Protecting vs. Preparing

“Do it again.”

The sun slowly crept towards the mountains surrounding the Big Vision Foundation’s baseball fields as Carter stood in the hitting tunnel.  Dan, his coach and my good friend, was working on his swing.  Carter had other ideas.

“Get lined up and try again.”

I watched Carter’s face as he gradually disengaged.  He’s more like me than I realized, I thought. Criticism never goes over well for us both, even if it is constructive.

“Eight more.  Make it count.”

After eight more hits, Carter ran off to play with Aiden and I thanked Dan for his time.  The question haunted me.

When do you shift from protection to preparation?

night-rust-chain

As parents, we have natural instincts to protect our children. We build bonds that grow as they do, with the traditional “daddy’s little girls” and “momma’s boys.” Every generation has questioned the efforts of the ones before. With Carter, I’m standing on the edge of the protection and preparation barrier and it’s killing me.

Jesus spent the final three years of his life in active ministry.  At one point he tells his followers that he is sending them out like sheep among the wolvesHe says to go and make disciples of all the nations.  They had a choice here; to listen and go or live in fear and stay behind, meeting in the Upper Room to reminisce.  These were wanted individuals, men known for hanging around a criminal inciting rebellion against the Roman government.

They were equipped, empowered, and set free. Every one followed their calling, even to death for their faith.

For every calling includes opposition. That is why we are refined in the first place. We only gain strength through struggle, harmony through hardship, and grace through forgiveness of others and ourselves.

It is okay to struggle.

We are in the midst of a generation that avoids it. Struggle is a bad word. It is not the American Way. We have apps to help our fitness, budget, diet, and lifestyle. We read magazines that promise improvement. We follow motivational speakers and writers making millions because we struggle and want to get out of it as soon as possible and maybe, just maybe, their new book will give us the answers.

For a moment take a breath and give yourself permission.

It is okay to struggle because it is the only way to find peace, real peace that passes all understanding.

Carter will go back and have another lesson next week and we’ll keep at it.  Because the cold October nights will pay off when he’s playing baseball years from now and looks back in his memories. I want him to have a well of resiliency, strength, hope and inspiration that he can use when he’s an adult facing down challenges much larger than figuring out the right way to hit a baseball.

So maybe I’m not on the barrier as much as I thought.  This fatherhood stuff isn’t easy.

I’m praying I get it right one day.

~Matt

 

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A Faith of Mondays

“You hit my car.”

I listened to the conversation from across the room.  Two women, one arriving and one leaving.  The one attempting to leave waited for the driver of the van, confronting her as she sat down.

“You hit my car.  There’s white paint on the door and you hit it.  You parked so close I can’t even get in.”

After a pair of hushed sentences, both stepped back outside.  Ten minutes later, the cops arrived.

It was a Monday.

I, like Garfield, hate Mondays. He spent many a comic strip lamenting the start of the week. Sunrise on a Monday meant five more days of school or work. In the professional world, Mondays carried an extra bit of edge. People sat at their desks and talked about the weekend, wishing it could be Friday once more.

Mondays are obligation, picking up the path that we can’t avoid.  Carter will tell me, on Sunday nights, how much he doesn’t want to go to school the next day.  I tell him that he doesn’t have a choice, that it is the law (met with a loud and dramatic “Awe daddddddddddddd”).

Has our faith turned into a case of the Mondays?

In the Bible, we read about Daniel. Daniel was a man of elevated status, following God in a land not accepting to his beliefs. He was an outsider, a “sheep among the wolves.” Twice he faces death, once in a den of lions and once in a fiery furnace.  Both times he comes out alive with help from God.

One of my favorite television shows is Supernatural.  Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki play brothers Sam and Dean Winchester as they hunt all variety of evil things and attempt to save the world.  They contact angels, demons, deities, and other sources well used for dramatic effect.  Death, played by Julian Richings, is a main force and character on multiple seasons of the show. In an episode, he bets Dean Winchester (Ackles) that he cannot take being Death for one day. Dean takes him up on the bet and finds himself lacking the ability to succeed.

Imagine, being Death for one day. Knowing you will impact the eternal destination of anyone you touch. Knowing your words and action will change the world forever.

It may not be standing in a den of lions or walking laps in a furnace.  It may not be facing a gunman on the campus of a college in Oregon. You may never find yourself in one of these places but your significance is still the same.

How do we break a Faith of Mondays?

Make the most of it. Every action is intentional. Every conversation has meaning, from work to school and home.  Every family dinner is a treasure. Every dream is worth following if you do it to change the world and serve those around you.

Time is not on your side. Time is a transaction. Oh, you can work out and eat right all you want but we all have expiration dates. We get an allotment of space on this spinning globe. As followers of Jesus, we can find a comfort zone too quickly. We think that there’s always tomorrow. We can pray tomorrow, read more tomorrow, contact that friend in need tomorrow. Tomorrow is never guaranteed. Look at those students in Oregon. Their families will be changed forever.

Embrace the heat. Shift back to a dangerous faith. Take a stand in radical love that breaks societal boundaries. Be the person of faith that doesn’t fall in line with stereotypes. We follow a teacher that changed the world, one standing against every accepted construct of the day. He existed outside expectations from friends, family and authorities. He was life and love incarnate. He forgave. He healed. He opened eyes and hearts. The blind would see, the lame walk, the dead live again.

He did all this as a marked man.

We are all marked, for faith cannot exist without suffering and struggle. We are refined by fire.  Daniel didn’t get a free pass.  He still felt the heat and heard the roars of the lions. We are told to keep walking, that we will never be alone or forsaken.

Does that make you feel courageous or content? Power or peace?

Personally, I’ve spent too much time chasing contentment. I’m ready for courage, for power in faith to not settle.  I’m ready to move.

Are you?

~Matt

Chains

Everyone has a race.

Everyone has a reason.

The path carries us forward, even in moments when we can’t see it, towards an ending we may not know or understand. We have gaps, blank spaces in our souls that are longing to be filled. There are dreams to take form, symphonies to compose, novels to write, songs to sing, and lives to save.

We are 7 billion creations shifting and moving on this planet with 7 billion individual purposes.

We all have our chains.

night-rust-chain

What if they are comfortable? What if we’re not Jacob Marley from The Christmas Carol, rattling around our old rich friends and keeping them up at night? What if it is much simpler?

One more drink. One more pill. No, even simpler.

One more conversation. One more argument. One more phrase you wish you hadn’t said but that person at work was so annoying and you just had to let out your frustrations on someone who happened to be your child greeting you when you walked through the door.

One more unspoken word, unmet glance, open hand not held and open heart not addressed.

Oh the chains can be so comfortable. Sometimes we even wear them with pride.

We jump on social media to fight with anyone who disagrees with our opinions as followers of Jesus. We complain about the degradation of the world and forget we are part of the equation.  We keep the hurt at arm’s length, just outside the church walls, and conduct our business with mindful ignorance.

Then we sing about freedom. We pray about it, for the chance to live the lives we want to live in our time, on our plans, within our budget and the realm of space we believe we fit. We want freedom with boundaries, wrapped in our box of choice and designed the way we want.

We’ve missed the concept of breaking chains:

Living lives of purpose and meaning. Giving back to our communities. Opening doors with love available to anyone looking for it. Giving ourselves permission to break the chains because we are new creations, no longer slaves of the past.

A Chain Breaker

A man by the name of Paul is responsible for the majority of the New Testament in the Bible.  He had everything, at the time, worth having.  He was a Roman citizen, highly educated, and zealous in his purpose to hunt down and kill those who followed this messiah from Jerusalem. One day, on his journey, he was struck down and blinded by the very object of his anger, Jesus, the one causing all this trouble.

Think about this for a moment. Paul was good at his job. He’d put many people in jail and killed many others, broken up families, advanced in standing and probably felt like he was on the right track. He was skilled, intelligent, eloquent, and able. His presence struck fear in any town he passed through.

Now he found himself face down, in the dirt, with the world turned to black.

Have you been there?

It takes suffering to break chains. It takes refinement by fire and a touch of the divine. It takes looking into the mirror of the soul, as Paul wrote:

Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.

When is the last time you heard a pastor, church leader, politician, president, or anyone of influence say something like this? This is a man of broken chains, one calling himself the worst of sinners.

Make a list of your enemies, the ones out there doing wrong in the eyes of God, the ones we see on the news and our Facebook feeds.

See that list?  Paul was lower, darker, and deeper into sin. ISIS? Lower. Bin Laden? Lower. Paul is the bottom line and he was shown mercy.

For it is mercy that breaks chains. It is the reprieve, the chance to live apart from your past, to show the fullness of your divine purpose, to mend hearts, hold hands, and rebuild relationships.

Start with mercy and grace, and your chains will fall. Ask for forgiveness as you forgive others. Meet the one Paul met on the Damascus road.

Paul’s pen changed the world so many centuries ago. Imagine what, with all the resources out there, you can do today.

~Matt