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.

 

Let’s Talk About Sex

The final message in our church’s series about love, dating, and sex was this morning.  We didn’t make it as both of the boys are fighting colds but, they told us the talk this morning was about sex, so I though we’d jump in on our own.  Great reading for the holiday weekend!

My grandparents lived in the town of Spring City, PA for the majority of their adult lives.  The house was a few minutes away from Pennhurst State School and Hospital (famous for the tragic happenings inside and the haunting that followed). I remember my grandmother telling me that illegitimate and unwanted children were dropped at the entrance and left to grow up in the halls of the hospital.

Sex was different at the turn of the century.

It was always there.  You can check historical records of prostitution “the oldest trade” back thousands of years. It was used for domination, perversion, worship, and procreation. Beauty was recognized, regardless of gender, and the wealthy chased it with passion.  Times have changed.

We have reached a point of sex being a commodity. It is front and center with the advent of technology.  The secrets behind bedroom doors are now public material. The most intimate of acts has been thrust to the center of conversation for better or worse.

I spent almost a year working at the Children’s Home of Reading and spending time with the victims of human trafficking and abuse. I’ve listened to an in-service lecture at a local high school by a lawyer discussing current cases of teens “sexting” pictures of themselves and their partners. It is a dangerous world.

That’s why, as parents and couples, we must take it back.

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I look at Carter and Aiden and I don’t envy the world they will have to navigate as they get older. They will fall in love, date, have their hearts broken, date again, and keep going. They will be able to reach out and connect with love interests at the touch of a button. They need to be prepared.

As parents:

Have the Talk: Just do it. Talk about sex. Explain the importance of the act. Talk about how babies don’t just go away whether you are the mother or father.  Talk about the responsibility that comes with it. Build a bridge of trust and make sure your kids know the door is always open.  Sex is a scary thing and they don’t have to face it alone.

Use Technology to Your Advantage: There are programs available to monitor cell phone use.  Pornography is a vast and active problem in culture. Check the resources here from XXX Church based in Las Vegas. Keep an eye on browsing records, text conversations, and Instagram accounts.  Know what is happening. Be your child’s advocate. Step in when needed and show them you care.

In your marriage:

Have the Talk: Sex is made to bring you together with your partner yet, even in marriage, we use it for different reasons.  It can be a reward or withheld as punishment. It can be the foundation to the deepest level of emotional connection. It can also drive a wedge between you.

After the kids go to bed, sit at the table. Talk about what is working and what isn’t. Make sure you know what the other person wants and needs. Make sure you care.

Make the Effort: When the weight of bills, medical issues, the kids, jobs, and life starts to hit you can forget about your partner.  You walk into the room with a nod and without a touch of the hand or hug.  You say goodbye without a kiss.

You come home from work and hop on the computer, treadmill, or cell phone.

Take time for each other. Even if you have to schedule it. Pay attention. Buy the gifts. Make the dinner. Go to the movies, rent a movie, do something together. Hold hands. Compliment. Recognize the effort spent in a day of work.

Serve each other.

We can reclaim sex from this society and make it what is it supposed to be. I want Carter and Aiden to be gentlemen and, to do that, they’ll need to see my example.  It’s not always easy but it is always worth it.

~Matt and Val

 

Change Agent

What if?

The answers were out there.

Needs were provided.

Free medical care came from compassionate doctors and nurses.

A network existed to find jobs for any applicants.

Childcare was available for the single mother or father who had to work to make ends meet.

A listening ear waited on the other end of the phone, twenty-four hours a day.

Youth had a resource, a refuge, and a place to figure out life.

A warm bed waited on a cold night and no one was homeless.

Every child had breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day of the year.

What if we are missing the point?

What if the church, your church, could provide all of these things?

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After spending time at the outreach ministries I’ve visited, I’ve come to this conclusion. The church can be the front line. Not a news channel. Not a political party. Not an agenda. The church can be a pair of open hands, ready to serve. I’ve seen churches die in less than five years. The Hope Rescue Mission has existed for more than a century. God moves on the front line. When we insulate ourselves behind politics and policies we miss the point.  We are content to let the missionaries work the “mission field.” Step outside, look left and right. Congratulations, you are there.

In the last few weeks I’ve heard so many stories about God moving, real and tangible, touching the lives of those going to these outreach programs. We need more front line work and less insulation. We need to get our hands dirty. We need to stop talking and start doing. We need to be, in the terms of Hope Rescue Mission, a hand up and not a hand out. If that happens, service and teaching, meeting needs and presenting the gospel, we will become change agents. Light can overtake the darkness.   The world can be different, and better.

I look in the eyes of my boys and know that it is possible and that I will fight make their future a better place, to give them a world better than I inherited.

~Matt

You are Not Alone

Over the summer, our church does a sermon series titled Things We Need to Talk About. It is always a popular series and, each year, attempts to tackle some of the more pressing issues of the time.  We’ve covered marriage, family, dating, friendships, cults, other belief systems, even pornography. The series splits messages between the different pastors on staff and today we had the privilege of listening to Greg Hubbard talk about Overcoming Loneliness. Greg is our staff evangelist.  He and his wife go to destinations around the world and hold church meetings, help church plants, and minister to those in need.  He mentioned that loneliness is one of the largest problems we deal with today. Statistically, 20% of people in this country had dinner alone last night.  It is an issue that spans location, financial class, and even those in the seats around you every Sunday.

Initially, my thoughts went back to my time working in the emergency room. As patients arrived by ambulance, we would have to go to their rooms to complete registration paperwork.  This was not always possible as the more critical arrivals would need to be stabilized and, even then, were mentally out of it.  One night, the EMT came into the back room and signed in his patient. He said, “Whoever goes to that room, wear a mask or put some alcohol on your nose or something.  Just a warning.” The three of us in registration exchanged glances.  After a moment of silence, I said I would take it.  I put together the paperwork, took out an alcohol swab, cleaned my nose to block the smell, and went to the room.

It was like something from a movie.  It was summer.  They had found the patient in a hoarders’ residence with no air conditioning, uncared for and alone. The patient hadn’t cleaned their body in weeks. I had trouble getting the signatures I needed. I’ll save you the more direct details.

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There are things that create loneliness. We can create our own loneliness.  Growing up as an only child, the stereotype was always that we were loners. I know people who had second and third kids to purposefully not have only children. Now, with two boys of my own, the sibling dynamic is fascinating. I’m learning with each game, fight, dinner, and outing how the relationship of brothers grows and changes. I’ll admit, I do take comfort knowing they will go through life together.

There are ways to beat loneliness.  I’ll elaborate on three that Greg mentioned this morning.

1/Do Something– movement is the quickest way to beat getting stuck in loneliness. Start a journal, draw pictures, write music, write poetry. It can be as simple as taking a walk or going to the local book store and grabbing a coffee.  Meet a friend. Chances are, you know someone who could use a phone call or text message right now. Reach out and make a person’s day better.

2/Know God is Near– As the picture above says, mountains were made to be moved. Whatever circumstance you face, nothing is insurmountable. You are never out of the game.  One of the ambulance arrival registrations that stuck with me was getting information from the police on a successful hanging. They had found the body and cut it down.  Know this, there is always help. Call someone. Reach out. Go to an emergency room. They have counselors on staff to help.  Know that God is near you and ready to pull you out of your struggles, lift the burden, and free you to know life more fully.

3/Empathize with Others- There are people who need you, people going through the same stuff you have faced or may be facing. Locate a support group. Volunteer at a ministry opportunity. Find your passion.  It can be with kids, senior citizens, even your peers. Find a passion and reach out. We are all searching for something and fighting our darkness.  Help out in the battle and you’ll find your own weight lifted.

The most powerful thing you can do is serve somebody. If you are feeling lonely know that there is help and there is hope. You can break free, move forward, and start your life in a fresh direction. You can use your brokenness to help others and provide light into their lives.

You can make a difference.

~Matt