Breaking the Pattern

It was a white board, one of those you’ll find in corporate meeting rooms all across the world.  We had one in Carter’s room.  I went upstairs, grabbed it, and came back down to sit next to him.  We were in the midst of a rough few weeks.  I remember hearing once that a sure way to break addictive behavior is to stop the pattern when it starts.

I told Carter, whenever he feels himself getting mad or sad to stop and write on the board and that Val promised to read it and address his feelings.  The deal was, she could do the same with him.  Now, instead of the conflict, they would communicate.

I had a fun time reading it after work and, overall, today was better.

We needed to break the pattern.

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I just got home from a conversation with Dr. Kay Bower, founder of Many Rivers Learning Center. The faith-based non-profit provides after school and GED classes for children and adults.  They have programs in art, computers, technology, homework help, and sports.  Dr. Bower and her work is impacting and changing the families of north-western Reading with a new and passionate view of education. I am blessed and honored to be a part of it and donate my time and writing services.

My friend Pastor Fred Liggin, head of 3e Restoration Inc. posted a great discussion on Facebook today about Jesus standing with us in the stoning circle as our advocate. What if we viewed our role as Jesus followers to jump into the circle with him?  How quick we pick up our stones (and our social media) and how slow we are to defend those in need. We demand to be heard before we protect and show love.

One of the most uncomfortable passages in the Bible: Those without sin cast the first stone. Don’t see that on too many motivational posters.

We need to break the pattern.

It is time for a shift, a change in the way we interact with the world around us, a change in education, missions, creativity and worship.  It is time for a shift in, dare I say it, church.

From a weekly service to constant serving.

From mission trips to missions living.

From “worship” to high quality explosions of music, drama, lights, sounds, images and action all pointing to the most Divine Creator.

From a Pastor to Leaders equipping others to Go and Make Disciples of all the Nations.

From dropping our kids off to hear about God once a week to parenting with God leading us every minute.

From small groups to small actions of mobile and engaged faith.

From talking about it all to making it real.

~Matt

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Lose Yourself

My wife’s birthday is tomorrow.  For a few days in July we are the same age, my birthday at the beginning of the month and her’s at the end, and tomorrow we go back to her being older than me. She took off work yesterday and we decided to drive down to the beach for the day.

Seems innocent enough.

Let me provide some background here. Like many families on the east coast, I grew up going to the beach in the summer for a week at a time.  My dad’s side of the family would rent a house or two and the majority of the extended family would all do the week together. Eventually, my two aunts and my dad all purchased houses near the Delaware beaches and it became easier to visit.

When you spend years making the trip, you learn some things.  One is, during the season, you don’t go down on a Saturday morning.  Renters cycle through on the weekends and that is the day most travel to and from their properties. Usually, we’d go the night before and do the drive around midnight.  This time we didn’t.

It took six hours.

Six hours to make the drive that normally happens in half the time.  With two kids in the car.  One who fell asleep at two in the morning the night before and the other that woke before seven.  Can you imagine?

We finally arrived and spent a few hours on the beach, had dinner at my dad’s house, and went back to the boardwalk before driving home. Overall, I spent almost ten hours behind the wheel.

Ten hours.

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This week there was one of those click-bait articles on Facebook about Losing Yourself when you have kids. The concept has been in my head since then and, as Carter just locked himself in his bedroom because I told him he couldn’t watch television and Val just switched with me as I had been attempting to put Aiden to sleep for the last hour and fifteen minutes, Losing Yourself seems like a valid idea.

I mean, what happens when we become parents (and by “parents” I mean people who care, not those who earned the title only by having a kid and refuse to make any effort)?

Our kids are with us always, whether they are six or thirty-six. They pull on our hearts.  They are mirrors in which we see our good and bad sides, success and failure. They are complicated, dramatic, energetic, demanding, pushy little people. They bless and stress all at once.

In some way, creating another life reflects our divine calling.  We are have the inborn desire to create. We want connection and we find partners who are willing to make the journey with us.  We find supports and hands to hold when the trail gets rocky.

It is a question of balance.

Yes I have goals for myself. Val and I have goals for our marriage. We hope and pray and dream about the future.

This is just one of those nights where the gas tank is empty.

Carter opened his door and I made sure he went to bed without television. Val is still in with Aiden. In a few hours, she’ll be looking at another year of life.

We’re tired. Stressed. The couch and popcorn sound so much better than working out. I’m ready to close the book on this weekend, even though tomorrow is Monday again.

We’ll make it through. The dreams and goals still exist and we will get there.

Someday. (About a minute after this final period was typed, the cat threw up in the living room on the carpet.  See what I’m saying?  Off to get some paper towels.)

~Matt

The Bird

I parked my car outside of work this morning with about five minutes to spare. I opened the car windows to let in a breeze and checked the headlines for the day on my phone.  Movement, just on the other side of the hood, caught my eye.

I had parked across from a shrub, about knee-high, and trimmed in the shape of a U.  It was a bright green and, just in the midst of the branches, flashed a streak of yellow.  As I watched, it flashed again and the movement took shape.

A smear of black sat above the yellow wings and body. Deep inside this shrub, a bird had settled in the morning sun.

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This was no forest, no sanctuary. This was no mountain or stream running close by.

This was a parking lot.

The bird could have flown to a much nicer environment.  An elementary school sits just past the parking lot surrounded by trees. In a minute, it could have found an entire group of trees, real trees, and set up shop. It could have lived a fairly solid bird life.

But it was nestled in this shrub, in this parking lot, not seeing the horizon beyond the branches.

This is one of those weeks, one of times of spiritual surgery. You feel like you are on the operating table and someone forgot the anesthesia. Doors close while others open. Prayers are answered as quick as needs arise. Through it all, God offers assurance.

Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?

Faith is the search. The fight. The effort to keep moving even if you can’t see the end.  It is one more word, one last phone call, one hug that helps a person fight their depression one more night. It is picking up when you don’t have the energy to move and pushing through.

For our walls can be climbed. Our cage can be opened. Our future is planned and known.  Our dreams are a guide. Great things are coming. I don’t mean some corny prosperity gospel thing.

I mean victories. Creation. Love. Peace. Movement. Building bridges. Helping someone know and understand that they matter, that their fight is important to you.

For are known by the fight, not the end result.  We are called to radical love that destroys the precepts of this world. Jesus told us to Go. Follow. Pray. Sacrifice. Make Disciples.

The day to rest is the day we find ourselves called home once again.

The day to move is now.

~Matt

When You are Not There Yet

We love our quick fixes.  We love our trophy without the marathon, our abs without pounding the pavement.  We want wealth without work, marriage without romance, love without connection.  We’ll take a world bending to us, thank you very much.

Quick fixes go against our divine nature.

I believe you and I were created for the journey.  Our lives are ones of refinement. We walk through the fire to come out more pure on the other side, no matter how long it takes.

Saturday and Sunday were long days.  I mean two of the longest days we’ve had in a while. Carter, our oldest, seems like he’s sixteen not six.

Even though he’s young, it hurts to look in his eyes and see his anger reflected back at us. As parents, it drives you two directions. You miss the days of the baby and long for the days when he’s grown up.

You are Not There Yet.

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You work a day job and the moment you leave your mind goes to your passion.  You spend your nights designing a new small business.  You research loans and open storefronts. You email investors.

You are Not There Yet.

You’ve gone on the last date you think you can handle, suffered through mind-numbing conversations and went home alone. You’ll look in the mirror tonight and know.

You are Not There Yet.

You drive by the family at the end of the street and see their house fall apart.  You see children wearing the same clothes at the bus stop every day of the week, passing a single winter jacket back and forth.  You press the gas a little harder just hoping to pass.

You are Not There Yet.

A life in faith is a journey. As long as you draw breath, your work is not finished. Tomorrow is another chance. Keep connected in the moments. Make the choices that contribute to this world. Do something to make a difference. Change a life. Follow a dream.

Pick up that paintbrush, type the first sentence, take the first step.

You are Not There Yet but one day you will be. Never stop moving, no matter how long, hard, tired, or frustrating. Keep going. Win the day one at a time. Do it because there is no alternative. The sideline doesn’t exist. There is no waiting, there is only work and hope.

I believe this post is for someone specific out there, someone feeling like me tonight.  Know I’m with you and that we’ll push through together.

I’ll see you back out there tomorrow.

~Matt

The Anger Addiction

I’ve spent a few years working in the medical field, from emergency medicine to rehabilitation and a doctor’s office.  In this time, I’ve met a ton of people and had the chance to see the highest moments of positivity and the darkest times of grief. People often stand at a crossroads.  They can overcome and find themselves better than before they arrived.

Or they can drown in their sickness.

Today I listened to an amazing sum of conversations and it hit me.

When did we get so angry?

As a culture we’ve become obsessed with it.  Watch daytime talk shows. Listen to the politicians.  We love angry people.  Pick up a cause and yell about it, in digital or real form, and you’ll find an audience.

As a church, we’ve embraced it.  If everyone can be offended, why not us?

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There’s a scene in The Godfather, one of my favorite movies (I’m a guy, it is required) where Al Pacino is sitting at his child’s baptism.  As he goes through saying the words, the shot cuts to various murders that Pacino’s character has ordered.  As he renounces the devil, he kills those who oppose him.

It works because of the contrast and the pull at human nature.  Who hasn’t wanted to get back at our enemies, to even the scales, to repay wrongs in prime, Old Testament fashion?

Jesus, the one we all do our best to follow.

The writer Donald Miller posted an excellent article on his blog about Learning to Walk Away.  He talks about the story of Jesus and the young rich man.  How, when the young man rejects his offer of salvation, Jesus walks away.  He didn’t hang out. He didn’t yell, argue, post smart Facebook comments and info-graphics.

He walked away.

Today I made a goal.  I would improve someone’s day when we interact.  Whether that person was Val, Carter, Aiden, or a patient I’m registering.  I would make their day better.  It didn’t matter if they were angry, upset, sad, or annoyed.  I’d do my best.

It won’t be easy.

Right now society is focused on what following Jesus isn’t. We need to revolutionize and embrace what it is.

Break the addiction of anger. Be less jaded. Open our arms. Love when it is hard. Forgive when it seems impossible.  Lay down our lives and pick up our crosses.  They’ll know us by our love.  Not our offense, our politics, money, donations, organizations, or righteous indignation. They’ll know us by our love.

A love without end, that supports everyone in our community, that acts against the logic of this world. When we pick up our crosses we drop our anger.  You can’t hold both.

It is time to choose.

~Matt

Break Every Chain

This is a post about freedom.

Not a belated July 4th celebration.  A different kind of freedom.

We all have ways we define our lives. We claim things for our own. We fill in our incomplete sentences and pick identities from the moments of life God had placed in our past. Make your way around a party and talk to people.  You’ll find the spoiled one, the beaten down and abused, the rich and privileged.

I remember playing on the golf team in high school.  One of the guys was the son of a family that owned a pair of furniture stores in town.  He wore the best clothes and had the most expensive golf clubs.  His name was his identity.

There is a danger here.

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The crucifixion scene in the Bible always fascinated me.  The imagery was harsh and dramatic. I could picture the wind and rain-swept hillside, the trio of crosses with thunder crashing in the background.  I could see the guards and the brave few supporters of Jesus gathering at his feet.  The part that fascinated me was his words:

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

There are volumes of debate and analysis on the meaning of this question.  We understand that, in the moment, Jesus had taken on all sin to be the living sacrifice for our salvation.  God, in perfection, could not assist.  His Will be done.

The Son had to move on without the Father to complete his ultimate journey.

I believe we are all called out on the water.  To realize our destiny, we throw off the chains of our past and step forward.

We are shaped by our past, defined by our future, and driven by our dreams.

Tonight I pray you know freedom from the things holding you back. I pray you find new life and look in the mirror and know you are okay. You are strong. You are able.

You will make it.

~Matt

Pray Without Ceasing

I’ve posted a few times about positive developments in our lives recently and we are very excited to see what is coming. God has been answering our petitions in ways we couldn’t have imagined.  Val and I decided we would be praying together every night for our family, our lives, and our boys.

We are moving forward.

Last night I met my mother to pick up Carter and Aiden.  Val works Tuesday and Wednesday nights.  My mother had watched the boys until around 9 pm.  I drove home and, as I parked, Val called me.

Her car had overheated and died on the side of the highway.

I turned around and drove back the way we had come, Carter and Aiden sleeping in the back seat.

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I called for a tow truck.  We followed the guy to a repair shop and, eventually, made it home around 11:30.  It was a long night with little sleep. I went to work this morning waiting to hear from the mechanic.  He called in the afternoon and said he hadn’t looked at the car yet, that it would be first thing tomorrow.

So here I am, writing this post and thinking about how in the world we’ll replace a car, if needed.

As I dressed for work this morning, a Bible verse came to me. In Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians he tells them to pray without ceasing.  Those three words kept cycling through my head.  Pray without ceasing.

Pray without ceasing.

Val and I talked about it.  Our walk with God is valuable and will not happen as a free pass.  There will be tests, a refining process that does one of two things: pull you closer or push you away.

You have a choice.

As for me and my family, we will pray without ceasing. We will follow God.

Don’t give up.  When the night is dark, when the car dies, when the resources fall through, don’t give up. Keep fighting.

His grace is enough. He will break through the veil and impact your world.  I’ve seen in happen in my life and the lives of others. Turn suffering and struggle around and use it as a magnet for your faith. You’ll be amazed at what can, and will, happen.

~Matt

The Closer

Let me make something clear at the start of this post.  I am not a NY Yankees fan.

Last week I picked up Mariano Rivera’s memoir from Barnes and Noble. The book is titled The Closer. It tells the story of Rivera’s childhood in Panama and his journey into being one of the best closers in baseball history. Regardless of your feelings about the Yankees, you can’t deny the contributions of players like Rivera and Derek Jeter to the game.

He is also a man of deep and profound faith.

Last night I started a chapter where Rivera mentions the Holy Spirit talking to him before a game.  He was riding high in the prime years of his abilities, just having found the cut fastball that would make him famous. Before taking the mound on a hot July night, he had the distinct impression of the following word:

I am one that put you here.

He went on to have one of his worst performances of his career.  He describes it as a wake up call.  Throughout the book, Rivera is humble and thankful.  He believed he was thinking way too highly of himself and God had stepped into even the scales that night.

Sound familiar?

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We have a choice in the midst of struggle. We have a choice in the midst of moments of pain, relief, and joy. Our walk with God is a process.  We read, in James 4:8-

Come near to God and he will come near to you.

Look again at the title of Rivera’s book.  As a baseball fan, I knew the clear meaning.  Rivera was a closer.  He pitched the last inning or two of a game to close the door on the opposition and get a win.

As a follower of Jesus, I see the other meaning.

It is a story of getting closer.  Walking with God through it all.  Tonight know and understand that God has a purpose for your life.  He yearns to break into your reality, to answer your petitions and open the doors of your heart.

It will not be easy but it will be worth it. Draw near. Ask. Seek. Knock and the door will be open. Your field of battle may not be Yankee Stadium.  It may be something even greater. God can use you to change your family, break the bonds of anger, addiction, or mistrust. You can change your workplace, community, and even the world.

You can walk next to someone and give them hope to wake up tomorrow.

The ball is waiting.  Will you take it and get in the game?

~Matt