The Sound of Worship

The past few weeks we’ve found ourselves in the midst of deep conversation about the intersection between faith and society.  Voices call for more and less.  Political factions take sides. Lines are being drawn.

There seems to be a race to the bottom, to be the most offended by people of faith. Personally, it has reminded me of the response of Jesus when asked about the greatest commandment. He replies to love God and love your neighbor, hardly the musings of a political leader.

For we know Jesus did not come for any earthly power.  More than once the crowds and leaders of the day tried to bait him with questions and conflicts. Every time he made his way around it, destroying the conventions, structures, forces and “common sense.”

Eternity was at hand.

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So what if we’ve gotten it wrong?  What if the church stands at an important intersection, at the crossroads of potential? What if it is primed for a shift, for a new way of community, service, prayer and worship?

In a post last week, I added a song by Isla Vista Worship.  Watching more of their stuff on Youtube, I found this video:

The narrative in the clip makes a statement that struck a chord with me.  It says that worship music should be done with skill and artistry, that is should shape the sound of secular music.

Think about that. We’ve reacted for so long.  What if it was time for Christian writers and artists to shape the narrative?  To reflect the love of Jesus into society with such power and impact that it changes things, that it removes the debate.

It is time for change, for real and actual change.  It is time to build fresh and living faith, to show real moves of the Spirit, to reach into communities and fight for those in need.

Are you ready?

~Matt

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The Anchor of Forgiveness

This morning I checked the headlines for the day before work.  I flipped around until I found the impetus for this post.  The shooting in Charleston has caused the usual debates and discussion to rage around the country. Political and special interest groups grab for meaning and headlines. We start looking at gun control, mental health, racism, hate groups, crime and violence.

One part of this terrorist act makes it stand out.  Read the transcripts from the families of the victims and you’ll find it clear as day.

Forgiveness.

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The concept of forgiveness can be viewed through different lenses and it always carries weight. It walks hand in hand with guilt poured on from actions that may or may not be your own. If you are someone who follows Jesus, as the families of the victims, you see forgiveness as the cornerstone.

It anchors your faith.

It erases conditions. It reclaims power for those who stop being victims. It is a release.

Now those who enjoy philosophical debates like to throw around the question of volume.  Is there anything unforgivable? Does a mass murder carried out by a racist young white man qualify? How about the massacre of millions of people by political figures throughout history? How about those who killed in the name of their warped view of faith?

This conversation could be a book but I’ll leave off here:

I pray we never have to know a situation similar to the families of the victims. They have all right to forgive, even if some in society question or refuse to understand it. Jesus called for love to break down walls, for faith to move mountains and for sacrifice. These principals cross societal lines, gender, status, orientation, and location.

As humans, we can’t possibly get it right.  What those families did by facing down evil and responding with unfathomable grace, that reflected Jesus. That is the anchor of a church founded on a slave rebellion. It is the force that can, and should, bring down the Confederate flag from the South Carolina capital building.  It is the force that can bring peace in the wake of violence and change after years of hatred.

The gunshots fired in the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church echo well beyond the walls.

We have a choice: Let them fall silent or make sure they are always in our faith, hearts, and minds the next time we face the depth of darkness.

~Matt

 

Take Flight

I stood at first base watching my son Carter crouched at second, waiting for a ground ball.

We are a few weeks into baseball lessons at the Big Vision Foundation from Dan Clouser, founder and president, and a good friend of mine. Clouser is a long time coach.  He threw ball after ball as Carter fielded, pivoted, and threw across to me.

Later he hit and I chased his line drives all over the field.  My boy, the one I held for the first time almost seven years ago, is growing into a young man.  It was a transcendent moment.  The sun-drenched afternoon, sprinklers watering the fields around us, music playing from the loudspeaker above the concession stand, and the crack of Carter’s bat as he hit ball after ball.  It was perfection.

I inhaled and held my breath, willing it to stay in as long as possible.  Our souls were joined; father and son, young and old, across a game and a field, years and time, words and thoughts.

I saw the intersection of past, present, and future.

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This week our church holds Vacation Bible School.  Over 1,000 kids will participate over four nights of activities, songs, dancing, playing, and worship. I picked Carter up tonight and the excitement in the church was palpable.

This month has been brutal for our church and this country, with the horrific accident that took the life of our pastor’s wife and almost his own. He is still in ICU with additional surgeries coming.  Then the atrocity in Charleston has left so many questions, pointed fingers, and broken hearts.

I believe real change is possible and, as I walked through the church tonight to pick up Carter, the answer was there.

We must invest in the next generation.

There are children who don’t know racism, who don’t see skin tone or orientations. There are children untainted by hatred and anger.

Just today a group of students met on Penn Street in Reading to pray for the city and anyone in need.

We talk about lifting up the lives of our peers, family, spouses, and friends. It is time to lift up the lives of the children around us. We must lay the foundation while we still have the chance.

Racism, anger, hatred, and violence exist now but they all have a shelf life.  You may have laughed when you read that but I believe it is true. I have hope, faith in radical love that crosses boundaries and burns down borders. I believe there will be a day of equality.  I believe my boys will be a part of it and it is my goal as a father.

They will dream big, love well, and make peace.

All we can do as parents is to provide the means to make the world a better place, equip them, and let them take flight.

~Matt

Special Victims Unit

After a few heavier posts, I wanted to change it up a bit for tonight:

Ever since dropping cable, Val and I have used Netflix and Amazon Streaming for our television.  Our current binge watching show is Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.  Law & Order is a classic television show franchise and we are loving this version.  Producer Dick Wolf has led some of the best work on television over the past few decades and this is no different.

My favorite character is ADA Rafael Barba, played by actor Raul Esparza. Barba is quick, dramatic, and to the point.  He’s the lawyer I’d imagine myself as if I’d gone to law school back in the day.

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We read, in Scripture, references to an advocate.  We read of an accuser, the battle of good and evil played out in the cosmic courtroom that stretches across Heaven. Jesus tells us to ask and seek and know that you will find.

So are you asking God?

I don’t mean our spit ball prayers that we ask at the drop of a hat.  I mean, are you on your knees lifting up a need and, on the other side, letting it go? How often do we hold on? How often do we ask and grasp and say “yeah we trust just let it happen our way?”

Last night I met with my friend Gwen Didden, head of Family Promise in Berks County and founder of the Palace Project.  We had this exact conversation and it led to some powerful revelations. There are good things in the works personally, spiritually, and professionally that I will share more details about as they unfold.

For tonight, think about your petitions, your desires, about what could change  your life forever. Picture it now and know it is possible.  Whatever it may be.  We are all Special Victims. We’ve suffered and struggled. We’ve felt the sting of pain and discomfort, the weight of fear on many fronts. If you are in that dark place, know that the story isn’t over.

We are at the start, in the first days, and I can’t wait to see what will happen.

Until then, keep the faith.  Take it a step at a time.  The end is worth it, I promise.

~Matt

The Clarity in Suffering

One night I sat across from my friend at the bar inside the Canal Street Pub. He had just finished getting a divorce.  We were talking about struggle and suffering and our relationships with God.  He looked at me and said:

“I’ve never felt or heard God as clear as I have right now.”

If you haven’t had the chance to do it, please check out my last few posts.  Our church suffered a major loss as our pastor Bryan Koch and his wife Lynn were in a motorcycle accident.  Lynn passed away and Bryan is still in ICU. The accident was last Sunday.  The day after the accident, my grandmother passed away in the hospital.

Now, Val and I have the same issues as every married couple. We deal with money problems, stress, the kids, and how to fill a summer now that elementary school is out for Carter. When things ramped up this pas week, I found the idea to be true.

There is a clarity in suffering.

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In church, we witnessed a congregation of almost 3,000 people gather on Wednesday night to pray in unity for Bryan and his family.  At the reception following my grandmother’s funeral there was a board of photos. As I looked over the pictures, spanning the 99 years of my grandmother’s life and our family, my dad eventually appeared at my side. I started asking him about specific pictures and he told me exactly what was happening in them.

The memories came clear and vivid.  We laughed at old times. Others at the reception stopped to look with us.  In those moments, you feel the bonds of family.

Suffering gives us a target. When things go well we can get scattered.  When the bottom falls out, we have a target. We have a clear and present need. God opens a door for us to experience his presence.

Suffering gives us a reason. We look to God in the good and bad.  We are driven towards the everlasting when we are reminded that everything else is temporary. People ask, “Where was God?” The answer can take a lifetime to realize and communicate.

Suffering gives us a result. The more I go, the more I believe that suffering is a part of faith.  Don’t believe those that tell you a life of faith is one of paradise.  Our struggles are the building blocks of faith. We must go through the fire to see how God pulls us through. The ending is not quick but it is worth it.

We will see joy once again. We will have peace and understand faith. We will get to the next chapter.

Until then, we give thanks in all things because it is the ultimate victory, the push against the hurricane of this world that threatens to blow us off course. It is our recourse, our unity, our chance to show we are in this world and not of it.

If you are in the midst of suffering tonight, turn to God and be honest.  He can take it.  Let it out and, if you can’t sleep tonight, do it again.  You will make it through.  I promise.

~Matt

I wrote a small e-book about struggle based on my experiences in life, marriage and family. It is available for free. Check it out and let me know what you think. You’ll find it at the link below.

#FaithResponders

This evening we went to a prayer service at church for Pastor Bryan Koch and his family.  The building was full, all the seats taken and overflow seating filled in the older sanctuary of the building. We listened to friends and colleagues of Bryan offer up stories and prayers.  Scott Kramer told us that he grabbed Bryan’s left hand, the throwing arm of the former major league catcher, and squeezed it hard. When he did this, Bryan opened his eyes.

Praise God.

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Greg Hubbard, evangelist at GT, delivered a word about being a faith responder, one who talks differently, sees things differently, and reflects the presence of God. The room was emotional, more than a thousand people in a family gathering of prayer and worship. As a church, we will keep moving forward.

As a writer, I’ve changed. The filters are gone. This is about you and me, about words and life and faith.

I thought I had the story figured out. I was wrong.  This is a story about unity, about faith in times of darkness.  This is about a community overcoming tragedy and having hope.  This is thanking God in all things, keeping focused on Jesus when everything else tells you to look away.

When I interviewed Bryan for the book he was warm, gracious, attentive and caring.  He gave me more time than I asked for. He was forthcoming in his words and genuine in his spirit. He hugged me after our interview and offered to check in with me in the future.

I’m taking him up on it.

The day he walks across the stage at church to preach again is one I will not miss.

In the end, this is about victory. It is about family and using darkness to show the million-watt brightness of God’s love. So tonight I’m praying, carrying home the closeness of the Spirit, for anyone reading this.  If you are in a dark place, know you are not alone.  If you are suffering, it is not wasted.

Know I’m here for you. My family, brothers and sisters in Christ, are here for you. God is here for you. Things can and will change. The future is coming and we must respond.

There is no choice. Join me and be a #faithresponder

~Matt

You can see news coverage of Pastor Bryan’s story by clicking here.

The Hardest Day

I’ve consulted a number of articles on content creation, SEO, marketing, graphics, and blogging. Normally, when I write these things, I take all this into consideration before putting a post together.  Tonight, you won’t see that.  Tonight is no filter, no line between you and me but the screen you have chosen to read this on. No linguistic tricks or debate.  This is what happened today:

I was in the shower when Val came into the bathroom breathless and upset.  She informed me that, last night, the pastor of our home church and his wife were involved in a serious motorcycle accident.  Bryan and Lynn Koch loved to ride a motorcycle.  Someone in an SUV crossed the line and hit them head on.  Lynn died at the scene.  She had just been ordained last month.  Her and Bryan had delivered the message on Mother’s Day together. Bryan is in ICU with severe injuries, his left leg amputated and multiple times in surgery coming up. They have three sons and had just found out they would be grandparents in October.

After work, Val and I went to church to pray.  They had opened the sanctuary all week and had provided counselors on site.  Wednesday night we have a church-wide prayer service.  As we sat in the darkened sanctuary we prayed with others and poured our hearts out to help this family that has been destroyed. When Val and I left the church we were met with swirling storm clouds.  The rest of the night was punctuated in thunderstorms, rain, and funnel clouds spotted in the area.

This afternoon I get a text message that my grandmother, Hazel Shaner, had passed away in the hospital.  She had lived a full 98 years.  Her husband, my grandfather, had passed away three years ago.  They were married for almost 70 years. I spent my summers, before working full-time jobs, at their house while my mother worked. This woman anchored a family through WW2, numerous dinners and holidays, ups and downs. I was honored to have her as a grandmother.  She reflected what it meant to love God and love your neighbor. She impacted the lives of so many and was the rock that built this family.

So here I am.  In days like this you find yourself standing in the darkness, looking across the room at the only thing that could be there.  You look at God and you ask why.  I believe Lynn is in Heaven and experiencing the fullness of joy.  Could you imagine, being in an ICU bed and not knowing you have lost your wife? Her parents, tonight, are driving in from Ohio.

The church, our church, is beaten down and mired in sorrow.

But it is not over.

I believe joy comes in the morning.  I believe in bigger and greater things, in ministries that touch this community and change the world.  I believe in healing, in recovery, and that Pastor Bryan will walk across the stage to deliver a sermon again.  I believe in miracles, in the presence of God felt with electric reality. I believe in lives changed, that Lynn’s loss will not be for nothing, that her and Bryan’s story will change the lives of those that hear it.

Yet, for tonight, there is darkness.  Thunder still crashes around our house. The boys are sleeping.  I’m typing and I’m here, like you, having the hardest day I’ve had in a long time.

I ask you to pray. Pray for Bryan and Lynn’s family.  Pray for their boys as they figure out a way to live.  Pray for their grandchild, that Bryan will get a chance to hold him in the future. Pray for their extended families and our church.  Pray for peace.

As for me, I’ll make it through.  There is so much more involved here. Keep your eyes up with me. Dawn will come soon.

~Matt