Turn

I’ve spent all of last week and will spend all of this week working in an area with a television.  That allows me to watch the news and the morning talk shows. In the midst of this election season, it is not always a good thing.

I’m tired of the bickering, the scandals, the email leaks and name calling. I’m tired of listening to both parties fighting like school kids on a playground.

As annoying as it gets, conflict has defined this world recently more than ever before. We have terrorist violence in Europe, opposing groups here ready to step up in an instant.  Even when we know there are good and honorable police officers, the headlines seem filled with ones that cannot do their job without issues.

In one of the more challenging passages in the Bible (Matt 5:39), Jesus gives us a valuable statement on violence.

“But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.”

This doesn’t fly with America.  We’re fighters! We stand up to evil and sniff it out wherever we find it. We’re the big dogs ready to police the world.

Yet, Jesus tells us differently.

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In that sentence, he’s speaking on the street to an oppressed people. Violence was a fact of life. The Roman Empire ruled over Jerusalem. They could take, and do, what they wanted.

Jesus tells the crowd not to resist.

See, violence gives us a few choices: Counter punch.  Bob and weave.  Hit them first before they can hit us. All of these are responses in fear.

Jesus tells us to not be afraid.

Stand firm. Turn the other cheek.

It takes more strength to stand your ground.  Jesus knew this.  Martin Luther King Jr. knew this. Anyone who has faced down opposition and held to what they believed, they’ve known this.

Every martyr living in the midst of a hostile country and serving in love. Every mother sitting up late for her son when she has to work in the morning because she refuses to give up on him.

Every teacher reaching out to the kid sitting alone at the lunch table.  Every coworker speaking out against harassment.

Every hero in the midst of the city understanding that the norm is not acceptable.

All of these know about turning the other cheek.

The key isn’t fighting back.

It is rising above.

~Matt

 

The Night Of

If you are looking for a new television show, head to HBO or download their app and check out The Night Of. Penned by outstanding crime author Richard Price, and based off a series in the UK, it is a classic murder mystery set in the tensions of today’s society.

I’ll spare more important plot details and just tell you to watch it.  Seriously, you’ll be hooked.

There’s a scene where John Turturro, playing the veteran defense lawyer, is counseling his client, played on point by actor Riz Ahmed. Turturro tells Ahmed not to speak to anyone.  It doesn’t matter who comes into his cell and asks questions, just say “I don’t know,” and “Talk to my lawyer.”

Ahmed states he just wants to tell the truth, asking “don’t you want to know the truth?”

Turturro says no, that the truth doesn’t matter.

It is only their story versus the prosecution and which one will stand up in the eyes of the jury.

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Story has the power to move.

Write a sentence that plays the right chord and you’ll have an audience in the palm of your hand. I once had a professor tell me that no story is unbiased.  Watch the news and you are seeing an interpretation of events. There is nothing that scrolls across the screen of our smart phones without being filtered through an agenda.

One of the most interesting statements in the Bible comes from Pilate at the trial of Jesus. We read in the Gospel of John that Jesus tells Pilate, “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” Pilate replies:

“What is truth?”

You could take this multiple ways and write multiple books on the subject. Pilate certainly wanted to move on from the trial.  He ends it after his rhetorical question and tells the audience of religious leaders that he has no basis to charge Jesus of any crime.

He could have assessed Jesus to see if there was any claim to royalty, any threat to Roman rule.  Or, as one experienced in litigation, maybe he followed the rule Turturro stated a few thousand years later.

What is truth?

The story matters, for in the story hides the truth.

There’s a reason Jesus preached in parables. There’s a reason a movement started inside an empty tomb a few days after that trial as the story spread mouth to mouth. There’s a reason the movement caught fire when people realized the potential of true, selfless love.

We stand at a crossroads, a country facing a change in leadership that could drastically shift the future. It is time for those who claim to follow Jesus to stand on the power of the story and know the bottom line.

The line that ends, and starts, at the cross.

~Matt

The Alternative Path

Rain had started to tap against the umbrella over our table.  I spun the Starbucks cup in my hand and looked up to pose a question to my friend, and our assistant pastor, Scott Kramer.

“Did you ever picture an alternative path?”

In the 1990’s, Kramer was drafted by the Cleveland Indians.  As a pitcher, small for the pros but powerful, he’d set a single game strike out record at Emory University. Scouts started attending with their pads and radar guns.

A stint in the minors, and three arm surgeries later, he was finished.

He laughed at my question.

“Of course I have,” he’d shuffled through a pair of jobs before being called to ministry and settling at our church for the past decade, “I wonder about what could have happened if I left baseball on my own will.”

We all feel the pressure of The Alternative Path.

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Life can feel like a series of swings and misses.  I help coach Carter’s baseball team.  When he doesn’t hit the ball as hard or as well as he wants, he gets upset.  I get frustrated.

Then I think about life and realize he’s mirroring me.

The Bible often paints pictures of lives shifted in the midst of their path. Mary, Joseph, Moses, Paul, everyone coming in contact with Jesus. We tell ourselves to Let Go and Let God (oh the profits for graphic designers).

I was listening to the Pastor Louis Giglio’s podcast from Passion City Church.  He mentioned one of the most misquoted verses as this, “In my weakness he is strong.” The verse, as Paul writes in 2 Corinthians, is:

“When I am weak, then I am strong.”

Our regrets can feel like weakness, but they allow grace to shine through. When we are destroyed, we can find and reflect God’s strength to others.

The Alternative Path is tempting, the Greener Grass seems to surround us just out of reach. In these moments, stay strong.

Know that you are able.

Even if the hits aren’t perfect, there’s always the next game, the next moment, the next conversation to make it work on your journey.

The fog will lift and the day will come when it all makes sense.

~Matt

Growing Up

You can find my newest book, The Glass Jar City: Stories From the Fight to Save Reading, Pennsylvania by clicking this link.  It is available in print and for a limited time, download for $1.00.  I’m donating proceeds from sales back to the organizations working in Reading to break the grip of poverty.  Thank you for your support.

There are days when the passing of time feels closer at heart. I always find myself getting sentimental at the transition between projects. My oldest son played a baseball game on Wednesday and did really well.

Thursday night Val and I celebrated our ninth wedding anniversary.  We’ve been together since 1999 (high school sweethearts) and we’re nearing twenty years as a couple. She still asks me what I want to be when I grow up, and I pray we never lose that hope.

Before we went out to dinner, I met with a friend who runs a local company posting and recording podcasts for businesses and entrepreneurs. We talked about the book and my goals for it.

I sat across from her in a conference room overlooking a major intersection in the middle of the city.  She asked about my dreams for writing.  What did I want to get from the project?

The question strikes a fine balance.

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There’s a line between what we dream and what we see. I always struggled with a search for the cosmic Green Light from God. I’d read the account of Moses where he received his orders directly from God and still doubted.  He went over every possible reason not to return to Egypt and yet, God told him to go.

I believe we all have a calling and a purpose. This week more than one opportunity opened up in our lives. We had our usual struggles with things (Val can’t seem to shake a black cloud of bad luck) but we kept moving.

The answer is to keep moving.

What you do when no one is looking pays off when everyone is looking.  The time alone reflects in the time of the crowds.  The preparation period, no matter how long, gets you ready for the arrival.

I’m leaning on a passion to make a difference and find an audience, to change lives with words.

It is one day at a time and, even in the moments of questions, it is moving forward. It is facing fear and doubt, quieting the voice that tells you to settle.

It is understanding you are worthy of success and giving yourself permission to do it.

The next project is coming and, no matter what happens, it will be done.  Legacies are built one brick, prayer, book, phone call, conversation, and act of faith at a time.

~Matt

The Seed

There are times when God asks us to step out of the boat and walk on water.

These are the benchmark moments; losing a job, a home, getting the diagnosis you feared or the phone call from the police about car accident.  You are on your knees, the weight too much to stand, and you call out for help.

And God tells you to step out in the wind and waves, to have purpose when it seems that all is lost.

Other moments are planting the seed.

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In the gospels you find Jesus telling a crowd that the kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed. On Pastor Steven Furtick’s podcast he’s working through a series on functional faith.  He mentions this part of the story, that faith must be planted in the grounds of adversity. He states that:

We are told to walk by faith and not by sight so we must close our eyes to what is to see the potential of what could be.

Jesus tells us that, when the seed is planted, it grows.

This is a special day. The book I’ve worked on for almost two years now is complete and available on Amazon.  It is a seed, one I compiled and published on my own in an effort to shine light on the battle against poverty and the heroes making a difference.

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You can find it by clicking the link here.  I’m donating proceeds from sales and downloads to the charities profiled in the book, local shelters and outreach agencies that deserve recognition for the lives they change on a daily basis.

This book is a seed.

I started this blog two years ago to chronicle writing the book and to discover my identity as the guy behind the keyboard, the father and husband trying to define his faith and follow his passion.  The experience has changed my life.

I’ve learned that our systems are broken and must be fixed. Our economy is closed to those in need and must be opened (taking work from both sides). Selfless love is real. Faith is powerful. God breaks through the veil and into our world on a daily basis.

Miracles happen.

If you are interested in checking out the book, please click above. Thank you, followers and readers, for joining me on this journey so far.  I’m about fifty pages into my next novel (back to fiction) and will be excited to share more details as it progresses.

For this story isn’t over.

Have a great weekend!

~Matt

 

ReFrame

I just started reading Andy Weir’s novel The Martian. If you haven’t checked it out yet in book or movie form, download or grab a copy today. It is the story of Mark Watney, astronaut abandoned on Mars after his crew believes he had died in an accident.

The concept is simple and powerful.  In the part I read last night, Watney realizes he is accomplishing many firsts as the days pass and he lives on the planet.  He figures out how to plant and grow food while maintaining his atmosphere.

The character must reframe his situation to survive.

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On Pastor Steven Furtick’s podcast last week, he spoke about the importance of frames in our lives. Someones how we speak is more important than what we say.  Our spouse, loved ones, and children pull so much from our tone and physical expressions.

We frame our speech, homes, jobs, and faith. We frame our conflicts and antagonists.

Tonight we had baseball practice.  One of the basic strategies in the game is that, if you are a runner on base and there are two outs, you run on contact.  The minute the batter hits the ball, you take off and never look back. For some reason tonight, the boys were having an issue getting it.

I probably yelled “run on contact!” twenty times (I usually coach first base). The coach turned to me, laughed, and said, “the thing is, they don’t have any idea what that means.”

I was using a phrase from the years I played so long ago.

We tend to fall back on the familiar. How many times have you criticized your children or spouse with a phrase from your past? An exact expression that makes you cringe and thing, “that’s something my dad/mom said?”

A glass is dropped on the floor and it shatters.  The sound takes you back to your parents and their fights while you pretended to sleep upstairs.

The familiar isn’t always negative.

A fresh glass of iced tea will always remind me of my grandmother. A good laugh takes me back to moments as a kid with my mother where she’d pretend to talk to me through my stuffed animals and I’d end up in hysterics.

Sitting in a diner with Val takes me back to our early dates, when we had no money and nothing to do but look at each other and marvel in the mystery of the early forms of love.

This week has been hard so far, but I’m working on changing the frame to one of faith and hope. Once your frame hits the foundation of God’s Word, the sky is the only limit to how high you can go.

~Matt

 

The Job Effect

It is ironic that the name of the one man from the Bible associated with suffering is spelled exactly the same as “job”, the one thing that can cause a large amount of suffering from Monday to Friday, but I digress.

In case you’ve forgotten your Sunday School, Job was a guy seen in high regard by God. One day, the devil makes an appearance in heaven challenges God. He makes a bet, that if Job is shaken he will renounce his faith.  God believes so much in his servant that he allows it to happen.

The losses move fast.  Money, provision, the death of family and the scorn of friends.  Job persists in faith until the devil asks God to touch his health. God allows it and suffering rains down.  Finally, Job looks to the sky with open hands and asks:

WHY?

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God replies in a perfect defense, asking where Job was at the creation of the universe and, on what grounds does he question his situation.  We read that Job repents and is restored more than what he had lost in the beginning.

If it was only that easy.

There are times when it feels like every fiber of your life is under attack.  Nothing is safe.  From faith to family and finances, health to stability.  You get hammered from all sides.  Friends show up, as they did with Job, and question the causes.  They look down on you and wonder what you did to deserve it.

The days feel like a cosmic game, like you are moving around a board waiting for the next strike.

Two things we can learn from Job.  First, God defended him before any loss and suffering.  He was highly regarded, in the same position we are as followers of Jesus seen through the grace of his sacrifice. Secondly, Job was allowed to question.  God could have ended the story in a moment.  Job was still breathing for a reason.  He needed to step into his restoration found only through repentance.

The attacks will come. Cars break down, health fails, stress and conflict build.  You look at the one you love and you are arguing for no reason.  Your kids are wild and suddenly you don’t have the energy to fight.

God’s answer to Job is our own.  Take a minute and read the list he lays out in Job 38-42. All things are possible.  Our restoration is not a challenge for the one holding the universe in his hands.

The sun comes up tomorrow. When you look in the mirror, you have a choice.  Climb back in bed or keep going. Run or fight. Fear or faith. Be scared or be strong. It is not a sprint, it is a marathon that starts in one step.  Make it count.

~Matt

 

I Will Rise

We took Carter to the doctor tonight.

I’m not a huge fan of doctors, even though I’ve spent some years working in the medical field with scheduling and health insurance stuff.  I’ve overheard too many conversations and seen too much to have blanket trust in the medical industry. We’ve been blessed to find a pediatrician that cares and takes time for us and him.

In a few weeks, he will be tested for a possible hearing issue and to see if we can figure out why he can’t sleep through the night.

My car, all 182,000 miles of it that I’ve had since college, goes in to get inspected at the end of the week.

The movement has started on my author’s website and I’m excited to see the result.  Change is coming in the Shaner household.

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I read an email this morning from one of the few entrepreneurs I follow online.  He asked the question, what is the unique way you connect with your audience?  I started thinking, if I could communicate one thing with you, what would it be? The answer is found in the small book of Micah 7:8.

Do not gloat over me my enemy! Though I have fallen, I will rise. Though I sit in darkness, the LORD will be my light.

Two sentences sum up the point of every word, blog post, devotional, thought and sentence.

Though I have fallen, I will rise.

Though I sit in darkness, the LORD will be my light.

We often fall and find ourselves sitting in the darkness.  The pessimists out there wonder why it matters, why not give up? Because the pain and frustration is real. We aren’t wired to give up. We are made to RISE. We are called to follow the light as the journey takes us out of the darkness.

My life doesn’t often feel light and I’ll find myself flat on the floor looking up to the sky and wondering what happened. There is hope. There is a reason to keep fighting.

Take the verse in Micah and read it out loud.  Scream it to the skies.  Speak it over your life and the lives of your children.  It is a call to action, a reason to move and get back in the game. I WILL RISE.

I WILL RISE.

No matter what happens, I will rise. The medical problems may come, the car could die, the bank account could hit zero, the house could get flooded again and I will rise. The emotions swirl and it seems like darkness is our home and we know the LORD is our light.

Tonight, wrapping up another Monday, think about tomorrow.  Look in the mirror and read the verse.  Keep it on your lips all day. Make it a chorus. Find the energy to fight.

Faith tells you it is there, deep inside, ready to ignite. It’s time to rise.

~Matt

What You Will Find Here

Inspired by a video on Donald Miller’s blog, I decided to write a mission statement and clarify what you will find when you visit here.  A speaker on his blog stated that churches need to remember every Sunday is someone’s first Sunday. This post is inspired by that idea and comes in preparation for the launch of my new book and author website coming soon.

Who I Am:

A husband and father of two amazing boys.  I am making my way on this journey of life riding the ups and downs while figuring out what it all means and finding joy in the process. I obtained a certification to teach English and, in 2014, completed my MFA in Creative Writing from Fairfield University in Connecticut. I’m learning to be a better husband and father every week and, I hope, take some steps forward as much as I stumble.

What I Do:

My writing covers a range of topics, from inspirational to parenting, sports, creativity, culture and media. I’ve written everything from screenplays to novellas, novels and devotionals.

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What I Believe:

I try my best to follow Jesus.  I believe that we are not perfect. We will all struggle in life and we will learn from our struggles.  I believe everyone deserves a second chance and that forgiveness can change the world.  I believe the church gets it wrong just as much as it gets it right.  I believe we are all searching to complete the sentences of our lives. We do this in different ways, from addictions to spending and chasing fleeting value.

I believe in the mystery of faith, that we may not ever have all the answers. I believe we all have the power to love and to hurt, even those behind the pulpit on Sundays. Our goals should be to make a difference, to know that Jesus sought out people like us and that the Holy Spirit gives us courage and power to face every new morning.

Mission Statement:

Proverbs 3:5-6

“Trust in the Lord with All your Heart and lean not on your own understanding.  Acknowledge him in all things and he will make your paths straight.”

In the summer of 2014, I was struck with a choice: chase a traditional career in writing or give back this gift to God and see how he unleashes it in my life.  In chose the second option and that led to my current project, an account of fighting poverty in the city of Reading, Pennsylvania.

I want all of you to be inspired, to find hope, to know they are not alone and that their voice matters. Everyone counts.  Jesus showed us that and, even though we bury it under politics and religion, the truth remains.  Everyone counts. Every life has the potential to make a difference.

Every story matters to God.

Where to Start:

To get a good sense of my writing, start with here with a digital copy of my book on writing called Lazarus Art. Starting March 5th it will be free on Amazon.  You’ll find additional work there also including a new devotional coming by the end of the month.  If you enjoy what you find here, feel free to share with friends and loved ones needing hope.

What is Coming:

A new author website and devotional.  The launch of Glass Jar City, a Year in the Fight to Save Reading, Pennsylvania, a nonprofit publication and a special chance to raise money for those in the daily battle to defeat poverty and start those struggling on a path of new life.  Personalized ministry materials for individual and group study.

More work, new worship, deep conversation and a dive into the search for truth.

Thank you for spending some time here and I hope you enjoy your weekend.

Worship Song Inspiration:

~Matt

The Secret to Life

It is easy to get discouraged.

I met with two friends this week, both guys married and in the midst of careers.  We each go through our days and nights with family and, in our own way, we have struggles.  They can be rough jobs, stressful kids, not enough money or the weight of the future.

We break it down and encourage each other and there are moments when we need to understand the essence of faith.

Paul tells us:

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. Whether, then, it is I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.

Our walk is a choice.

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In the age where faith becomes a derogatory term and a political coin, we must break it down. Do we follow the one who is alive? Do we know that, after this life, is something greater?

Do we live with the power of the resurrection inside (Romans 8:11)?

That changes our life:

~God works through every conversation.

~Adversity is overcome to reveal glory.

~Struggle transforms us through refining power.

~Hope is constant.

~Prayer is war.

~Our calling puts a dent in the universe and changes eternity.

~Dreams are radar. Visions become our compass.

~Worship never ends.

I’m praying for this is my life and the life of our family.  How does that list make you feel?  Nervous? Excited? Scared? Remember, he is alive and this life is available for everyone willing to follow the path and change the world.