Find Your Audience

One of the most important things we can do as parents, men, and believers is to find our audience.  We’re told to go, make disciples of the world. We are touched on the heart with the mission to share our faith and be present.

You may be thinking, what can I do?

Check out this article posted today at Bleacher Report.

Carl Lentz is a former college basketball player who found his way into ministry.  He connected with Hillsong church and helped to open their first US location in New York City. He also made friendships with some of the top stars in the NBA.

Lentz has officiated funerals for the families of NBA players, married players to their spouses, and even baptized Kevin Durant in the pool at his home.

So what can we learn from this athlete turned preacher/advocate?

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Photo Credit: Fuzzy Images via Compfight cc

Appearance doesn’t matter. The article mentions Lentz’s tattoos and mohawk haircut, even quoting one NBA player as being impressed that Lentz was not another “old white guy” behind a pulpit.

You are equipped for your ministry.

I’ll say it again, you are equipped for your ministry.  Your appearance, whether buttoned up or casual, relates you to an audience.  Never count yourself out because of your looks.

Size doesn’t matter. Hillsong NYC has eight services on a Sunday. They are located near Madison Square Garden. For NBA players in the city, it is a perfect spot. Your church may not match Hillsong’s size, yet those walking through the doors are there for a reason. I believe God draws people close every week.

Be prepared to reach out, whether your church is eighty or 8,000 people. Your handshake and hug may be the one that makes a difference in the lives of a new visitor.

-Your connection is already there. Lentz was a former college basketball player at N.C. State.  That gave him an instant bond over basketball. What do you do for a living? Find a community related to your talents and profession. If you are a contractor, you’ll have a bridge of connection with other construction people in your area.  If you are a lawyer, check out the law offices.

Find your peers and serve with them.  Lentz takes players to local homeless shelters to distribute food. He had players working with Hurricane Sandy relief efforts, some driving to construction sites directly after practice.

Lentz shares the language of basketball.  Your language, whatever it may be, can be valuable to lift up and encourage those friends and family around you and that is our true calling.

We must make a difference and the time to start is now. You are in the perfect place and time.

Think about that and take the first step.

~Matt

The Power of Information

My wife and I met in high school.  We’ve been a couple for close to twenty years now. We have had this conversation more than once:

Val: “Hey did you get me _____ at the store?” (Fill in the blank with any item, usually a gallon of iced tea)

Me: “I didn’t know we needed it. Why didn’t you tell me?”

Val: “I thought you knew.”

At this point I remind her that I’m a guy, we are not psychic and we need to be told things. This is true. She knows what we need at all times and I do my best to follow. How many of your moments in the past week were spent in interactions where one party needed more information? Where it was assumed that someone knew something they didn’t? Whether in business, church, or life this is a consistent reality.  We live in an information saturated age. People are searching to have needs met and those providing the answer will be accessed.  As business owners, we need to be in touch with this fact. Where are you positioned in the market? In the community? Are you a knowledge base, an expert?

Information is also power.

I have had that exact conversation at work numerous times. Did you get the memo? Yes I did. I’ll make sure you get another copy. Office Space is one of my favorite movies and it uses satire to make great points. Ever work with a boss, or coworker, totally disconnected? Where they don’t listen to what you say or even seem to care? That short conversation is a power exchange. Lumbergh has the authority, tells Peter about the memo, ignores his answer, and moves on. Basic life in the corporate world.

Yesterday I spoke on the phone with the assistant director of Berks County Women in Crisis.  It is an organization devoted to helping women, and sometimes men, who are victims of abuse from partners and loved ones. We spoke about the services they offer and the experience of moving through their program and one statement stuck in my mind.  She said that their biggest asset is information.  If only the community knew what the did and how they could be contacted.  If only more schools and businesses could be educated in how to identify signs of abuse.  If only more commercials and fliers were available to distribute.  They have no funding for marketing and this is a major handicap.

My hope is that the publication of Overcome will help to get the word out and spread the information they desire.  If one person reads the book and decides to go and get free from an abuse relationship, I’ll be happy.

~Matt

Not Ashamed

Today is my wife Valerie’s birthday. I am so blessed to have her in my life. She’s an amazing wife and mother. This morning, I took the boys to church so she could have a break and unpack as we returned from Connecticut yesterday. It was a powerful service with a message I needed to hear about overcoming shame. Pastor Eran Holt, one of our youth pastors, delivered the message and, as he spoke, every word connected with my personal experience.  He mentioned struggling with shame connected to his temper.  The minute he told us how shame sounds, the voice was amazingly familiar. Shame says:

“You didn’t just fail, YOU ARE A FAILURE.”

“You don’t just have a problem, YOU ARE A PROBLEM.”

“You didn’t make a mistake, YOU ARE A MISTAKE.”

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Pastor Eran used one of the most powerful moments in the Bible to illustrate his point and it is one of those moments that always gives me chills.  He read the account of Peter’s three denials of Christ and the crowing of the rooster after the third.  I always imagined Peter getting confronted about his faith and his hurried denials. We read this and think, no, not us, we wouldn’t deny him.

Yet, there are those comfortable following Christ at a distance.

Shame creates this distance.  It keeps our eyes focused on the ground as we carry our baggage. Shame tells us we are not worthy of God’s love, even though he loved us before we knew him, before we were formed in the womb. Shame weighs us down. Some find identity in their pain.  As a writer, I’ve felt the sting of failure. I spent every year after losing my job in 2008 telling myself I was a failure. I looked at Val and the boys and the voice of shame shot to my ears.  It told me I wasn’t a good father and I failed as a provider and a protector. I wasn’t emotionally connected. Every bill that we struggled to pay was like another chain of shame hung around my neck.

Pastor Eran provided two ways to overcome shame:

1/ Look Up: The direct answer to our shame is the cross.  It was the ultimate sacrifice to free us from conviction. The Holy Spirit is our defender, our advocate, and he steps to our side and frees us with grace. The sacrifice was made years before we were created and it is new each morning. Raising our eyes to the cross is not always easy as the weight of addiction, failure, struggle, and pain can be unrelenting.  As Jesus said, his burden is light.  Look to the cross and be reminded of his unfailing love.

2/Let Go: Drop the bags. Lay your shame at the foot of the cross. Know that God has plans for you, that your mess can be your ministry, that you can be used to change the lives of others. Know that you are not defined by your struggles. The hardest part of this is when we take our pain as our identity. We see ourselves as failures, addicts, and mistakes, not as free and beautiful children of God.

One mantra I’ve always held as a writer is to just keep writing. Failure and rejection provides a chance to create a newer and better story, find a better idea, and make a better product. Life is full of learning opportunities. Our mess can be our ministry. God can recharge our lives and give us a fresh start. He will provide and his grace is new each morning. We can be free of shame, drop the chains, and keep our eyes on the cross.

So, as you go into this week, recognize the voices you hear. Identify shame and block it out. Remember to look up and let go and experience the grace that is waiting to transform your existence.

~Matt

Faith

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I’ve had a difficult relationship with faith over the years.  I grew up in a Methodist church and found myself in the midst of a conditional belief system. God was a slot machine that, if I was good enough, I could pull the lever and see a reward. If I could just work hard, avoid the bad things, and live well then God would show up on my side.

It took years to find out my mistake.

I met my wife in high school and, as we dated throughout my college years, we moved through some dynamic churches and congregations. I started to get glimpses of grace and the meaning of a radical and awakened faith. I found material written, spoken, and worship songs by some of the top artists and thinkers in the business. My faith grew and molded. Still, there are days with challenges.

One of the prime movements in psychology is that we place the identity of our fathers onto our picture of God. As you can imagine, that can be hugely damaging to people. Fathers are imperfect. Fathers can hurt, disconnect, devalue, and detach. God is a different story.

I feel like I’ve grown in some ways in my understanding of faith.

Life is a refinement process. Struggles serve as preparation for callings to come. I believe we are all called to step out and follow our dreams. We have a drive and a passion in our hearts that, when identified, can electrify this short time we have on this planet. This drive has led me to start this business, to chase my dream of launching a ministry that carries creative writing into faith-based organizations and the communities they serve. This drive has led me to offer my services on gift based pricing (you pay me what you can afford).  After research and prayerful consideration, this was placed on my heart and I’m willing to follow it through.

Refinement also lets you see what you do not want.  It can be the forty-hour week at the job you are doing for the paycheck and not the passion. It can be looking at your spouse across the table and realizing you need to fill the gap with the love you once shared when the wedding was only weeks old.  It can be finally mending old wounds and cleaning the scar tissue that forms over broken hearts.

Faith is not easy and, yes, it is intentional. God wants to see what you believe and, when you go forward and walk in the straight paths he forms for you, the ending will be greater than anything you imagine.

~Matt