Saturday, June 18, 2011

4 Days and Counting ...

I think to be a good hip Christian who blogs you should write an entry on Father's day about how this day is a day to remember your eternal and Holy Father in heaven. However, to be authentic is a bit more important than to be hip, so let me share with you what I'm mostly thinking about lately and especially on this Father's day:

I'm going to be a dad again! =)

Wednesday is our [my wife's] scheduled C (that's hip for scheduled cesarean-section surgery); hey, I didn't say you couldn't be hip. Anyway, Benjamin Levi or Rebekah Colleene will be making this a family of six very soon! To say I'm excited is an understatement.
"Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD,
the fruit of the womb a reward.
Like arrows in the hand of a warrior
are the children of one's youth.
Blessed is the man
who fills his quiver with them!
He shall not be put to shame
when he speaks with his enemies in the gate."
(Psalm 127:3-5 ESV)
I can't help but imagine wrapping my arms around my four children with pride and pledging to Christ that I will do my best to represent Him to my children (with my life, not just my instruction). Imagining how together we can build an army of love to conquer the gates of hell by showering the world with His Truth.

Oh, my kids see me mess up, get angry, and show my many faults; but I hope I model for them enough forgiveness, authenticity, and an ear to listen in return.

While I do remember that tomorrow is never promised, and my very breath I just took is a gift, I still can't help but be filled with excitement as this day is quickly approaching. God willing, I am so excited to dedicate this child in front of my church family, feeling that little hand squeeze my finger, see their eyes meet mine for the very first time, and simply watch this miracle of life grow.

So while this blog entry may not be focused on my eternal Father, I still recognize who's child my wife is really carrying, and that is His. If I continue to be just as excited after my fourth time around, I know He continues to welcome with joy each of His countless children in the world as well.

Happy Father's Day Abba!

Running With Confidence!

These past couple weeks for various reasons has given me some time to reflect on my journey. While I see many struggles through this process, I also see so many of His blessings in my life. Additionally, I look back on the man or boy that I was, and see many voids that have been filled by Him. I am so very eagerly looking forward to this next stage of my journey. Obedience can be scary and exhilarating all at the same time. However this passage was a sobering reminder to me of the stumbling blocks that my adversary can put in the way.

"You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? This persuasion is not from him who calls you. A little leaven leavens the whole lump." - (Galatians 5:7-9 ESV)

Don't mistake me, my confidence is not conceit as it lies with Him not myself, but there is a sense of confidence (as there should be) with His presence in my life. Yet it's that confidence if not rested on Him where I think I risk falling away. I don't mean to discuss the Theological point of losing your salvation or not, but clearly the enemy (disguised in many ways) can pull us off His path.

May I learn to put on His armor daily, not mistaking who I am in a battle with. Yet let me never forget Who fights for me on my behalf if I submit and let Him take the front line.

In Christ I am praying for you now, many by name; may you have an amazing weekend in Him. Enjoy the weather, celebrate your fathers, laugh with your children, kiss your spouse, and smile and experience His amazing peace and joy!

Ride joyfully and confidently on His path ... but stand guard.

God loves you and so do I,
~Matthew

Thursday, June 16, 2011

I'm scared ...



“Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.” (Galatians 2:10 ESV) 
I live in a city caught between two worlds, at least financially; Grosse Pointe, and Detroit. I have to admit that this placement has become a struggle for me, one in which I never expected. You see we moved to Harper Woods for a few reasons; it fit our price range, it was diverse, and frankly it was nice to live in a familiar area surrounded by family. However, after the housing crash, and homes in my area began to sell for $25,000, the impact to my city took a turn that I was not anticipating.

I’m not looking to judge, but I ask a rhetorical question; what situation causes a family to move into a home that is $25,000? I’m simply thinking (yes, this is my opinion) that while there most certainly are exceptions, that a family moving into a low cost home is possibly financially stressed. Perhaps out of work, disabled, single income with multiple low paying jobs just trying to provide for their family, etc. I understand this can be very subjective and open to interpretation, however what is not subjective after this change is that I went from a school playground across the street where I felt comfortable sending my kids to play, to one in which I feel uncomfortable. From issues of horrific language, inappropriate relational activity, aggression and fighting, disrespectful behavior, destruction of property, and even issues like public urination when my kids are playing. This is hardly subjective.

I drive one direction to shop at Trader Joe’s in Grosse Pointe and shop with my kids smiling, polite workers, and a community that smiles says hello.

I drive another direction to shop at my grocery store at the end of my street and I hear words or anger, frustration, pain, disappointment, verbal abuse, and faces that are downcast and keep to themselves.

Before someone wants to stop and correct me about a negative experience they had a Trader Joe’s or tell me about how nice the help was at our local grocery store, I know there are exceptions. In fact, at Vegas Foods recently (a local grocery store that I struggle to shop in now) I had a beautiful chat with the cashier about love, Christ, the importance of Scripture, and our children to share the light in this community.

I won’t lie, I want to leave. I want pack up, continue to pay my mortgage on a home that is worth a third of what we owe, and rent, or buy somewhere else. I begin to judge and think, if they don’t care about their community, then why should I care? Yes I then remember the recent words of my sister in Christ Jessica at church last week and her experience showing Christ in some troubled areas of Detroit. “There are certainly people who care.” she assures, “They’ve just given up hope, have little faith, and feel forgotten.” 
“Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.” (Galatians 2:10 ESV)
Remember the poor. I don't think you need to be a bible scholar to know that we are commanded many times to remember the poor. But what does that look like for me though? God placed me here, and His Spirit is scorching the flesh of my heart, and I know that I was not placed here to become financially stable so I could move soon. Yet what does His calling look like for me?

This is where you come in. I’m asking for you to pray for me.

I need to discern what His will is for placing me here. I’m not going to hide from obvious facts and cloud them with exceptions and political rhetoric; there is darkness around me. Communities and individuals that hide behind city pride and let the darkness consume them are creating deeper damage, and are not resolving anything. Love for your community requires honesty, and effort to make a change. I know this, yet I struggle with the feeling that I want to simply run away. I know I may not be here (in this neighborhood) for the rest of my life; but I need to let Him make an impact through me while I am here.
“No one after lighting a lamp covers it with a jar or puts it under a bed, but puts it on a stand, so that those who enter may see the light.” (Luke 8:16 ESV) 
… a follower of Christ does not let His Spirit be lit within Him and run from darkness and take that light away from the darkness that so desperately needs it.

He has something amazing planned for me, I know it, but I’m scared of my flesh pulling me away from His calling; pray for me.

~Matthew

Sunday, June 12, 2011

"But when He" moments


Moments come and go; much like the perfect sunset. If you're there at the right time, right place, you can experience something spectacular.

As I was reading through the first chapter of Galatians last night, I got to the part where Paul was explaining his calling to the people. How as a youth he excelled in his faith, hung tight to his Jewish teachings, and persecuted the church of God. Then in verse 15, at least the way ESV translates it, he starts by saying ...

"But when He ..." (speaking of God)

I'm not after translation variants, or word studies here. In fact, it really doesn't even matter how your translation starts this verse. My point is much more high level than that; in fact, it's a question.

I started asking myself: How many 'but when He' moments have I had in my life?

How many times was I about to make a decision when He stepped in?
How many times was I about to open my mouth when He spoke to me first?
How many times was I about to have that thought when He interceded?

The questions aren't complete until I make my choice. He can intercede, He can speak, He can step in, but ultimately I need to choose His path, not mine.

I found that if I looked, He was everywhere. In almost all decisions I can recall, He was present, guiding me, loving me, speaking to me. I have 'but when He' moments all the time. Perhaps another way of looking at this would be His perspective towards me.

"When Matthew heard me, he ... "

I what? Obeyed? Ignored?

May I continue to recognize His whispers in my life and have the courage to obey, so that I can experience something spectacular!

Learning Obedience,
~Matthew

My Journey on His Path ...


I was asked to share at church this morning a bit about my story, in actuality His story, over the past few years of my journey with Him. When I began to reflect back, a lot indeed has changed. However most significantly has been the journey from the God of my head, to the God of my heart. Taking what I know about Him intellectually, and letting Him penetrate my heart.

For me, this transformation began with my acceptance of His Word, The Bible, for what it is; Truth. It was then that Romans 12:2, that transformation by the renewal of my mind, began. While that journey to accept His Word as Truth is a multi-hour conversation over coffee just to get started, what I can easily say is that you don't have to drop your intellect at the foot of the door before grabbing on to His word as truth. In fact, it's His Word that completes knowledge. But that's for an other entry ...

Once I began to accept Him at His Word, one thing that has, and continues to resonate strongly with me is how Holy He is. While I will never know the full extent of His holiness until meet Christ face to face, what I do know is that He is indeed Holy. He is worthy of my complete devotion and all my worship.

I remember reading R.C. Sproul one time about how God says in Scripture that He is Love, Mercy, and Justice. Yet He doesn't refer to Himself in Scripture as Love Love Love, or Mercy Mercy Mercy, or Justice Justice Justice (that repetitive pattern we sometimes see for emphasis). However He does say He is Holy, Holy, Holy.

I draw breath because He lets me.

Immediately then it's not about me anymore, it's about Him. I see that I can enjoy my blessings, but now I'm a steward of those things; because they're not mine, they're His.

It's these two things; accepting the Bible as Truth, and recognizing His holiness; that pushed me into my journey that I am at now, and that is learning a life of obedience. (note 'learning', not mastered!)

About a year ago I began to pray about ways to serve my church aside from just financial support through tithing. He opened that door as I was asked to serve on the core team to the Men's Ministry at my church. He knew that I was lacking in one fundamental area of my faith, and that was discipleship. You see while the Men's Ministry does indeed have 'events', it's not an event driven ministry. It's about creating relationships with the men at Grace Community Church. We all should have a Paul pouring into us, and we should all have a Timothy to pour into. As men we want to be tough, and want to do life on our own, but that's not how we were created. Proverbs 27:17 says that as iron sharpens iron, one man sharpens another; that's how we were created; to do this life together.

I began to grow even more as he pushed me into other areas outside my comfort zone with more 'everyday' acts of obedience. Praying over someone for the first time. Engaging in a conversation with a man at the church that I didn't know. Seeing an opportunity to share Christ with someone at work for the first time. Looking at my kids in the eyes and telling them I'm sorry when I misrepresent Jesus Christ in my role as a father. Pulling myself away to pray when I think I'm too busy. Not being embarrassed to pray in public. The list could go on, and these things are not natural for me. However they do get easier, the blessings continue to pour out, and they allow me to be used for His Kingdom.

Another way I began to journey was when I began to journal. I quickly realized that pen and paper weren't for me and I started this blog here on Blogspot. I love writing, and it's a great way for me to journal and share at the same time. I don't blog to preach, I blog to share. Much of what I write about are my own struggles. Let me say that there is not a greater feeling on earth than being used by Him. When I get an email, or someone talks to me and says how something I wrote touched them, it's quite powerful. Perhaps they struggled with something similar, or perhaps they were praying and something God put on my heart related to their journey and spoke to them as well, but whatever the case I give Him all the honor and glory. It's an incredible thing to be used personally by the God who spoke the universe into existence! If that isn't humbling I don't know what is!

So where do I go from here? I don't know, but I know He does. I just pray that I have the courage to obey when I hear Him calling next. I sometimes think about my qualifications and strengths when imagining where He wants me to go next on my journey. However I often remember a quote that stops all that pondering and anticipation:

"God doesn't call the qualified, He qualifies the called."

May we all be open to His call for our lives. We serve an amazing, and Holy Holy Holy, God.

God loves you, and so do I
~Matthew

Friday, June 3, 2011

Alone


While I don't often like the feeling of being alone and separated away from my family, there are times when I enjoy some quiet time; as when I go hunting or take a day sabbatical to be alone with Him. Sitting amidst His creation for a time of rest and reflection is wonderful, but in general I love to be around people, primarily my family. However there are times when the feeling of being alone was not welcoming at all.

I remember a time a couple years back when I went to the UK on a business trip for a week. I was there previously for another business trip with a group, but this time it was just me. I travelled alone, had a hotel alone, and went to and from the office outside London alone. To some this may seem like a wonderful trip, and I initially thought it was going to be for me as well, but it was miserable!

The hotel was wonderful; I stayed at the Tower Hotel in downtown London right across from the Tower Bridge seen in the picture. The food was wonderful, the service was wonderful, and even the weather was wonderful! I however missed my wife and kids terribly. I could probably explain several reasons why I felt this way, but my point is simply that when I think of a time when I really felt alone, it was then.

So today on the way to work, as I was listening to a talk from The Pineapple Stories, and something was said that really showed me other ways I am alone; or perhaps other ways that I choose to be alone.
"When you tell people everything is fine, you're facing your problems alone. And Christianity was never made to face alone." - Otto Koning
It reminded me of how true this statement is, as in Scripture we read about Jethro (Moses' father-in-law) speaking wisdom seeing him so overburdened with work.
You and the people with you will certainly wear yourselves out, for the thing is too heavy for you. You are not able to do it alone. (Exodus 18:18 ESV)
I sadly fall into this category all too often, and by choice. Perhaps it's an aspect of control in me that doesn't want to let go; so at work, home, or sometimes socially I refuse to let others in as those words "I'm fine, how are you?" leave my lips all too often. My life certainly is filled with blessings, but when I'm struggling I still seem to fight the urge to internalize; a vicious cancer of the soul that certainly can cause physical harm as well. Culture tells me to be tough, and deal with my struggles. Culture tells me that asking for help is a sign of weakness. However I can't serve both God and popular culture; they are not inclusive of eachother. Besides, He most certainly did not plan for us to burden ourselves, in fact it's quite the opposite.

"I'll be my brother's keeper, so the whole world will know that we're not alone" - I want to make those lyrics from one of my favorite songs a reality. However it starts with my authenticity and transparency to those close to me, as it's that level of authenticity that draws us closer together.

Join me ...

Father, may you continue to teach me that while being physically alone can be a struggle for me, isolating myself from others who can lift me up in prayer, support me, and show Your love through them, is not a solution. May I learn to embrace my struggles by reaching out to those you guide me to, and let Your healing hand be used in others as You use me for them. May I learn to submit to you daily, so that You can restore me daily in return.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Abba's Day!


Do you like fairs/carnivals? The smell of sweet or fried food in the air, the sun baking down on you, face paintings, games, excited crowds of people, and a host of rides that seem to take up almost every square foot of that park or church parking lot? Well, I don't! However that doesn't mean I don't enjoy myself. After all, while I may not be the carnival type, I know my kids are; and it's so much fun to watch the joy on their faces. I love how putting aside my own agenda for my kids' can bring me so much joy.

We see that same type of self-sacrifice with other occasions too; birthdays, mother's day, father's day. We put aside our own interests for the sake of the one(s) whom we are celebrating.

Imagine having an Abba's day; a Father's day for our Lord. We talk about doing this all the time as Christians, but have I ever really done it? After all, there are some mother's days that I feel were less "successful" than others. Perhaps some years I really found a way to lay aside my own agenda for my wife, or mother. Maybe some years with the business of it all I lost the focus of who I was really celebrating. Yet there are those days where you can probably recall making it all about them and how great it really felt.

Thus I go back to my original point: Imagine doing that for God; taking a day to truly celebrate Him. Waking up, and completely laying aside your own agenda and letting the Spirit guide you in prayer or through the Word, or simply in Spirit to whomever He wants you to talk to that day; whatever He wants you to do that day; wherever He wants you to go that day?

Oh, I've had times where I felt I listened to the Spirit and was blessed by what He led me to. I've had days were I was so deeply into His Word that He impacted me significantly. I've had days were I think I prayed more than I spoke. I've had days where I woke up and the first words that left my lips were Thank You Lord. Yet I don't think I've consciously had a day that from morning until night I've put aside my own agenda for His. There have been plenty of times where I prayerfully sought His guidance and presence on my own agenda, but I never truly put down my clipboard with my list of things to do and said: "Not today ... it's Your list today!".

He's blessed me with a wife, children, job, house, and other responsibilities, and I know He recognizes that. However I know I can and should put down my agenda once in a while (and certainly more than once a year) to truly celebrate Abba's Day. If my children's agenda can bring me joy when I lay down mine for theirs, how much more joy will His agenda bring to me! :)

Looking forward to telling you about my first Abba's Day soon! =)

His,
~Matthew
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