The Intersection of Faith and Action

I remember the night like it was yesterday.  Val and I had just started dating.  We were both in high school.  I drove her around in my mother’s green Mazda.  It was winter, bitterly cold, and we were stuck.

The area around our home town consisted of a railroad track that twisted and turned through the suburbs.  An urban legend existed of a park by the tracks that you did not want to visit at night.  Of course, I took us right through it. The road was snow-covered, sandwiched between the railroad tracks and a small creek.  The exit was a choice between a flat road and a steep incline. I took the incline as the car slid to the shoulder and stopped.

I tried spinning the tires, steering back and forth, anything I could do.  It wouldn’t move.  I called my dad and he said he would make his way over with a shovel to dig us out.  I rolled down the window and a dog started barking hysterically from somewhere in the distance.

Val and I looked at each other and prayed.

A minute later, headlights approached. A group of snowmobiles parked behind us.  I exited the car and one of the guys asked me if we were stuck.  I said yes. Three of them pushed the car back to the road.  They never removed their helmets or visors, returned to their snowmobiles, and drove away.

I turned the car around and started back the way we came. We stopped to get our bearings and I stepped out of the car again. There were no tracks on the ground, no sign of a snowmobile.  Two minutes before, I had watched them take that road to leave us.

The snow was fresh and untouched.

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Photo Credit: hodge via Compfight cc

I’ve spent the last eight months interviewing local charities, businesses, and community members, gathering story after story of God’s involvement in the lives around us.

When we seek, we will find.

In the whir of our lives, it is too easy to get caught up in the process. Kids, bills, jobs, starting a business, writing a book, keeping up a website, getting in shape. We tend to miss chances to make a difference.

I prayed, eight months ago, that my words would make a difference. I’d give the writing to God and tell the story that needed to be told.  I’d give voice to those on the front lines of the battle against poverty.  I’d work with faith-based businesses and charities.

My next e-book, coming out in April, will be about reclaiming Christian Arts and producing creations that have deep impact in the world. I have an article upcoming in RELEVANT magazine and will be starting work as a volunteer journalist for BCTV, a local nonprofit covering the Reading and Berks County area. We’re preparing a powerful series of stories on poverty and the efforts happening to reclaim the soul of the city.

Things happen when we decide to serve, when we give our talents back to the God, the Creator who gifted them in the first place. Now is the time to make your move, consider what you can give and ask how you can serve.

The intersection between faith and action is waiting for your arrival.

~Matt

A Beautiful Collision

“The numbers were bad.  Some were made up. They had pluses where there should have been minuses. It took time, but they’re back in shape.”

I was on the phone with Gordon Mann from Public Financial Management.  PFM is serving as the Act 47 coordinator for the city of Reading. Mann’s passion is for the numbers.  His voice is confident and my pen rushes to keep up with the accounting information we discuss.

Act 47 is a governmental designation here in Pennsylvania saying the city is in fiscal emergency. Mann’s company must guide it back from the steps of ruin. He breaks the image down into understandable chunks. The only solution is cutting wherever possible. Contraction, not expansion.

Not popular terms for politicians promising assertive action to make things right again, to get the homeless off the streets and into jobs.

Two opposing forces are here moving towards collision.

Promises versus reality. Action and reaction. Faith during another night in the cold, unemployed with no answer in sight.

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We live our years here as followers of Jesus, a Savior calling us to shed our old selves and pick up a new cross.  The Bible tells the story of more than once of the rich man asking about entrance to Heaven.  Jesus advises him to sell everything and give the proceeds to the poor.

Not a story that makes us comfortable.

So where do we stand on the line?  Are we holding tightly to something we are called to release?

Both of my sons love their pillows.  They have favorite blankets that must be on the bed for any chance of sleep.

Where do we find peace?

I’m feeling the challenge this week to live in the midst of the conflict.  To lay down my insecurities, pick up my Cross and start walking. Cutting our comforts for an active faith is never easy.

This is why Monday is a huge day for P356. The next step of this outreach has arrived. I’ll have a post Monday morning with all the details.

For now, I’m standing at the starting line.

Will you join me?

~Matt

 

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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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 Starting Line

As with my last post, I’m continuing a look at 2015 inspired by author Michael Hyatt and his 5 Days to Your Best Year program…

Today was rough.  We had started the yearly process to verify all insurances for our active patients. Basically, it will be forty or fifty lengthy phone calls, paperwork, and scanning.  It was enough to have me drained at the end of the day.

I drove home dreaming about the future of P356 and finishing this book.  The twenty-minute ride was enough to lighten my mood.  It always pays to take time to dream your dreams and focus on your goals.  The first step is often the hardest and always the most valuable.

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So what is it you want?

Now there are a string of usual answers.  Get in shape, make money, get the promotion, find our mister or miss right.  I’m talking about a higher level.  What is your dream for 2015? What is your big goal?

We must start by stating a clear and direct intention.

We spend so much time standing at the starting line.  We dance around it, walk away and come back.  We even take a few steps forward before getting distracted and ending up back at the start. A clear and direct intention is key.

Write it down. Remind yourself on a daily basis.

My goal is for P356 to grow into a valid ministry, outreach, social service, and business.  I drove home with this in my mind and it was amazing how it helped to clear the dark skies and make the target visible.

As you start 2015, think of your big intention.  Grasp hold of it and chase it down.  When you can see the target, you can move forward and movement is the key to your best year ever in 2015.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us” Hebrews 12:1

~Matt

Why We Write: To Start a Movement

This post starts a series on writing and inspiration.

I believe we are all called to start something.  You may find yourself in the midst of the corporate world, doing a job you love and building for the future.  You may find your days with children and family members, running a house and being the backbone of a family. You may be alone in your apartment trying to decide what is next and what you can do to make tomorrow different.

We are all called to start something.

You can be satisfied or struggling and, deep inside, feel that pull to create.  What is uniquely yours and how can it be used to make the world a better place?

As I’m writing this book, one of the first organizations included was Mercy Community Crisis Pregnancy Center.  I’ve spoken to family members and coworkers about this outreach and their efforts to help women, children, and their families in the city of Reading, PA. My mother works at a local hospital.  She sent me an email today saying that the Radiology department of the hospital will be sponsoring Mercy for the Christmas season.

Words creating action. A story leading to an outpouring of support. The actions of the hospital employees will directly help families in need.

I want this book to make a difference.  The movement has started. I’m excited to see what is coming and how it will keep growing.

 

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Photo Credit: Abi Booth Photography

So why do something to create movement? Why listen to that small voice urging you to grasp that gift inside and create? To reach out and push against your comfort zone? Because we are called to make a difference, to use this time we have to make someone’s life better.

We write to lift our voices and, hopefully, lift up others at the same time.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.- Romans 8:28

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Christmas is Val’s holiday.  I’ll admit it.  I love Halloween.  She loves Christmas.  We’ll watch every movie on Hulu and Netflix, play the songs on the car radio, and decorate as much of the house as possible.  The holiday itself carries fond memories for most of us and mixed feelings for others.  This corridor of Thanksgiving and Christmas places us in direct contact with family members who we do not often see the other ten months of the year.

I can’t read the title of this post without hearing Andy Williams singing the first line of the song.  Go ahead. Try it.

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Today, on my lunch break, I visited Mercy Community Crisis Pregnancy Center for the first day of their Christmas events. They are an outreach ministry working with men, women, and families in crisis dealing with issues from unexpected pregnancy to abusive relationships and parenting classes. Mercy has served multiple generations of families across the city.

I spoke with Judy, a volunteer for the past fifteen years, after she had finished handing out the gift bags to the first wave of clients.  Mercy hands out bags of donated toys separated into gender and age groups. Parents register for the gifts and complete parenting classes before they are eligible for the Christmas program.

Three hundred children would be served this month, three hundred children in the city getting some joy from the compassion of people willing to donate toys.

I asked Judy if she has seen an increased need as the economy fell apart in the city.  She said that the severity of need has drastically increased. There are families that walk through Mercy’s door with nothing, no home, no clothes, no food.  She told me she still finds herself crying with clients after all the years of volunteering.

As we hit the malls this month, real and virtual alike, it is important to have perspective.  This is the time to give, to reach out to those in need.  Find a charity near you and pay them a visit or send them an email.  The person you reach should easily be able to give you a list of resources they lack at the moment.

The knowledge that you made a difference is a greater payoff than anything you’ll receive under the tree this year.

~Matt

Soundtrack inspiration: One of my favorites from Lifehouse.

 

Change Agent

What if?

The answers were out there.

Needs were provided.

Free medical care came from compassionate doctors and nurses.

A network existed to find jobs for any applicants.

Childcare was available for the single mother or father who had to work to make ends meet.

A listening ear waited on the other end of the phone, twenty-four hours a day.

Youth had a resource, a refuge, and a place to figure out life.

A warm bed waited on a cold night and no one was homeless.

Every child had breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day of the year.

What if we are missing the point?

What if the church, your church, could provide all of these things?

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After spending time at the outreach ministries I’ve visited, I’ve come to this conclusion. The church can be the front line. Not a news channel. Not a political party. Not an agenda. The church can be a pair of open hands, ready to serve. I’ve seen churches die in less than five years. The Hope Rescue Mission has existed for more than a century. God moves on the front line. When we insulate ourselves behind politics and policies we miss the point.  We are content to let the missionaries work the “mission field.” Step outside, look left and right. Congratulations, you are there.

In the last few weeks I’ve heard so many stories about God moving, real and tangible, touching the lives of those going to these outreach programs. We need more front line work and less insulation. We need to get our hands dirty. We need to stop talking and start doing. We need to be, in the terms of Hope Rescue Mission, a hand up and not a hand out. If that happens, service and teaching, meeting needs and presenting the gospel, we will become change agents. Light can overtake the darkness.   The world can be different, and better.

I look in the eyes of my boys and know that it is possible and that I will fight make their future a better place, to give them a world better than I inherited.

~Matt