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

Solving the Problem

On Thursday I had the chance to visit Hope Rescue Mission for their annual Thanksgiving meal.  The mission serves around 250 people between the guys living there, their families, and others that come in off the street.  The dining area was full as more than a hundred volunteers served plates of food and cleaned up after.

The crowd, and volunteers, spanned a range of ages, genders, and ethnic backgrounds.  The local news arrived and taped a segment from the midst of the action. It was a moment of peace and inspiration.  This is the time of year where we should be helping, serving, and giving thanks.

And yet, we know that it is a struggle.

Media, and social media, is fighting a war hundreds of years old. Cities are rocked with violence and protest. Police struggle to maintain order and recover some level of trust with the general public.

So, as a parent, believer, and writer, where do we begin?

The issue of racism is large and encompassing. As a white male, there are things that my sons and I will be able to do much more easily than other men of differing ethnic backgrounds. My sons will have opportunities based on their appearance and gender alone. They will enter school systems where teachers will not cringe or assume when they walk in the room.

At ages 6 and almost 2, they do not know any of this. They don’t see color, they see friends at a playground and on the baseball team. They trust and love, openly and honestly.

My goal is to keep it this way. My goal, as they grow, is to help them be good citizens and be socially conscious. I want them to be activists, to stand up for a kid being bullied and speak up when they see something wrong. I want them to be men of God, to lean on their faith when they are pressed in darkness, and praise when the sun rises again.

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These thoughts were in my head as I stood against the wall watching the Thanksgiving meal at Hope.  I found Steve Olivo, chaplain of the Mission, seated at his table and went to his side.  We talked about the book and I mentioned that, with every interview I conduct, everyone has their own answer for poverty.  He said:

Jesus is the answer.  He changes people.

He is perfectly correct.

We can talk about systematic change, about societal shifts in power and political influence.  We can reform the education system and encourage small businesses to create jobs in cities where they are needed.  We can train police officers and public officials to be more aware of the cities they work in and communities they inhabit.  We can empower those who suffer to make the gains they need to find happiness. These are all valid efforts.

They must all be capped by the perfect love of Jesus.

We are called to serve. To love. To give water to the thirsty and food to the hungry.  We are called to meet needs and give of what we have since it is not ours anyway, merely provision from God. We are called to have the difficult conversations.

We know that grace is enough.

It is time for more churches to get their feet wet, to get involved, to be on the front lines.  Too many are too content to stay in their buildings and have their meetings, to drop off donations monthly and go back to their existence.

It is time for believers to show the love we had modeled for us two thousand years ago.

Everyone is worth it. Communities can be rebuilt. Peace can spread like the fires that light up the night sky in cities around this country this week. Radical love and grace can change hearts. Hands can be held and fists lowered.

It can happen and, I believe, one day it will.

~Matt

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