Half Full

Recently I’ve had the chance to transition my day job.  I’ll always call it a day job, in that it supports the writing dream.

We all need to have the deeper current running under our souls pulling us forward.

Today I was trained by a guy named Ben. Ben was an interesting guy, gun fanatic, video game fan and comic reader. We were making small talk when he said something that stuck with me. He said:

“I’m a pessimistic guy. I feel like you find the level of crap (he used a different word) you like in your life and get comfortable.”

Know anyone like this?

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I recently listened to a podcast from Pastor Erwin McManus, one of my favorite inspirational church leaders.  He spoke about faith being a nonsense, in that it exists outside our run of taste, smell, touch, hearing, and vision. It is our connection with the divine.

We often confuse faith as a noun when it is really a verb.

There’s a moment in life, a balancing on the edge of time. Athletes know it in the release of the pitch, the height of the serve, the Hail Mary pass in the final seconds. Teachers feel it in the silence of an answered question.

Expectant mothers in the pause between birth and first breath.

You have a choice. The moment bends both ways. See it in darkness or light. Moving forward or back. Success or failure. Goal or denial. Run or stumble.

Then grasp your next moment and do it again.

I can’t give up. There’s too many dreams to fulfill, too much good to create, too tight of a community to join. Our story isn’t over. I refuse to believe that.

I refuse to go down without a fight.

I let Ben’s comment drift past on the afternoon breeze and looked out the window dreaming of the future, excited at the changes that are coming and where we are called to go.

Never give up.  As long as you are still breathing, your story isn’t over. Balance on the moment and look forward.  See faith as a verb and not a noun and see what God is waiting to pour into your life.

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The New Deal

Graham Greene is one of my favorite authors. His novel, The End of the Affair, was the first to introduce me to the power of writing.  I read it in college, as Val and I were in the younger stages of our relationship, and Greene’s depiction of love spoke to my feelings.

The main character in the novel is novelist Maurice Bendrix.  He carries on an affair in the midst of WW2 that is ended when he survives a bombing in London.  He finds out that his married lover, Sarah Miles, had made a deal with God.  If Bendrix survived his injuries, she would break off the relationship.

The novel ends with Bendrix stating he has had enough of God.

Sitting in my dining room on this night hinting of winter to come, my thoughts drift over the shooting in California. We, as a country, are on the backs of our own deal with God. We’ve co-opted sorrow and grief, victim and violence. We are in the dark determined to find evil and destroy it.

We point fingers.

The religious establishment grasps hold of antiquated practices and wonders why it finds itself at the end of accusations and irrelevancy. Law enforcement officers are just as likely to be assaulted or killed as they are to be praised for their efforts.

Good people are lost in the noise.

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In the Bible, while Jesus hangs on the cross, he sees Roman soldiers dividing up his clothes.  He makes this statement:

Father forgive them for they know not what they do.

The soldiers didn’t know.

The government of the time didn’t know.

The disciples didn’t know.

The world didn’t know.

We’d taken perfect, selfless love and grace and punished it with death. The Truth had fallen against the weight of everyone too scared to listen. Those oppressed turned their back on freedom.

There are arguments to be made and conversations to be had. Violence is too easy. Guns are too easy. The intensity of faith and cause drives the lost to extreme measures to satisfy a far-off radical religious and political system destroying innocent lives in Syria and beyond.

The answer is not with Bendrix, turning away from our creator. The answer is changing the deal.

No more trading the world for authenticity.  No more chasing after things of impermanence.

The American Way has failed.

Generations are adrift in a sea of debt, anger, frustration, doubt, and sorrow for the past they never had and the future that seems to be no more than a figment of their imagination. This is solved by shorting vision to a microscopic level (If I get the next new thing, I’m good).

The new deal is hope. It is grace and service.  It is taking responsibility as parents to redefine value, to show our kids the meaning of friendship, love, choice and respect. It is understanding the power of a gun and the greater power of faith.

The new deal is peace. Taking time in silence and stillness. Turning off the screen and stopping the hustle for a moment.  It is getting back to nature and standing in the midst of a quiet forest while snow falls.

The new deal is life. It is embracing the small moments, holding doors and shoveling sidewalks. It is giving when we are spent. It is reaching out and inspiring someone lost in the depths. It is change found by a new fire deep inside.

The mass shootings can stop. Society can change. Hope is not lost and the journey has just started.

I believe.  As a writer, husband, father and follower of Jesus.  I believe.

~Matt

The Joy Shortage

It was a short walk. Our building at work is three floors.  This past week I was upstairs in the testing center.  I had to run some documents down to the second floor. I left my desk, went through the back hallway and down the stairs.

I crossed the second level and passed patients, nurses, and doctors.  After delivering papers to our financial guy I returned upstairs.

Not one greeting, smile, or acknowledgement. I made eye contact with patients and other coworkers, tried to engage with people, and found nothing. As I sat down at my desk, the realization hit me.

We are missing joy.

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I work at a cardiology office and the irony is not lost.  There are many people with sick hearts, young and old, rich and poor. They go through the motions and decide if they have enough reason to keep moving forward.

Society isn’t helping.

We’re facing a higher cost for everything, from healthcare to groceries. We’re patronized from the media and politicians forever out of touch with the people they represent.

So how do we find joy again?

Friends: Val and I are meeting friends tomorrow night for dinner and a concert in the city. There is value in genuine community. There is value in sharing success and struggle.  It is too easy to feel alone.  I had a person this week show up way early for an appointment and tell me, “It is better than being with my husband.” Don’t live a life without the release that comes from the shoulder of a friend to lean on.

Function: I am not where I’m meant to be.  You may think that wouldn’t be conducive to joy, but the opposite is true.  I work with many people who have settled and don’t have the energy to make a change.  They spend their days miserable, trapped in comfort that has robbed them from passion and purpose. It is never too late to move.  What is the dream you have? The art you are meant to make? The missions trip that has been on your mind every time you hear about it at church?  You have set days on this planet and a designated purpose. Connect the two and you’ll find joy.

Freedom: There is no such thing as a required pace in this race of life. There is no reason to “Keep Up with the Joneses”. When I first got out of college, I spent two weeks working a sales job and “Keeping Up with the Joneses” was a technique they taught you on day one: always tell people their neighbor/friend/competition just completed a sale with you. It will push your target do throw their money down.

We do the same thing to ourselves all the time.  If that person on social media just got a new car, we are angry that we can’t do the same.

It is time to let go of the comparison game and free ourselves from the trappings of stuff.

This weekend, be sure to take some time and experience joy.  Laugh, love, and live deeply.  You’ll be refreshed and relieved in the end.

~Matt

 

Everything Will be Okay

I sat on the bench at the playground as Carter ran around the various areas.  We had just finished baseball for the fall season. I watched other kids play, parents talk and teenagers throw football off to the side. It’s amazing how you can be lonely in the midst of a crowd.

I sent Val a message wondering where we fit in. Our story isn’t set yet.  Our roots aren’t in the dirt. We are different from so many of the other couples, ones that don’t consider Monday the worst day of the week.

We’re a work in progress, a life being written.

This morning I read an article about Micro Church.  It cited one in Brooklyn meeting in a storefront every week to share a meal, an interesting image so close to the massive Brooklyn Tabernacle. Two buildings for the same purpose. Two congregations existing on different paths.

Now is the perfect time to examine the journey.

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Later in the day we visited an orchard a few miles away.  The one we normally go to was closed. After having to pull over and GPS the address on my phone, we finally found it. A dirt road led up and across rolling hills.  Finally, we parked on a hilltop with fields and trees blazing with color all around us. The girl working the small shed where you paid said the pumpkins were up over a hill in the distance.

We kept walking and, when we crested that hill, I was struck by the beauty of the moment.

A constant breeze pushed us forward.  The gravel road paralleled a field of pumpkins to our left and apple trees to our right.  Carter ran ahead to find his pumpkin.  Val and Aiden walked together.  I snapped some pictures.

It was a reminder, the creator tapping me on the shoulder and saying, “If I can paint these hills and grow these apples, things are under control.  Every blade of grass in this field holds my fingerprint. The wind carries my song. If I care about this, how much more do I care about you? Everything will be okay.”

Life will be okay.

I stored the moment in my heart as you must do with all divine communication. Maybe Monday won’t be so bad after all.

~Matt

A Faith of Mondays

“You hit my car.”

I listened to the conversation from across the room.  Two women, one arriving and one leaving.  The one attempting to leave waited for the driver of the van, confronting her as she sat down.

“You hit my car.  There’s white paint on the door and you hit it.  You parked so close I can’t even get in.”

After a pair of hushed sentences, both stepped back outside.  Ten minutes later, the cops arrived.

It was a Monday.

I, like Garfield, hate Mondays. He spent many a comic strip lamenting the start of the week. Sunrise on a Monday meant five more days of school or work. In the professional world, Mondays carried an extra bit of edge. People sat at their desks and talked about the weekend, wishing it could be Friday once more.

Mondays are obligation, picking up the path that we can’t avoid.  Carter will tell me, on Sunday nights, how much he doesn’t want to go to school the next day.  I tell him that he doesn’t have a choice, that it is the law (met with a loud and dramatic “Awe daddddddddddddd”).

Has our faith turned into a case of the Mondays?

In the Bible, we read about Daniel. Daniel was a man of elevated status, following God in a land not accepting to his beliefs. He was an outsider, a “sheep among the wolves.” Twice he faces death, once in a den of lions and once in a fiery furnace.  Both times he comes out alive with help from God.

One of my favorite television shows is Supernatural.  Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki play brothers Sam and Dean Winchester as they hunt all variety of evil things and attempt to save the world.  They contact angels, demons, deities, and other sources well used for dramatic effect.  Death, played by Julian Richings, is a main force and character on multiple seasons of the show. In an episode, he bets Dean Winchester (Ackles) that he cannot take being Death for one day. Dean takes him up on the bet and finds himself lacking the ability to succeed.

Imagine, being Death for one day. Knowing you will impact the eternal destination of anyone you touch. Knowing your words and action will change the world forever.

It may not be standing in a den of lions or walking laps in a furnace.  It may not be facing a gunman on the campus of a college in Oregon. You may never find yourself in one of these places but your significance is still the same.

How do we break a Faith of Mondays?

Make the most of it. Every action is intentional. Every conversation has meaning, from work to school and home.  Every family dinner is a treasure. Every dream is worth following if you do it to change the world and serve those around you.

Time is not on your side. Time is a transaction. Oh, you can work out and eat right all you want but we all have expiration dates. We get an allotment of space on this spinning globe. As followers of Jesus, we can find a comfort zone too quickly. We think that there’s always tomorrow. We can pray tomorrow, read more tomorrow, contact that friend in need tomorrow. Tomorrow is never guaranteed. Look at those students in Oregon. Their families will be changed forever.

Embrace the heat. Shift back to a dangerous faith. Take a stand in radical love that breaks societal boundaries. Be the person of faith that doesn’t fall in line with stereotypes. We follow a teacher that changed the world, one standing against every accepted construct of the day. He existed outside expectations from friends, family and authorities. He was life and love incarnate. He forgave. He healed. He opened eyes and hearts. The blind would see, the lame walk, the dead live again.

He did all this as a marked man.

We are all marked, for faith cannot exist without suffering and struggle. We are refined by fire.  Daniel didn’t get a free pass.  He still felt the heat and heard the roars of the lions. We are told to keep walking, that we will never be alone or forsaken.

Does that make you feel courageous or content? Power or peace?

Personally, I’ve spent too much time chasing contentment. I’m ready for courage, for power in faith to not settle.  I’m ready to move.

Are you?

~Matt

The Weight of the Future

I put Aiden in his pajamas and he grabbed his favorite stuffed dog to hold. I rocked him until he closed his eyes and slowly laid him in his bed, taking a minute to watch the soft glow of the nightlight as it fell over his features. As I tucked him in, images flooded into my mind.

I prayed.

Please God let me be the father he deserves, help me do the best I can with him and give him the life he wants.  Please God, let him be happy.

Before I stepped out of the room, God finished my sentence.

Because one day he’ll be tucking you into a hospital bed.

The future always waits in the distance.

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How do we handle it? When our kids are suddenly growing before our eyes? When our friends from school are all married and raising their own families? When the holidays come again and the milestones creep closer and closer?

Because one day the one day’s run out.

So we make the most of it. We tell the stories that need to be told. We say I Love You as much as possible.  We hold hands, pack lunches, kiss goodnight and break the daily routine whenever we can to create memories.

That is the secret, to find the memories, take the chances and chase the dreams. To show our kids that there is never a reason not to try.

For they will get what we leave behind.  The day Aiden tucks me in, I want him to do it with a warm heart and the peace of knowing I did all I could for him, that we made our walks through the desert together, as a family, and that he will never be alone.

Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.

                                                                                                                                                        ~Deuteronomy 31:6

Throw Away the Scale

All it takes is a picture on a social media feed. That friend, you know the one, that friend doing what they want when they want it.  The one mired in addiction, violence, anger and frustration.  You’re thumbing through and, wouldn’t you know it, they just picked up the new car you’ve wanted for a year now.

That girl who bullied you in high school and, somehow, found her way into a modeling contract and moved out west to an amateur film role where, for eight seconds, she’s in a crowd behind Will Smith.

That guy at the gym showing everyone pictures of his weekend conquests when the idea of a date grips your soul in fear and anxiety.

And we look and we say, okay, when will it be our turn? When will life finally even out?

In the Bible, Jesus spots Matthew (one of my favorite stories, I know, I’m a nerd) at the table working his job as a tax collector. At the time, tax collectors were despised. They worked for the Roman government, traitors to their neighbors and friends.  Who likes the guy knocking on the door for the bills?

Jesus tells Matthew to follow and he does.  That night, Jesus eats dinner at his house with, we read, “sinners.”

He is asked why he eats with sinners and he replies:.

For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.

Something can happen to us when we decide to follow Jesus and we’re not careful.  We forget where we’ve come from. We pick up the mantle and stand a little higher as we look and the uneven scale burns. The plank in our eye fades as we point to others and tell God, see, see what they do and they get rewarded.

Why?

It is the peril of living without a 50,000 foot view.

Because the weekend conquests don’t matter. The car breaks down. Money, looks, success can fade.  Time passes.

Grace matters. Eternity matters. Giving and hope, love and the beauty of creation, matters. Reaching out matters. Reflecting the hope you have inside, matters.

It isn’t easy to play the game of life for the long goals, but it is our requirement as those who follow Jesus.  It is our investment in those around us. It is more than the “property gospel” trumpeted by those making millions as “preachers.” It is showing someone that they matter on a daily basis.

It is remembering that we are sinners, won by grace, so that none can boast.

The easiest way to lose weight tonight?  Throw away the scale and wake up lighter tomorrow.

~Matt

 

Swallowed Up

When I joined the Blog Team at church, they provided a list of upcoming topics and we could claim which ones we wanted. I took two.  The first was on the topic of faith and the supernatural. I scanned the list and saw the story of Jonah on deck for a message in September.  I had to take it.

Jonah is one of my favorite stories.

In case you are not familiar with it, God taps Jonah on the shoulder one day and says, hey, I got this job for you. Go and talk about me.  Seems easy enough.  The issue is the destination.  Jonah is supposed to go to a hostile and dangerous city and, as God says, preach against it.

I picture him sitting at the dinner table debating the options. Was there a way out?  Did it have to be now?

He heads down to the local port, books a ship, and sails in the opposite direction. God raises a storm.  The other sailors ask him what is up and he says that he worships the God who made the land and sea.  The ask him what he has done to make God angry and he tells them to throw him into the sea as it will calm the waves.

He had told them he was running from God.

They pray, pick him up, and throw him over the side.

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Your life may fall in line with many parts of this story.  You may have your calling, seen the face of difficulty, and ran the other way.  You may be on your boat, on the run, in the midst of a storm.

Friends and family may be confronting you about your intentions.

The Bible tells us that a large fish (whale if you remember your Sunday School songs) came and swallowed Jonah, holding him for three days before vomiting him up on dry land.

How many of us are spending our days submerged by anger, sorrow, frustrations, struggles, or heartache? By family members making wrong choices, sleepless nights and yearning for a change that doesn’t come?

Jonah goes to the city and they hear his message.  The city repents and, at the end, Jonah is frustrated with God’s compassion. The message was all fire and brimstone.

Why the forgiveness?

This man who just survived a circumstance that would have killed any other human, did he not learn his lesson? God pulled him from the depths. He saved his life with a miracle.

Grace, grace, and grace again.

We have a choice and I know there are people out there standing with me. When you are beaten down, worn, tired and at the end of your rope you have a choice.  Sometimes the first step isn’t even visible.  It may take a journey overboard into the depths.

The process isn’t easy, but I say this out of faith.

Keep fighting. Win a day. Win an hour. Make the right choice once and find your day one.  Even if you have a thousand Day Ones. The next may start you towards your calling.

You are not alone. Jonah prayed in the belly of the whale and God answered.

Your answer is coming.

~Matt

Breaking the Pattern

It was a white board, one of those you’ll find in corporate meeting rooms all across the world.  We had one in Carter’s room.  I went upstairs, grabbed it, and came back down to sit next to him.  We were in the midst of a rough few weeks.  I remember hearing once that a sure way to break addictive behavior is to stop the pattern when it starts.

I told Carter, whenever he feels himself getting mad or sad to stop and write on the board and that Val promised to read it and address his feelings.  The deal was, she could do the same with him.  Now, instead of the conflict, they would communicate.

I had a fun time reading it after work and, overall, today was better.

We needed to break the pattern.

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I just got home from a conversation with Dr. Kay Bower, founder of Many Rivers Learning Center. The faith-based non-profit provides after school and GED classes for children and adults.  They have programs in art, computers, technology, homework help, and sports.  Dr. Bower and her work is impacting and changing the families of north-western Reading with a new and passionate view of education. I am blessed and honored to be a part of it and donate my time and writing services.

My friend Pastor Fred Liggin, head of 3e Restoration Inc. posted a great discussion on Facebook today about Jesus standing with us in the stoning circle as our advocate. What if we viewed our role as Jesus followers to jump into the circle with him?  How quick we pick up our stones (and our social media) and how slow we are to defend those in need. We demand to be heard before we protect and show love.

One of the most uncomfortable passages in the Bible: Those without sin cast the first stone. Don’t see that on too many motivational posters.

We need to break the pattern.

It is time for a shift, a change in the way we interact with the world around us, a change in education, missions, creativity and worship.  It is time for a shift in, dare I say it, church.

From a weekly service to constant serving.

From mission trips to missions living.

From “worship” to high quality explosions of music, drama, lights, sounds, images and action all pointing to the most Divine Creator.

From a Pastor to Leaders equipping others to Go and Make Disciples of all the Nations.

From dropping our kids off to hear about God once a week to parenting with God leading us every minute.

From small groups to small actions of mobile and engaged faith.

From talking about it all to making it real.

~Matt