Living Life and Taking Time- Fix My Eyes Week: Day 2

I’d love like I’m not scared

Give when it’s not fair

Live life for another

Take time for a brother

~Fix My Eyes by For King and Country

Creflo Dollar wants a plane.  If you don’t know his name, do a quick search and you’ll find it.  Dollar runs a church in the south with eight thousand or so members.  He recently made headlines by asking donors to chip in for a $65 million jet that he could use to spread the gospel.

The backlash was quick and, with it, you’d think he learned his lesson.  His church even pulled the funding request down from the website.

Then he delivered a message saying his doubters were evil and that, if God wanted him to have the plane, it would be and should be his.

When did we go so wrong?

Faith is not safe.  Faith is not money. It is not calling on the giant slot machine in the sky and pulling the lever to get our payout.  It is not a God filling your bank account fresh every morning.

Faith is dirty.  It is living life for another, sacrificing yourself and your desires.  It is taking time for the ones in need. It is helping the family who does not have enough to feed their children breakfast in the morning.  Faith is giving of our time and efforts.

What if we aren’t called to be free and rich?  What if we are called to pick up our cross and take a dangerous walk, one with potential to change the world down the block and around the corner.

You know how many families could have their lives changed with $65 million in donations?

“She turned to the sunlight    And shook(1)

One of my favorite speakers is Reggie Dabbs.  I’ve had the honor to hear his story multiple times at our church and events like Promise Keepers. Dabbs was conceived by a young woman having sex with a man for $20.00 to get groceries.

He is now the #1 public speaker to school students in the country.  No one speaks to more kids in a year than Reggie.  He spreads a promise of hope, grace, and love. He tells every audience that he loves every kid in the audience, that his heart is big enough for all of them no matter what their situation. He breaks chains of anger, hatred, bullying, and discrimination.

He is living life and taking time for another.

Who are you speaking into this week? Who will you live for and give your time for?

Who will you love with a full and radical heart?

~Matt

For the next three days you can find my novel, The City for FREE on Amazon.com. Click here to download and check it out.

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Fix My Eyes Week Day 1- Fearless Love and Unfair Giving

My new favorite album is RUN WILD. LIVE FREE. LOVE STRONG by For King and Country. The third track on the disc is titled Fix My Eyes and the chorus is serving as inspiration for this week of posts. It is a section of statements that serve as a reminder of the destinations we should be chasing as believers and humans wanting to improve this world.  A lyric video is below.  Check it out and pay attention to the chorus as we’ll be taking it apart a few lines at a time.

Love Like I’m Not Scared

Love scares us.  It means opening up when our instinct is to protect ourselves.  It means acknowledging someone is important and searching for acceptance. A friend of mine recently completed her divorce.  She was talking to me about the prospect of dating again, telling me how she never though she’d be in that position.

We don’t take our marriage vows to break them.

Love scares us on a faith level. Jesus provided the example of perfect and selfless love. The church as political unit gets hung up on the idea of a closed fist and pointed finger, not open hands with nail scars. We invite people in and, as long as they know their place, we are comfortable to have them around. We’ve convinced ourselves that revolutionary love is a thing of the past, confined to Jerusalem a few thousand years ago.

We can be the reps of Jesus, as long as the audience is Republican, moderately wealthy, white, and willing to not discuss their struggles at the dinner table after the small group meeting.

Give When it’s Not Fair

I love these five words and they are worth a book of writing. In the Bible, we read Jesus meeting a wealthy man in the streets.  He’s asked, as the guy looks up from checking his portfolio on his IPhone 6, how do I get into heaven?

The reply is simple and, as he did often, Jesus cuts to the core of the issue.

Sell everything.

He doesn’t say, sell some stuff, set up shop in the market and get rid of your antiques.  He doesn’t say to keep the receipts for a tax write off. He doesn’t say, make sure you give me ten percent and we’re all good, or go to the temple on Mission’s Sunday and put some extra in the pot.

He says, sell it all.

Not an easy statement.

The central idea here is a selfless life. Loving and giving, taking a risk to be there for someone else, taking your time to serve a family, charity, or group in need. 

It is pushing the capital ME (sell it all) down for the capital US (love without fear). It is a concept that can change the world when we embrace it fully and go forward.

~Matt

Also, for the next four days, my novel The City is available FOR FREE on Amazon.com

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If you enjoy some action and post-apocalyptic sci-fi, check it out.  You can download it by clicking here.

Paris is Full of Surprises

Elisabeth von Thurn und Taxis is Vogue‘s style editor at large. She’s my age and has been in the position since 2012. She is also a member of a royal family.  She posted a picture on her Instagram on Saturday from Paris and Fashion Week.  The picture showed a homeless person reading a copy of the magazine with the caption, “Paris is full of surprises…and @voguemagazine readers even in unexpected corners!”  You can find coverage of it here.

The irony in this situation could fill more than a single post and it shines a light on a deeper issue.

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Photo Credit: Jonttu Leskinen via Compfight cc

The news article I mentioned above calls out the contradiction of Fashion Week as a spectacle of consumption with the presence of the homeless population in and around the city.  The contradiction of Paris is often played out in our own lives.

We all have reward mechanisms. Go long enough without rewarding yourself and the impulse will kick in. Some people go big and others go small.  It can be good or bad, from a workout to a cigarette.  Addicts hit their reward impulse without reservation and it can destroy their lives.

As people of faith, we struggle with delayed gratification.  We tell ourselves that things will happen in God’s time, as we watch others get promotions, cars, vacations, etc.

The cycle can shift with a moment of recognition.

Elisabeth von Thurn und Taxis saw her magazine and not the homeless person reading it. In my time researching and interviewing for my current project, I’ve had a chance to visit the front lines of charities and hear their stories.  When you see someone crying over a pair of donated socks for their new baby, you understand that there are concerns deeper than yours.

You notice the person holding the magazine.

When you see every part of your community, you are inspired to do something about it.  When you give, God’s time stops haunting your worries and starts driving you forward. You become a part of a greater movement.

Suddenly it all matters.

~Matt

Get Back In Line

It was an illustration I would hear more than once.  I’d spent the last six months deep in research, interviews, and writing of my book on the battle against poverty.

I’d asked more than one person about job creation and received this answer from two local government officials and a CEO.

“You know why Google won’t build a plant here?  We don’t have the educated population to work in it.”

When a business would research this area, they’d pull up statistics on education.  If there were not enough workers with a relevant foundation, the businesses would pass and move on to a new location.

This fact is why articles like this get me fired up.

The attn.com’s article is titled, If We Put an End to Corporate Welfare, College Tuition Could Be Free.

They use the state of Louisiana as an example.  Governor Bobby Jindal, since 2008, has provided more than $11 billion in corporate tax breaks while making the largest education cuts in the country. If recent proposed cuts pass, LSU could be force to close campuses and lay off thousands of employees.

He is not alone.  We, as a country, have skewed our priorities.

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Photo Credit: Lawrence OP via Compfight cc

The article makes their final point in damning precision, “states provide $80 billion in tax cuts annually while the combined tuition of all public colleges amounted to $60 billion.

Shift the money and you have tuition free higher education.

You change a workforce in need of a foundation, reinforcement, and self improvement.  You open the door to those in poverty unable to afford schooling for their children.

I have two boys. One will reach college in eleven years and one in fifteen years.  At the current inflation rate for tuition, this is a scary thought.

The thing is, it doesn’t have to be.

The time to change is now.

~Matt

 

Walking on Water

Our church had recently posted a chance for writers to contribute to their Easter blog. They provided four prompts and one was inspired by the moment of Jesus walking on water.

Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone, and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.

Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.

But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

“Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”

“Come,” he said.

Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” –Matthew 14:22-30

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Photo Credit: Kenneth Solfjeld via Compfight cc

As I write this, Val, Carter, and Aiden are all sick with a shared cold and in bed. We’ve had things creep up on us this month, physical and financial issues, that are applying some extra pressure.

I’ve felt, like David, that the attacks were from all sides. I’ve looked to God and wondered about the deeper cause, the test preparing us for the good things that are coming.

Reading the passage above again last night, something stuck out to me. We chalk up the story to Peter succumbing to his fear. He notices the wind and starts to sink before Jesus reaches out his hand.

We miss a few words in the last paragraph.  Peter exited the boat and walked on water.  He did it. He took steps of faith and found himself standing on the waves.

Imagine that moment.  You are a regular guy, the rock, a fisherman trying to figure out his new role in life. You aren’t the one the crowds follow.

You’ve struggled.

There were days the fish didn’t bite.

Then you walk on water.

It may take a storm but, when you step out in faith, the waves can solidify under your feet.

~Matt

Putting Out Fires

I don’t know about you, but our lives seem to move in waves.  I can track from when Val and I met, almost twenty years ago now, and the graph would look like an amusement park ride with highs that soared and lows that plummeted. This week is one of those low weeks. Ever have a low week?

-Both of the boys are getting over a cold/respiratory thing that had them fighting fevers and congestion

-Car had a flat tire

-Medical issues

-New bills arrive

-Rough week at work

And on and on it goes.

So much time spent putting out fires.  For me, it is genetic.  My mom is a “handler.” When a problem presents itself, it gets handled.  I find myself having the same impulse, not at the frequency she has though.  Val would be the first one to tell you. I’ll let something sit until I just can’t take it anymore and it will be handled.

Life levels off.

Then the next challenge arrives.

Light

It gets so hard to just hold on and hope.

One of the biggest challenges we face as believers and communities of faith is Suffering. We have our classes, sermons, small groups, and devotionals. After every major news event, the talking heads emerge with explanations and fingers point our way.  How could God let this happen?

Why? Why me? Why our family?

One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever heard is from my friend Tim Boden.  Tim is a pastor, musician, and author. We’ve exchanged long messages on more than a few dark nights and he always told me that God can handle my honesty.  Prayers can be upfront and uncensored.  Check out the Psalms.  David didn’t hold back.

Jesus asked, on the cross, “Why have you forsaken me?”

The why question has passed through my lips more than once. In these moments we need to remember there is a light that never goes out. It cuts through the darkness. We have hope. We dream.

I dream because I can’t imagine the alternative.

I believe because I know my heart has been changed.

I love because Val deserves more than I could give her on my own.

I serve because my boys need to see what a man should look like.

I write to tell the story.

 ~Matt

Soundtrack Inspiration:

How Much Longer?

Ever have one of those days?

Today was it. From start to finish, one of those days. No stopping. No slowing down.  Busy.

Kid problems. Home problems.  Money problems.

One of those days where you look up to the sky and wonder what will happen next and when it will end. When will the storm clouds clear? When will we find peace?

I sit here at our kitchen table writing this post as our youngest son refuses to go to sleep, our neighbors fight, bills wait to be paid, work isn’t easy, and every second feels like another nail in the coffin.

Tick. Tick. Tick.

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Growing up, I loved the imagery in the book of Job.  Something about this guy who had things going fairly well.  God and Satan meet up in Heaven (take a second to get your mind around that one) and this conversation happens:

One day the angels came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came with them. The Lord said to Satan, “Where have you come from?”

Satan answered the Lord, “From roaming throughout the earth, going back and forth on it.”

Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.”

“Does Job fear God for nothing?” Satan replied. “Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. But now stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.”

The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, then, everything he has is in your power, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.”

Then Satan went out from the presence of the Lord.

You know the rest of the story. Job’s friends and his wife offer various explanations for the suffering.  Job questions God and God offers one of the grandest cosmic smack downs ever recorded.  Job repents and is restored.

Restoration will come.  Someday.

As for now, we’re going on two hours without Aiden going to sleep.  The night is young and showing no sign of stopping.

I’m ready for the dawn.

Soundtrack Inspiration:

Broke: Moving Past Money

The front of City Hall in Reading reflects the architecture of a city founded in the 1700’s.  It takes me two passes to find a close parking garage.  The interior of the building is all lacquered wood, high ceilings, and glass doors. I find an index hanging on the wall and make my way to the second floor.

The city council chambers are empty.  I pass a snack bar where a police officer eyes me as he picks out his candy. As much as I search, I can’t find Brian Kelly’s office.  Kelly is the only official employee of ReDesign Reading, an organization devoted to promoting social change and combating poverty. Finally I stop at the Mayor’s office.  A receptionist smiles at me as I enter.  I ask her where I could find this mystery individual.  She tells me to wait a second and walks around the corner next to her desk, returning to tell me he will be with me in a moment.

Minutes later, Kelly turns the same corner.  He is taller than I expected, with long hair and the start of a beard.  We shake hands and he tells me he hasn’t eaten yet, despite it being almost four in the afternoon. He asks if I’d join him for some food and I agree.

We walk out of City Hall and end up at an El Salvadorian restaurant where he orders in Spanish. Kelly is my age, a graduate of the Wharton Business School at Penn, and had spent a year working in Guatemala to facilitate social change.  He tells me his Spanish is a little rusty, so he likes to practice whenever possible.  In this small corner of the city, looking across a plate of pupusas with soccer playing on television and Spanish music flowing from the kitchen, we start to talk about poverty.

Kelly tells me the current system is broken, set up to keep the poor in poverty. Benefits are based on income so, in the end, where’s the motivation? Without jobs, why get married when claiming a second income eliminates housing, food, and cash benefits? Real change is based on social connection, on volunteer equity not done with currency rewards in mind.

Kelly envisions a system of bartering hours for needs, of housing co-ops where work equals room and board and fresh vegetables from sustainable gardens. He sees value in every person and knows they are filled with untapped energy.  His passion is matching untapped energy with needs.  He is a catalyst.

Our talk has floated in my head since then and it will be included in more detail in my book about the fight against poverty in the city of Reading, PA.

So could the church exist beyond currency?

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Digest that for a second.

No more budgets, no more offerings.  Volunteer hours are exchanged for food from pantries, gardens and farms grown by members. Outreach programs happen on a weekly basis. Staff members have needs met by a community of believers waiting to come beside them and lift them up.

We call for volunteers all the time, floating out versus where Jesus tells us to serve.  We say, do it, it will be good for you. What if we added a tangible result? What if a childcare volunteer could have his or her children in the church daycare for free during the week? What if a person mowing the church lawn can have their lawn tended in return?

What if we redefined economy for the church?  Why not us? Why not now? Jesus told us how hard it is for a rich man to enter Heaven.

We intellectualized his statement: he didn’t have a mortgage, taxes, kids to go to college and neighbors driving a new Lexus with a greener lawn and personal trainers. 

What if he meant what he said? What if we started taking him seriously? We can break and reset the system.  The church can be a radical change agent. It can start now.

The fuse is waiting to be lit.

~Matt

Soundtrack Inspiration: Take a few minutes and listen to the words.  A great song.

Broke: The Church and Money Matters

I grew up in a traditional Methodist church.  One thing we did every year was put on a Walk Through Holy Week with church members acting out parts of the life of Jesus.  They had segments taken from the Gospels, spanning birth to the crucifixion and resurrection. I had the chance to play Jesus more than once in, what I think, is one of the great scenes in the New Testament:

 When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem.  In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money.  So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables.  To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!” John 2:13-17

It is the one time we read of a Jesus acting aggressively, clearing tables and physically driving the merchants from the temple. He entered the temple and the sights there drove him, the Prince of Peace, mad enough to make a whip and clear the room with it.

In my version, we had fake tables set up on saw horses and I went around the Sunday school room flipping the tables and sending the fake coins flying while yelling, “You’ve turned my Father’s house into a den of thieves.” It was a good time.

This morning, in church, we started a series about Generosity.  I don’t know about you, but I have an inherent physical aversion that creeps up whenever clergy members start talking about money. Val and I tithe what we can on a weekly basis and I still get this bad taste in my mouth.

We attended a start-up church once where the pastor’s wife stood in front of the congregation, probably forty people at the time, with her and her husband’s itemized monthly bills.  She read them off as inspiration for the goal of him being able to pastor full-time and not work a side job.  I had wondered what Jesus would have thought of that experience

In today’s world any church must have a solid budget to fall back on. They need the Holy Spirit to be successful and financial backing to keep moving forward. If it is not there, they must pray for some talented volunteers. Things like media, communication, worship and print materials are easier to produce and acquire than ever before and, sadly, even more expensive.

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The topic of money is a double-edged sword. Check out the contrasts:

Believe and you’ll be blessed –  Oh you will be blessed, just not in the way you imagined.  God doesn’t operate in a box. He made the box.  Faith does not equal riches, prosperity, or seeing your dream come true. Faith is seeing God’s dream come true and doing your part. Faith is dangerous. Faith operates to get you off the sidelines and into the game where you may get hit, hurt, bruised, and battered.  It is the knowledge that He will never leave your side and how this idea impacts your life on a daily basis.

God will provide – He will provide what you need when you need it. Too many churches turn this into justification. They make it the arm on the great slot machine in the sky.  The same God that tells us he will never leave or forsake us, also states to sell our possessions and give to the poor.  He calls us to faith action and he works on his time. The journey is a process. Know that you will never be alone.

Test me in this – The only time we are allowed to test God is with our giving, according to the Bible.  He dares us to give and see what happens. You want his blessing? Give and he will provide.

Condition, condition, condition.

We need less conditions and more grace.  We need less pastors taking in six-figure salaries and more homeless shelters with beds and hot meals. We need less castles that hold thousands of people on Sunday mornings and more feet on the sidewalks, meeting people where they are.

We need to tell the stories, shake hands, open hearts, and reflect the love we’ve found in Jesus.

It is here, when we drop the emotional connection to money, we find the ease in giving. When we remove expectations, we give God room to work. When we serve, we live and are led by his direction into the future.

Money can be redeemed and the church needs to get this message before it is too late.

~Matt

Soundtrack inspiration:

 

Surviving a Crisis of: Money

The day your bank account shows a $0.00 balance can be a humbling experience.

I remember working my first job as a teenager, getting paychecks, and having nothing to do with them.  I remember going to the mall to buy a cd (crazy, I know). You could save up for something you wanted, buy it, and start over again.

Things were simple.

As time passed, obligations increased. In the recession of 2008, millions of people lost their jobs. We had been long enough out of college and into a career that security felt like a guarantee.  Then, in a few months, it all fell apart. Val and I had to look at each other and face reality. We needed to restart and redefine our goals for the future.

We needed to change our view of money.

Money means different things for different people. There are children today being raised to worship the objects they have. It is the embodiment of the old line, “He who dies with the most toys wins.”

There are churches operating with this theme today, leaders talking about money every Sunday, pastors driving luxury vehicles and preaching a gospel of prosperity. Their God is a giant slot machine in the sky. Give to their church and God will give to you, the larger the amount, the better.

They are wrong.

If you are facing a crisis of money, here are two things to think about:

Hustle: Do a search online and you’ll find multiple resources for individuals looking to make extra money. There is a thriving gig-based economy across the digital universe. Have a talent? Someone out there is willing to pay you for it. This is a great time to start a business online.  Find your passion and make it work for you while providing a service to others. Picture yourself as your own boss. Become an entrepreneur. You can start today with a computer and internet connection.  The sky is the limit.

Serve:  In the midst of our money struggles, we would constantly look for a place to cut back. We saw the little we had and, like a child, grabbed and held it close. Jesus calls us to a different path.  He says to serve our brothers and sisters. Find a charity. Donate to your child’s school. Set up a tithe to your home church. Do what you can without expecting anything in return. Your giving can help to change your outlook on money.  Break the chains, have faith, and know that God provides.

Connected Scripture:

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?” Matthew 6:26

Soundtrack Inspiration:

A classic from Lifehouse. I’ve been in services with this song in worship.  It is the perfect combination of music, lyrics, and depth to draw you closer to God.