I Wasn’t Going There

I promised myself I wouldn’t get any deeper into politics. We live just about an hour and a half north of Philadelphia and, this week, the news was filled with coverage of the Democratic National Convention.

I’ve written before about my fondness for Philly.  I love the history, the environment, the passion.  This Sunday I’ll be going down to Lincoln Financial Field to watch the Philadelphia Eagles and their first of two camps they hold at the stadium that are open to the public.

The news played all kinds of clips of speeches and analysis from the DNC.  When I got home from work, thumbing through my Facebook feed, I came across an article that is the catalyst for this post.  It was titled Why You Can’t be a Christian and a Democrat, written by a popular conservative blogger.

In it, he laid out a response to one of his critics where he swore his argument citing multiple Bible verses.

I can’t take it anymore.

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There’s a place in the gospels where Jesus is asked about paying taxes.  For a nation being occupied by Rome at the time, this was a question meant to trap him.  Answer the wrong way and the religious leaders could run to the local government officials and have Jesus arrested.

He replies asking about whose face is on the currency of the day.  Someone responds that it is Caesar’s. Jesus states, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and give to God what is God’s.”

He makes a response, more than once, to criticize the leaders of the day for exploiting the people. He calls for unity and, despite the frustration of the crowd, does not lead a political revolution.

Jesus transforms every breath of the universe.

We’ve missed the point. Those of us who claim to follow Jesus grasp so hard on what is “ours.” We hold the church close and circle our wagons pointing fingers out at the crowds that drive by.

We forget the final instruction Jesus gave before he returned to heaven.

Go.

What does this mean?

Jesus followers are not a political party. They are not Republicans or Democrats. They are not Libertarians. They are not represented by anyone standing in front of a pulpit giving an acceptance speech this November at the White House. They are not exclusive to a country or economic systems.

Those who claim to follow Jesus are defined by love. They move in acceptance. They love their neighbors and drop the first stone they are ready to cast in anger. They serve. They live and push for unity.

They stand against hate.

For I believe every soul has a fragment of Heaven inside, a radar beacon calling them towards home. I believe God longs for unity, for one person to go in step with another and make their lives better by sharing their joy.

There is a reason Jesus advocated good citizenship.

Because this is not our home.  This is a temporary address change. Time will pass.  Here’s what you must understand:

Your vote at the box in November will not make a difference.

What makes a difference is the choice, on a daily basis, to do better. To open your heart further and deeper. To work on your marriage and your family. To show love and embrace someone on the outside. To know that we are called to direct people towards Jesus.

When the Declaration of Independence was signed in Philadelphia so long ago, it had to be distributed throughout the colonies. The authors hit post on the historical version of WordPress, people absorbed the message, and the flames of rebellion were born.

It is time to do the same with our faith and in our communities across the nation, to not be pulled into the noise and posturing of the upcoming election. To move away from media and towards the cross.

So maybe the author of that click-bait article was right.  Maybe those of us not voting for Trump are using watered-down versions of the Bible.

Or maybe we are looking towards the one force strong enough to make true change in this world. It will not come through building a wall, defunding controversial agencies, legalizing millions of immigrants, higher taxes, lower taxes, socialism, or fascism.

It will come through faith. Through understanding that God longs for a relationship with me and you. He pulls us closer with every headline and story. He tugs at our hearts with the echoes of home captured in the fading glory of sunsets or the laughter of a child.

When the noise gets too much, remember where you are from and where you are called to go.  Remember this is only temporary, that the space in your heart can be filled with Jesus, that the longing for completion can be answered at the foot of the cross.

Know that you can, finally, be free.

~Matt

 

 

The Arrival

My family and I live about an hour northeast of Philadelphia.  In case you’ve been under a rock recently, the Pope is coming to the city for the World Meeting of Families next week.  The news is filled with all things Pope Francis.

In preparation for this visit, they are:

-Closing major highways.

-Closing businesses.

-Selling tickets.

-Stationing EMS and portable toilets next to the roads leading to Philly in anticipation of the gridlock.

-Declaring states of emergency.

-Anticipating cell phone service disruptions.

Local leaders and believers are jumping at the chance to see this man in action.

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There is another arrival coming, one from a leader with a larger following.  We’ve closed things for him too.  We’ve closed:

Our schools. Our jobs.  Our friends. Our families. Our past. Our heart.

Some churches have closed him out a long time ago.

Yet, he is coming. He is coming to shine light to the dark places, to unleash a movement of inspired creativity. He’s coming to show the real meaning of truth, love, compassion and grace. He’s coming to destroy pretenses and demolish every box we’ve attempted to build around him.

He is changing lives, breaking chains, setting captives free and spreading hope in sacrifice. His message is clear for those ready to listen. His words will never pass away. His grace is new each morning. He works for the good of those called according to his purposes and he will make your paths straight.

You don’t even need to buy a ticket, sit in traffic, or fight the crowd. You don’t need to attend a conference.

All you need is a space to drop to your knees and listen to that voice calling inside. Take the moment and open your heart.

Someone out there is waiting for these words.  I pray they find their way home.

~Matt

 

Just Keep Fighting: Staying Unified Part 2

In our fourth post, we are looking at marriage again as a follow-up to our second post about Staying Unified. Enjoy!

Growing up as a guy in the suburbs of Philadelphia, you knew about Rocky.  You knew about the movies. You went to the Philadelphia Art Museum on a field trip and ran up the steps, stopping at the top and shadowboxing, arms then raised up in victory. The movie, and sequels, were classic underdog stories.  Rocky represented the city, the fight of the downtrodden, the backbone that would raise a man up from the dirt and help him see his dream. You couldn’t attend a sporting event and not hear the theme.  Rocky showed us all the value of fighting, of stepping in the ring and not going out until the enemy is defeated.

Today, a friend told me her marriage was ending.

My heart broke as Val and I both know the family. Divorce is ugly. Marriages take effort, especially when kids are in the mix.  They take time and focused movement towards a goal. They take one eye on the present, and one on the future. I spent the remainder of the day thinking about the situation.  As a writer, I naturally gravitate towards empathy. As much as I tried to put myself in her shoes, I could not. Her life changed today and it will never go back to the way it was before.

After work, Val and I talked about it.  Here are a few ways we pinpointed to keep fighting and never lose hope:

~Have Goals: A marriage is like a business.  All successful businesses have plans. They look to next week, next quarter, and next year.  They think about what is coming and adjust focus accordingly. You must, as a couple, have goals. You must be able to picture the future and, in the hard times, remind each other of the idealized end result. Write it down. Hang it in the bedroom or kitchen. Make it clear and present. Know that, when everything weighs you down, you have a direction you are headed.  It can help to snap you out of the funk.

~Date Again: When we had the boys, the dating stopped.  We have friends that have date nights every week.  With our work schedule, it just isn’t possible. We needed to make time and make the most of the time to go out to dinner, coffee, or even a walk. Don’t forget what it was like to date. Don’t forget the magic of the first days, when every glance was a mystery to be unraveled and every touch was electric. Love. Be in love and show love. Buy the flowers. Dress up. Make the effort and pour it into your relationship and, when you are out, try not to talk about the kids.  Make it about you and your partner and you can find that spark again.

~Fight Smart: Every marriage can build up negative energies.  We’ve felt it many times. Something will create tension and it will build until it is let out and addressed.  Now we’ve both raised our voices and said things that were cutting but, in the end, we made a plan to go forward and handle the issue that caused the fight in the first place.  Never, I repeat, never drop the word divorce in the conversation. When that comes out, it can’t be removed or unheard. State your case, listen to theirs, handle the issue and move on. When you fight smart, the dark times can pass quicker and you’ll emerge stronger on the other end.

I’m praying for this family and blessed to have a wife that is willing to stick it out until the end. As you go into the weekend, remember that marriage takes effort, kids are work, and your spouse is your teammate to get it done.  You can run together, climb the stairs, and shadowbox on the Art Museum steps.  It would make a great date night!

~Matt and Val