and life in action is seeing a new target and new purpose. It can be the light you need for the next chapter of the journey.

~Matt

Flat-lined Faith

You know what I’m talking about.  Maybe you’re there right now.

You’ve defined yourself as a “believer,” grown up in church and played the role.  Tragedy strikes, life steps in and suddenly you are lost and drifting on a stormy ocean. You feel disconnected to those around you.

There’s a void getting way too comfortable as it hangs over your shoulders.

no sleepin thecity

I spent two years working in an emergency room doing insurance stuff and dealing with patients. It was a chance to see both sides of life.  People would arrive ready to give birth and leave a few days later as new parents. Others would arrive and never leave.

Word spread whenever a “code” came in. These individuals were either dead or dying.  I watched the families arrive and it killed me inside.

It also made me thankful.

Our zero moments give us clarity, understanding for what he have, had, and may get in the future. They push us to pivot in a new direction.

This week you’ll find some guest posts focusing on Faith and Life in Action from people who have made the journey and experienced all sides of it. They’ve had their zero moments and found ways to recover.

The temptation is to stay lonely.  Know that it is not an option. Find connection, community, and family. We are not created to live in a void.

We are created for life. We are created to regain strength and live electric moments of dangerous faith and love. We are created to serve.

My prayer from day one is that these words would make a difference. If they hit home for you or someone you love, feel free to share them and keep checking in as the story only grows from here.

~Matt

Your First Step

How many moments have you found yourself back at zero?

All thoughts disappear. Sounds stop. The air in the room is frozen and, if you reach out your hand, you can catch the dust particles in the sunbeams. If you are lucky, these happen in positive times on your path of life.

If you are like the rest of us, you’ve been blindsided by forces outside of your control.

The secret is: the moment will pass.

You’ll need to make a first step.

madrid

Our days are often spent building bridges.  We find friends and family members and set up transactions that can turn into dependency. We’re mired in people and places that are not helpful.  From every direction you hear:

What can you do for me?

When you make your first step, you must evaluate the bridges.  Consider the people in your life. Take inventory.

Decide what can be left behind as one thing is clear:

You can’t stay the way you are. The critical moments create dividing lines in your life. It is impossible to go back.

The hope is looking forward.  It is looking for new bridges to cross and build.

In the coming weeks, I’m going to be telling more of our personal story.  You’ll find some guest posts here from people writing about their own first steps, faith, and lives in action. You’ll find new materials and fresh community.

I invite you to be a part of it, join the story and see what it means to find yourself again. Wherever you are on the journey, feel free to contribute and make your voice heard.

~Matt

What is Radical Change?

“Radical change is achievable and, at times, done with small moves.”

I was in mid conversation with Craig Poole, businessman and general manager of a Hilton Hotel under construction in the city, as “Gimme Shelter” played over the Peanut Bar’s sound system.  We were talking about how changes are made. Mr. Poole walks Penn Street and visits local businesses.  He meets with owners about the future.

He finds a bench in the rough part of town and stops to talk with people, much like he does with me.

“People will ask me about what I do and how they can do it.  I say it is nothing crazy.  The seat I sit in will be empty tomorrow.”

take

What does radical change look like for you?

At my lowest points, it was simply holding hands with Val.  The motion pushed me back to living and chipped away at the emotional walls I had built. If it feels like you are looking up from the bottom of a well, start small.

Find the first stone that provides a foothold.

If your faith has become routine, look for the next empty seat.  Go to an outreach program. Volunteer an hour on a Saturday to serve. Assess your community and support the good things that are happening.

Radical change happens with a shift in:

  • Thoughts
  • Behaviors
  • Speech

Think of a better future. Act on the thoughts to make it a reality.

Speak positivity.

Tell your children that they are “bad” and they will grow up to believe it.  Talk to a child of an abuser or addict and you’ll hear the same story.

Our actions speak into our families, our churches, and our cities. Our compassion changes reality.  Our love completes the picture.

To start your own radical change, consider the empty seats in your life and take the first step to get them filled.

~Matt

 

 

 

Live Dangerous

I love James Bond. Even growing up and catching the Bond movie marathons on Saturday afternoons. From Connery to Daniel Craig, the character is a classic hero.  He gets the beautiful woman, cool toys, and victory in the end, driving around in the newest Aston Martin. He faces danger on a daily basis.

Then I look in the mirror and realize how far away I am from the tuxedo and Casino Royale.

CRAFT

Are you taking risks?

I’m not talking facing down a bad guy.

What dreams haunt you in the night as your spouse sleeps at your side and the house settles? What conversations are waiting to happen?

What is a dangerous life?

It is being a parent and going the extra mile when you don’t have an ounce of energy left.  It is standing up for a coworker when they face times of trouble.  It is stepping out in faith and radical love that demolishes the walls of race, creed, and orientation.

It is going against the grain, against expectations, and seeing your ideal life play out before you.

There is peace in danger, in movement. There is energy in the flow that draws us forward.

So join the game, sit down at the table, throw on your tuxedo and order your martini shaken, not stirred.

Make a goal of taking a risk this week and see where it takes you.

~Matt