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

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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

 

Radioactive

My mother worked in a nuclear medicine department at a hospital for forty years.  She’s still there, inching her way towards retirement.  My father was an operator at a nuclear power plant before he retired.

I used to tell people that I glowed in the dark.

I remember visiting the hospital or the power plant (pre 9/11 years) and being amazed at the concept of radioactivity. Somehow this substance could kill you if you were around it too long.

I called my dad after 9/11 and would hear the stories of increased security, guards with automatic weapons and armored vehicles. Every year the township distributed iodine tablets to help against the possibility of exposure from a fallout event.

We all have our fallout events.

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This week, we took Carter in for some testing.  He’s been complaining of a rapid heart beat and some chest pain here and there. His emotions are erratic and we decided to talk to his doctor.  For two days we’ve wondered about results and the call came in today.

Everything normal.

So I look at him and wonder why?  What changed and what can we do to help?

The other night, after he had flown off in a rage and finally calmed down, he hugged me.  I told him I was sorry, that I wanted to make him feel better.

“Daddy, you don’t hug me enough anymore. You give me more high fives than hugs,” he said.

Feelings came crashing through. I’d seen him from my lens and not his. I’d assumed he would be mild mannered, like me, and not this vibrant, active, and emotional kid. I had parented him by attempting to attach the influence of my past to a person who had not known what it was like, one who never glowed in the dark.

It was an amateur parent thought:

He’ll be cool and low key, just like me.

I was wrong.

He has parts of me, yes, but he is his own person.  One who needs more hugs than high fives, freedom and the chance to grow. He’s Carter, not me.  One day he’ll be a father and I want him to know I’ll be there, with love and support at whatever level he needs.

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This is Carter from last Sunday.  My reason to keep fighting to get this fatherhood thing right.

~Matt

The Bird

I parked my car outside of work this morning with about five minutes to spare. I opened the car windows to let in a breeze and checked the headlines for the day on my phone.  Movement, just on the other side of the hood, caught my eye.

I had parked across from a shrub, about knee-high, and trimmed in the shape of a U.  It was a bright green and, just in the midst of the branches, flashed a streak of yellow.  As I watched, it flashed again and the movement took shape.

A smear of black sat above the yellow wings and body. Deep inside this shrub, a bird had settled in the morning sun.

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This was no forest, no sanctuary. This was no mountain or stream running close by.

This was a parking lot.

The bird could have flown to a much nicer environment.  An elementary school sits just past the parking lot surrounded by trees. In a minute, it could have found an entire group of trees, real trees, and set up shop. It could have lived a fairly solid bird life.

But it was nestled in this shrub, in this parking lot, not seeing the horizon beyond the branches.

This is one of those weeks, one of times of spiritual surgery. You feel like you are on the operating table and someone forgot the anesthesia. Doors close while others open. Prayers are answered as quick as needs arise. Through it all, God offers assurance.

Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?

Faith is the search. The fight. The effort to keep moving even if you can’t see the end.  It is one more word, one last phone call, one hug that helps a person fight their depression one more night. It is picking up when you don’t have the energy to move and pushing through.

For our walls can be climbed. Our cage can be opened. Our future is planned and known.  Our dreams are a guide. Great things are coming. I don’t mean some corny prosperity gospel thing.

I mean victories. Creation. Love. Peace. Movement. Building bridges. Helping someone know and understand that they matter, that their fight is important to you.

For are known by the fight, not the end result.  We are called to radical love that destroys the precepts of this world. Jesus told us to Go. Follow. Pray. Sacrifice. Make Disciples.

The day to rest is the day we find ourselves called home once again.

The day to move is now.

~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