Fire Words Week: Sin

We love to talk about it.  C.S. Lewis wrote The Screwtape Letters as an examination of it. Milton and Dante both took it through epic poems. Speaking of Milton, watch Al Pacino’s role in The Devil’s Advocate and you’ll see one of the best monologues on it in any movie.

Sin is an interesting topic and it is oh so easy to point fingers.

Sin is right in our wheelhouse, right over the plate.  It is the fastball we can hit with a quick turn of phrase or scripture.  We think we have it planned and played out.

We could never be more wrong.

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When society gets hold of the concept of sin, they visualize the fanatics at the Westboro Baptist Church protesting funerals with their hate speech. They believe that the church is closed to those struggling because of issues and lifestyle choices. They become the lepers of Biblical times, content to stand outside the walls and live their lives.

We are called to rip down the walls.

I believe we are all works in progress.  Our salvation is complete when we are called home. Until then, we are here taking things a day at a time.  We are not perfect and the first direction our accusations should fly is at ourselves.

Sin is pervasive. It is in the church just as it is in society. I’ve written before that it can be a window and a mirror.

Our answer stands in Jesus, in perfect and radical love.  It is in the arms of those willing to embrace the ones who need it.  It is providing comfort and warmth to everyone.

Sin is a window, mirror, and a door. It opens us to community, faith, love, humility, and acceptance. We all can handle it better as a family than we can on our own.

Family is the bottom line. It is the revolution that can change things and help us cool off the fire surrounding the concept of the church and sin.

~Matt

Worship Music Inspiration:

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What Uptown Funk Teaches Us About Worship

The only way you haven’t heard Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars on the radio is if you’d been under a rock.  Their hit, “Uptown Funk”, has had massive air play. Ronson’s song is a throwback to James Brown and Mars adds the vocals to make it into an instant classic.

So what can we learn from the song about worship?

The Value of Past and Present Together- The first engaging and intimate worship experience happened for Val and I when I was in college.  We attended The Bridge, a service for students that saw over a thousand kids at two different meetings every Sunday night.

The church was blessed with talented musicians. The room was dark, the stage lit by candles. The songs were modern, relevant, and emotional. As you stood in the presence of God you felt a connection to the early church and their worship in the dark under the eyes of governmental persecution.

You Can Dance- A few months ago, we attended a worship concert with Kristian Stanfill.  He covered Chris Tomlin’s song “God’s Great Dance Floor.” The music and the environment had you moving. Now, I know not everyone is down with that level of engagement during worship, but part of connecting with God is experiencing Joy.  When was the last time you felt it?

Keep Looking Forward- As we consider worship in the church today, how will it progress?  Technology will move forward whether or not the church is in step with it. What else could enhance worship? How do we find a balance between multi-sensory engagement and drawing an audience towards God?

Think of the untapped potential. What will worship look like in twenty years? Lights? Sounds? Art? Instruments, voices, and electronics? I can’t wait to find out.

~Matt

 

No Sleep

I’m a night person. There’s something about the end of a day, the quiet and peace of the dark.  I remember, growing up, laying in bed and listening to the sounds of the night outside. When I went to college, I would stay up late for a variety of reasons.  Val and I would go to dinner, then to a 10:30 movie, getting home at 1 in the morning and not think anything of it.

There was no kids, no serious obligations, and we had all the time in the world.

Oh how things change.

We had Carter and he went through the usual getting up at night that comes with being a baby.  That passed and, just around the time he turned two, he started getting up again.  He hasn’t slept through a complete night since.

We’re talking four years.

Aiden just had his second birthday and he’s a mixed bag of results.  Some nights he will sleep and some he’ll be up for a few hours at a time.

As you can imagine, not a lot of energy in the house right now.

We are desperate for some peace.

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It has been a draining week, days filled with issues and problems to solve.  If you have children, you know what nights are like dealing with kids who are tired.  They get a new and special kind of crazy when they are fighting to stay awake.  Then you finally get to bed and attempt to rest until you hear, “Daddy, will you sleep with me?”

I don’t know the last time I felt true peace.  C.S. Lewis wrote about believers having a divine discontent, knowing this isn’t our home.  He is right. We don’t settle for the trappings of the world as we push towards the realization of grace. We know the battle is already won, we know that we can have peace because Jesus has overcome the world.

These days I feel like Paul, constantly moving, writing this book, fighting issues on multiple fronts for our family, and doing it as a servant refined by suffering.

For now, I’d just take a night of sleep.

8 hours of uninterrupted sleep.

Maybe some day.

~Matt

Soundtrack Inspiration:

 

Take it All

On Wednesday we visited a church in York, PA with friends to see worship leader Kristian Stanfill and the Passion tour.  Passion City Church is based in Atlanta and is home to Chris Tomlin, Stanfill, David Crowder and head pastor Louis Giglio. They hold a conventions yearly for college students age 18-25 and their leaders.  These conventions include dynamic speakers and great music.  If you have a chance, buy or download any of the Passion worship albums and you will not regret it.

Stanfill’s message for the night was centered around the concept of this year’s Passion conference: Take it All. He wrote a song about it that I’ll include at the end of the post. The song contains part of the hymn, I Surrender All and a member of Stanfill’s band, also a pastor, delivered a short message about its writing.

The hymn was written by a man named Judson W. Van DeVenter.  Van DeVenter lived in western Pennsylvania.  He was an art teacher and struggled with his desire to be known for his art and an increasing pull towards evangelism.  One night, he had an experience that changed his life. He said this:

For some time, I had strug­gled be­tween de­vel­op­ing my tal­ents in the field of art and go­ing into full-time evan­gel­is­tic work. At last the pi­vot­al hour of my life came, and I sur­ren­dered all. A new day was ushered in­to my life. I became an evang­el­ist and dis­cov­ered down deep in my soul a tal­ent hi­ther­to un­known to me. God had hid­den a song in my heart, and touch­ing a ten­der chord, He caused me to sing.

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We spend our lives chasing something.  It can be money, fame, stuff, love, sex, children, anything.  We fill in our blanks, “If I just had ____, then I’d be happy.” Our nature is to search for security, for guaranteed results, for a five-year plan that happens step-by-step.

God calls us to a different path.

At the end of his ministry career, in the 1930’s, Van DeVenter taught at the Florida Bible Institute. A young student at the institute studied and worked with him.  This student went on to use I Surrender All during each one of his crusades and revivals. His name was Billy Graham.

Van DeVenter’s sacrifice led to the millions of people impacted by Billy Graham’s ministry.

There are many opportunities in this country to serve, many places that need people with talents like yours. There are open doors waiting for you to walk through.  There is hope and grace, new each morning at the foot of the Cross.

When our lives are in his hands, anything is possible.

Soundtrack Inspiration:

 

 

Filling the Hole in Your Heart

I usually spend time on Yahoo’s main page during the week to check out news items.  The internet if full of time-killers and this provides more than enough material for a lunch break.  Today, I came across a story that I had to share.

Here’s the headline from the Good Morning America article (a little wordy for my taste):

Meet the Men Having Sex With Strangers to Help Them Have Babies

Take a second and wrap your mind around it.  Meet the men, having sex with strangers, to help them have babies.

The story gives two examples of men advertising free sex to women for the sole purpose of procreation.  The first guy profiled chose to use an alias as he is married with two children and didn’t want his wife knowing.  That should be enough of a red flag right there.  He claimed to have more than a hundred sexual partners.

The other guy was a young adult, a college student who believed he had great foundational material to give a woman quality offspring.  The article even profiles a woman, in her mid 40’s, who sought out this one-time encounter because she had “waited too long” to find a husband and get pregnant.

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What have we done with sex?

I can see both sides of the debate.  Women have the right to do what they want with their bodies.  If they want to find a guy for a purely physical experience, then so be it.  “Guys do it all the time.”

We’ve taken this act and debased it down to a transaction.

Everyone has a void in their life.  We are created with a space in our hearts that draws us towards our Creator.  This void can also take you in different directions.  We, as humans, do whatever we can to fill the hole. We drink, smoke, do drugs, buy things, write, paint, draw, and find whatever is possible to fill it.

We lean on love and physical connections to feel like we are not alone.

It is time to reclaim the value of sex.

Any man willing to create a child should be willing to father that child. Women need to know they are worth it to find partners who love and respect them. Teens must understand that the babies don’t go away when they get that text message that says, guess what? I’m pregnant.

I read articles all over the place from blogs to churches and marriage coaches. They say to have sex with your spouse on a daily basis.  It will do wonders for your marriage. It will cure everything.

Your husband will love you again.

Your wife will be happy

Sex can cure it all.

They are wrong.

Remember having homework? How did it feel to have something required every night after you got home from school?  Did you appreciate the value of what you were doing? Did it get tiring? Did life get in the way?

How about a shift in focus? What if sex, even if it is one night a week, was an amazing experience of focus and effort from two people dealing with the stresses of everyday jobs and kids? It can be a divine escape. Escapes, when they are daily, become routines.

Routines create men who sleep with women to “help them get pregnant.” Routine sex is devalued sex.

We need intimacy.

There is no more intimate relationship than one with God, no more holy transaction than death on the Cross.

I believe that marriages can be fixed.  Kids can have their innocence again. Love, effort, and faith can exist together and energize relationships. A guy like the one in the article above can find the connection he wants with his wife and children, not the women he finds for hook-ups. Sex can be returned to its rightful place and the holes in our hearts can be filled.

~Matt

Soundtrack Inspiration: Kristian Stanfill covered this in concert last night.  Powerful song!

Feel Good Friday 10/3/2014

Robin Macmillan is a photographer in Canada and a cancer survivor.  It took a brush with the disease to inspire her to follow her dreams and create stunning photography. There is power is creation and finding your passion.  Macmillan used her camera to tell her story.  If you are in the midst of suffering, document your feelings in words or pictures. Capture the storm inside. Use it for motivation to find victory.  Don’t ever give up.

You can find Macmillan’s story and her photographs here.

 

Berks Coalition to End Homelessness

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Like the volunteer pictured above, the Berks Coalition to End Homelessness is a cooperation of individuals and businesses directly making an impact on the city in the effort to combat homelessness. It includes over sixty agencies and businesses. The Coalition takes the lead in HUD grant application for the county and is an important contact point for other service agencies in the city.  I met with Sharon Parker, the Executive Director, one afternoon at Barnes and Noble.  She told me about the numerous projects they have on the table including an effort to obtain housing for homeless families in Berks County. You can find their website here with a wealth of information and links.  You can find donation information here.

Soundtrack Inspiration:

Surviving a Crisis of: Faith

I grew up in a traditional church environment.  Sunday services were an hour with a set amount of hymns (not songs) and a neat and tidy three-point sermon. I would get dressed up, attend the service, and have a late breakfast after. This was tradition.

Years later, I came to realize that this tradition set up a conditional faith.  If I would just be good, God would be on my side. Just do the right thing and the situations in life would fall my way, the outcomes favorable and numerous. It took college to start seeing hints of an alternative.

Val and I attended The Bridge, a college-age service in a church just down the road from West Chester University.  At the time, it was in its prime with two services getting five hundred students every week. The lead pastor was passionate, genuine, and engaging. Those nights carried us closer to God.

Then it happened.

Years later we were in the middle of transitioning from an unhealthy start-up church (that eventually closed) to a new one closer to our current house.  I was talking with the pastor of the outgoing church and he said, in conversation:

What gives you the right to be so damn judgmental?”

There I was, years after believing church to be a place where God would stay on my side if I stayed on the right side of the line, getting stung by a church leader.

I’m not the first, or the last, person to have this kind of experience. In that moment, my faith needed to be rebuilt, refined, and reborn. The process wasn’t easy and is still happening today.

I believe we are all works in progress and I know, in the midst of our issues, God is there.  We’ve called out to him and he has responded. I know his grace is real and, even when we take steps back, he is there to catch us.  He goes before us and stands behind. There are things to remember as you face a crisis of faith:

Investigate: Throughout the process of writing Overcome, I’ve conducted almost ten interviews so far. I’ve collected numerous accounts of God answering prayer, coming through to provide the exact things needed in the exact moment. He reaches into our reality, breaks through the veil, and touches our lives. Talk to your family, friends, and fellow church members. Research online. Use the stories, old and new, of real faith and let them lift you up.  Absorb what you find and you’ll notice your foundations growing firmer each day.

Instigate: Tell God your problems. Don’t use structured prayer. Take a moment away from your prayer journal.  Go to a quiet place and let it out. Scream, shout, cry, question, beg, plead, do whatever you need to do.  The important thing is that you move towards your creator. Have a conversation like he is standing next to you and remember that he actually is. He’s there in your darkness, in your questions, in the sleepless nights and miles walked in hallways. He’s there as you watch over your sick relative in the hospital, as you find out you’ve lost your job, as the principal calls you about your daughter.

You are never alone.

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Connected Scripture:

Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” John 20:27

Soundtrack Inspiration:

Listen and take in the lyrics. It is the perfect song to remember when dealing with a crisis of faith.

 

Picks of the Week-9/15/2014

Scripture: “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:32

We live in a world where truth can seem subjective and, yet, we know the truth and it will always set you free.

Book: The Artisan Soul: Crafting Your Life into a Work of Art by Erwin McManus

McManus is the pastor of Mosaic church in Los Angeles. Pick up his books if you can.  He’s a thinker and leader with a valuable voice for the church. You can find this new release here.

Worship Song:

Chris Tomlin has a new cd out this month.  We’ve seen him twice in concert and each experience has been an amazing encounter of worship.

Website: Side Hustle Nation.

Great resources for entrepreneurs starting their businesses while working full-time. I learn something with every visit.

Family Activity: The Beach

If you can swing it, head down for a beach weekend in September. The crowds have lessened and the weather is still warm enough to enjoy it. It is a great time to bring the kids and actually have space to walk around and see the sights.

Marriage Activity: Work it Out

With the passing of summer, this is the time to start into exercising. Find a sport and do it together.  Get outside and run, hit the playgrounds.  Make the most of the good weather. Set a goal and chase it down as a team.

Val’s Style Pick of the Week:

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Redken Strong Hold Anti-humidity Finishing Spray. This is the time of year where the wind and environment can impact hair.  This is a great product for anyone needing more control with their hair.

 

Val’s Bag of the Week:

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Littles Carry-All Caddy. Great choice for supplies, toys, or even a gift bag.  You can find it here for $12.00. You can find other specials for September and the entire new catalog for the month at Val’s personal Thirty-One site.

Perfect Love

My wife and I met in high school.  We were both working at the same grocery store.  She was behind the register as a cashier and I bagged the groceries.  One day I had come in after getting a haircut.  She looked at me and said, “Nice haircut.”  Original, I know.  She was seventeen and I was sixteen. I called her a day or two later and we met up for lunch with her friends.  One night, leaning against the side of my 1984 Oldsmobile, she asked me why I hadn’t asked her out yet. I replied that I was waiting. She said, “What for?” I said I didn’t know and asked her out.  Yes friends, the making of a Hollywood movie.

Love is an interesting topic.  I know people who are single, attractive, and have great personalities.  They also chase love as fast as they can, trading off partners for newer models and trying to find the companion that will stick.  I know people who have had children out of these failed relationships and I feel for them having to grow up without a steady mother or father figure. We need a partner. We fear being alone. We strive to find that missing piece in our lives.

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The underlying issue is commitment. It takes trust to give yourselves to another person. People have asked me more than once when I knew Val was the right one for me.  I always tell them the same story.  The summer before I graduated West Chester University with my undergrad degree, we were at the gym.  She stood up from a machine, took two steps, and passed out.  I went to her side and she started having a seizure.  As you can imagine, a crowd gathered and an ambulance was called.

She ended up spending a week in the hospital and they never found a cause.  One night I sat by her hospital bed.  The lights were low as I held her hand and we made small talk. The woman sharing the room with her shifted behind the thin curtain that separated us.  The announcement came over the speakers that visiting time was over.  I stood, gave her a hug and kiss, and left the room.

I went to the parking lot, sat in my car, and cried my eyes out.  My soul hurt.  Sorrow wracked me from deep inside. I sobbed imagining her having to sleep in that bed, in that hospital by herself. As I drove home I knew that I would marry her.  I knew I would do anything for her, would give my life for her and gladly trade myself to be in her position.

Sound familiar?

The video above is one of my new favorite songs by Chris Tomlin, At the Cross (Love Ran Red). There are times we can forget what perfect love looks like and how it feels. In those moments all we need is to glance at the cross and we know where we stand. We know the true depths of sacrifice, that our debts were paid and our place was taken by the only real royalty to ever walk the earth.

Val and I have been a couple for almost fifteen years. I am blessed to have a partner who loves me in spite of my faults and, in our struggles, we stand together.  If you are reading this tonight and searching for your match, know that you are never alone. Know that perfect love exists and the answer you seek is not far away.  Just look to the cross and you’ll find the connection, commitment, love and grace you seek.

~Matt