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.

pexels-photo

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

Advertisements

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.

pexels-photo

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

Speak Out and Fight for Freedom

Fight for the weak ones

Speak out for freedom

Find faith in the battle

Stand tall but above it all…

~Fix My Eyes by For King and Country

I’m in the midst of reading John Krakauer’s book Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town. In it, Krakauer examines the state of sexual assault reporting and prosecution at the University of Montana spanning the years around 2011 on a campus with horribly low numbers of both categories.  He includes detailed accounts from victims and the efforts taken by local law enforcement to avoid filing charges against some of the young men involved.

The book hits home on the heels of the Rolling Stone controversy about the University of Virginia rape case expose. Take the two hand in hand, one instance of falsehood and one of ignorance, and you find college campuses in this country seated at a tipping point in handling the instances of young women and men claiming sexual assault.

People are scared to speak up.

The challenge to Fight for the Weak and Speak Out for Freedom sounds great, like something we’d put on a bumper sticker.  We tell ourselves that we do it all the time. We share Facebook updates and send text messages to donate funds.  Isn’t that enough?

One day

Our heroes are the big-hitters of faith. Men and women who weren’t perfect but were perfect for the time they lived.  Martin Luther King Jr. decided to walk forward and exercise non violence against the evils he witnessed every day.  He took prison, police dogs, and night sticks to fight the idea of the status quot.

Doing nothing was not an option.

What if we adopted that mindset?

What if we stood next to one family in need and lifted them up with support? What if we took the hand of a child getting bullied and let them know we are there for them, that we will do whatever it takes to make it right?  What if we stopped the next water-cooler conversation that veers into racism and prejudice?

What if we listened to those that lash out in anger against the Church and apologize? Apologize for those of us that hid behind the stage when we should have stepped out. Apologize for those who told the hated, neglected, beaten down, rejected, addicted and struggling that they couldn’t come in.

Say we are sorry because we are all works in progress.  That we’ve taken this Gospel of Life and Love and made it into something else, shifted God’s voice to match our own out of fear.

Change is possible when we stand up and refuse to stay silent.

Isn’t that seat getting old?

~Matt

For the next TWO days you can find my novel, The City for FREE download on Amazon.com. Click here to download and check it out.

Faith and Life in Action: 3e Restoration Inc.

I connected with Pastor Fred Liggin after publishing this article in RELEVANT Magazine. We exchanged emails and I learned of 3e Restoration Inc., a program revolutionizing the fight against poverty in Williamsburg, Virginia. Liggin is the Founder and President of 3e and pastor on staff at Williamsburg Christian Church. He’s a man of God, husband, father, and passionate activist. I’m proud to call him a friend and publish this post with the story of 3e and Faith and Life in Action. Without any further hesitation, here’s Fred:

 

I’ve been walking with folks from homelessness to holistic sufficiency now for just over twelve years. Four years ago when I came to WCC, I began walking with a family living through homelessness. This evolved into calling members of our church to serve as what we called “All In Friends.” From there I began to build a network of relationships within the city—professionals willing to donate services (mental health, job-training professionals, occupational therapists, financial advisers, dentists, etc.) to help with wrap around services.

As other local faith groups caught word of what we were doing I was asked by an inter-faith collaborative to teach other churches how to do it. We began piloting a city-wide effort together. Upon the completion of this pilot we launched a non-profit to keep up with equipping other local churches to do the work.

We now have three local churches that have embraced the process and have trained twelve leaders from seven different local congregations to move toward implementing the process in their congregations. We also have three more local churches discerning how to embrace the 3e Restoration process and engage those living through homelessness through gracious hospitality and meaningful relationships. 

A beautiful movement has begun here in greater Williamsburg, Virginia.

I strongly believe that just as the gospel was born on the margins in the narrative of Scripture, missional renewal is born on the margins for the local Church.

This is why I deeply believe in the Church despite her brokenness.

Williamsburg Christian Church found Jesus on the margins four years ago as they were a church in decline. It was there we found renewal and that has given birth to a whole host of beautiful stories to include those living through poverty, those experiencing wealth; those wrestling with addiction, those enjoying sobriety; those moving upward in their career, those working multiple jobs to make ends meet; those living with intellectual disabilities and mental illness (we have an entire assisted living home gathering and sharing in life with us now), those with PhD’s.

life is a(1)

3e Restoration was birthed out of this context and from 12 years of personal experience. So this isn’t a story about me. It is a story about our missionary God inviting His people to rediscover their identity as a missionary people who genuinely seek to be present with their neighbors—even the one’s no one claims–and make His kingdom known in tangible ways.

I find that when a church, or even a Christian, embraces gracious hospitality as a posture and way of being in society, surprising friendships are formed and healing can begin for all, even the discouraged. Sometimes when I am burdened by the frustration of the Church, I go away and be with the “least of these.” I believe that we can catch glimpses of Him in them.

Honestly some times I see more of Jesus in the downtrodden, the last, least, lonely and left out than I do myself or other Christians.

I have to just go and serve and get away from the trappings of institutionalized Christianity and its way of life. I learn from them. I see Jesus in them. I walk away encouraged.

Then I return to the institutionalized Christianity. That is important. I must come back to put my hands and feet to work among God’s people, remind as many as I can of the way we should see the world, ourselves and others, and call us back out into the margins and away from the center of society.

I think another thing is that I must believe that my life is not happenstance and neither are my encounters with others. People are too precious to God for this to not be true.

So I must be attentive.

As every day people living in everyday places we must choose to learn how to be open to the possibility that nothing or no one is irredeemable–a resurrected King Jesus makes us prisoners of hope. His kingdom is breaking-in, my job is to bear witness in word and deed, tangible expressions of grace, hope and love. And this best happens in community.

Now my resurrectional identity is more than a theological platitude. It becomes what it means to be a child of God and citizen of His kingdom. And it inevitably moves us closer to others where surprising friendships are formed and healing begins–healing for us all.

You can connect with Pastor Fred in multiple ways:  His blogWilliamsburg Christian Church and 3e Restoration. He’s on twitter @liggin and on Facebook. Be sure to follow his posts and the efforts of 3e. Their work is valuable to the national conversation about poverty.  He is an inspiration.  If you are struggling this week, consider his story of stepping out and making a difference. We are called to the margins and, when we return, we are never the same again.

A Glass Jar City

The sky was the color of slate, rain tapping against the windows.  I was seated in the office of Peter Barbey, CEO of the Reading Eagle Company.  The organization produces print and online media for the Reading and Berks County region. The room is a page from Mad Men, furnished from a different time when journalists could not conceive of a concept like digital content.

Barbey’s family has roots in the area going back through two centuries.  His interest is professional and personal.  He is a student of history, politics, and numbers, the perfect combination for a captain of media.  We flank a small circular table, issues of Berks Country and Business Weekly framed over Barbey’s right shoulder on the wall.

“Reading is a glass jar city,” he says, picking up an imaginary jar in his hand. “We put all the poverty, addiction, homelessness and other stuff in one spot, flip the jar,” he turns his hand over, ” and say ‘deal with it.'”

2536576259_a804cf0664
Photo Credit: frankieleon via Compfight cc

Throughout the journey of this book, the Problem in Reading has taken many forms.  The list is lengthy and detailed.  Industry has fled to the suburbs. The school district is struggling with a lower tax base. Crime increased with poverty. Immigration has changed the face of the businesses and streets.

The deepest issue may be in mind of those under and around the jar.  How do we break down walls and heal wounds? How do we have the difficult conversations about race and responsibility?

How do we change the soul of a city founded before the Revolutionary War?

The process will not be easy.  It will take men like Barbey with the resources and connections to get the ball rolling, challenge old standards, and usher the city into a new era.

It will take time and, at the moment, time may not be on Reading’s side. The glass walls will shatter when the tide turns.  Until then, we stand on the shore and wait, watching the waves crest on the horizon.

~Matt

 

Paris is Full of Surprises

Elisabeth von Thurn und Taxis is Vogue‘s style editor at large. She’s my age and has been in the position since 2012. She is also a member of a royal family.  She posted a picture on her Instagram on Saturday from Paris and Fashion Week.  The picture showed a homeless person reading a copy of the magazine with the caption, “Paris is full of surprises…and @voguemagazine readers even in unexpected corners!”  You can find coverage of it here.

The irony in this situation could fill more than a single post and it shines a light on a deeper issue.

85393411_baddc5ed80

Photo Credit: Jonttu Leskinen via Compfight cc

The news article I mentioned above calls out the contradiction of Fashion Week as a spectacle of consumption with the presence of the homeless population in and around the city.  The contradiction of Paris is often played out in our own lives.

We all have reward mechanisms. Go long enough without rewarding yourself and the impulse will kick in. Some people go big and others go small.  It can be good or bad, from a workout to a cigarette.  Addicts hit their reward impulse without reservation and it can destroy their lives.

As people of faith, we struggle with delayed gratification.  We tell ourselves that things will happen in God’s time, as we watch others get promotions, cars, vacations, etc.

The cycle can shift with a moment of recognition.

Elisabeth von Thurn und Taxis saw her magazine and not the homeless person reading it. In my time researching and interviewing for my current project, I’ve had a chance to visit the front lines of charities and hear their stories.  When you see someone crying over a pair of donated socks for their new baby, you understand that there are concerns deeper than yours.

You notice the person holding the magazine.

When you see every part of your community, you are inspired to do something about it.  When you give, God’s time stops haunting your worries and starts driving you forward. You become a part of a greater movement.

Suddenly it all matters.

~Matt

This is Why Poverty Matters

“In downtown L.A., however, as many as 54 blocks — between Third Street and Seventh Street, from Alameda to Main — are almost entirely given over to the homeless, the limbless, the drug-addicted and the mentally ill. Battered tents line the boulevards. Mountains of garbage block the sidewalks. The air smells like urine, feces and burning crack. And everywhere there are people — dazed, disheveled, disabled; stretched out on lawn chairs or sprawled on the pavement; some scoring heroin from marked tents, others injecting it between their toes in plain sight, mere blocks from some of the hippest new bars and restaurants in town.”

On Monday, a cell phone video released showing police in Los Angeles shooting a homeless man to death.  He was mentally ill, living in Skid Row for years and, according to police, grabbing for an officer’s gun.  You can find coverage here. Yahoo’s article starts with the above description.  It continues to say this:

“The more difficult questions, perhaps, are the ones that fewer Americans will ask. Why was a troubled man who reportedly spent 10 years in a mental facility living in squalor on the streets of the nation’s last dedicated homeless district? Why was he surrounded by as many as 6,000 men, women and children in similarly dire straits — 2,000 of whom sleep on the sidewalks? How can a place like this still exist? And what can be done about it?”

5202466987_7aaa250dd4

Photo Credit: bondidwhat via Compfight cc

The city of Los Angeles started a Housing for Health program, a push for supportive housing to get people off the streets as a first-level solution.  The first Community Partner of P356, We Agape You, is also focused on a housing initiative for the city of Reading. The answer, as simple and clear as it can be, is to acquire stable rooms and put people in them. Do this and you take a large step against the ills of poverty.

As we read this post in our homes, the world of Skid Row seems far away. The poor are “out there” and we are “in here.” As believers, we like to compartmentalize our missions to the missionaries.  You want me to give something extra?  Sure, I’ll throw some money into the bucket, maybe collect some cans and drop them off at church. As long as we don’t have to get dirty.

We follow a Savior calling us to get dirty.

We follow a Savior who lived his years on the fringes. He ate dinner with those outside of society and angered the religious leaders of the time. He went to those in need. He wants us to do the same.

This is why poverty matters:

These people are all our families. These kids sleeping on the sidewalk are our children.  Their struggles are our own and we cannot ignore it.

This fight is one I’m capturing in my current book project.  Please consider joining with P356 to help the words make a difference. The moment the story moves from the news into your heart is one that you will never forget.  It will change your life and drive you to change the lives of others.

You will make a difference.

~Matt

Our Next Step

Today is a big day for P356.  This morning, my guest post went live on our church’s website.  They are starting a message series on the miracles of Jesus.  My post is centered on Peter’s attempt at answering the call of Jesus by walking on water.

You can read it here.

I’ve added two new pages to the site outlining the next step in the growth of P356 as an outreach and organization connected with the fight against poverty.

New Publications

My first devotional is now available for download and in print.  Wing Night, named after one of my favorite activities with friends (the purchase and consumption of hot wings) is a short read for men.  It is twenty days of thoughts, motivation, and inspiration centered around marriage, faith, and family.

The City is my first science fiction novel. It tells the story of two friends living inside the final city existing in the United States.  Their choices will determine the future as society falls apart around them.

You’ll also find links to my other novel and novella publications.  Please check them out.

Community Partners

It was my dream, from day one, that P356 would make a difference.  I wanted the words to matter.  With this in mind, I am donating partial proceeds from the sales of Wing Night and The City, to a local charity I have interviewed for inclusion in my current book project. The first official P356 Community Partner is We Agape You.

We Agape You was founded by Randall Simmons, a friend working daily to change the tide of homelessness in the city of Reading.  You’ll find more details including a link to his website on the Community Partners page.

With each additional publication, I’ll add another partner to the list.  Your support will help make a difference in the fight against poverty.

Every word counts and every person sleeping in the cold tonight matters.

Sunday morning, this song was included in our worship.  The image of chains carries a loaded set of meanings. We can be chained together, chained apart, tied down and tied up. Chains are weight and bondage.  They are stress and pressure.  They are real and imagined.

They are a connection point.

We know that we are a New Creation. We know that we are Free Indeed.  This freedom does not come without cost.

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ ~Matthew 25:40 NIV

As you start your week, consider how you can make a difference. The hardest step in the first one. Today, these words are the next step for P356.  They mark a new journey. Chains are breaking. The shift is happening.  Reality is changing.

The time is now.

~Matt

A Beautiful Collision

“The numbers were bad.  Some were made up. They had pluses where there should have been minuses. It took time, but they’re back in shape.”

I was on the phone with Gordon Mann from Public Financial Management.  PFM is serving as the Act 47 coordinator for the city of Reading. Mann’s passion is for the numbers.  His voice is confident and my pen rushes to keep up with the accounting information we discuss.

Act 47 is a governmental designation here in Pennsylvania saying the city is in fiscal emergency. Mann’s company must guide it back from the steps of ruin. He breaks the image down into understandable chunks. The only solution is cutting wherever possible. Contraction, not expansion.

Not popular terms for politicians promising assertive action to make things right again, to get the homeless off the streets and into jobs.

Two opposing forces are here moving towards collision.

Promises versus reality. Action and reaction. Faith during another night in the cold, unemployed with no answer in sight.

131786374_18b72006efPhoto Credit: Moon Wolfe via Compfight cc

We live our years here as followers of Jesus, a Savior calling us to shed our old selves and pick up a new cross.  The Bible tells the story of more than once of the rich man asking about entrance to Heaven.  Jesus advises him to sell everything and give the proceeds to the poor.

Not a story that makes us comfortable.

So where do we stand on the line?  Are we holding tightly to something we are called to release?

Both of my sons love their pillows.  They have favorite blankets that must be on the bed for any chance of sleep.

Where do we find peace?

I’m feeling the challenge this week to live in the midst of the conflict.  To lay down my insecurities, pick up my Cross and start walking. Cutting our comforts for an active faith is never easy.

This is why Monday is a huge day for P356. The next step of this outreach has arrived. I’ll have a post Monday morning with all the details.

For now, I’m standing at the starting line.

Will you join me?

~Matt

 

Lessons Learned

Next time you’re in a social gathering and the conversation lulls, start talking about school.  Just the word carries an interesting association for us.  Some people have good memories of school, others not so good with things like bullying or struggle.  School meant proving yourself against the standards of your friends, parents, and society.

It was a metaphor for life.

A story stuck with me this week out of Pakistan. A terrorist group had broken into a military school and killed more than 150 people including more than 100 children. This was done in retaliation to military activities in the region.  A hundred children lost their lives in a war they had nothing to do with.

9152204766_73bb9ebdb3

Photo Credit: Nicolas P. Tschopp via Compfight cc

I was a student in high school myself when Columbine happened and I remember our teachers turning it on to watch on televisions in the classrooms.  This kind of thing was so foreign at the time.  Schools were safe, our 9-5 jobs while the real world happened outside the walls.  Suddenly, when kids could get guns and bring them into a school building to kill people, life was not the same.

Last week, I wrote about why we write. There is something else to add.

As writers we have a responsibility to the world. We are called to be voices in the darkness, to stand up for those who cannot speak, to let our words capture outrage against violence, fury for those who suffer, and hope against discrimination.

Our pages should be fiery sermons delivered digitally and in print calling the world to attention.   We should be Martin Luther King Jr. on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, lone figures shining bright for peace and refusing to go quietly into the night.

We should be matches that light the fires of change.

Yesterday I was talking with a friend from Reading, Pennsylvania, the city that is the topic of my next book-in-progress.  She has resided there twenty years now and seen the true depths of poverty and redemption.  We were talking about what it meant for her to call the poorest city in the country home.

She looked at me and said:

“You need to tell the story, to tell what’s happening in this city with these people who are struggling.”

She’s my inspiration and her advice applies to you too.

You need to tell your story, so what are you waiting for?

~Matt