The Ballad of the Manipulator

My son Carter has a way with words.  We’ve had more than one time where Val and I will be in the next room doing stuff and listening to him talk to Aiden.  In true big brother style, he will tell Aiden to say or do something he’s not supposed to do.

They will battle over stuff and Carter will get a little too rough.  Just before Aiden cries he will try to convince him that it was an accident and sooth the situation.

This morning we were discussing going to a lesson scheduled for noon. He played every angle with me, coming up with reason after reason to skip it all because he wanted to play Mario Baseball on the Wii.

My son is a manipulator.

My gut response was always the same as when you just read that sentence.  It is a bad thing, I thought, I need to work on having him be just like Val and I.

Recently, I’ve found myself reconsidering the end goal.

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Manipulators can have wildly different results.  They can find themselves in a mire of solitary confinement as people discover their ways. They drop all the balls they are juggling in the air. Their world shakes and, in an attempt to regain the control they desire over everything, they will go to any means necessary to get it back.

Manipulators also become CEOs. They start businesses and create movements. They are lawyers, advocates, champions for those whose voices may not be as loud or skilled at getting results.

They stand out.

As a father, I know Carter can’t be exactly like me.  I need to listen to and validate his emotions. This means embracing the passions that make him unique.

For years I looked down on assertive peers.  Now, God has given me one as a son and I know the lessons are just beginning.

~Matt

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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

Recharge

In two days, Val and I will be out of the house again.  The day before Thanksgiving, we had about $10,000 worth of damage from the valve in a toilet tank breaking overnight.  The flooding took out a few walls, sections of ceiling, and damaged some floors. In the past three months the restoration company completed their work and the flooring is the final step.

We can’t be in the house, as the work will be on the entry level, so we’ll be spending about four days in a hotel. Last time we were able to go home and check in.  This time, we will be stuck out, as a family.

I’m looking at the days with a mixture of anxiety and excitement.

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The boys have had extra energy lately and, to go from a lot of room to a space smaller than Val and I’s first apartment, it will certainly be stressful.  I took time off to be there and handle the nights as Carter will still have school during the week.

I also get nervous to have people in the house when we can’t really check in.  Throughout the past three months we were home during all the work. This is a different crew of people and I’m sure they’ll do good work.

These few days will also be an opportunity.  I plan on digging in the Word, working on some side projects, and moving even closer to the launch of my new book.

We need to make the most of our time and, when God allows a few days to step outside the usual week, it is a rare opportunity.  When God leads us to the mountain, we must be thankful as we measure our steps.

It is time for fresh movement, faith, direction and progress and I pray this for anyone out there in need.

If there’s anything I know, God will answer.

~Matt

The Thorn and The _nd

Below you’ll find another preview of my upcoming book about new life and second chances called The _nd.  Enjoy!

Fast forward to the Apostle Paul in his prime. He walks into cities and towns and they change. He makes speaking appearances and shakes up the establishment of the day. He sways the minds of the crowds as he defends this new faith movement. He writes one of the greatest dissertations of faith in recorded history through his letter to the Romans.

Buried in his gospels you find an interesting prayer.

He asks God to take a thorn from his side.

Afflictions take many forms. They can be physical, mental or spiritual. They can be old stories we tell ourselves, passed down through generations. They can be ghosts of failures that refuse to leave when we look in the mirror.

We all tell ourselves stories.

Imagine Paul’s narrative at this point. His life had changed directions. He was now front and center defending those he had chased. At night, when the voices quieted, he was faced with his affliction. He tells us that he prayed before to have it removed and yet it remained.

For God uses our afflictions and they keep our stories headed forward.

Wounded Stories

Our afflictions are necessary. I’ll take it one step further. Affliction s are required for us to complete our divine callings. We follow Jesus, the one taking on death to save our lives. Is there any reason why we’d expect safe passage? We are told to take up our crosses and follow him.

We are told that, in this world we will have troubles, but Jesus has overcome the world.

Paul writes that his affliction shapes his story. It is a constant reminder of grace. He needed to be blinded to truly see and start on his journey that would change the world and spread faith to the masses.

Often it seems like our wounds are the end.

When the movie Creed was released around Thanksgiving 2015, I went to see it with a friend of mine. Being from the Philadelphia area, any movies connected to the Rocky franchise are required viewing. In the movie, Michael B. Jordan plays Apollo’s Creed’s son.

Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky trains him to be a fighter and instills the attitude needed to win even though, in the end, he does not. He loses the championship fight but wins the hearts of the crowd. There is a scene where Jordan’s character is looking into the mirror. Stallone’s character states that your most important opponent, in the ring and in life, is the one in the mirror.

What do you see?

A father, son, husband, wife, mother or daughter? An employee? An executive? A pastor?

Do you see success or a failure?

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More importantly, what do you hear when you look in the mirror? The voices are never silent. Do you hear a parent’s voice telling you that you failed? That you will never amount to anything? Do you hear language that hurts coming from someone you love?

Or do you hear the truth coming from the promises of the Bible?

One of the hardest things you’ll face is a calling to be generative. You may have grown up without a father and now, years later, you are looking at an expecting wife and a little boy who will change your world when he arrives. How do you become a father without a template?

You may be called to start a business or ministry in a new area or part of the world.

We are called to create. It is part following the Creator of the Universe. We are called to stretch our horizons and discover new paths.

Blanket, Gas Pedal, Platform

Our wounds can play different roles in life. They can be blankets, gas pedals, or platforms.

Wounds are blankets when they hold us down. We take them on as our identity and define ourselves by our pain and suffering.

We become victims.

There is a difference between being a victim and becoming a victim. You cannot minimize the damage done by serious wounds whether physical or emotional. The issue is what you do with it. There is a way back, a journey home, a fresh start and new direction.

There is a way to overcome the darkness.

That is shifting your wounds from a blanket to a gas pedal.

Here is something that can change your life if you let it. Your experience, positive and negative, is unique to you. God places these wounds in our lives for a purpose and we must make the connection.

Suffered abuse? Find a small group of abuse survivors and contribute, standing with others facing the same reality. Struggled with addiction? Meet with someone to mentor at a local shelter or outreach agency. Dealt with poverty? Volunteer at a food pantry or consignment shop.

Our wounds are our radar. They steer us, and push us, towards those we can help with our stories. They set us in motion to create, support, and birth new movements.

They can also be our platform.

We build foundations on sturdy platforms and they are often shaped by our moments of hurt.

Check Paul’s experiences throughout his life. Not every speaking stop was a pleasant one. He faced danger and violence at most turns, even dealing with a shipwreck. He did all this carrying his past and his affliction as constant reminder of the power of grace, change, and a second chance.

He built a strong platform without the benefit of internet or digital media. He shared his story, a collective story, of power that changes lives.

The gas pedal pushes us towards building our platform to tell our story.

We are all called to tell our story. It may not be in the form of a book but, make no mistake, you tell your story on a daily basis. It is seen through the eyes of your children, your friends and your loved ones. It is seen by the random people you meet every day.

Our actions always tell a story…

~Matt

Guest Post- The Hardest Decision

This is a guest post from my friend Sherry Camelleri, Executive Director of Mercy Community Crisis Pregnancy Center. Wherever you stand on the issue of abortion, there is no denying the impact it has had on society. Sherry and her organization works with families and individuals throughout the city of Reading providing parenting resources, supplies, a listening ear and a caring heart.  You can find more information at their website by clicking here.

The Spirit of God has made me; the breath of the Almighty gives me life.” Job 33:4
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (II Corinthians 5:17 – please read the rest of this passage)

Throughout this past year, news reports mingled with internet messages and blogs concerning the de-funding of Planned Parenthood were hot topics. We realize that questions and resulting conversations provide an ongoing opportunity to listen, and educate individuals and families regarding the value of each life. As believers, the potential we have is GREAT – providing biblical information on this vital issue.

More than a topic in the news, abortion impacts individuals and families – our co-workers, neighbors, friends and perhaps even family members. The individual/s living with this “secret” do so on a daily basis – facing reminders of the decision can be and often are very painful. During such a time as this, God has placed His children in a position to share the truth of God’s Word with compassion – offering forgiveness, healing and hope to the brokenhearted living and working among us.

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Located in the heart of Reading, Mercy Community Crisis Pregnancy Center provides biblically based volunteer peer counseling and support services for individuals and families in need. An additional service is to provide post-abortion healing – true forgiveness found at the foot of the cross – in Christ alone.

Although Sanctity of Human Life is recognized each January, as the anniversary of Roe vs Wade is realized, the ongoing ministry of Mercy Community Crisis Pregnancy Center addresses this vital issue every day the doors are open. While some individuals come to Mercy for a pregnancy test, and others might be in need of supplies, there are also individuals whose hearts and lives have been deeply wounded as a consequence of their decision to have an abortion. Lingering somewhere in their past, this painful memory comes to the surface which can result in extensive efforts to numb the guilt, shame, and regret. Prayerfully, the volunteers and staff of Mercy CCPC share the message of redemption.

Forgiveness, redemption, and healing are the beginning steps of a new walk – a changed heart and a changed life. The guilt, shame, regret and pain of the abortion decision no longer defines that person – yes, there is Mercy in time of need, Grace for each day, and Hope for the future.

As we recognize Sanctity of Human Life, it is our prayer that you will continue to celebrate the precious gift of life given to us by our Creator on a daily basis and also realize the powerful, heart, and life changing gift of eternal life.

~Sherry Camelleri, Executive Director of Mercy Community Crisis Pregnancy Center

Chasing the New

There are seven basic stories.

Every writing class I had, from college to grad school, I found at least one professor stating that old line. Seven stories told over and over. Our only hope, as writers, was to put our own spin on them. In On Writing, Stephen King says we develop a style as we read.  The end result is a mashup of our favorite authors combining to a unique voice.

This may be true in writing but it is not true in life.

We must never lose sight of the New.

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In Mark Batterson’s book, If, he recounts a moment that set his foundation for ministry in the years to come.  At a conference he had attended, the speaker said:

There are ways of doing church that has not been thought of yet.

The New is the line between fear and faith, sorrow and hope, doubt and assurance. It is the difference between the end and the _nd.

The New is the mystery.

I believe there are stories yet to be written, worship songs that will ignite a fire all across the world, ministries and charities that will change lives and provide for families. I believe there are ways of church waiting to be discovered, ways of worship only found in our dreams.

Zoom in.

Your story is not over. The _nd is not complete. Change is one choice at a time. One shift from if only to what if. One phone call, cup of coffee, meeting with a friend and plan with a spouse. One jog around the block, lifting of the dusty weight set, breaking out the easel and paints from college and opening your creative eye. It is the first choice against the addiction, depression, stress and sorrow.

There is another side, roads not taken, opportunities that will emerge as 2016 unfolds.

The New is chasing the calling, stepping towards discomfort as God stretches us into new territories of faith and guarding ourselves with the essential promise:

If God is for us, who can be against us?

~Matt

 

 

 

Define Your Regrets

Last week we went to visit friends.  Both our families have kids the same age and they love to play together.  As the kids watched a movie, I sat at the kitchen table with my friend Matt (besides sharing the same name, an awesome guy).  Conversation moved to the past.  We talked about growing up.

I mentioned my grandfather taking me fishing on Saturday mornings.  No cell phones. No deadlines or dilemmas.  He drove his old pickup truck to the pond, parked next to it, and gradually walked around throwing his line in at various spots.  I talked about learning how to play cards and feeling like I was an adult as I sat in on rounds of family pinochle. Matt said his grandfather was a farmer and they would go on long walks at the farm, just talking and throwing rocks into the fields.

I regret the past my boys won’t get to have.

Regret, you see, is a tricky thing. In Mark Batterson’s book, If, he writes about regret.  As people age, they long for the missed opportunities.  In the short-term it is more regret of things done. Time draws your attention to the probabilities. If only I had started that business, chased that dream, asked out that guy or girl.  If only I took that vacation, adventure, mission trip.

We must reframe the concept.

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If there is anything I regret, it is not changing the narrative of my life. I told myself a story shaped by my experiences.  This kept me out of leadership opportunities, creative endeavors, ministry to friends and family  It told me I wasn’t good enough, said I was the sum of my past and not a new creation.

It was condemnation, pure and simple.

And we know that, according to the Apostle Paul in Romans, There is no condemnation for those in Jesus.

It is so addicting.  In this country, we love throwing condemnation around and drawing our lines in the sand. We are fine with grace as it extends to us, just don’t ask us to push the boundaries.

We are called into the void, past the battle lines.

The cross allows us to live without condemnation, destroying the influence of the past and old narratives on our lives. The voices that trap and snare from the dark now fall on deaf ears. We are new creations, made to chase down callings that shine light on the world.  We are meant to create, to sing, dance, write, act, draw, sculpt, design, build, and plan.

We are here to destroy old ideas and break new ground.

We are called out of the safety of our regrets (for excuses are always safe) and made dangerous.  Dangerous to the ways of the enemy, the one seeking to destroy lives.  Dangerous to the ones saying this kind of radical love is impossible.  You want to donate, serve, open your home, give your time?

You want to be selfless?

This year redefine regret and let it move you forward.  Take nothing for granted.  Dive in and know that you are called to so much more.

~Matt

If

I hope you enjoyed your past five days.

For us it was a time of running around, visiting family, opening presents and thinking about the past year. We attended a Christmas Eve service on a warm night and rejoiced as our pastor walked out on stage with his new prosthetic left leg. Carter and Aiden loved every gift they received. We somehow managed to make it relatively smooth and are still in the process of getting the house in order.

The insurance money for home repairs will be available to us on 12/30, starting the ball rolling towards repairs and the house returning to form.  On Christmas I experienced my own little miracle, something I will post about this week, as this was the first year without both of my grandparents.

I am excited for what is coming.  The final few days of 2015 will put a cap on a stressful time in our lives.  We are finally moving towards some good news on multiple fronts.  I know that everyone believes 2016 will be their year. It is a common refrain for the end of December.

We have a concrete reason why.

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Last night I started reading Pastor Mark Batterson’s new book.  The title is If and it is based on Romans 8:31.

If God is for us, who can be against us?

I’ll be writing two posts for our church’s official blog about this book and I’m excited to dive into it. He makes a point in the first chapter that will change lives:

If we really believed that verse, an alternative reality awaits.

If God is for us, who can be against us? It removes any space for doubts or fears.  How different would our year look if we walked forward believing that God is for us?

There are times I fight hard against cynicism. I mean, okay I get it. Faith is faith. Yet, when I read those sentences I felt a spark of something inside. Facing this book launch in 2016, the official initiation of P356 to the publishing world and fully giving my writing over to God’s purpose, I still get pangs of fear.

I look in the mirror and can hear the voices.

Why me? I was never anybody special.

If God is for us, who can be against us?

What happens if I fail?

If God is for us, who can be against us?

Do you know the odds against success? How many people actually launch their business online and survive?

If God is for us, who can be against us?

The bottom line is faith. Silence the voices.  Grab hold of the promise, the importance of If, and use it to change your life.  Looking forward to what is coming, to building this book and making real change in our lives.

It all starts with one concept-

If.

~Matt

How to Know and Escape Toxic Environments

When I worked in the emergency room, it happened every few nights.  The waiting room was full, the treatment rooms full with at least two or three intoxicated patients in the back. Parents would be holding injured children.  Hours ticked past and you felt the tension.

Soon, a person would snap and start yelling at us and we’d have to get security involved.  They’d calm until the next one yelled.

Eight hours of work in a toxic environment is enough to ware down even the strongest of souls. It doesn’t always take the dramatic form of an emergency room.  It can be a classroom, an office, a factory floor or retail store.

It can be the dinner table.

Toxic environments impact every person inside their borders. The tension is real. Loved ones hurt each other with words and actions. Coworkers gossip. Creativity is stifled and hope vanishes. There is no ownership, no teamwork, and no personal or corporate incentive.

You show up, put in time, and leave

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There are ways to escape.

Find Your Passion– Make your work line up with your passion. This is easier said than done in the current economic environment but, the advent of social media and technology has leveled the playing field.  You can learn a new skill through research and free resources found online.  You can set up a website and start finding customers through various free platforms. Think of what you’d do if you could pick anything and chart out the path to make it happen.  The biggest risk is not taking a shot at all.

Find Your Community– Toxic environments destroy community.  They isolate and capture, creating conflict and discord. The only bonding occurs over negative talk and stories as criticism becomes the accepted language. Finding a genuine community helps you break free.  Some of those nights in the emergency room, I was blessed to work with others who followed Jesus and we made a point to make each other laugh and keep things light. At home, start small with a walk around the block, date night, or doing homework at the kitchen table. Build bonds and know you are not alone. Walking the path together always makes things easier.

Find Your Creativity– Break old routines by making something new. Creation breeds passion and community. Look at your current situation and make a list of what could change.  How could you be a part of it? What new ideas could you bring to the table? We are all called to create.  Listen to your calling.

Find Your Faith– I believe we are meant for something more.  We are here to break through toxic environments.  We are to be light in the darkness and salt of the earth. I believe we were born with purpose and passion.

You may read this tonight and feel the tug of truth.  You may look in the mirror and know your soul is incomplete.  Work tomorrow seems like jail and not freedom. The person sleeping next to you is distant.  The kids are wild. You just had a fight with that parent that can’t seem to understand.

You are tired.

Make a list.  Check the points above and find your freedom.  It is possible and it can happen.

I’m making the journey and we can do it together.

~Matt

Three Ways to End Your Fear

Don’t be afraid.

The statement is repeated numerous times in the Bible. We are told, despite our natural instinct, not to fear. Fear, to me, was never paralyzing.  It is more a cold, blank sensation.

When Aiden was born, I stood in the delivery room and watched the nurses clean him off (a scheduled c-section). They hooked him to an oxygen monitor and I watched as his numbers started at 96 and gradually fell to 80. In this span of minutes, a NICU doctor was called in and they decided to give him a bed in the NICU.

He stayed almost a week before the fluid was clear from his lungs and stomach.

I’ll never forget watching those numbers fall and the glances the nurses exchanged with each other as he struggled to breathe. The fear in my heart implanted the images in my soul.

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Fear can be a catalyst.  When you stand at the Red Sea watching it part, you have two choices.  You can stay in danger or walk forward, facing the perceived greater danger, and see what happens. The unknown, even between walls of water, can unleash greatness on the other side.

Fear can be a dream. I remember having nightmares growing up.  One night a pair of cats were fighting outside my window.  The growls, scratches, and screams were surreal and seemed to be getting closer and closer. The darkness itself can bring condemnation and anxiety.  For some, dark nights carried the promise of no heat or electricity, hunger, or an abusive spouse or parent. In dreams, remember you will wake up. The sun will split the night and rise in the morning.

Fear can be control. This is the most dangerous. You are called.  Maybe it is a mission trip. Maybe a friend whose marriage is failing, maybe a family member mired in addiction. Maybe it is the business you are meant to start, the product that will change the world, the idea that can make a difference.  God puts this on your heart and you look in the mirror.

The small voice tells you that you can’t do it.  Not you. Not now.

What if you fail? Think of the laughter, the condemnation, the wasted time, money, and effort.

What if it all falls apart?

This fear is vanquished through community.  Find friends and colleagues making the same journey.  Look for resources in person and in the digital universe.  Find hope in a mentor who has been there already.  Find power in the permission to let yourself chase your dream.

Break the control of fear. The failure of not trying is always greater than giving it a shot. Step in the ring. You’ll be surprised at what can happen when fear is beaten down and destroyed. Even if you need to do it every day, it is worth the fight.

~Matt