Is This It?

I recently watched the movie Risen.  Originally meant as a sequel to Passion of the Christ, it took on a life of its own without Mel Gibson’s involvement.  The film tells the story of a Roman tribune Clavius, played masterfully by Joseph Fiennes.

Clavius is present at the crucifixion and is ordered by Pilate to go find the body of Jesus to stop any kind of rebellion that may happen if followers steal the body and claim him risen. He goes searching and, spoiler alert, finds the resurrected Jesus meeting with the disciples in the upper room.

Clavius follows the disciples to Galilee and, in one of the most powerful scenes, wakes in the middle of the night to see Jesus sitting away from him on a rock.  He joins him and they have a unique conversation.

Jesus asks what frightens him and he replies, “Being wrong.” They keep speaking and Clavius breaks down, telling Jesus that the only thing he wants “is a day without death.”

Two powerful statements that hit home with many of us.

book-glasses-read-study-159494

I don’t know about you, but I’ve felt unmoored at the moment. God has shown up in our lives in many ways and we still seem to fight the same battles.  Val and I often talk of where we should be, ten years more stable than now, and wonder when we’ll arrive.  When will our dreams and visions come to pass? Why do we look in the mirror and feel like we’ve lived ten lifetimes?

We are all moving towards the same point.

I picked up Carter from school today (a recent job change has me working three 12 hour shifts with four days off a week) and took him and Aiden to the playground. Things are different from when I was growing up but, in the end, the same.  I watched the kids chase each other, boys play a basketball game, and the crowd climb all over the monkey bars.

The sound of laughter drifted away on this unseasonably summer breeze.

My mind went to the election.  Is this really it? We grow and we chase money. We chase power and influence. We base our comfort on the balance of our bank accounts and, as long as the commas are in there, we’re good. We are living in a country teetering on the brink of a fracture.

I watched my boys and wondered what they’ll learn from it.

As I type, a line from Pastor Erwin McManus comes to my head.  He spoke about faith and feeling like we can’t ask and dream big because we’re afraid we’ll prove God doesn’t exist.

We are scared, like Clavius, to be wrong.

I also want the second part of his admission to Jesus. How about one day without the shadow of death?

One day to live like a million others follow.  One day to give and serve and love without feeling the weight of the future. One day with the courage to retake the first step (God I’ve taken ten thousand first steps chasing a dream) and keep walking.

One day to not feel like a failing father and a lacking husband. To not hold us up against everything around us and look in the mirror and feel the weight of it all.

One day to be free. To tap into the dream God has waiting, the life that will impact the world and change others. The stories that will be told for generations to come. The words that someone will read and know and understand.

One day without death.  Just one Jesus.

I’ll take one.

 

Advertisements

Love, Water, Death, Peace

“What’s baptism?”

The question came from Carter in the back seat. We had just driven by the front of our church where a pool was set up for the annual outdoor summer baptism service.

I thought about the handful of linguistic avenues to answer the question and which ones could be handled at his age, staring off into the setting sun.

The world is moving towards death.

We have individuals sold out on belief systems that allow them to drive a truck through a crowd of people in France and kill almost a hundred men, women, and children. The tensions of difference are felt more now than ever.

People are angry.

There are voices for peace and yet, as this nation looks towards an election, the loudest voice cries and prods our implicit fears of the other, that somehow we are losing a war to get back what was never ours in the first place.

There’s a Flannery O’Connor short story called The River. Her main character is a little boy who is taken to see a pastor baptize people in their local river one day.  The boy, in the midst of a chaotic  and horrid existence, returns to the river and ends up drowning in his attempt to get to heaven.

Philip, we read in the book of Acts, meets an Ethiopian eunuch on the side of the road attempting to read the scriptures.  He explains what he can about Jesus and the eunuch, the classic “outsider,” states that he must be baptized right away as they are seated next to a body of water.  Philip complies and his action leads to Ethiopia being the first Christianized country in the ancient world

Baptism is about death. It is about being the outsider.

It is about love.

DCIM100GOPROGOPR0768.

In Pastor Erwin McManus’s recent podcast about the Last Supper, he mentions the point  in the Upper Room where we are told that “all power returns to Jesus.”

All power.

Snap your fingers and form a universe.

And what does Jesus do with it?  He grabs a bowl of water and washes the feet of the disciples.

He could have, in a moment, taken apart that room atom by atom and rearranged it anywhere in the entirety of space and time.  He could have vanished Judas on the spot, sending him to hell in punishment of the betrayal that hadn’t happened yet.

Yet Jesus, God and man, serves in love.

Imagine if our leaders followed the same example?

In Malcom Gladwell’s book David and Goliath, he mentions a study of crime and policing in major cities.  Know what made a difference?  Not the might of authority.  Not the threat of a bigger punishment.

Cities and towns turned around when they realized that the police department cared. When officers went the extra mile and reached out to provide for basic needs, when they showed that they were invested in their territories beyond their badges. When they talked to parents and friends of teens and made a point to tell them they were worth it.

Service in love.

We kept driving to our destination as Carter waited for my answer.  Just what was baptism about?  I swallowed.

Well, I said, let me tell you a story…

 

Matt

 

 

Legacy

Michael Hyatt is an interesting figure.  He was the CEO and President of Thomas Nelson Publishers, leaving the industry to start on his own as a businessman on the internet.  His blog/podcast is worth following (one of the top in the field) and his writing is motivational and faith-based.

Tonight I listened to a podcast where Hyatt was interviewed about his new book, Living Forward.  He stated that the book is based on three important questions.  I heard the first before the boys were acting up enough that I had to pause the podcast.

He asked, how do you want to be remembered at your funeral?

pexels-photo-25366

It is almost a cliché but, after thinking about it, the topic has merit.  He asked, on the podcast, if your friends and family were gathered at your funeral what kind of conversations would you hear?

This afternoon we had one of Carter’s baseball games.  It had rained all morning and, two hours before the game, stopped to give way to wind and sunshine. The boys played well.  They went to the adjacent playground as I watched and gave them some time, thinking about the big picture.

I’d like my legacy to be three-headed.

First, I want to be a cornerstone of our family.  I want to be someone our boys came to in times of trouble.  I want to be a resource, to have had an active relationship with them as they became men with families of their own.  I want them to be proud of me as a father.

Secondly, I want my writing to have meant something to an audience, to have someone say “that book, blog post or devotional helped me through a rough time.” I want to know the words hit home and made a life better.

Finally, I want them to say I was a man of faith and community. I want deep roots in a church family, friends to laugh and cry with, and the strength that comes with years. When my grandfather passed, my grandmother said “he had a rough night.” At his funeral she put a rose on the chest of his suit.  She knew she would see him again and it helped process the loss of a seventy-year marriage.

This is all a work of progress and purpose, one happening on a daily basis. I’m praying for more focus and less drift, as Hyatt calls it.I’m praying to move forward and make the most of each new day.

Our legacies start now.

~Matt

 

The School of Tragedy

Stephen Colbert recently started his run in late night television with a captivating interview.  He had Vice President Joe Biden on as a guest and, if you haven’t seen it, I recommend looking up the video.  Biden and Colbert had both gone through traumatic losses in their lives, each man losing loved ones and family members in accidents.  Biden’s in a car accident and Colbert’s in a plane crash.

They discussed the recent passing of Biden’s son Beau, in May.  Both men being practicing Catholics, Colbert asked how Biden’s faith helped him in grief. Joe quoted Kierkegaard in response with:

“Faith sees best in the dark.”

pexels-photo

Yesterday we paused, as a nation, to remember the years since 9/11.  I believe tragedy and loss teach us more than the good times. Our struggles make us see God more clearly.  Our pain draws our eyes upward. Our emotions seed our souls for the divine.

Every generation has their traumatic moment.  My grandparents had WW2.  My parents had the assassination of President Kennedy. We had September 11th.  Our children will certainly have their own.

We can only hope and pray the scars do not run too deep.

For tragedy breeds hope. Hope, unity. Over a few days, back in 2001, we forgot about politics and dividing lines. Everyone just wanted to help.

In the Biden interview he also stated that America could be great if we could just get out of our own way. Maybe that’s the point.  The losses, death, struggle and despair helps us get out of our own way. It strips us from all pretense.

I pray, if you are in the midst of tragedy in this season in life, you find yourself closer to the divine.  I pray you see more clearly in the dark, for your time is not over.  Your story hasn’t ended.  You carry on, hold memories close, and step forward with those losses living right by your heart.

For hope is real and strength will come from above to carry you through.

~Matt

#FaithResponders

This evening we went to a prayer service at church for Pastor Bryan Koch and his family.  The building was full, all the seats taken and overflow seating filled in the older sanctuary of the building. We listened to friends and colleagues of Bryan offer up stories and prayers.  Scott Kramer told us that he grabbed Bryan’s left hand, the throwing arm of the former major league catcher, and squeezed it hard. When he did this, Bryan opened his eyes.

Praise God.

ground-stones-pebbles

Greg Hubbard, evangelist at GT, delivered a word about being a faith responder, one who talks differently, sees things differently, and reflects the presence of God. The room was emotional, more than a thousand people in a family gathering of prayer and worship. As a church, we will keep moving forward.

As a writer, I’ve changed. The filters are gone. This is about you and me, about words and life and faith.

I thought I had the story figured out. I was wrong.  This is a story about unity, about faith in times of darkness.  This is about a community overcoming tragedy and having hope.  This is thanking God in all things, keeping focused on Jesus when everything else tells you to look away.

When I interviewed Bryan for the book he was warm, gracious, attentive and caring.  He gave me more time than I asked for. He was forthcoming in his words and genuine in his spirit. He hugged me after our interview and offered to check in with me in the future.

I’m taking him up on it.

The day he walks across the stage at church to preach again is one I will not miss.

In the end, this is about victory. It is about family and using darkness to show the million-watt brightness of God’s love. So tonight I’m praying, carrying home the closeness of the Spirit, for anyone reading this.  If you are in a dark place, know you are not alone.  If you are suffering, it is not wasted.

Know I’m here for you. My family, brothers and sisters in Christ, are here for you. God is here for you. Things can and will change. The future is coming and we must respond.

There is no choice. Join me and be a #faithresponder

~Matt

You can see news coverage of Pastor Bryan’s story by clicking here.

The Hardest Day

I’ve consulted a number of articles on content creation, SEO, marketing, graphics, and blogging. Normally, when I write these things, I take all this into consideration before putting a post together.  Tonight, you won’t see that.  Tonight is no filter, no line between you and me but the screen you have chosen to read this on. No linguistic tricks or debate.  This is what happened today:

I was in the shower when Val came into the bathroom breathless and upset.  She informed me that, last night, the pastor of our home church and his wife were involved in a serious motorcycle accident.  Bryan and Lynn Koch loved to ride a motorcycle.  Someone in an SUV crossed the line and hit them head on.  Lynn died at the scene.  She had just been ordained last month.  Her and Bryan had delivered the message on Mother’s Day together. Bryan is in ICU with severe injuries, his left leg amputated and multiple times in surgery coming up. They have three sons and had just found out they would be grandparents in October.

After work, Val and I went to church to pray.  They had opened the sanctuary all week and had provided counselors on site.  Wednesday night we have a church-wide prayer service.  As we sat in the darkened sanctuary we prayed with others and poured our hearts out to help this family that has been destroyed. When Val and I left the church we were met with swirling storm clouds.  The rest of the night was punctuated in thunderstorms, rain, and funnel clouds spotted in the area.

This afternoon I get a text message that my grandmother, Hazel Shaner, had passed away in the hospital.  She had lived a full 98 years.  Her husband, my grandfather, had passed away three years ago.  They were married for almost 70 years. I spent my summers, before working full-time jobs, at their house while my mother worked. This woman anchored a family through WW2, numerous dinners and holidays, ups and downs. I was honored to have her as a grandmother.  She reflected what it meant to love God and love your neighbor. She impacted the lives of so many and was the rock that built this family.

So here I am.  In days like this you find yourself standing in the darkness, looking across the room at the only thing that could be there.  You look at God and you ask why.  I believe Lynn is in Heaven and experiencing the fullness of joy.  Could you imagine, being in an ICU bed and not knowing you have lost your wife? Her parents, tonight, are driving in from Ohio.

The church, our church, is beaten down and mired in sorrow.

But it is not over.

I believe joy comes in the morning.  I believe in bigger and greater things, in ministries that touch this community and change the world.  I believe in healing, in recovery, and that Pastor Bryan will walk across the stage to deliver a sermon again.  I believe in miracles, in the presence of God felt with electric reality. I believe in lives changed, that Lynn’s loss will not be for nothing, that her and Bryan’s story will change the lives of those that hear it.

Yet, for tonight, there is darkness.  Thunder still crashes around our house. The boys are sleeping.  I’m typing and I’m here, like you, having the hardest day I’ve had in a long time.

I ask you to pray. Pray for Bryan and Lynn’s family.  Pray for their boys as they figure out a way to live.  Pray for their grandchild, that Bryan will get a chance to hold him in the future. Pray for their extended families and our church.  Pray for peace.

As for me, I’ll make it through.  There is so much more involved here. Keep your eyes up with me. Dawn will come soon.

~Matt

Flat-lined Faith

You know what I’m talking about.  Maybe you’re there right now.

You’ve defined yourself as a “believer,” grown up in church and played the role.  Tragedy strikes, life steps in and suddenly you are lost and drifting on a stormy ocean. You feel disconnected to those around you.

There’s a void getting way too comfortable as it hangs over your shoulders.

no sleepin thecity

I spent two years working in an emergency room doing insurance stuff and dealing with patients. It was a chance to see both sides of life.  People would arrive ready to give birth and leave a few days later as new parents. Others would arrive and never leave.

Word spread whenever a “code” came in. These individuals were either dead or dying.  I watched the families arrive and it killed me inside.

It also made me thankful.

Our zero moments give us clarity, understanding for what he have, had, and may get in the future. They push us to pivot in a new direction.

This week you’ll find some guest posts focusing on Faith and Life in Action from people who have made the journey and experienced all sides of it. They’ve had their zero moments and found ways to recover.

The temptation is to stay lonely.  Know that it is not an option. Find connection, community, and family. We are not created to live in a void.

We are created for life. We are created to regain strength and live electric moments of dangerous faith and love. We are created to serve.

My prayer from day one is that these words would make a difference. If they hit home for you or someone you love, feel free to share them and keep checking in as the story only grows from here.

~Matt

The Page that Changed My Writing Life

As writers, we all have that book, play, screenplay, short story, etc. that made us want to write.  You read it and your soul connects.  The words call you out of darkness and on the path to living a creative life.  For some, it may be all the works of a single author.  For me, it was a single page.

Yes, I can tell you the moment I knew that Val and I would be together forever and I can tell you the moment I knew that writing was the endeavor that completed my sentence, literally and spiritually.

154194210_0f37a66b4d

Photo Credit: Ravages via Compfight cc

Here it is, from Graham Greene’s, The Heart of the Matter, 1948:

Mrs. Bowles said, “Don’t be absurd. Are you qualified to dispense? I’ll only be away a few minutes. If the child shows signs of going, call me.”

If she had given him time, he would have thought of some excuse, but she was already out of the room and he sat heavily down in the only chair. When he looked at the child, he saw a white communion veil over her head: it was a trick of the light on the pillow and a trick of his own mind. He put his head in his hands and wouldn’t look. He had been in Africa when his own child died. He had always thanked God that he had missed that. It seemed after all that one never really missed a thing. To be a human being one had to drink the cup. If one were lucky on one day, or cowardly on another, it was presented on a third occasion.

He prayed silently into his hands, “O God, don’t let anything happen before Mrs. Bowles comes back.”

He could hear the breathing of the child. It was as if she were carrying a weight with great effort up a long hill: it was an inhuman situation not to be able to carry it for her. He thought: This is what parents feel year in and year out, and I am shrinking from a few minutes of it. They see their children dying slowly every hour they live.  

He prayed again, “Father, look after her. Give her peace.”  The breathing broke, choked, began again with terrible effort. Looking between his fingers he could see the six-year-old face convulsed like a navvy’s with labor.  “Father,” he prayed, “give her peace. Take away my peace forever, but give her peace.” The sweat broke out on his hands. “Father . . .”

 He heard a small scraping voice repeat, “Father,” and looking up he saw the blue and bloodshot eyes watching him. He thought with horror: this is what I thought I’d missed. He would have called Mrs. Bowles, only he hadn’t the voice to call with.

He could see the breast of the child struggling for breath to repeat the heavy word; he came over to the bed and said, “Yes, dear. Don’t speak, I’m here.”

The nightlight cast the shadow of his clenched fist on the sheet and it caught the child’s eye. An effort to laugh convulsed her, and he moved his hand away. “Sleep, dear,” he said, “you are sleepy. Sleep.”A memory that he had carefully buried returned, and taking out his handkerchief he made the shadow of a rabbit’s head fall on the pillow beside her. “There’s your rabbit,” he said, “to go to sleep with. It will stay until you sleep. Sleep.”

The sweat poured down his face and tasted in his mouth as salt as tears.

“Sleep.”

He moved the rabbit’s ears up and down, up and down. Then he heard Mrs. Bowles’ voice, speaking low just behind him. “Stop that,” she said harshly, “the child’s dead.”

 

The main character, Major Scobie, is stationed in colonial Africa during WWII.  The girl he’s with washed up outside his settlement, part of a group of shipwreck survivors.  He visits the medical ward and Mrs. Bowles tells him she must go get medicine.  He begs her not to leave and she says, basically, to man up and sit with the girl.

Greene accomplishes so much in these lines that you could teach an entire writing class about them.  Scobie’s character mentions the death of his own child.  He’s praying, bargaining with God as to not have to witness the death of the girl while thinking about the nature of suffering.  His nerves kick in.  The girl starts to repeat his prayer and Greene hits you with the image of the “blue and bloodshot eyes.”

Poetic and powerful

He makes the rabbit shadow and we can feel his heart breaking as he tries to provide some level of comfort. The end, where Bowles returns, slams the door on the moment.  Death, at this settlement, was a facet of everyday life. You could argue that Scobie does, and does not get his wish.  Bowles returns too late for the death that Scobie does not recognize.

The first time I read those lines, I had to put the book down and absorb it.  Greene became my literary destination and guide.  If only I could capture a fraction of that ability, I thought, I could make this journey work.

So what was your moment of epiphany, where you knew you were a slave to the story?  It is a point you never forget.

 

Soundtrack inspiration:

Discovered the worship band Waken and fell in love with their music.  Check it out:

What it Means to Say Goodbye

Last night, Val and I went to the hospital to visit my grandmother.  She’s almost 98 years old.  My grandfather had passed away three years ago and she is my last surviving grandparent.

As we drove home, I reflected on the past as we all do when we face transitions in life.

Time is so important.  None of us know what we have left. It can be a year, ninety-nine years, or a hundred. We must grasp it and make the most of our moments

My grandmother grew up around the Great Depression.  Her father was a butcher and supplied meat to their neighbors. She told me stories about card games at the house where her and her siblings would crawl on the floor and pick up the money that was dropped by the intoxicated guys above.

She drove cars around her family’s property.  She worked numerous jobs, raised two girls while my grandfather was in Italy during WW2, and raised a son after the war who would eventually become my father.

We had family dinners, oh the family dinners! Multiple sides and main dishes, deserts that she would get up and make early in the mornings.

My time at their house always meant one thing in life, a sense of peace, of love and acceptance.

365887357_426dc086fc

Photo Credit: Chris Blakeley via Compfight cc

At our wedding, the pastor specifically mentioned my grandparents as our aspired goal.  They were our inspiration. A marriage lasting almost seventy years and becoming cornerstones of a family.

As of this morning, she is still with us. I’m going through the day still finding memories from the past. From sleeping over in the summer, to fresh coffee cake for breakfast and fresh iced tea for lunch. She taught me how to crack an egg for baking, something I’ll pass on to Carter one day.

She’s been a blessing in my life and has made me a better person.

We drove home from the hospital and I wondered if it would be the last time I said goodbye to her.  I kissed her on the forehead and thought about all the years she had done the same to me.

We all called her Princess, a name that I came up with when I was little.  So this morning, Princess, even if you don’t get a chance to see this post, I want you to know how much you mean to me, to Val, and our family. You are a treasure.

Thank you.

~Matt

Hitting the Reset Button

A coworker has gotten me into the world of online gaming.  Now, I had the systems most of us had growing up, the Nintendo, Super Nintendo, PlayStation, and PlayStation 2 chronologically.  Those gave way to cell phone games and eventually a Wii for Carter.  One day my friend told me about this game called The Secret World.

header_tsw_new-612x337

You create a character and go into these worlds to fight the bad guys and gain points to advance your character.  The worlds are deep, immersive, and engaging. Every time you die you resurrect at different points in the game.

Every death is a new start.

I’m still working my way through The Artisan Soul by Erwin McManus. The chapter I was reading last night talked about the legacies we leave behind.  Everything we do creates a legacy. When we imagine our dreams and chase them with our actions.  We are called to better lives and operate on higher levels by a creator who knew us before we were born. Every day is an opportunity to live our dreams.

I struggle with this as a father and husband. I have this idealized image of our family, marriage, house, jobs, etc.  I have this self out there waiting for me to catch up. He’s more secure, in better shape, established and moving confidently into the future.  The battle is to keep moving. The fight is one step at the time.  The goal is the dream and the pathway is creation.

The journey includes death.  It includes denying the self, turning away from bad habits, toxic thoughts, and inherited issues. It takes breaking away from the past, learning from it, and looking forward.

The sun always comes up tomorrow.  This is a sentence I’ve repeated to myself many times over the years.  The sun comes up tomorrow.

Now what will you do with it?

 

Soundtrack Inspiration: