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

When You are Not There Yet

We love our quick fixes.  We love our trophy without the marathon, our abs without pounding the pavement.  We want wealth without work, marriage without romance, love without connection.  We’ll take a world bending to us, thank you very much.

Quick fixes go against our divine nature.

I believe you and I were created for the journey.  Our lives are ones of refinement. We walk through the fire to come out more pure on the other side, no matter how long it takes.

Saturday and Sunday were long days.  I mean two of the longest days we’ve had in a while. Carter, our oldest, seems like he’s sixteen not six.

Even though he’s young, it hurts to look in his eyes and see his anger reflected back at us. As parents, it drives you two directions. You miss the days of the baby and long for the days when he’s grown up.

You are Not There Yet.

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You work a day job and the moment you leave your mind goes to your passion.  You spend your nights designing a new small business.  You research loans and open storefronts. You email investors.

You are Not There Yet.

You’ve gone on the last date you think you can handle, suffered through mind-numbing conversations and went home alone. You’ll look in the mirror tonight and know.

You are Not There Yet.

You drive by the family at the end of the street and see their house fall apart.  You see children wearing the same clothes at the bus stop every day of the week, passing a single winter jacket back and forth.  You press the gas a little harder just hoping to pass.

You are Not There Yet.

A life in faith is a journey. As long as you draw breath, your work is not finished. Tomorrow is another chance. Keep connected in the moments. Make the choices that contribute to this world. Do something to make a difference. Change a life. Follow a dream.

Pick up that paintbrush, type the first sentence, take the first step.

You are Not There Yet but one day you will be. Never stop moving, no matter how long, hard, tired, or frustrating. Keep going. Win the day one at a time. Do it because there is no alternative. The sideline doesn’t exist. There is no waiting, there is only work and hope.

I believe this post is for someone specific out there, someone feeling like me tonight.  Know I’m with you and that we’ll push through together.

I’ll see you back out there tomorrow.

~Matt

The Anger Addiction

I’ve spent a few years working in the medical field, from emergency medicine to rehabilitation and a doctor’s office.  In this time, I’ve met a ton of people and had the chance to see the highest moments of positivity and the darkest times of grief. People often stand at a crossroads.  They can overcome and find themselves better than before they arrived.

Or they can drown in their sickness.

Today I listened to an amazing sum of conversations and it hit me.

When did we get so angry?

As a culture we’ve become obsessed with it.  Watch daytime talk shows. Listen to the politicians.  We love angry people.  Pick up a cause and yell about it, in digital or real form, and you’ll find an audience.

As a church, we’ve embraced it.  If everyone can be offended, why not us?

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There’s a scene in The Godfather, one of my favorite movies (I’m a guy, it is required) where Al Pacino is sitting at his child’s baptism.  As he goes through saying the words, the shot cuts to various murders that Pacino’s character has ordered.  As he renounces the devil, he kills those who oppose him.

It works because of the contrast and the pull at human nature.  Who hasn’t wanted to get back at our enemies, to even the scales, to repay wrongs in prime, Old Testament fashion?

Jesus, the one we all do our best to follow.

The writer Donald Miller posted an excellent article on his blog about Learning to Walk Away.  He talks about the story of Jesus and the young rich man.  How, when the young man rejects his offer of salvation, Jesus walks away.  He didn’t hang out. He didn’t yell, argue, post smart Facebook comments and info-graphics.

He walked away.

Today I made a goal.  I would improve someone’s day when we interact.  Whether that person was Val, Carter, Aiden, or a patient I’m registering.  I would make their day better.  It didn’t matter if they were angry, upset, sad, or annoyed.  I’d do my best.

It won’t be easy.

Right now society is focused on what following Jesus isn’t. We need to revolutionize and embrace what it is.

Break the addiction of anger. Be less jaded. Open our arms. Love when it is hard. Forgive when it seems impossible.  Lay down our lives and pick up our crosses.  They’ll know us by our love.  Not our offense, our politics, money, donations, organizations, or righteous indignation. They’ll know us by our love.

A love without end, that supports everyone in our community, that acts against the logic of this world. When we pick up our crosses we drop our anger.  You can’t hold both.

It is time to choose.

~Matt

Break Every Chain

This is a post about freedom.

Not a belated July 4th celebration.  A different kind of freedom.

We all have ways we define our lives. We claim things for our own. We fill in our incomplete sentences and pick identities from the moments of life God had placed in our past. Make your way around a party and talk to people.  You’ll find the spoiled one, the beaten down and abused, the rich and privileged.

I remember playing on the golf team in high school.  One of the guys was the son of a family that owned a pair of furniture stores in town.  He wore the best clothes and had the most expensive golf clubs.  His name was his identity.

There is a danger here.

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The crucifixion scene in the Bible always fascinated me.  The imagery was harsh and dramatic. I could picture the wind and rain-swept hillside, the trio of crosses with thunder crashing in the background.  I could see the guards and the brave few supporters of Jesus gathering at his feet.  The part that fascinated me was his words:

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

There are volumes of debate and analysis on the meaning of this question.  We understand that, in the moment, Jesus had taken on all sin to be the living sacrifice for our salvation.  God, in perfection, could not assist.  His Will be done.

The Son had to move on without the Father to complete his ultimate journey.

I believe we are all called out on the water.  To realize our destiny, we throw off the chains of our past and step forward.

We are shaped by our past, defined by our future, and driven by our dreams.

Tonight I pray you know freedom from the things holding you back. I pray you find new life and look in the mirror and know you are okay. You are strong. You are able.

You will make it.

~Matt

Birthday Favorites for 7/3/2015

Tomorrow I’ll celebrate another year of life. I remember when turning thirty freaked me out.  Now, making my way through my thirties, it has truly been a refining few years.  I’ve felt like I was nearing the end of one season in life and starting a new one. The plot of my family had taken plenty of turns and things are starting to, slowly but surely, clear.

The clouds are lifting.  The journey isn’t over and we are finally seeing progress.

There are still things on the horizon and, I pray, our paths will be straight. I’m thankful for a time of professional, personal, and spiritual development.

Here’s a quick review of the last year and some of my favorites:

Favorite Post:

Why I Believe

Favorite Worship Song(s):

I have a few to pick from so here’s a pair of them:

Promises I lean on:

Jeremiah 29:11-“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Proverbs 3:5-6-“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.”

Family Loss:

Hazel Shaner, “Princess,” my grandmother.  She was the matriarch of our family and lived a full 98 years of life.  She was a great woman and embodied the love of God.  Princess, you will be missed and I know I’ll see you again one day.

Church Tragedy:

The motorcycle accident that took the life of our pastor’s wife Lynn Koch and landed our pastor Bryan Koch in ICU.  This occurred just last month and has caused numerous deep conversations within our family and friends about struggle, suffering, and grace.  You can see one of my posts about it by clicking here.

Looking Forward:

My current book project about poverty and activism in the city of Reading, Pennsylvania (Poorest city in the US in 2011) is in the draft editing phase. I’m excited to lay it out, tighten it up, and get it in front of publishers! It is a non-profit project and I can’t wait to see what God will do with it! There are other developments shaping up to make this next year a big one for us.

I’ve decided to dedicate my writing to God, to give it back to the cause of changing our community, society, and the world.

I dedicate this year to:

~My wife and sons.  Thank you for putting up with a dreamer, father, and husband working to be the best man he can be.  I am nothing without you.

~My audience.  The writing, all of this, is for you to celebrate faith and life in action.  I pray you find hope here, that the words resonate with you and you know, deep in your heart, that you are not alone.

~The dreamers.  The ones looking to do worship, church, creativity, and community differently.  Now is the time for a shift, for open doors and changed lives. Now is a time for authentic service, for unity and hands raised in triumph over hate, discrimination, and violence.

~The writers. If you are making this writing journey with me, I dedicate this next year to you.  We are a community, drawn in by the pen/pencil/keyboard and we do this together.  Never stop writing.

~The soldiers. To everyone I’ve met compiling this book on Reading, this next year is for you.  For the men and women on the front lines of the fight against poverty, this is for you.  For the ones who wake up every morning to serve those in need, this year is for you.  My prayer is that this book shines light on your actions and inspires support through increased volunteers, funding, and effort from an audience around the world.

For everyone that’s taken the time to read my thoughts, thank you for being a part of this community and spending time with me every week.  I’m honored that you stop in and I promise you more content, stories, actions and real connection.

Tomorrow is a new year for me, this blog, and my writing. Come with me and we’ll make the journey together.

~Matt

 

We Could be Heroes Just For One Day

The term hero is thrown around way too much.  We pin it to idols, to sports stars and celebrities. We value those who spend their careers on the stage and in the spotlight.

We think they are different from us.

It is a huge mistake.

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I know two things are true.

First: you are called out. Jesus tells us to be the salt of the earth. We read that the lukewarm churches are spit out in the book of Revelations. Jesus said to follow him, to take up our cross and start walking. This means we leave things behind. We move away from the old stuff pulling us under the surface and start to soar.

Second: you will have your time. God puts moments in our lives. You’ll know when it happens, when you stand at a crossroads. All eyes will be on you waiting for a response.  The stage can be large or small, a living room or a conference room.  Your dreams and passions will see fruition. Yes we will all account for our lives when they are over but I’ll say this, you’ll get many chances at a preview.

When your child asks you what to do about a bully.

When your work wants you for a specific project that could make or break your career.

When you have a chance to stand up for someone suffering financially, personally, or spiritually.

Heroes make the most of every single breath. Embrace your calling, step out and don’t be afraid to fly.

~Matt

 

The Push

If you are bored, try this.

Do an informal survey.  Ask you family, coworkers, and friends a simple question:

Are you happy?

Wait and listen to their responses.  I promise you will learn something.

the push

You’ll have conversations about missed dreams, tossed away passions, and regret for the passing of time. You’ll hear people who settled into a career and, rather than knowing it theirs they settled and spent their years clocking in and out, going on summer vacations, and slowly climbing the corporate ladder.

In each talk, in the spaces of unspoken words and covered emotions you’ll find The Push.

The Push is the moment God revealed a divine calling, a passion that affirms life. You’ll hear it in the language.

“I wish I could do that again. If I just had the chance, I would…, At this point, I only have a few years and I’ll retire!”

I don’t know about you but I think it is time to end the talk and start the action. Too many people are missing out on life, on their calling and their passion.  Too many people have settled for the safe route. There’s a reason that creatives celebrate the road not taken.

It is the fire that can light us to burn for an eternity.

Our job is two-fold: to answer the call and help others do the same.

~Matt

Real Neat Blog Award

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I want to thank my friend Roxanna for a Real Neat Blog Award nomination.  Her blog is filled with encouragement and she is passionate about making a difference for her readers.  You can find her blog by clicking here.  If you are ready for a positive change and new purpose, check it out and follow tonight!

Thank you for everyone in my audience.  I’m blessed that you’ve decided to join this community on a journey that can change your life.

In terms of the Real Neat Blog Award, here are the rules…

RULES

  • Put the award logo on your blog.
  • Answer 7 questions asked by the person who nominated you.
  • Thank the people who nominated you, linking to their blog.
  • Nominate any number of bloggers you like, linking to their blogs.
  • Let them know you nominated them (by commenting on their blog, etc.)

Here are the questions and my answers;

1. Who has been the single most influential person in your life to date?

-This could go so many ways.  Right now, I’d say my son Carter.  He’s six years old and he’s everything I never was in my childhood.  He’s athletic and outgoing. He had endless energy.  He’s funny and, in many ways, he’s my hero. He’s teaching me about myself as a man, husband, and father. I hope, and pray, I can live up to his expectations one day.

2. What book has impacted your life the most (so far)?

-I’m going with one from the fiction and nonfiction worlds.  The War of Art by Steven Pressfield is a necessity for anyone looking to amp up their creative efforts. It is encouragement and a much-needed kick in the rear end. The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene is the other.  Greene is a master, the novelist I wanted to emulate from the moment I read him in college. There are parts of his books that have seared themselves on my heart. If you haven’t read either of these books, check them out ASAP.  You won’t be disappointed.

3. Share with us a link to a blog post by you that you think we ought to read (or re-read 😉 )

Why I Believe.

4. Share with us a quote which is either funny or cheesy :-p

-I love everything from Pressfield’s book that I mentioned above.  Here’s a solid quote that covers all the bases: a little funny, a little cheesy, and true.

There's a secret that real writers know

5. What do you want to change in your community?

-I want to see widespread social and economic change.  I want to see people living lives of faith and life in action.  I want people to know that God does cut through the cosmos and interject into our lives, that reality can be changed and hope is real. I want new lives, to draw attention to the people fighting to make a difference and give them the encouragement needed to wake up and do it all again tomorrow.

6. What inspires you (or pushes you 😉 ) to blog?

-When I graduated with my MFA in creative writing, I had a thesis novel in my hands and a major question waiting to be answered.  What would I do? The idea hit me like a hammer, what if I could write to make a difference? What if the words could change people and speak into their situations? That drove me to this blog and my current project writing about the battle against poverty in the city of Reading, Pennsylvania (named the poorest city in the United States in 2011). I believe we are all called to make a difference and I want to tell the stories that matter.  That drives me to every post and publication.

7. Share with us the happiest period of your life so far.

-I’ve been blessed by marrying my high school sweetheart.  We’ve had two amazing boys and any of these moments count.  I’d say these current times are my happiest.  They aren’t easy but, for the first time in a while, I’ve felt God’s hand on my progress and purpose.  I feel like a ship with new wind just starting to pick up the sails. Writing to serve has transformed my creative efforts and, on a deeper level, my life.

The only thing I’m missing is nominees.  Here’s some blogs you should check out, all deserving of recognition and your time!

Blogs You Should Check Out:

1/A Writer’s Path

2/ Wiley Coyote

3/ Memoir Notes

4/Anewperspectiveperhaps

5/ Words on a Blackboard

6/Keithgarretpoetry

7/Fiction All Day

 

~Matt