Chasing the New

There are seven basic stories.

Every writing class I had, from college to grad school, I found at least one professor stating that old line. Seven stories told over and over. Our only hope, as writers, was to put our own spin on them. In On Writing, Stephen King says we develop a style as we read.  The end result is a mashup of our favorite authors combining to a unique voice.

This may be true in writing but it is not true in life.

We must never lose sight of the New.

pexels-photo

In Mark Batterson’s book, If, he recounts a moment that set his foundation for ministry in the years to come.  At a conference he had attended, the speaker said:

There are ways of doing church that has not been thought of yet.

The New is the line between fear and faith, sorrow and hope, doubt and assurance. It is the difference between the end and the _nd.

The New is the mystery.

I believe there are stories yet to be written, worship songs that will ignite a fire all across the world, ministries and charities that will change lives and provide for families. I believe there are ways of church waiting to be discovered, ways of worship only found in our dreams.

Zoom in.

Your story is not over. The _nd is not complete. Change is one choice at a time. One shift from if only to what if. One phone call, cup of coffee, meeting with a friend and plan with a spouse. One jog around the block, lifting of the dusty weight set, breaking out the easel and paints from college and opening your creative eye. It is the first choice against the addiction, depression, stress and sorrow.

There is another side, roads not taken, opportunities that will emerge as 2016 unfolds.

The New is chasing the calling, stepping towards discomfort as God stretches us into new territories of faith and guarding ourselves with the essential promise:

If God is for us, who can be against us?

~Matt

 

 

 

Advertisements

The _nd.

On Friday night we met with another couple, dear friends of ours, to start our small group centered around Mark Batterson’s book, If. We talked about our goals in life, our current spots, and what we see for the future.

How can we shift If Only regrets to What If possibilities?

The idea of shifting regret to possibility is one of changing stories. As a writer, I’ve always seen the catalyst for changing a story as finding a more complete ending.  Some writers know the ending before it starts.  I’m not one of them.

In my formative years, I read Stephen King’s On Writing where he mentions stories as fossils to be unearthed and his aversion to outlining. I know this spurs hours of conversation between creative types but, I believe, there’s a divine mystery to writing without an ending in mind. You may find yourself in a corner but, at the same time, mysteries and wonders will be revealed that enrich a story far beyond any outline.

The flow of shifting regret to possibility starts when we realize our ending is not complete.

pexels-photo

I think of Saul riding his horse down the Damascus road.  You think we have violence today?  This guy had raided homes, pulled Christians out and stoned them.  He was an enforcer, the best of the best, a Roman citizen working for the government doing his job.

He had blood on his hands.

Maybe that day was hot and dry as he rode forward with his companions.  Maybe he replayed the latest raid and killing in his mind.  Maybe he thought about a cushy government pension and villa somewhere that he would spend his days in after retirement.

The next moment, in a flash of light, his If Only had shifted to What If.

In his transformation days, blinded by the Redeemer he had chased so virulently, his regrets were fuel for his What If’s. He would now walk into cities and tell a new story.

He, the worst of the worst, was saved by grace coming from the greatest sacrifice in history.

When his eyes opened, he was now Paul, and would go on to write more than half of the New Testament. His ending, at the time, was not written.  Even in later years, when he understood he would face death at the hands of the same government he had served, he kept writing.  He kept pushing for expansion of the church.  He kept reaching out, burning away the regrets with new fire and new dreams.

He changed the world.

No matter where you sit tonight as you read this, your story is not over. The end is not complete. Time is not a conviction, it is the conviction to get moving. We must, as Einstein put it:

Try not to become a person of success, but rather a person of value.

Where can you make a difference? Contribute to a story? Add value? I know the arguments, believe me.  It is so much easier to curl up with some popcorn and Netflix.  Let this year be your year.  Let it be OUR year.

Look forward and see your What If as it emerges from the blinding light of contact with your Creator. As your eyes open, you will never be the same.

~Matt

Choose Against Yourself

A friend of mine, Dan Clouser, is founder and president of the Big Vision Foundation. Big Vision started as Berkshire Baseball by Dan and his friends from high school.  They were a bunch of guys, he says, trying to figure out how to keep living their glory days on the baseball diamond.

Now, years later, the Big Vision Foundation holds a number of seasonal tournaments in various sports. It is centered on a sports complex currently undergoing a multi-million dollar upgrade.   It generates more than $7 million dollars a year in tourism and income for Berks County.

Dan and his friends could have sat around telling stories but they decided to do something different. He chose against himself.

In Mark Batterson’s book, If, he writes about choosing against yourself.

It is the difference between the status quot and radical change, sameness and resistance, putting in the work when everyone else has gone home for the night.  It is what shifts us from regrets to dreams and visions.

pexels-photo

We all face inborn narratives. We inherit the stories that become our identities before we ever arrive on this planet, shaped by past generations. Every day is a choice. Every moment the scale swings between past and future, what we know and what our faith says about us.

So why break routine and choose against yourself?

It is the key to destroying the bonds that hold us down. Whether addiction or poverty, anger or sorrow.  It is recognizing that the old ways no longer work and the new has come. Because Jesus tells us in Matthew 16:

I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

This is a proactive statement. This is not playing it safe, settling into a routine that keeps us out of what God has planned.  This is not sitting on the bench.  It is stepping up and doing something about it.

It is making a difference, finding a cause, pulling closer to the divine purpose placed in your heart.  It is victory because the darkness shall not prevail, there is no condemnation for those in Christ, and if God is for us, who can be against us?

Today make a choice, just one, against yourself.  Take a step forward. Break routine. Your old stories may not turn into a Foundation changing the lives of thousands of children and athletes like Dan’s, but it will be something even more, a move of eternal impact and significance unique specifically to you.

Your story is waiting. Choose against yourself and let’s get started.

~Matt

Define Your Regrets

Last week we went to visit friends.  Both our families have kids the same age and they love to play together.  As the kids watched a movie, I sat at the kitchen table with my friend Matt (besides sharing the same name, an awesome guy).  Conversation moved to the past.  We talked about growing up.

I mentioned my grandfather taking me fishing on Saturday mornings.  No cell phones. No deadlines or dilemmas.  He drove his old pickup truck to the pond, parked next to it, and gradually walked around throwing his line in at various spots.  I talked about learning how to play cards and feeling like I was an adult as I sat in on rounds of family pinochle. Matt said his grandfather was a farmer and they would go on long walks at the farm, just talking and throwing rocks into the fields.

I regret the past my boys won’t get to have.

Regret, you see, is a tricky thing. In Mark Batterson’s book, If, he writes about regret.  As people age, they long for the missed opportunities.  In the short-term it is more regret of things done. Time draws your attention to the probabilities. If only I had started that business, chased that dream, asked out that guy or girl.  If only I took that vacation, adventure, mission trip.

We must reframe the concept.

beach

If there is anything I regret, it is not changing the narrative of my life. I told myself a story shaped by my experiences.  This kept me out of leadership opportunities, creative endeavors, ministry to friends and family  It told me I wasn’t good enough, said I was the sum of my past and not a new creation.

It was condemnation, pure and simple.

And we know that, according to the Apostle Paul in Romans, There is no condemnation for those in Jesus.

It is so addicting.  In this country, we love throwing condemnation around and drawing our lines in the sand. We are fine with grace as it extends to us, just don’t ask us to push the boundaries.

We are called into the void, past the battle lines.

The cross allows us to live without condemnation, destroying the influence of the past and old narratives on our lives. The voices that trap and snare from the dark now fall on deaf ears. We are new creations, made to chase down callings that shine light on the world.  We are meant to create, to sing, dance, write, act, draw, sculpt, design, build, and plan.

We are here to destroy old ideas and break new ground.

We are called out of the safety of our regrets (for excuses are always safe) and made dangerous.  Dangerous to the ways of the enemy, the one seeking to destroy lives.  Dangerous to the ones saying this kind of radical love is impossible.  You want to donate, serve, open your home, give your time?

You want to be selfless?

This year redefine regret and let it move you forward.  Take nothing for granted.  Dive in and know that you are called to so much more.

~Matt

A Thought to Change Your Life

As we grow, we develop filters through which we see our lives. Aiden, at three, sees the world differently than I do.  We spent tonight together playing and watching cartoons. He’ll run his toy trains through imaginary worlds while making sound effects and cheering them on. He trusts people. He’ll follow Carter even if he ends up hurting himself in the process.

He has yet to be spoiled by negativity.

At the moment, I’m making my way through Mark Batterson’s book, If, and it is a powerful process.  In the chapter I read last night, he writes about a shift in perspective that can change your life as you start the new year:

“Spiritually speaking, the tipping point is when you believe, without any reservation, that God if for you.  It is the revelation that God doesn’t just love you, he likes you.”

pexels-photo

We project our life experiences onto God.  One part of psychology believes that we see God as we do our father figures. If our father happened to be vacant, we take the same insight to understanding the one who gave us life and breath.

It is the essence of faith for many.  “If bad things happen, they must be from God as all things are from God and we are clearly being punished.” Entire systems of faith build their towers on this idea as it drives money into offering buckets.

How would your life change if you adapted Batterson’s statement above.  What if God is for you, not just every now and then, but every single moment? What if God cares for you and wants good things for you, for me, and for everyone?

This changes the narrative and breaks down walls of separation.

When I think back on all I’ve done and experienced, that small voice speaks up too quickly and tells me that I’m not worthy.  How can God love me and, especially, how can he like me?

That’s the gift of the cross. The one sacrifice to seal the deal and prove for all time that God has our best interests at heart.

So as you look towards a new year, drive it into your head.  Write it down. Make it part of your daily prayer life. Tell your children, spouse, and family.

God loves you and likes you. Use this is a base for what is coming. Shift your perspective and you’ll see even more fall into place.

It is time for 2016 to change everything.  Let’s make it happen.

~Matt

 

If

I hope you enjoyed your past five days.

For us it was a time of running around, visiting family, opening presents and thinking about the past year. We attended a Christmas Eve service on a warm night and rejoiced as our pastor walked out on stage with his new prosthetic left leg. Carter and Aiden loved every gift they received. We somehow managed to make it relatively smooth and are still in the process of getting the house in order.

The insurance money for home repairs will be available to us on 12/30, starting the ball rolling towards repairs and the house returning to form.  On Christmas I experienced my own little miracle, something I will post about this week, as this was the first year without both of my grandparents.

I am excited for what is coming.  The final few days of 2015 will put a cap on a stressful time in our lives.  We are finally moving towards some good news on multiple fronts.  I know that everyone believes 2016 will be their year. It is a common refrain for the end of December.

We have a concrete reason why.

pexels-photo

Last night I started reading Pastor Mark Batterson’s new book.  The title is If and it is based on Romans 8:31.

If God is for us, who can be against us?

I’ll be writing two posts for our church’s official blog about this book and I’m excited to dive into it. He makes a point in the first chapter that will change lives:

If we really believed that verse, an alternative reality awaits.

If God is for us, who can be against us? It removes any space for doubts or fears.  How different would our year look if we walked forward believing that God is for us?

There are times I fight hard against cynicism. I mean, okay I get it. Faith is faith. Yet, when I read those sentences I felt a spark of something inside. Facing this book launch in 2016, the official initiation of P356 to the publishing world and fully giving my writing over to God’s purpose, I still get pangs of fear.

I look in the mirror and can hear the voices.

Why me? I was never anybody special.

If God is for us, who can be against us?

What happens if I fail?

If God is for us, who can be against us?

Do you know the odds against success? How many people actually launch their business online and survive?

If God is for us, who can be against us?

The bottom line is faith. Silence the voices.  Grab hold of the promise, the importance of If, and use it to change your life.  Looking forward to what is coming, to building this book and making real change in our lives.

It all starts with one concept-

If.

~Matt

Picks of the Week- 9/29/2014

Scripture: This is what the Lord says, he who made the earth, the Lord who formed it and established it—the Lord is his name: ‘Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.” Jeremiah 33: 2-3

A verse from one of my favorite books of the Bible. In this day of information, there are still unsearchable things we need to find.

Book: The Grave Robber: How Jesus Can Make Your Impossible Possible by Mark Batterson

Batterson is the pastor of National Community Church in Washington D.C. He is the author of The Circle Maker, a book that changed my prayer life forever.  This title is his newest release about miracles happening in everyday life.  I hesitate naturally when a church leader talks about prayer as they tend to veer towards God as a slot machine in the sky. Batterson does not do this. He supports his points with solid research, examples from real life, and Biblical backing.  Check out his titles here.

 

Website: Storyline Blog

I’ve posted about Donald Miller before and his site is his blog. His thoughts are fresh, open, and honest.  If you are looking to refine your story, visit and see what he has to say.

Family Activity: Pumpkin Patch

On Saturday, we spent a few hours at a local farm while Carter and Aiden played in a hay jump, corn maze, and playground. Fall is my favorite time of year for this very reason. We make it a yearly tradition to visit Linvilla Orchards, outside of Philadelphia, to experience all a farm in the fall has to offer.

Marriage Activity: Fresh Cider

When you are at the orchards, pick up some fresh cider. When you get home, put the kids to bed and warm it up. This will be cheaper than the Starbucks version and more romantic as you recover from chasing the kids around the farm.

Val’s Style Pick of the Week:

powdergrip03_150x250

Redken Powder Grip 03- Gives hair a modern matte finish with amazing texture and fullness, and adds grip to prep hair for long-lasting updos, or as Val says, “backcombing in a can.”

Val’s Bag of the Week:

3000821A0000_large

Thermal ToteA classic favorite! It’s great for taking lunch on the go. Whether you need to keep your food cool or warm, it does the job. Great for school or work lunch, or for taking to a ballgame. Also great as a baby bag to keep bottles cold. Measures approx: 9.5”H x 14”W x 4.5”D  I’ve personally taken one of these for lunch to work more than once and it is a perfect fit if you must share a refrigerator with other employees. You can find it here for $18.00. You can find other specials for September and the entire new catalog for the month at Val’s personal Thirty-One site.

 

Soundtrack Inspiration: We Rejoice by Elevation Worship

If you were to give me creative control over a worship song, it would probably end up like this.  I love the energy, flow, and message.  Enjoy it!