A Thought to Change Your Life

As we grow, we develop filters through which we see our lives. Aiden, at three, sees the world differently than I do.  We spent tonight together playing and watching cartoons. He’ll run his toy trains through imaginary worlds while making sound effects and cheering them on. He trusts people. He’ll follow Carter even if he ends up hurting himself in the process.

He has yet to be spoiled by negativity.

At the moment, I’m making my way through Mark Batterson’s book, If, and it is a powerful process.  In the chapter I read last night, he writes about a shift in perspective that can change your life as you start the new year:

“Spiritually speaking, the tipping point is when you believe, without any reservation, that God if for you.  It is the revelation that God doesn’t just love you, he likes you.”

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We project our life experiences onto God.  One part of psychology believes that we see God as we do our father figures. If our father happened to be vacant, we take the same insight to understanding the one who gave us life and breath.

It is the essence of faith for many.  “If bad things happen, they must be from God as all things are from God and we are clearly being punished.” Entire systems of faith build their towers on this idea as it drives money into offering buckets.

How would your life change if you adapted Batterson’s statement above.  What if God is for you, not just every now and then, but every single moment? What if God cares for you and wants good things for you, for me, and for everyone?

This changes the narrative and breaks down walls of separation.

When I think back on all I’ve done and experienced, that small voice speaks up too quickly and tells me that I’m not worthy.  How can God love me and, especially, how can he like me?

That’s the gift of the cross. The one sacrifice to seal the deal and prove for all time that God has our best interests at heart.

So as you look towards a new year, drive it into your head.  Write it down. Make it part of your daily prayer life. Tell your children, spouse, and family.

God loves you and likes you. Use this is a base for what is coming. Shift your perspective and you’ll see even more fall into place.

It is time for 2016 to change everything.  Let’s make it happen.

~Matt

 

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If

I hope you enjoyed your past five days.

For us it was a time of running around, visiting family, opening presents and thinking about the past year. We attended a Christmas Eve service on a warm night and rejoiced as our pastor walked out on stage with his new prosthetic left leg. Carter and Aiden loved every gift they received. We somehow managed to make it relatively smooth and are still in the process of getting the house in order.

The insurance money for home repairs will be available to us on 12/30, starting the ball rolling towards repairs and the house returning to form.  On Christmas I experienced my own little miracle, something I will post about this week, as this was the first year without both of my grandparents.

I am excited for what is coming.  The final few days of 2015 will put a cap on a stressful time in our lives.  We are finally moving towards some good news on multiple fronts.  I know that everyone believes 2016 will be their year. It is a common refrain for the end of December.

We have a concrete reason why.

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Last night I started reading Pastor Mark Batterson’s new book.  The title is If and it is based on Romans 8:31.

If God is for us, who can be against us?

I’ll be writing two posts for our church’s official blog about this book and I’m excited to dive into it. He makes a point in the first chapter that will change lives:

If we really believed that verse, an alternative reality awaits.

If God is for us, who can be against us? It removes any space for doubts or fears.  How different would our year look if we walked forward believing that God is for us?

There are times I fight hard against cynicism. I mean, okay I get it. Faith is faith. Yet, when I read those sentences I felt a spark of something inside. Facing this book launch in 2016, the official initiation of P356 to the publishing world and fully giving my writing over to God’s purpose, I still get pangs of fear.

I look in the mirror and can hear the voices.

Why me? I was never anybody special.

If God is for us, who can be against us?

What happens if I fail?

If God is for us, who can be against us?

Do you know the odds against success? How many people actually launch their business online and survive?

If God is for us, who can be against us?

The bottom line is faith. Silence the voices.  Grab hold of the promise, the importance of If, and use it to change your life.  Looking forward to what is coming, to building this book and making real change in our lives.

It all starts with one concept-

If.

~Matt

The Gift of 10 Lessons Learned

One of the most valuable things we can do this time of year is reflect on lessons learned.  As the quote from Socrates goes, the unexamined life is not worth living. Val and I have both felt the pangs of growing pains, that we are nearing transition.  As 2016 arrives and I shift to marketing my current book project, I feel the tension of expectation.

Looking back, this year has carried with it many valuable lessons.

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From Carter-When you have a chance, run.

From Aiden-Sometimes nothing is better than a snuggle on the couch under a blanket while you watch Tumble Leaf.

From Val-Your heart can grow big enough to handle the stresses of life.

From Hazel, my grandmother who was called home to heaven to be with my grandfather this year-Be prepared. A gallon of fresh homemade iced tea can go far.

From our pastor, Bryan Koch, and the story of his accident-You can worship in the midst of pain, stand in the midst of sorrow, and offer grace and hope when it seems that none are possible.

From the friends and colleagues I’ve met working on the book-Never underestimate the power of unity, service, selfless love, and the drive of people working to make a difference.

From my dad-Always say, “I love you” before you hang up the phone.

From my mom-Know what you are having for dinner.

From the kids I’ve helped coach in baseball and basketball-We all get a chance to hit or take the shot, when it is your time be sure to make it count.

From God-You are never alone.

What was your greatest lesson this year?

~Matt

The Gift of Not Having to Say Thank You

I’ve written before about my love for the television show Supernatural. On Friday night, as I watched one of the episodes from the tenth season, an exchange of dialogue hit me.

Sam and Dean, brothers played by Jensen Ackles and Jared Padlecki, are riding in a car going to hunt down the latest monster of the week.  In the midst of a rainy drive they are discussing the events of the past few episodes, moments where Sam had gone to great lengths to save Dean.

Ackles, perfectly in character, mentions that he never said thanks for being saved.

Padelecki looks at him, pauses for a moment, and replies:

“You never have to say that.  Not to me.”

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The moment works on many levels.  From brother to brother, it says that one will always be there.  Family stands high enough to mean there isn’t a need to say thank you.  You’ll always be there, regardless.

It also means that gratitude is understood and that things will be okay.

The idea of not having to say thank you works against everything we’ve put front and center in society. We demand recognition for our efforts and our input. The ones spending their lives in service to others know and understand that this dynamic fails.

This Tuesday, in Reading, a team of volunteers will gather to serve meals to those in need in an event called Cups of Compassion. The individuals I met during this past year of book research will fill some of the spots on this team.  They spend often more than forty hours a week in the world of the poor, ill, beaten down, and distressed.

They go to work every week, go home at night, and go back to do it again in the morning.  They see their clients often fall off the wagon of sobriety and end up incarcerated, in the hospital, or in the graveyard.

These warriors, ones like Sherry Camelleri, Rob Turchi, Frank Grill, Steve Olivo, Sharon Parker, Dan Clouser and Craig Poole and the staff at United Community Services, Berks County Prison, Berks Women in Crisis, Service Access Management, Opportunity House and other shelters in the city all do what they do without the expectation of thanks.

They do it because they care.  They will always be there.  They understand the need to save and their abilities to make it reality. They change lives with selfless love that embodies this time of year.

We can follow their lead and give back, all without expectation or condition.

For the need will never go away. We must rise to fight, step to the line, and give the gift of living to serve without having to hear “thank you.”

~Matt

 

 

The Gift of Showing Up

This week I’ve been praying for God to show up.  Not in a Christmas story, angels in the sky kind of way.  Just in a moment or two where the divine breaks through the atmosphere and you can feel it.

This time of year it is way too easy to phone it in. We pack our weeks with activities, shopping, preparation, and stress.  The push is on to get that last gift, stock up on the required groceries, and finish remaining deadlines before the new year.

As a writer, and a dad, I tend to live in my head.  The internal conversation started when I was young, growing up an only child, and helped me tap into the words that became short stories, novellas, and finally novels.  Stephen Gaghan, writer of the movie Traffic, said that everyone who wants to write has a desire to explain themselves to the world.  I rehearsed this inside my head for decades.

Because the truth can be scary. Emotions can scar. Fear can paralyze. Moments of genuine experience hit like hammers and leave us euphoric or reeling in the aftermath.

They light the fire of our souls.

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God has shown up this week and answered my prayers in multiple ways. Yesterday, I met more than one person struggling to make it this month, but held up and hanging on by their faith. Last night and today Carter had the chance to play with good friends and practice the sports he loves.

I was honored to have someone witness to me today. We talked about faith and they told me to lean on Jesus every day because we need it, every day, to survive.

The Gift of Showing Up works on two levels.  First, make the effort to slow down and be present these next two weeks. Enjoy the quiet moments. Reflect on what has happened, the fact that you’ve survived, and the hope of the future. Play with your kids. Talk to your spouse. Make it count.

Second, you’ll be surprised where and when God will arrive.  Tonight I met with my friend Sherry, director of Mercy Community Crisis Pregnancy Center.  I updated her on the progress of my current book project.  We talked about family and friends, the daily process of an outreach organization, and the courage to keep coming back.

She shared stories of clients surviving in the journey of parenting, education, and escaping the web of poverty. She is a woman of hope, one that has shown me God every time we’ve met.

Find people like this and be sure to spend time with them.  They will equip you to go out and shine the light of hope to others.

You’ll truly understand the power and gift of showing up.

~Matt

 

The Gift of Changing Your Mindset

We started basketball last week.  In the gym of the local YMCA, Carter and eight other boys run around, dribble, pass and shoot. A good number of the kids on the team were in the spring’s baseball league, so we aren’t too far outside our comfort zone.  Carter loves the game.  Anything that allows a constant flow of movement is paradise.

Tonight, near the end of practice, Carter slipped and lost the ball to another player.  He fell and, as he stood up, started crying and saying he hurt his arm.  I walked him over to the side where he got a drink and rested for a minute.  The coach (a friend of mine) came over to try to get him back into things.

It took some convincing.

I sent the coach a text message afterwards to get his opinion on practice in general.  He said that Carter is great, if he could only figure out a way to change his mindset.

My son, blessed with coordination and athletic ability at age seven, can’t take conflict and failure.

As I typed that sentence, I realize he sounds a lot like his old man.

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As writers, failure and rejection is a part of life. Google famous authors and you’ll find their rejection stories, grand novels passing through a hundred publishers before finding the right one. Writers in second and third careers before their break and release onto the market.

Failure and rejection has meaning.

The story of Peter is one in the Bible that always fascinated me.  He was told, by Jesus, that he’d deny him three times.  Imagine the one you would die for telling you that you’ll turn your back in a time of trouble. The accusations fly and Peter, as predicted, makes his denials.

In the midst of pressure, he walks away. He takes the route of believed safety.  When he life goes sideways, he chooses to walk away rather than stand firm. We know it doesn’t end there, though, as he is reinstated by Jesus and lives out his life to face a martyr’s death like each of the other apostles.

The tipping point is the choice to get back in the game. When Carter cries, he’s reacting to failure, to the fear of not meeting expectations or making someone happy.  When he wants to walk away from the game, the shame (and shame must be strong at seven) wins.

I know that feeling, every time I put off editing another chapter, writing another post, or crafting another email.

There is nothing as exhilarating as living in your flow, playing the game, moving towards the end goal. This week, consider your mindset and make a change.  List out those things you are putting off, whether in business or personal life. Start getting them done one task at a time.

It is a gift that can change your 2016 for the better.

~Matt

It is Okay to Believe

This post was building the last few weeks.  It took a video circulated by the Huffington Post to finally make it happen.  They took verses from the Bible, most out of context, and quizzed people on the street to see if they thought the verses came from it or the Quran. This was supposed to make some grand point and found its way passed around social media fairly quickly.

We are in the age of attack on faith.

Belief systems have faltered at times throughout history.  When governments or people grab hold of the divine and use it towards their own ends, darkness and persecution results. From the first nomadic tribes to the Romans, Crusades, Jews, Christians, Muslims, and others. When a charismatic leader rises up, they will gather the uninformed and insecure to form followers.  You get things like the Holocaust, Jonestown, and David Koresh. You get individuals willing to strap bombs to their chests and push the ignition switch.

You get a major New York tabloid publishing a headline saying God Will Not Fix This.

In times of chaos and tragedy, the tide and pointing fingers go against God.

Yet there are still reasons to believe.

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Faith provides a moral compass, it sends the line between dark and light, good and evil.  It provides meaning in tragedy, for if you remove God from the equation than it nullifies all the feelings of our righteous indignation. What value are we to this world in our eighty or so years of existence if there is nothing on the flipside? We place ourselves on a plane of morality because we understand the larger picture.  We feel we are right because divinity drew the map at creation.

Hear me out.

In the midst of this, there are good things emerging.  In a news release last week, more than 70,000 Muslim clerics banded together to denounce ISIS. There are still churches working to make change in their communities.  I think of the heroes of faith, back to Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Theresa, Ghandi and others that set their feet in a belief system working to change the world for the better.

I can tell you what Jesus did say in the Bible.

He said to love your neighbor. He said the meek were blessed. He called to those in pain and suffering to come and find rest. He turned the establishment of the day on its head by showing the true meaning of faith.

Tonight I want you to know it is okay to believe.  It is okay to pray before your meals and pass your faith onto your kids.  It is okay to attend a community of faith, be socially active, support those in need and love your neighbors.  Pray in your dorm room, read your Bible, download You Version’s Bible app on your phone and start a reading plan. If you are single, pray about the ideal person for you. Know that there is a plan for your life, meaning in your struggle, hope in your suffering, peace in the chaos, and hope for tomorrow.

If you don’t believe, that is okay too. The Jesus I follow tells me to love as he first loved me.  Know that a genuine community of faith in your area is always open to you, whether or not you ever walk through the doors. Know that you matter. Your words, feelings, and opinions count.  Your questions deserve to be answered and the answers are out there.

Pastor Erwin McManus, head of Mosaic Church in Los Angeles, said in one of his books that “Today’s atheists were yesterday’s children of the church.” I believe he’s right and I know the doors are still open.  The hurt, scars, and pain may be deep, but scars become maps to newer and greater stories.

We all need newer and greater stories.

~Matt

Friday Hit List

A quick hit list of thoughts to start your weekend.

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Victory- Just before Thanksgiving, I went and saw Creed with a good friend.  The movie, besides being a quality addition to the franchise, examines the theme of time.  In the end, time always wins. Decide what you’ll do with what you have.  Fight for what is important and keep moving forward.

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Verse- The largest challenge of faith.  We are called to walk towards what we do not see in a world that demands proof.  Jesus said, “Blessed are those who have not seen and still believed.” We are the generation separated by thousands of years and still believing. Do good. Serve. Love. Parent your kids to be contributors to society. Give someone hope. Do it all for faith and the assurance of the unseen.

Christmas song- Val loves Christmas music.  I can take or leave it.  In the realm of holiday songs, this is the classic and one that stands above the rest. I rank Chris Tomlin’s version of Joy to the World (Unending Joy)” as a close second.

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Final Thought- Break Free.

Ever find yourself speaking with someone who has an agenda?  How about every day of the week?  The world is filled with it.  Work in any business and you’ll be dealing with customers, suppliers, vendors, and an army of people with agendas.  This afternoon I had a conversation with a friend who is transactional by nature. I’ve known him for a year now and he lives his life around the principal of what can you do for me?

Writers are often told to not write for the market, as, by the time your novel is ready, the current trend has moved on.

Too many communities of faith build themselves around service veiled in transactional pitches (you need a small group, to give, to join up, to get community, to go on the missions trip).

Jesus offered the ultimate alternative: grace. The cross as the final transaction, erasing the need for all others.

We need to shift our view, to understand that service and contribution grows from the hope of faith, that salvation is not a bargain purchased online, at the store, or at the polls in November. The world will change through selfless love, not agenda.

This month, know you can break free.  Stuff is not the point. The point is unending hope born so long ago. The moment the universe broke apart on a quiet night for the birth of a baby who changed everything.

We all believe something. We define ourselves by it.  Time will win in the end, so keep chasing your calling in confidence. Even if you can’t fully see the end result. Break the dynamics of transactions. Stand on grace.

Have a cup of hot chocolate and grab hold of a moment of peace in the chaos.

Then do it all again tomorrow.

~Matt

The Joy Shortage Part 2

You’ll find the original post here.

I had the following conversation today:

“Good morning.”

“Hello.”

“How are you?”

“Terrible. Why would you ask that question? Why would you ask that when you already know the answer? I’m here aren’t I? Why would you waste my time with that question?”

We finished our verbal interaction and this person went back to their seat. Three words. I asked a simple question and a door opened that told me more about the individual on the other end of the conversation than I needed to know.

There was no joy to be found.

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Yesterday, the message at church was on joy and letting our outside match what is inside. We are told, in the Bible, of incarnational joy. The message of the holidays is a coming of peace that passes all understanding.  We sing Joy to the World.

In the absence of heaven, we find means to medicate a filler of the space inside.

Some do this through faith, prayer, love and community.  Others buy things. Even more grow dark and numb as their flame wisps to smoke and eventually a cold interior.

Then they are asked a question, How are you?

And they answer like above.

This time of year we tend to spread ourselves thin, pulled in all directions.  Kids act up. Work stresses. Finances may be tight with that last push to finish shopping and find the perfect gift.

Yet, we know the perfect gift.

For happiness is a choice.  Sorrow is a choice. Cynicism is a choice. Fear is a choice.

Love is a choice.

Joy though, joy is different. Joy puts me on the beach in Mexico during our honeymoon all those years ago, sleeping next to Val as the tropical breeze drifts over us. Joy is the first moment I held Carter and Aiden, the thrill and mystery of being a parent.  Joy is knowing what I’m called to do, not that I’m there yet but I know the pull God has placed on my heart.  I know my completed sentence.

I don’t know how it will play out.

Your own story may be a mystery tonight. You are sitting in a dark room reading this on your cell phone searching for a glimmer of hope.  You are yearning for words that may change your circumstance for the better.  You want a kindred soul.

You are not alone.

Joy is born of the perfect gift, the completed sentence, knowing the ending before you arrive.  It is the reason we celebrate the arrival of the One come to change the world and take on our suffering in our place. Joy lit the sky over the shepherds, drew the wise to their knees, ignited a star in the sky and fulfilled words found centuries before.

So the next time someone asks, be ready.

How are you?

~Matt