Change Your Answer

“Do you trust God or fear man?”

I was seated in Barnes and Noble across from Randy Simmons and Merlin Weaver, two men working to change the face of the fight against homelessness.  Simmons, the founder and head of We Agape You, was in the midst of telling me his story.

His pastor had challenged him with the above statement and it served as a barometer ever since.  As I drove home, it stayed with me.  As God often does, he speaks to us through everyday conversations.

Did I trust or did I fear?

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Photo Credit: Crysco Photography via Compfight cc

Quick, make a list of your disappointments this week.  Large or small.  Can you come up with any? Our justifications to fear come so quick. Doubt hovers just below the surface:

-When the job interview doesn’t go well.

-When the man or woman you were sure was the one ends up leaving.

-When the money runs short and the account is overdrawn and your kids are hungry for a dinner you may not have.

What if we lived in trust and not fear? What if we stepped out in faith? How would things change?

If you are reading this tonight in the midst of doubt, I’ll encourage you.  Write down the question and hang it on your bathroom mirror, put it in your Bible, make it your cell phone wallpaper.

Do you trust God or fear man?

Change your answer and see what can happen.

~Matt

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How Much Longer?

Ever have one of those days?

Today was it. From start to finish, one of those days. No stopping. No slowing down.  Busy.

Kid problems. Home problems.  Money problems.

One of those days where you look up to the sky and wonder what will happen next and when it will end. When will the storm clouds clear? When will we find peace?

I sit here at our kitchen table writing this post as our youngest son refuses to go to sleep, our neighbors fight, bills wait to be paid, work isn’t easy, and every second feels like another nail in the coffin.

Tick. Tick. Tick.

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Growing up, I loved the imagery in the book of Job.  Something about this guy who had things going fairly well.  God and Satan meet up in Heaven (take a second to get your mind around that one) and this conversation happens:

One day the angels came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came with them. The Lord said to Satan, “Where have you come from?”

Satan answered the Lord, “From roaming throughout the earth, going back and forth on it.”

Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.”

“Does Job fear God for nothing?” Satan replied. “Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. But now stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.”

The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, then, everything he has is in your power, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.”

Then Satan went out from the presence of the Lord.

You know the rest of the story. Job’s friends and his wife offer various explanations for the suffering.  Job questions God and God offers one of the grandest cosmic smack downs ever recorded.  Job repents and is restored.

Restoration will come.  Someday.

As for now, we’re going on two hours without Aiden going to sleep.  The night is young and showing no sign of stopping.

I’m ready for the dawn.

Soundtrack Inspiration:

Not Ashamed

Today is my wife Valerie’s birthday. I am so blessed to have her in my life. She’s an amazing wife and mother. This morning, I took the boys to church so she could have a break and unpack as we returned from Connecticut yesterday. It was a powerful service with a message I needed to hear about overcoming shame. Pastor Eran Holt, one of our youth pastors, delivered the message and, as he spoke, every word connected with my personal experience.  He mentioned struggling with shame connected to his temper.  The minute he told us how shame sounds, the voice was amazingly familiar. Shame says:

“You didn’t just fail, YOU ARE A FAILURE.”

“You don’t just have a problem, YOU ARE A PROBLEM.”

“You didn’t make a mistake, YOU ARE A MISTAKE.”

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Pastor Eran used one of the most powerful moments in the Bible to illustrate his point and it is one of those moments that always gives me chills.  He read the account of Peter’s three denials of Christ and the crowing of the rooster after the third.  I always imagined Peter getting confronted about his faith and his hurried denials. We read this and think, no, not us, we wouldn’t deny him.

Yet, there are those comfortable following Christ at a distance.

Shame creates this distance.  It keeps our eyes focused on the ground as we carry our baggage. Shame tells us we are not worthy of God’s love, even though he loved us before we knew him, before we were formed in the womb. Shame weighs us down. Some find identity in their pain.  As a writer, I’ve felt the sting of failure. I spent every year after losing my job in 2008 telling myself I was a failure. I looked at Val and the boys and the voice of shame shot to my ears.  It told me I wasn’t a good father and I failed as a provider and a protector. I wasn’t emotionally connected. Every bill that we struggled to pay was like another chain of shame hung around my neck.

Pastor Eran provided two ways to overcome shame:

1/ Look Up: The direct answer to our shame is the cross.  It was the ultimate sacrifice to free us from conviction. The Holy Spirit is our defender, our advocate, and he steps to our side and frees us with grace. The sacrifice was made years before we were created and it is new each morning. Raising our eyes to the cross is not always easy as the weight of addiction, failure, struggle, and pain can be unrelenting.  As Jesus said, his burden is light.  Look to the cross and be reminded of his unfailing love.

2/Let Go: Drop the bags. Lay your shame at the foot of the cross. Know that God has plans for you, that your mess can be your ministry, that you can be used to change the lives of others. Know that you are not defined by your struggles. The hardest part of this is when we take our pain as our identity. We see ourselves as failures, addicts, and mistakes, not as free and beautiful children of God.

One mantra I’ve always held as a writer is to just keep writing. Failure and rejection provides a chance to create a newer and better story, find a better idea, and make a better product. Life is full of learning opportunities. Our mess can be our ministry. God can recharge our lives and give us a fresh start. He will provide and his grace is new each morning. We can be free of shame, drop the chains, and keep our eyes on the cross.

So, as you go into this week, recognize the voices you hear. Identify shame and block it out. Remember to look up and let go and experience the grace that is waiting to transform your existence.

~Matt

To Have and Have Not

I spent almost five years working in an investment company.  During my time there, I was on a few different teams.  We serviced a range of clients.  One of my jobs consisted of scanning in trust documents for the Wealth Network. In case you aren’t familiar with living trusts, a family can set aside a large amount of money for their future generations.  They can set standards for the money to be inherited, things like “Joey must pass monthly drug tests and remain clean for two years.” These families would attach pictures of their many homes, cars, and assets so we could have them on file if need came to disburse some of the trust money.

After a while in that role, I switched to the team that handled hedge funds.  I was the point of contact for six funds and their investments. We had to process the monthly wires into the fund and the market.  I remember, one afternoon, holding a sheet of paper (a wire to a bank)  in my hand for $31 million dollars.  I looked at the paper, the row of zeroes, and marveled at the importance of the things behind those numbers.23292We live in a culture that is searching for meaning. The search leads people to different ways of filling the brokenness in their lives and, make no mistake, we are all broken at some level. Some pick up the bottle, others the pills or pornography. I had a professor who was a clinical psychologist.  He told us a story one day that he had a patient who always dated abusive men.  She said to him, “put me in a stadium of men and I’ll find the one who will hit me.”  He had another who sat across from him with multiple facial fractures and told him it was her fault, that she deserved what her husband had done to her. Some people are victimized in their brokenness.

We are all searching. We all need hope.

I believe that making the choice to follow Jesus is the most dangerous thing you can do with your life.  God has your calling and, when you buy in, he will take you down to zero to refine you for the future.  He burns away the scars to reveal the material he can use. The disciples were all martyred for their faith.  They were pulled from their jobs and roles in society, shown a three-year window into living with the Son of God, and were never the same again.

Imagine for a second: The blind see, the deaf hear, the lame walk, and those afflicted with spiritual oppression are set free.  What was it like, listening to the Sermon on the Mount? To watch this man you spend every moment with live his life and set fire to the world?

Things today aren’t that much different. When you sit at work tomorrow, look to your left and right. Those people are searching.  They are searching for hope. They want that one thing they can rely on for security. They may be rich or poor, single or in families. They may sit next to you at church on the holidays. Every second of silence is a missed chance.

You want to see your spiritual life jump to the next level? Have that conversation. Make a difference in the eternal life of that person God has placed next to you. Every movement starts with a spark and you are that next person ready to change the world.  He tells us to go forth and make disciples of all the nations. There’s your answer. That is fulfillment. That is joy greater than any amount of zeroes on a paycheck.

So, how will you respond?
~Matt

 

The Journey to Happiness

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I always hated math class.  I mean, hated it with a passion.  I remember sitting at the table with homework and, with one particular teacher, knowing that I could get away with putting at least two question marks on problems I couldn’t figure out. I would save those babies and, when I had enough, drop ? on the line and move on. It was a way to avoid the problem, literally, and take the easy route.

When I was an undergrad at West Chester University, I attended a dynamic college ministry. The pastor made this statement one night and it stuck with me ever since.  After a call to accept Jesus he said, “It will be the most dangerous prayer you ever prayed.”

Danger?

I had grown up with a conditional faith, with the idea that, if I tried hard enough, God would reward me. If I didn’t, God would watch with a cosmic clipboard checking off requirements until I met the standard for something good to happen in my life.

When I was saved, everything changed.

The bottom fell apart. I had health issues, faith issues, family issues and struggles. It was opening my eyes for the first time. God had started a work in me, a refinement towards an end result. He led me to meet the beauty who would be my wife. He gave me two wonderful children. He’s given me a family and all the ups and downs that come with it.

The key is to never forget that moment, that point when you make the choice to answer the calling in your spirit, to reach out towards your creator, to serve and make a difference in the world around you.

To know GRACE and that conditions no longer apply.

As you start this week, know that God has a plan for your life, professionally and personally. Know that he loves you and has an end result customized to let you experience full joy in him.

So tonight marks the first step in the journey of p356 Creative Services, and my movement to serve Christian businesses, churches, and individuals around the world. Join me and we’ll take the walk together.

~Matt