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

Playing Catch

A few days ago I received an email from Verizon about eligibility for a free early upgrade. I went to the store and picked out a new phone, took it home, and messed around with the different apps and features.

In scrolling through an app that previews books, I downloaded a sample of (Un)Qualified: How God Uses Broken People to Do Big Things by Pastor Steven Furtick. Furtick is the head pastor of Elevation Church, one of the more popular churches in the country that consistently put out quality worship albums and books.

After reading The Comeback by Louis Giglio, I considered buying the book to see how it compared.

There seems to be a recent theme in writings for a faith-based audience.

Look back far enough to C. S. Lewis and G. K. Chesterton and you’ll find thought leaders.  You’ll find writers putting forth fiction and nonfiction materials that shifted society. They stepped up and stood behind what they put on paper.

At some point, we’ve shifted into defensive mode. It is now about rescue and recover, respond and react. Inspire and understand that things will be okay.

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Tonight we went to the playground. Carter asked to practice some baseball stuff and we had a catch on the field while Val and Aiden were on the equipment.

The field doubles for lacrosse practice and they had goals set up on either end.  After Carter went back to the equipment, I picked up his wooden bat and a few baseballs.

I walked across the field and stood in front of the net, the sun setting in my face, and tossed up the first ball.  It was comforting to hear the crack of the bat as the ball shot into the net.

I kept swinging one after another until my arms burned and hands stung.

When did we shift to the back seat and why have we accepted it?

It would be nice to live the difference, to see life on the other side.  To know and understand the promise.

Hitting those baseballs didn’t adjust anything and it will still take time for the lightning strike, but I know it is coming.

There’s a change in the air.

~Matt

Never Gonna Stop

A life is a story.

We move through phases as we grow.  At the moment Aiden, our youngest son, is obsessed with touching his nose with his tongue.  He calls it his talent and shows as may people as possible.  Carter had some dental work done on Wednesday and, while his mouth was numb, bit his cheek.  He spent all day in pain and refusing to take medicine.

Today ranks up there as one of those Saturdays, as parents, you wish would end. Even when a season of your life is challenging, it will keep moving.

We spend our time shooting for moving targets, yearning for peace. We grasp at fleeting glimpses of paradise and when we feel secure we can be at our most vulnerable.

I had dinner with a friend of mine on Thursday, a man at the head of a local outreach organization for almost thirty years.  Two years ago the county government cut their funding abruptly.  I asked him if he ever doubted his purpose.  He said, only since the funding was cut. For decades he had security. Now he’s decided to dig in and fight to exist, to keep the dream alive.

He has a reason to hope.

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I’m in the midst of reading The Comeback by Louis Giglio.  Giglio is the pastor of Passion City Church in Atlanta and the founder of the Passion conferences that draw thousands of college students internationally. In a chapter I read this week he says:

But no matter the pain we’re going through or the distance we’ve traveled away from God, Jesus is always there for us. He doesn’t stop healing us. He never stops forgiving us. He won’t stop restoring us. He refuses to stop loving us.

Those five sentences are life changing. No matter what is happening, God is still working in your life, still healing, still forgiving.  You are still being restored and loved.

No.

Matter.

What.

Every struggle. Every failure.  Every time I’ve taken three steps back after two forward.  Jesus is there.  The process is never-ending. Even in the darkest pit, we are being restored and healed.  Even in our hottest desert, we are loved.

Tomorrow, if you need a reason to worship and turn your heart to God, remember this.  You are a work in progress and, no matter where you are or how you feel, the work never stops and the greatest craftsman in the universe will never walk away.

~Matt

Take it All

On Wednesday we visited a church in York, PA with friends to see worship leader Kristian Stanfill and the Passion tour.  Passion City Church is based in Atlanta and is home to Chris Tomlin, Stanfill, David Crowder and head pastor Louis Giglio. They hold a conventions yearly for college students age 18-25 and their leaders.  These conventions include dynamic speakers and great music.  If you have a chance, buy or download any of the Passion worship albums and you will not regret it.

Stanfill’s message for the night was centered around the concept of this year’s Passion conference: Take it All. He wrote a song about it that I’ll include at the end of the post. The song contains part of the hymn, I Surrender All and a member of Stanfill’s band, also a pastor, delivered a short message about its writing.

The hymn was written by a man named Judson W. Van DeVenter.  Van DeVenter lived in western Pennsylvania.  He was an art teacher and struggled with his desire to be known for his art and an increasing pull towards evangelism.  One night, he had an experience that changed his life. He said this:

For some time, I had strug­gled be­tween de­vel­op­ing my tal­ents in the field of art and go­ing into full-time evan­gel­is­tic work. At last the pi­vot­al hour of my life came, and I sur­ren­dered all. A new day was ushered in­to my life. I became an evang­el­ist and dis­cov­ered down deep in my soul a tal­ent hi­ther­to un­known to me. God had hid­den a song in my heart, and touch­ing a ten­der chord, He caused me to sing.

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We spend our lives chasing something.  It can be money, fame, stuff, love, sex, children, anything.  We fill in our blanks, “If I just had ____, then I’d be happy.” Our nature is to search for security, for guaranteed results, for a five-year plan that happens step-by-step.

God calls us to a different path.

At the end of his ministry career, in the 1930’s, Van DeVenter taught at the Florida Bible Institute. A young student at the institute studied and worked with him.  This student went on to use I Surrender All during each one of his crusades and revivals. His name was Billy Graham.

Van DeVenter’s sacrifice led to the millions of people impacted by Billy Graham’s ministry.

There are many opportunities in this country to serve, many places that need people with talents like yours. There are open doors waiting for you to walk through.  There is hope and grace, new each morning at the foot of the Cross.

When our lives are in his hands, anything is possible.

Soundtrack Inspiration: