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

The Hardest Lesson

We are both human and works in progress.

Yesterday the horrific terror attacks in Paris have opened up old wounds for many in this country.  We watch in sadness and shock.  We understand, not so far removed from 9/11. We pray and we offer support in any way possible.

Thinking about these things led me to the most challenging instruction Jesus ever delivered in the Bible.

One day, as he gathered on a mountainside, a crowd formed.  He delivered the greatest sermon ever recorded and systematically tore down every societal construct of the day.  He spoke of the meek, the hated, hungry and thirsty being blessed.  He warned of false prophets gaining money and following by corrupting the Word.

He then said this:

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The exact lines read (Luke 6:27-36):

But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.

If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

These paragraphs fly in the face of everything we stand for, every human emotion, all the rage and tears.  The concept exists in stark contrast to how we act and feel as believers, a government and society.

We scream for justice, for bloodshed and retaliation. Our guts want those guilty to get everything they deserve.

We want war.

And the cycle keeps spinning.

Today I’m praying for those involved in this tragedy and for wisdom and security. Something needs to change at the heart of this world.  There is a void and only one way to fill it.

The cross still stands, in the moments we choose to heed the message and the moments we ignore in our humanity, fueled by rage in the face of unquestionable evil. The cross stands to tell us there is justice, victory, sacrificial love that heals all wounds.

The cross stands to tell us it will be there in the wake of every terrorist bomb and bullet, every life taken.

It is a challenge to this world ready for the day we are prepared to answer the call.

~Matt

 

Winning Over the Other

For the last few years, I’ve spent time in the medical field working with patient registration and insurances.  This experience spanned an emergency room, a rehabilitation hospital, and a doctor’s office. The last two weeks, while checking in patients, I’ve heard this statement or a variance on it more than once:

“I’m not used to seeing a guy here.”

“This is a woman’s job, I can’t believe you’re doing it.”

“I’ve never seen a guy working in this spot.”

“Wow, you don’t see guys doing receptionist work.”

For in those moments of awkwardness, I’ve experienced a taste of the Other.

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You can write off antiquated opinions all you want but, in the end, the Other remains the same.  It is every person standing out in the crowd, breaking the mold, crushing through the glass ceiling. The Other isn’t often spoken of in positive tones, though. It is the immigrant, the refugee crossing boarders. It is the small business owner starting a family restaurant on the wrong side of town.  It is the family moving in down the street looking, talking, or worshiping differently.

It is difference in living form and we don’t like difference.

2015 is the year of the Other.

And oh how we fight it. We, as ones who claim to follow Jesus, call ourselves victims. We point fingers. We are not like them. We demand to be heard, picking the parts of the Bible useful to the cause while ignoring the command to Love our Neighbors.

Still, there are those finding victory over the Other. People serve; hands reaching across the aisles, street corners, and school yards. Children play with other children of all colors, ages, and backgrounds because it is fun and fun is a universal language.

If there is to be true change, terms must be rewritten.  For victory is not claiming power or privilege, not for those following Jesus. Victory is service. Victory is sacrifice. Victory is selfless love and honor.

Because the last will be first. Because we store up treasures in Heaven, not on earth. Because it is our job to give, not receive. To love and not hate. To not let the sun go down on our anger and never ignore the plank in our own eye when we call out the speck in the eye of someone else.

Not everyone can ignore comments like the ones above (and I know some of you hear much worse on a daily basis from coworkers, family, and even friends) but, if one person reads this and decides to make a change tomorrow, it will start a ripple effect.

Victory comes with compassion, the choice to care about the Other, to shift perspective and find unity.

I look in the eyes of my sons and know they will face negativity one day, probably without cause.  I want them to know their identities as men, as believers, and treasures to Val and I. I want them to rewrite the books, stand up for those in need, and change the world.

Nothing is impossible.  For them and for you. Never forget it.

~Matt

Unforgivable

“How many of you can say you would never kill someone?”

The question floated over us.  We were undergraduates in a Literature and Psychology class, an experience that goes down as one of my favorite semesters of my life.  The students were a mix of majors and the professor, Dr. Browne, had experience in both fields. We analyzed characters and ourselves as the months flew by.

As a young believer, I raised my hand. I thought, hey, followers of Jesus are all about peace and I would never take a life.

“You’re lying,” Dr. Browne said as he laughed. “You mean to tell me, if you walked into your house and found a guy attacking your family, you wouldn’t defend them? Even to the death?”

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As a family of believers, we are known more for what we don’t forgive than what we do. 2015 has become the year of exclusive faith, from bakeries to court clerks.

In the Bible, Peter asks Jesus about forgiveness.  The custom, at the time, was to forgive seven times.  Jesus replies not seven but seventy times seven. He forgives sins often, to the frustration and anger of the high priests. Only God, they believe, can forgive sins.

They’re right.

We’ve strayed from the path to the point of walking backwards. We focus on what we can’t do rather than the courage to take on new challenges and adventures. We ask for wisdom to avoid danger and ignore the strength needed to push forward. We react rather than act.

We’ve been pushed into a corner by our unwillingness to love our neighbors if they don’t behave the way we want.

The concept of forgiveness comes with implied empowerment. I forgive you is often heard, and said, with condescension and not humility. We need to redefine the term for what it really is:

Release

-from pain, anger, heartbreak and offense.

For the scars do not vanish. They get molded into a figure of beauty and grace blazing with the touch of the Almighty.

If you have a few minutes, watch this video posted by Bleacher Report.  It is the profile of Darnel Dockett, defensive lineman for the San Francisco 49ers.  Dockett’s mother was murdered when he was a young teenager.  Catch the last two minutes and pay attention.

How many of us would say the same to our mother’s killer?  I pray that, one day, Dockett gets his chance.

~Matt

Is It Too Hard to Serve?

I sat in the cafe at church this morning drinking my coffee.  Four people were at a table to my left, two interviewing the other two about serving in the church.  The questions flowed on a predetermined path from jobs to hobbies and interests.

I know this because, a year ago, I sat through the same interview.

The guy I spoke with gave me a questionnaire that I completed and handed back.  I was going to school for my English teaching certification at the time and though I’d help out with the youth program. I met the head youth pastor and was given a binder of information including a link to a pair of videos I was supposed to watch as a form of training.  The following week I visited the youth service and shadowed a small group leader.

He was a nice guy and led a group of, if I remember correctly, ninth grade boys.  After the service we sat there and talked about the message.  The guy leading told me he usually brings some kind of snacks for the boys and plans activities during the week.  As he spoke, I was still okay with it.  Then I asked:

“So how often do you do this?  I mean, is it a rotation or something?”

“Every Sunday,” he said.

Every week. No break. Our church has two morning services.  This guy and his family would attend one while he served at the other, every week.  I get the concept, to have consistency, but it still made me reconsider.

I mean, how hard should it be to serve?

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The early church was instructed to care for the poor, orphaned, and widowed. Jesus preached love and acceptance, stating “what you do to the least of these, you do to me.” The direction is clear and, in Acts, we read of believers selling belongings and giving to those in need.

So what have we done?

We’ve complicated simple instructions.  We’ve turned love and provide into analyze and assess. There are numerous organizations out there asking for monetary help.  Wait for a natural disaster and you’ll see the donation jars arrive at supermarkets and other public places. Needs aren’t always dictated clearly and, when they are, we don’t always listen.

At one church we attended, a small start-up, the pastor announced to the crowd that my wife would be working in the nursery before he asked her.

Serving has moved from a command to a corporation.

Let’s make it easy.  If you want to serve, church is a great place to start, even if not for the church at all. It should be a gateway, a door to direct the curious and interested towards families and charities in need. What if it didn’t take an interview and a weekly commitment?  What if it took one conversation for one need met?

No more pressure. No more quizzes or personality tests. No more barriers, political or personal.

The message today was on Jonah, a guy God called to serve and deliver his Word.  Jonah ran the other direction. It took a trip to the depths to get the point. It shouldn’t be that way for everyone.

The church and those who claim to follow Jesus are standing at the ledge of a movement, a chance to unleash radical love and service in a world existing in desperation. Jumping off can only happen if we get out of our own way.

~Matt

Calling

Make tomorrow different.

Do it because you can. Because you don’t know if you’ll have Friday.  Because somewhere, someone is sitting in the darkness of their home regretting the fact that they didn’t do it.

Ignore the doubts. Silence the critics. Choose what voices matter and keep them close.

Find your idea. Ignite a new passion. Connect with friends and make partnerships.

Do it because it is in your history, in your blood going back through the generations.

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Do it because you were called to fight, because somewhere three hundred years ago people decided to rise up and claim their freedom. Do it because this year a soldier didn’t make it home to their family.

Do it because someone believes in you. Your mother. Your father. Your children look up to you and see inspiration.

Close your eyes.

See your goal.

Take that first step. Lace up the sneakers and hit the track. Set up the meeting with the perspective investors and put your idea on the table and know, even if they say NO, it only means they weren’t the right ones and there’s an entire country waiting to support you.

Do it because time is short. Because giving matters. Because tonight a kid is hungry somewhere and your success could inspire someone to give back and their donation could help put food in the fridge. Because a person you haven’t met needs to know your story and understand that

there

is

hope.

When the sun rises and the alarm sounds, open your eyes. Draw a breath and be thankful because your work isn’t complete. You are needed. You have another chance to make a difference.

Do it because the fear of success is greater than the fear of failure. Because you are worth having a dream, chasing it down, grasping it and never letting go.

Hear that? That small voice in the silence? That voice speaking in your heart whenever you close your eyes and listen? That thrumming in your soul pulses out a beat driving you forward, waiting, coiled and ready to expand and explode.

That voice is the calling.  Will you respond?

~Matt

Weekend Inspiration-8/29/2015

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As writers, we measure equity in words. Some of us capture scenes over long and flowing pages.  Others use pointed sentences with as few words as possible. We spend years searching for the right way to get the image across, over this divine psychic transaction that occurs when we put our thoughts on paper and transmit them to you, our readers.

Listen to a conversation and you’ll learn from the words used. Is one side trying to gain approval or power?  Sit next to a first date and a couple married for forty years and you will be able to hear the difference.

Go to the playground and listen to the parents that are engaged and playing, compare them to the miserable others and, even worse, the silence from the parents on their cell phones while their kids do whatever they want.

Words are powerful.  All it takes is a smell, sight, snippet of conversation and we can recall something that was said to us years ago, for better or worse.

As you enjoy your weekend, think about what you are saying.  How can you build someone up today? Who needs to hear that you love them? What child needs to see your smile and hear some laughter?

Do what you can to make it happen.

~Matt

The Difficult Conversation

Today was Carter’s first day of school.  To celebrate, I picked him up and told him we’d go out to dinner and to The Works (a restaurant/arcade/play area near us).  I said we’d go anywhere he wanted for dinner and he picked Subway.

As we sat eating our sandwiches, a television in the dining area played CNN’s coverage of the horrific shooting in Virginia.  Carter watched this with me and asked me what happened.

I told him that two people were hurt bad on television. A few hours before I had watched the Youtube clip of the shooting footage and it gave me chills. We redirected conversation to his day and he was content finishing his meal and playing with my cell phone.

It is time for the difficult conversation.

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I’ve been honored to spend the last year researching and compiling a book about the fight against poverty here in Reading, Pennsylvania. We have people in many different industries coming together to bring new life to this city. New ideas flow on a weekly basis. Change is necessary and, with it, throwing out old ideas and ushering in new ones.

We must do the same with gun control.

Now, I have friends and family who are avid hunters. I support the Second Amendment as, at the time it was written, the Colonists were dealing with a distant government confiscating their weapons to prevent the Revolution. Yes, you have a right to protect your property and family.

That doesn’t change the fact that gun violence is out of control.

One of the vast differences between the Old Testament and New Testament sections of the Bible is the processing of law.  Old Testament law gave us the phrase “an eye for an eye.”

Then Jesus arrived.

He told us to turn the other cheek. To live in peace and love. When soldiers came to arrest him in the Garden, Peter cut off a man’s ear and Jesus promptly healed it. He died at the hands of an oppressive government to give those who follow him freedom.

He preached sacrifice. Picking up a cross and laying down your life for another.  He preached love and grace, treating others as you wish to be treated. His arms were open to all.

He stands in opposition to the World.

So how do we bridge the gap?

It is time to have the hard conversations, to discuss new methods of curbing crime and incarceration. To attack poverty and homeless with community improvement and involvement. To encourage neighborhood revitalization through new businesses, education, and entrepreneurship. To spread the availability of social services, mental and physical assistance to those in need before they reach extremes of behavior.

It is time to bring all sides to the table.

Our world can be different. My boys can work jobs they love one day without fear of violence. It will take a massive and necessary effort.

Let the conversation begin.

~Matt

Street Corner Faith

Val and I attend a large church.  This allows for some variety with worship music and, though there is an official worship leader, a group tends to rotate through  as the months pass. We’ve had everything from gospel to youth, men, women, national artists guest leading for a week, and a choir. There is one young woman who stands out every time she’s up there.

You know the one.

She hits the high notes extra high and runs Mariah Carey-esque trills up and down through Chris Tomlin’s latest hit, eyes closed, hands gesturing and face scrunched up to show just how hard she is leading worship as she orders the audience to join in, pray, let go and take part.

In case you haven’t experienced this yet, remember that worship directing us to the stage and not to God is not worship.

This morning, the writer and speaker Donald Miller posted on his blog about living a private versus public faith and why he has leaned more towards private recently. He cited the passages in the Bible where Jesus tells us not to be like those on the corner, making their good needs known to all, but to go to God in secret.

This stands, like Jesus always did, against all of society today.

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What if we changed things?

Imagine an end to the social media debate, to politicians claiming Jesus on their side in an effort to win votes. Imagine Hollywood actors and actresses not thanking God at the Academy Awards. Imagine pastors not telling the media that they will light themselves on fire because of the legalization of same-sex marriage.

Let’s break it down a little further.

Jesus didn’t say he’d make us millionaires, famous, beautiful, or influential.  He said he’d make us free.

Free from the race, the hustle of humanity, the ever-expanding yard stick that we’ll never reach because it will never stop.  Free from the lens of this world, the gaze that will keep criticizing from the grasp of moral relativism.

Free to say, we don’t have every answer and to love those different from us, the ones on the fringes that need a face-to-face encounter with the love of Jesus before they’d ever enter a church.

Free to pray, on our own, and spend quiet time with God, to help a neighbor and not email our small group about it.

When I was an undergrad in college, Val and I attended a church near the school and the pastor asked one night, “If this all burnt down and we had nothing, no building, no stage, no candles or instruments, how many of you would come back and worship your God on a pile of ashes?

This week, try some private time with God. Burn off the distractions. Kneel on your own pile of ashes and be thankful because you are still breathing and your work isn’t finished yet, because even in the darkness, you are never alone.

~Matt

If you or are friend are looking for some new reading material this week, two of my books are free on Amazon for the next four days. You can download my novel, The City, or my book on writing titled, Lazarus Art by clicking the link here.

 

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