What Will You Do

“Faith calls you a conqueror when all you’ve ever known is defeat, then waits to see what you’re gonna do about it.”

~Pastor Steven Furtick

I downloaded Furtick’s latest podcast and the above line has stuck in my head since listening to it while running last night. I’ve been wrestling with the idea of faith, praying for new revelation and insight, depth and inspiration.

In his message, Furtick, pastor of Elevation Church in North Carolina, expands on the idea.  Faith flies against the norm. It calls you to something you never thought you could do.

It is a life pushing against society:

Love over Hate, Humility over Pride, Service over Selfishness, Giving over Receiving.

Peace. Joy. Hope.

It is knowing that things can be different and the time to start is now. It is a new challenge and new life trajectory when we make it part of our soul.

It is daily fuel for the journey to change the world.

~Matt

 

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The Joy Shortage Part 2

You’ll find the original post here.

I had the following conversation today:

“Good morning.”

“Hello.”

“How are you?”

“Terrible. Why would you ask that question? Why would you ask that when you already know the answer? I’m here aren’t I? Why would you waste my time with that question?”

We finished our verbal interaction and this person went back to their seat. Three words. I asked a simple question and a door opened that told me more about the individual on the other end of the conversation than I needed to know.

There was no joy to be found.

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Yesterday, the message at church was on joy and letting our outside match what is inside. We are told, in the Bible, of incarnational joy. The message of the holidays is a coming of peace that passes all understanding.  We sing Joy to the World.

In the absence of heaven, we find means to medicate a filler of the space inside.

Some do this through faith, prayer, love and community.  Others buy things. Even more grow dark and numb as their flame wisps to smoke and eventually a cold interior.

Then they are asked a question, How are you?

And they answer like above.

This time of year we tend to spread ourselves thin, pulled in all directions.  Kids act up. Work stresses. Finances may be tight with that last push to finish shopping and find the perfect gift.

Yet, we know the perfect gift.

For happiness is a choice.  Sorrow is a choice. Cynicism is a choice. Fear is a choice.

Love is a choice.

Joy though, joy is different. Joy puts me on the beach in Mexico during our honeymoon all those years ago, sleeping next to Val as the tropical breeze drifts over us. Joy is the first moment I held Carter and Aiden, the thrill and mystery of being a parent.  Joy is knowing what I’m called to do, not that I’m there yet but I know the pull God has placed on my heart.  I know my completed sentence.

I don’t know how it will play out.

Your own story may be a mystery tonight. You are sitting in a dark room reading this on your cell phone searching for a glimmer of hope.  You are yearning for words that may change your circumstance for the better.  You want a kindred soul.

You are not alone.

Joy is born of the perfect gift, the completed sentence, knowing the ending before you arrive.  It is the reason we celebrate the arrival of the One come to change the world and take on our suffering in our place. Joy lit the sky over the shepherds, drew the wise to their knees, ignited a star in the sky and fulfilled words found centuries before.

So the next time someone asks, be ready.

How are you?

~Matt

 

 

The New Deal

Graham Greene is one of my favorite authors. His novel, The End of the Affair, was the first to introduce me to the power of writing.  I read it in college, as Val and I were in the younger stages of our relationship, and Greene’s depiction of love spoke to my feelings.

The main character in the novel is novelist Maurice Bendrix.  He carries on an affair in the midst of WW2 that is ended when he survives a bombing in London.  He finds out that his married lover, Sarah Miles, had made a deal with God.  If Bendrix survived his injuries, she would break off the relationship.

The novel ends with Bendrix stating he has had enough of God.

Sitting in my dining room on this night hinting of winter to come, my thoughts drift over the shooting in California. We, as a country, are on the backs of our own deal with God. We’ve co-opted sorrow and grief, victim and violence. We are in the dark determined to find evil and destroy it.

We point fingers.

The religious establishment grasps hold of antiquated practices and wonders why it finds itself at the end of accusations and irrelevancy. Law enforcement officers are just as likely to be assaulted or killed as they are to be praised for their efforts.

Good people are lost in the noise.

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In the Bible, while Jesus hangs on the cross, he sees Roman soldiers dividing up his clothes.  He makes this statement:

Father forgive them for they know not what they do.

The soldiers didn’t know.

The government of the time didn’t know.

The disciples didn’t know.

The world didn’t know.

We’d taken perfect, selfless love and grace and punished it with death. The Truth had fallen against the weight of everyone too scared to listen. Those oppressed turned their back on freedom.

There are arguments to be made and conversations to be had. Violence is too easy. Guns are too easy. The intensity of faith and cause drives the lost to extreme measures to satisfy a far-off radical religious and political system destroying innocent lives in Syria and beyond.

The answer is not with Bendrix, turning away from our creator. The answer is changing the deal.

No more trading the world for authenticity.  No more chasing after things of impermanence.

The American Way has failed.

Generations are adrift in a sea of debt, anger, frustration, doubt, and sorrow for the past they never had and the future that seems to be no more than a figment of their imagination. This is solved by shorting vision to a microscopic level (If I get the next new thing, I’m good).

The new deal is hope. It is grace and service.  It is taking responsibility as parents to redefine value, to show our kids the meaning of friendship, love, choice and respect. It is understanding the power of a gun and the greater power of faith.

The new deal is peace. Taking time in silence and stillness. Turning off the screen and stopping the hustle for a moment.  It is getting back to nature and standing in the midst of a quiet forest while snow falls.

The new deal is life. It is embracing the small moments, holding doors and shoveling sidewalks. It is giving when we are spent. It is reaching out and inspiring someone lost in the depths. It is change found by a new fire deep inside.

The mass shootings can stop. Society can change. Hope is not lost and the journey has just started.

I believe.  As a writer, husband, father and follower of Jesus.  I believe.

~Matt

The Peace Illusion

Last night I picked Carter up from school and took him to Wayback Burger for dinner (a Wednesday night tradition). We ran a few more errands and when we got home he told me he wanted to read me a book.  I thought he was joking.  He’s a kid that would rather toss a football than read a book any day of the week.

We sat on the couch and he grabbed the book, opened it up, and read through without getting frustrated. When he finished he looked at me and smiled.  It was one of those moments I wish I could keep forever.  My oldest boy, 7 going on 17, growing and changing so fast.

As a father, husband, and man who follows Jesus, change can be a challenge.

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I remember spending summer weeks with my grandparents.  Poppy would take me fishing. We’d play cards and eat lunch together (I would take a nap! Imagine that. I have no idea what that means now). Suddenly, one summer, it was time to get a job.

Then it was time to graduate and apply to college.  The day came to move into the dorms (complete with me sitting in my car, in tears, with Val next to me). Then graduation, job and job and job.

Marriage in 2007. Home. Carter. Aiden. Turning 30. Back to school. Publishing short stories and finally a novel. Work in the medical field.

Change.

In John 16:33, Jesus says, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

This is one of those verses we remember and lean on in the rough times.  If you look closer, there’s an interesting dynamic.  He says we may have peace and that we will have trouble. Peace comes in hope, in faith knowing that one has taken our place and died to give us life again.

So many live on the Peace Illusion.

The idea that it will all calm down as long as we have _____.  Fill in the blank: money, time, a beautiful spouse, amazing kids, a vacation home, etc.

Churches live in the Peace Illusion: the deceptive draw of routine, of stubborn unwillingness to have a dialogue, of fear in stepping out to help those on the fringe, the very ones Jesus associated with on a daily basis. Churches seem to forget that Jesus constantly condemned religious leaders of the day. He scolded the pious and the wealthy.

He called those ready to live a life of change, outside the Peace Illusion.

Tonight, as you finish your day, think about what you accomplished and what will be different tomorrow.  Embrace change. Carter’s book will become a novel soon enough. He’ll be asking me for car keys and we’ll be loading his boxes for college.

The story isn’t over.  It is never too late to start fresh. Because tomorrow is a mystery that can change in an instant.

And I’m okay with that.

~Matt

Do We Want to be Free?

Yesterday, author Donald Miller posted this status update on his Facebook page:

I’ve never known a religion that wasn’t trying to control people. And the only God I’ve known is trying to set people free.

Miller has written multiple books including the classic, Blue Like Jazz. While I don’t necessarily agree with everything he says, this pair of sentences hit home with me and, as you can imagine, set off some fiery reactions.

We tend to forget about freedom.

What controls your life? Make a quick list.

~Money, time, bills, kids, groceries, stress, worry, the future, the past, family members, taxes, your physical health, etc.

Does your job control your life? Your addiction?

Your church?

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We like to create boxes for ourselves. We fill in the blanks and shape our identity.  Control, though, is a different story.

We exert control in different forms.  We run. We reward ourselves. We punish in positive and negative ways (your body may not want the mile run but it will be worth it in the end).

We think, if we can just do X we can get Y.

So what is a free life? A life of freedom is:

Grace to live without guilt.

Love to overflow into others.

Serving our community.

Sacrificing our needs for those who need more.

Freedom is power. Freedom is responsibility. It is a weight off our shoulders.

As I type this, my shoulders are heavy.  I was up until 4 a.m. last night with Aiden.  Work was busy. Night has fallen and, again, I’ll pray he sleeps.

I rocked him last night and, two hours into it, he looked up at me and said, “Hi daddy.”

Sometimes we forget that, in our midnights, we are held by hands greater than our own, that we can look up and see our Creator, even just to smile and say hello.

Aiden eventually gave in and slept.  Why do we fight so hard to do the same?

 

 

What it Means to Say Goodbye

Last night, Val and I went to the hospital to visit my grandmother.  She’s almost 98 years old.  My grandfather had passed away three years ago and she is my last surviving grandparent.

As we drove home, I reflected on the past as we all do when we face transitions in life.

Time is so important.  None of us know what we have left. It can be a year, ninety-nine years, or a hundred. We must grasp it and make the most of our moments

My grandmother grew up around the Great Depression.  Her father was a butcher and supplied meat to their neighbors. She told me stories about card games at the house where her and her siblings would crawl on the floor and pick up the money that was dropped by the intoxicated guys above.

She drove cars around her family’s property.  She worked numerous jobs, raised two girls while my grandfather was in Italy during WW2, and raised a son after the war who would eventually become my father.

We had family dinners, oh the family dinners! Multiple sides and main dishes, deserts that she would get up and make early in the mornings.

My time at their house always meant one thing in life, a sense of peace, of love and acceptance.

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At our wedding, the pastor specifically mentioned my grandparents as our aspired goal.  They were our inspiration. A marriage lasting almost seventy years and becoming cornerstones of a family.

As of this morning, she is still with us. I’m going through the day still finding memories from the past. From sleeping over in the summer, to fresh coffee cake for breakfast and fresh iced tea for lunch. She taught me how to crack an egg for baking, something I’ll pass on to Carter one day.

She’s been a blessing in my life and has made me a better person.

We drove home from the hospital and I wondered if it would be the last time I said goodbye to her.  I kissed her on the forehead and thought about all the years she had done the same to me.

We all called her Princess, a name that I came up with when I was little.  So this morning, Princess, even if you don’t get a chance to see this post, I want you to know how much you mean to me, to Val, and our family. You are a treasure.

Thank you.

~Matt

Coming Home

On Wednesday afternoon I was finishing up a research interview for my current book project with Bryan Koch, head pastor of Glad Tidings church in Wyomissing.  Val and I have attended there for six years now and, after attempting to set up interviews at multiple area churches, Glad Tidings was the first, and only, one to reply.

Koch has guided the church for more than twenty-five years, from a single building and small numbers to a complex with multiple services and thousands of members. His passion is action, movement in the community to truly make a difference.  As we wrapped up our conversation, he said,

“If there is anything we can do as your home church to support you, let me know.”

I drove home thinking if I had ever, in thirty-two years, had a church leader tell me something similar.  The idea of having a home church settled in my head and on my spirit.

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The concept of “home” is a weighted term. There are plenty of people with negative experiences settled around the idea, people who left as soon as they could and never looked back.

Home, for some, symbolized conflict, poverty, abuse, anxiety, instability, and the knowledge that it would only last until the next eviction notice.

Home should stand for peace, unity, a place where worry and strife can be left outside the door and families can reconnect. Home means you are welcome inside.

So thank you Pastor Bryan for that statement, that sentiment that we’ve finally found a church where we can plant roots and grow together, where our boys will make friends and build relationships, where we feel like we belong.

I pray, this afternoon, that anyone reading this who feels like they are drifting will find their own home and place of peace.  The best journeys need a starting point and home is where it happens.

~Matt

When We Must Respond

When was the last time you felt peace?

Val and I had our honeymoon in Mexico and we always joke about being back there, on the beach, side by side as the crystal water rolled in and the tropical sun provided a blanket of warmth. We often get pulled so many directions and peace can seem like a distant dream.  Recently, I’ve had this increased anxiety, for some reason, and I’m not sure why.

The interviews for my book-in-progress are increasing with five additional ones in the month of January.  It is growing and I’m feeling the importance settle on my shoulders.  I believe God can, and will, do something with this and I hope I’m ready. Thinking about the nerves, I believe they fall on this area.  God may finally be moving us out from these years of struggle and I pray we are prepared for what is coming.

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The line between faith and worry, desire and doubt can sometimes be razor-thin.  As believers, we are walking through our journeys of faith and life.  When we are pressed, our faith is distilled to the core.  One day, at one moment, we are all called to respond to the reason for our hope.

On Sunday Greg Hubbard, our church’s evangelist, played this clip in the midst of his message.  It is a CNN interview with New Orleans’ Saints football player Benjamin Watson.

In all the turmoil and violence, he offers a powerful message.  As you can see, CNN cuts him off for it.  Watson told the reason for his hope.  He’s a man on the national stage, unafraid to proclaim his faith.

So what is your stage?  Is it your living room? The dinner table? Sitting across from a loved one who you haven’t seen in days, weeks, or months? When will you be called?

If you are lacking peace this week, know that I’m praying for you and that you’ll find a moment of it with friends and loved ones.  If this holiday is your time to respond, I pray that you’re ready. We are all a work in progress and this week we celebrate the One who came to finish the job.

~Matt