Weekend Inspiration 5/30/2015

god speaks through all of creation. the

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~Matt

Don’t forget, you can get my e-book: Your First Step for FREE at the following link:

Just Click Here

Check it out and share!

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The Sound of Worship

I logged into Spotify the other night to view an advertisement for Hillsong United’s newest album titled, Empires.  There is no denying the reach of the Hillsong church, founded in Australia and now located in branches across the world. As with any mega-church, you can find positive and negative stories online from current and former members.

The music of Hillsong has shaped modern worship.

I went to Amazon to check reviews on the album and saw the lowest reviewer making this statement, “is it just me or have their last few albums gotten slower? I miss their up tempo music.” This statement shines light on an important part of faith and life.

What is the sound of your worship_

Oceans is one of Val’s favorite songs. I have no issue with slower worship anthems. They can certainly bring us close to God and carry us into the spirit of worship. My problem is when we turn our back from the joy of praise to sell more units and move more downloads. I tried to get through every song on Empires and couldn’t do it.

It was too slow.

Now before we get technical about shaping worship experiences and flow, let’s consider something.

What will Heaven sound like?

How about an eternity of joy, perfect love, praise and the presence of the Creator? No more fear. No more suffering. No more illness. No more tears. I don’t know about you, but I’ll take an eternity of an explosion of praise, to let go and let loose and finally see salvation in the purest and complete form.

I’ll leave you with my current favorite worship song from Tim Hughes and Worship Central and a great example of a declaration of praise:

~Matt

Real Neat Blog Award

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I want to thank my friend Roxanna for a Real Neat Blog Award nomination.  Her blog is filled with encouragement and she is passionate about making a difference for her readers.  You can find her blog by clicking here.  If you are ready for a positive change and new purpose, check it out and follow tonight!

Thank you for everyone in my audience.  I’m blessed that you’ve decided to join this community on a journey that can change your life.

In terms of the Real Neat Blog Award, here are the rules…

RULES

  • Put the award logo on your blog.
  • Answer 7 questions asked by the person who nominated you.
  • Thank the people who nominated you, linking to their blog.
  • Nominate any number of bloggers you like, linking to their blogs.
  • Let them know you nominated them (by commenting on their blog, etc.)

Here are the questions and my answers;

1. Who has been the single most influential person in your life to date?

-This could go so many ways.  Right now, I’d say my son Carter.  He’s six years old and he’s everything I never was in my childhood.  He’s athletic and outgoing. He had endless energy.  He’s funny and, in many ways, he’s my hero. He’s teaching me about myself as a man, husband, and father. I hope, and pray, I can live up to his expectations one day.

2. What book has impacted your life the most (so far)?

-I’m going with one from the fiction and nonfiction worlds.  The War of Art by Steven Pressfield is a necessity for anyone looking to amp up their creative efforts. It is encouragement and a much-needed kick in the rear end. The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene is the other.  Greene is a master, the novelist I wanted to emulate from the moment I read him in college. There are parts of his books that have seared themselves on my heart. If you haven’t read either of these books, check them out ASAP.  You won’t be disappointed.

3. Share with us a link to a blog post by you that you think we ought to read (or re-read 😉 )

Why I Believe.

4. Share with us a quote which is either funny or cheesy :-p

-I love everything from Pressfield’s book that I mentioned above.  Here’s a solid quote that covers all the bases: a little funny, a little cheesy, and true.

There's a secret that real writers know

5. What do you want to change in your community?

-I want to see widespread social and economic change.  I want to see people living lives of faith and life in action.  I want people to know that God does cut through the cosmos and interject into our lives, that reality can be changed and hope is real. I want new lives, to draw attention to the people fighting to make a difference and give them the encouragement needed to wake up and do it all again tomorrow.

6. What inspires you (or pushes you 😉 ) to blog?

-When I graduated with my MFA in creative writing, I had a thesis novel in my hands and a major question waiting to be answered.  What would I do? The idea hit me like a hammer, what if I could write to make a difference? What if the words could change people and speak into their situations? That drove me to this blog and my current project writing about the battle against poverty in the city of Reading, Pennsylvania (named the poorest city in the United States in 2011). I believe we are all called to make a difference and I want to tell the stories that matter.  That drives me to every post and publication.

7. Share with us the happiest period of your life so far.

-I’ve been blessed by marrying my high school sweetheart.  We’ve had two amazing boys and any of these moments count.  I’d say these current times are my happiest.  They aren’t easy but, for the first time in a while, I’ve felt God’s hand on my progress and purpose.  I feel like a ship with new wind just starting to pick up the sails. Writing to serve has transformed my creative efforts and, on a deeper level, my life.

The only thing I’m missing is nominees.  Here’s some blogs you should check out, all deserving of recognition and your time!

Blogs You Should Check Out:

1/A Writer’s Path

2/ Wiley Coyote

3/ Memoir Notes

4/Anewperspectiveperhaps

5/ Words on a Blackboard

6/Keithgarretpoetry

7/Fiction All Day

 

~Matt

Systems Change: Family Promise

I passed the office twice before I could find it, finally pulling over and firing up the GPS on my phone. It took circling the block past Hope Rescue Mission and down the historic section of 5th street.  I parked between a pile of black trash bags waiting for pickup and a section of road construction, jogged across the street, and entered the lobby for Family Promise of Berks County.

Family Promise started almost thirty years ago in New York in an effort to help a growing crowd of elderly homeless individuals. It spread to other states and territories, offering services for the elderly, families, and individuals.  The office in Reading handles around two hundred applications a year for their intensive 90 day program.

I followed a family through the entrance and up the winding staircase, meeting Gwendolyn Didden, director of the Reading office.  Didden has worked in the non-profit world for twenty-five years.  She brings a unique mix of social science, experience, and faith into the mix.

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We spoke for almost two hours about poverty, homelessness, healing, and spiritual sickness.  Many of Didden’s statements stuck with me. She said:

“World systems are flawed, but God’s systems are flawless.”

We often view those that suffer as outliers. The homeless, addicted, mentally ill, and poor fall outside the lines. Suffering equals personal failure. If you are going through something bad, it reflects your faults.  What if our systems are flawed? What if we can only survive through the selfless love and support of others? What if we put our faith in a government that can’t get it right?

The more you think about it, the more it makes sense.

What if the problem is one of the soul?

I believe in change.  Cities can change. Families can change. Marriages can change. Souls can change. There is hope. The shackles of poverty, homelessness, conflict, and strife can end. The process isn’t easy or quick.  It isn’t immediate.

It is real, when we believe.

~Matt

As a reminder, you can get my e-book: Your First Step for FREE at the following link:

Just Click Here

Check it out and share with anyone needing some hope in their life.

Your First Step

We mark our lives in lines. They come with good and bad events, lows and highs. You are driving one day and the tire goes flat or the car battery dies. You are at the gym with your wife and she passes out (happened when I was in college with Val). These things tend to come in waves, one after another, until you are looking up at the ceiling at midnight wondering what happened.

One of my goals with P356 was to help people who have hit bottom. I lost a full time job in 2008, one of the millions of workers who met the same fate on the heels of the most recent Great Depression. Carter was six months old at the time and we had just settled into our first home.

It took years, steps, job changes, and faith to see some daylight.

Never stop looking for

Another goal of P356 is to offer my publications and services on a Pay What You Want platform.  Today marks the first part of the journey as I’m releasing, Your First Step: 10 Keys for Survival When Everything Falls Apart on the Gumroad platform. Gumroad allows creatives to offer products like books, music, and physical creations like shirts and crafts on a Pay What You Want platform.

Your First Step is a quick guide for anyone who has hit bottom.  It is written and designed to be read and passed around to friends or relatives, anyone who could use a moment of inspiration. If you like it, it is yours for free.  If you feel like it provides value, feel free to contribute any amount you see fit.

I will be gradually moving all created work from P356 Creative Services to this platform.  For now, Your First Step is our first step. Check it out and let me know what you think. You’ll find it at the link below.

~Matt

We Will Never Forget

In the years before summer jobs, I spent the days at my grandparents.  In the afternoons, my grandfather and I would sit on the porch and he’d tell me stories.  We’d fill glasses of iced tea and look out into the street.  Gradually, like the condensation that crept down the outside of our glasses, he’d open up and the conversation would move to WW2.

He’d been drafted and went to the Italian front, leaving behind a wife and two young girls.  He told me about crossing the ocean, about front line battles and hiking through the snow.  He told me about spending Christmas sleeping in a bombed out church on a live grenade belt. He told me about hiding behind a wall as it was pocked with machine gun fire and waiting for a chance to go forward, keep moving, and never ever retreat.

When he passed away a few years ago, there was a flag ceremony at his funeral.  The flag and three spent shell casings now sits in the bedroom at my father’s house.

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Thank you to all the men and women who serve so that we can publish our thoughts in books, eBooks, and blogs like this. We may debate war and international policy behind the guise of politics. We may argue over right and wrong.

At the bottom, after all the noise is over, we will never forget. Thank you for your sacrifice and your service.

You are heroes.

Happy Memorial Day.

~Matt

White Out

I originally meant for this post to be about the Duggar kid and the admission that he molested the young girls in his family.  As a father with two young sons, I understand and appreciate the outrage related to anyone who dares harm a child, especially one in their own family.

A few years back I worked at the Children’s Home of Reading, a day school for youth with behavioral and emotional issues. I helped with their summer school for the residential population.  These were young men with issues, many victims of molestation themselves.  It broke my heart to see the products of innocence shattered by hands outside their control.

That is the issue.  It takes a monster to force their will sexually on a child. When that monster is a member of a family paraded on television trumpeting their “Christian” values, the anger is taken to another level. When you continue to read and discover how the family concealed and ignored the problem, you hit critical mass.

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So what have we learned?

Grace does not exclude consequences.  I believe in grace.  I also believe that we have a conceptualized image of grace that has damaged the church over the years.  When the Duggar parents refused to go to the police, they were wrong.  They sent a message to the victims that their son’s life mattered more in the grand scheme of things. Josh Duggar freely admits his actions and claims his forgiveness by his faith.  It is easy to do when you’re not sitting in jail for victimizing four little girls. Grace is a spiritual transaction not an excuse.

It is not a “get out of jail free” card.

Grace does exclude reality. The Duggar’s have been published making derogatory comments towards communities of different sexual orientations.  They had a chance to show both their son and his victims that they were taking this seriously. They could live in the real world and not hide their fear and hatred behind the wall of “faith,” yet they choose not to.

They claim to follow the teachings of Jesus, but their actions have little to do with Loving Your Neighbor (Mark 12:31). They are more than comfortable condemning perceived sin and yet Ignore the Plank in Their Own Eye (Matthew 7:5).

And this is the problem.

As the public pulls away in disgust, the Duggar’s keep saying “No, don’t worry. He’s forgiven. It’s all okay.”

Let me apologize.

As someone who claims to follow Jesus, I’m sorry.  I’m sorry that we’ve taken faith, married it to conservatism, and tried to sell it as THE WAY. I’m sorry that so many with a public forum represent Jesus so poorly. When people associate the term Christian with the family on 19 Kids and Counting, we’ve screwed up more than we know.

As a father, I’m sorry.  I’m sorry that men lack the backbone to protect their family when it is needed.  I’m sorry that they do not fight for their marriages and lead their children.  They care more about image than truth. We follow a God that led his own son to the cross and did not protect him from what needed to be done to change the world.

We love our kids, but not at the level of sacrificing and teaching what is right. Our love for our kids will never end, even if it means calling the police when the problem is out of your control.

Our forgiveness does not mean forgetting.  Our grace is not God’s grace, for that would put us on the level of the divine and we are not close. Our slates are never clean, they are gradually washed through years of faith, study, friendship, prayer, worship, laughter, conversation and change.

Peter denied knowing Jesus three times.  After the resurrection, Jesus asks him three separate times if he loved him, following Peter’s answers with commands to “Feed my sheep.”  We read that Peter is hurt after the third question.  The parallel is complete.  Jesus made him face his denials. He didn’t say, “Peter, don’t worry about it, it’s all good.”

We must all face our actions.  Jesus is waiting on the other side ready to send us out as soon as we answer.  If we keep silent, hiding behind our politics, constructs, “faith” or fear, we will never hear his words.

Silence is much worse than any painful conversation waiting in our future.

~Matt

 

 

Fire Words Week: Truth

Pilate always fascinated me. I remember reading the account in the Bible of the trial of Jesus.  The imagery is crisp. The drama is palpable.  I pictured these two men facing off across a Roman version of a courtroom in a volley of questions and answers.  At one point, in John 18:38, Pilate lays down the greatest rhetorical question of all time:

What is truth?

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I had a professor back in college that advised us to consider every source when we were researching our papers.  There are reasons behind every story.  Show a room of ten people a picture and ask them to describe it. You’ll likely get ten different answers.

We each have our own lens that we use to view the world.

In On Writing, Stephen King stated the best way to write authentic characters was to remember that everyone feels like they have the camera on them.  We are the stars of the show.

We have truth locked down.

Want to alienate someone quickly? Act like you know all the answers.  It is practically a membership requirement for churches in this country. Peter writes that we should have answers ready when someone asks us the source of our hope. He’s right. We just ignore one part of the statement.

We answer whether or not we have an audience ready to hear.

At the same college I mention above, a street preacher would set up shop in the warmer weather.  It was great theatrics. He’d yell and argue with students.  He’d call down condemnation on any and every sin.  I’m sure he meant well.

A month after I graduated, he was arrested for attempting to solicit a teenager.

The truth was not his truth.

There is always mystery in truth.  It is fluid, running like water. We build our lives on salvation, love, family, and grace.  The mystery comes in our work to improve all of these elements from our imperfect human condition.

Life is a journey of exploration.

You will face some tough questions.  Have your answers ready and don’t be afraid to say that you don’t know. The truth comes when we attempt to live as Jesus lived in new and radical love. When we reflect his example, truth and light shines through.

~Matt

Fire Words Week: Sin

We love to talk about it.  C.S. Lewis wrote The Screwtape Letters as an examination of it. Milton and Dante both took it through epic poems. Speaking of Milton, watch Al Pacino’s role in The Devil’s Advocate and you’ll see one of the best monologues on it in any movie.

Sin is an interesting topic and it is oh so easy to point fingers.

Sin is right in our wheelhouse, right over the plate.  It is the fastball we can hit with a quick turn of phrase or scripture.  We think we have it planned and played out.

We could never be more wrong.

fire words week_sin

When society gets hold of the concept of sin, they visualize the fanatics at the Westboro Baptist Church protesting funerals with their hate speech. They believe that the church is closed to those struggling because of issues and lifestyle choices. They become the lepers of Biblical times, content to stand outside the walls and live their lives.

We are called to rip down the walls.

I believe we are all works in progress.  Our salvation is complete when we are called home. Until then, we are here taking things a day at a time.  We are not perfect and the first direction our accusations should fly is at ourselves.

Sin is pervasive. It is in the church just as it is in society. I’ve written before that it can be a window and a mirror.

Our answer stands in Jesus, in perfect and radical love.  It is in the arms of those willing to embrace the ones who need it.  It is providing comfort and warmth to everyone.

Sin is a window, mirror, and a door. It opens us to community, faith, love, humility, and acceptance. We all can handle it better as a family than we can on our own.

Family is the bottom line. It is the revolution that can change things and help us cool off the fire surrounding the concept of the church and sin.

~Matt

Worship Music Inspiration: