Time For Something New

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seek God's will

It has been a while since I my last post.  The reason is simple, but the story is long.  Suffice it to say that my life situation has changed and my family and I have entered a period of waiting for clarity on our next steps in our journey together.  The good news is that we are doing well in the middle of life’s uncertainties, our family is strong, and that as much as life likes to change, we can rely on our unchanging and ever-faithful God.  That is a comfort unlike any other!

Now that this new chapter has begun I’m sure I’ll be back to doing this blog a bit more.  I just need to first gather my thoughts.

Until next time,

  Blessings!

10 Things Pastors Hate To Admit Publicly

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Something to think about. Pray for your spiritual leaders!

pastormatt.tv

MB Posts When Ellen and I were first married ministry was not our 20-year plan, the Navy was. We had it all planned out; we were to spend the next 20 years with me being gone for 15. The Navy explained to my sweet new bride how grueling it would be, that I would be gone often and that even when I was around my mind would be elsewhere. Knowing that my particular career path in the Navy would be a marriage destroyer I pursued a discharge for the pursuit of higher education. With the promise of a difficult future behind us we embarked upon an easier dream where everyone would love us and things would be calm: pastoral service.

Twenty plus years later I can tell you it has been a ride we never could have anticipated. So much so that only now do I feel equipped enough to share a…

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You Call This A Storm? It’s Time for a Showdown! (why Lt. Dan might have been right the whole time)

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Something caught my attention this morning as I walked through the garden, harvesting the morning’s asparagus.  I went out a bit earlier than usual today because we are supposed to have some potentially destructive storms come through our area and I wanted to protect what I could and harvest what I couldn’t protect.

Then the wind picked up, the storm clouds began to swirl, and rain drops began to fall.  It was at this moment, I noticed it.  Maybe I noticed it before, but it never stuck with me like this.

At the moment I was trying to shelter “my” plants from the storm, they were reaching out toward it.  Each plant was standing at attention with its leaves stretched skyward, waiting for the nourishment that this storm would bring.  That got me thinking…

How often do we cower and try to wait out the storms that come into our lives?  If we learn from our surroundings, the plants respond to storms in a completely different way than we instinctively do.  They don’t cower from storms like they do from a hot sun.  They “know” that within the storms lie a perfect opportunity for growth; an opportunity that they aren’t going to miss.  So they reach for it… making themselves vulnerable to being destroyed… taking such a risk!

And it never fails!  After each storm I don’t see dead plants in my raised beds, I see plants that are full of life and energy; plants that are ready to produce what they were created to produce.

So the next time you feel a storm of life approach and you start to feel a bit nervous, consider the plants.  What potential is there for growth?  Fulfillment of such potential doesn’t come without risks, so maybe… just maybe…

Instead of hiding and waiting for the storm to pass, maybe it’s time to reach out for the opportunity for growth that this storm might bring.

You might be surprised how full of life you are when the storm is over.

Hope, Encourageent, and Clean Water

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It’s official!  I have begun the process of making plans to travel to Tenali, India this fall to bring a message of hope and encouragement and to assist in providing clean water to villages that don’t have access to it.  Tenali is home to an organization that is taking care of orphans and widows that have been displaced due to HIV/AIDS, leprosy, and other diseases.  This is where I will be serving while there.

This organization is called Favour the Helpless.

From time to time I’ll post updates about the plans for this trip, including raising money to help provide wells with clean drinking water to villages that do not have access to clean water.

If you want more information on what I’ll be doing while I’m there and how you can help me change lives in India, please visit the GoFundMe site set up for this cause:  http://www.gofundme.com/810mls

Once the trip is complete, I’ll be posting about the trip, those that I meet, and the changes that are bound to happen in me during this entire process.  Will you join me in this journey?

Until the next update,
Blessings!

World Vision’s Decision To Allow Employment For Same-Sex Couples, The Fallout, and Why It Matters

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UPDATE:  World Vision Reverses Decision to Hire Same-Sex Couples

The following post is my original response to World Vision’s initial decision to allow same-sex couples to be employed within the company.


For more than six decades, World Vision has been providing humanitarian aid to those who desperately need it.  Since its inception, World Vision has had a policy of hiring only those that agree to adhere to a certain set of beliefs/principles- including a strict lifestyle agreement.  Among those things has been the requirement to abstain from sex outside of the marriage relationship between one man and one woman.

On March 24, 2014, that changed.  On March 25th, we found out about it.

To be clear, Richard Stearns, President of World Vision, states:

“I want to be clear that we have not endorsed same-sex marriage, but we have chosen to defer to the authority of local churches on this issue. We have chosen not to exclude someone from employment at World Vision U.S. on this issue alone.”

In a nutshell, someone in a legal same-sex marriage/union would not be excluded from employment provided they agree to follow the other lifestyle guidelines and can affirm either the Apostle’s Creed or World Vision’s Statement of Faith.

World Vision views this move as a another step in their corporate journey toward uniting Christians and serving the poor. This is one of many divisive issues within the church that World Vision is deferring to the local church authority to provide theological guidance on.  Other issues include whether or not to allow female clergy, the issue of divorce among clergy, whether or not baptism is required for salvation and how it should be administered in either case, etc.

In their words, “It’s been heartbreaking to watch this issue rip through the church,” he said. “It’s tearing churches apart, tearing denominations apart, tearing Christian colleges apart, and even tearing families apart. Our board felt we cannot jump into the fight on one side or another on this issue. We’ve got to focus on our mission. We are determined to find unity in our diversity.”

Now, those are the facts.

As you can imagine, this decision is being loudly praised by one crowd and loudly condemned by another- leaving many in the middle confused and tired of hearing all of the back-and-forth yelling over the issue.

So, I’ll try to provide a calm, rational opinion that will hopefully spark more calm, rational discussion through this thread.

As a basis for my opinion, let me begin with:

Matthew 25:31-46 (NLT)

The Final Judgment

31 “But when the Son of Man[a] comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit upon his glorious throne. 32 All the nations[b] will be gathered in his presence, and he will separate the people as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will place the sheep at his right hand and the goats at his left.

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. 36 I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’

37 “Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? 39 When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’

40 “And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters,[c] you were doing it to me!’

41 “Then the King will turn to those on the left and say, ‘Away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his demons.[d] 42 For I was hungry, and you didn’t feed me. I was thirsty, and you didn’t give me a drink. 43 I was a stranger, and you didn’t invite me into your home. I was naked, and you didn’t give me clothing. I was sick and in prison, and you didn’t visit me.’

44 “Then they will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and not help you?’

45 “And he will answer, ‘I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.’

46 “And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous will go into eternal life.”

I’ve been up most of the night wrestling with how I’m going to respond to this issue.  For the purposes of full disclosure, my wife and I support children through world vision and have for years.  My response as a pastor has the potential to have an effect beyond our personal feelings, so know that this is not a knee jerk reaction but is truly a heart-felt response.  And while the issue is complex on a number of issues, I believe the response shouldn’t be.

In the above Scripture, Jesus tells us that our faith in Him will produce tangible results.  These results include caring for those whom society has determined to be undesirable.  If our Christian Faith allows us to care for only those that think and act like us, we have a problem with our Faith.

Some might argue that this issue isn’t about providing charity toward the gay community, but employment, so this issue wouldn’t apply here.  I would respectfully disagree.

Jesus didn’t say that those who gave a cup of cold water to someone who is thirsty at a church-approved function would be blessed.  Jesus didn’t put limitations on our requirement to serve others.  It might make one person feel better (read: PROUD) to help to minister to the suffering gay homeless man on the street, but if we limit ourselves to serving in that capacity aren’t we missing the point entirely?

Isn’t providing a job to “the undesirables” of the world better than waiting until abject poverty to provide assistance?  Isn’t it accomplishing the same end- except one requires that we swallow our pride while another allows us to flaunt it?

Now, I am not arguing for these policy changes to be made within the local church body.  These local churches should have the freedom to be directed by their own religious belief systems.  I am a firm believer and supporter in that.

In our church, we will not be hiring those who are living in a same-sex relationship.  I see it as living in a contradictory state to say you are a Christian and are refusing to modify behavior as called for in both the Old and New Testament Scriptures.  This is true whether you are in a same-sex relationship (legal by the State or not), sleeping around, cheating on your taxes, abusing your spouse, or attempting to profit off of the suffering of others.

World Vision isn’t a church, though.  They are a corporation that is trying to unite people around a common goal of serving people like Jesus did.  They are not trying to direct the affairs of your church.  They are not sending your money to activist organizations that are trying to destroy your way of life.

So, as you might have guessed, I am okay with World Vision’s policy change for their company.  I will not be pulling my support from my adopted children through this organization.  I will err on the side of providing relief to those that others refuse to- whether through charity or acts that prevent charity from being required.

And I would encourage you to do the same.

Care to share a calm, rational opinion on the matter?  I’d love to see them in the comments below!

For the complete interview with Richard Stearns, visit World Vision Interview: Same-Sex Marriage

Renovate the Right Way

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This week has been spent making plans, assembling necessary items, and beginning work on a small home renovation project.  We live in a home that was built by the previous homeowner and while many things were done well, other things have been uncovered that reveal cut-corners and quick-fixes that gave the appearance of being complete, but the workmanship in these things leave much to be desired.

This got me thinking.

Proverbs 10:4 (NIV)

“Lazy hands make for poverty, but diligent hands bring wealth.”

 

In my last post I wrote about the Importance of Pruning.  This entire process has me thinking about the effort put into “getting the job done” vs “getting the job done the right way“. This is true of pruning just as it is in any project we undertake.

Typically, projects are started with good intentions and motivations.  When we start things, we really intend to do them to perfection.  We have grand ideas and grand plans.  We simply cannot wait to see the finished project!

 

Then life happens.

 

We get tired.  The project takes more time, effort, and expense than we initially thought and we cannot wait until it is done… for a completely different reason.  We’re sick of the process and the end result doesn’t matter as much as the end itself.

At this point, we have a major decision to make.  If we allow ourselves to rush through the end of a project, we feel a momentary sense of relief because the process is done.  Often though, this leads us to a sense of regret instead of a sense of accomplishment.

Whether or not others can see our mistakes, we see them.  Years down the road we still glare at these shortcuts and try to hide or ignore them until we get to a point where we’re so sick of looking at them that we rip them out and begin the process of completing our initial project.

This is true in home renovation, gardening/landscaping, and in fixing flaws within us.

Sometimes the process is tedious.  Sometimes it requires more time, effort, and expense that we initially thought it would.  But giving the effort to do it right the first time will give us a much longer lasting sense of satisfaction and eliminates the need to have to go back and fix it again and living with regret until we decide to finally do that.

So take time to do it right whatever you’re doing.  It is well worth the hassle.

Proverbs 10:4(NIV)

“Lazy hands make for poverty, but diligent hands bring wealth.”

Blessings!

The Importance of Pruning

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Image courtesy of [adamr] / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

prune

verb (used with object), pruned, prun·ing.

1. to cut or lop off (twigs, branches, or roots).

2. to cut or lop superfluous or undesired twigs, branches, or roots from; trim.

3. to rid or clear of (anything superfluous or undesirable).

4. to remove (anything considered superfluous or undesirable).

Ah, finally!  The weather is now showing signs that spring is rapidly approaching central Georgia.  For most of the USA though, winter is still trying to maintain its firm hold on the weather patterns.  The threat of frost is still too real to fully commit to most outdoor planting, and surely many are growing tired of the cool, damp days and are longing for the warmth that comes with the spring sunshine.

That said, instead of moping about inside and wishing for things to come, now is a great time to invest in ridding our fruit trees of unwanted growths making sure that the tree isn’t hurting itself by getting its branches crossed.

Pruning is an extremely important step needed to help ensure proper growth, development, and sustainability in fruit production.

Pruning can sometimes be very easy – requiring only the removal of things that are obviously damaged.  Often though, pruning requires a much more discerning approach. It can be confusing at first, but with experience the process becomes much easier.  While not necessarily enjoyable, the rewards are well worth it.  So take time to learn about your fruit and how to best prepare it for success.

What exactly do I mean?

Some things might look visually appealing at first glance, but upon further inspection you’ll notice that if these things are allowed to continue growing on the current pattern, it can actually be quite harmful, not only for that tree, but it can introduce disease and weaken all of the trees around it.  These things are sometimes hard to reach and painful to remove, but their removal is essential to the health (and sometimes survival) of the tree.

You know, now that I think about it, it is not too different from us on a personal level.  Things that might look good at first don’t always turn out to be good for us.  In fact, sometimes these things can be downright harmful to us and those around us.  Sometimes things are easy to spot as being bad and we remove those easily.

Sometimes though, it takes an experienced eye to let us know that we are headed for problems.  These things are often painful to remove and are hard for us to reach.  They are also very important though and, if not removed, can weaken everyone around us.

Before the weather is warm and we are distracted with all of the attractions of spring and summer, maybe it would be a good time to do a once-over of ourselves and see if there are things we need to nip in the bud to prevent harmful patterns from developing.

May the fruit in your garden (and the fruit in your lives) be plentiful and healthy this year!

Blessings!

The Sanctuary: When Safe Places are Anything but Safe

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This week, I met with yet another young thinker in search of a church that would allow them to ask difficult questions and get honest answers.  They want answers that are rooted in personal belief and understanding- not just a “because someone said so” type of response. This person is in search of a place where they are free to frequent- and even participate- though there might be some deep disagreements on certain views of society and what their role is in it.  These discussions are easily found in a coffee shop, but can be very difficult to find within the context of a religious body.

Too often, I find those who are willing to engage in discussions of spirituality, morality, and the betterment of society, but they feel that they are unable to find a place within the context of a church to have a civil exchange of ideas without being branded as a target at best, or ridiculed and cast aside as “problem children” at worst.

It seems odd to me that those of us within the church are convinced that we have answers that will help to provide a long and satisfying life (Proverbs 3) for humanity, yet many people don’t feel as though they have the freedom to engage us in discussion without experiencing something that does feel like it lasts a lifetime, yet it is anything but satisfying.

Our sanctuaries are supposed to be safe places.  Places where people go to find refuge in the middle of life’s storms.  Places where people are free to ask questions and find answers.  Places where one, regardless of background or belief system, can experience kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, love, etc.

Why then does this not seem to be the case many times?

We need to have our churches once again be places where people can be free to be on their journey to truth without being demonized for having a difference of opinion.  We need to once again be places where people can find answers, and not simple condemnation.  We need to be excited to be on a journey with other imperfect people- and not so quick to flog those who might make a mistake.  We need to remember that we are also on a journey and are capable of making mistakes.

We need…. we need to make our sanctuaries safe places once again.

Do you have any suggestions on how those of us in the church might be able to better accomplish this very thing?

Securing A Foundation For Happiness

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How is it that in the middle of Ravensbrück (concentration camp), this quote could rise from the lips of a dying woman?  What is it that gives someone a resolve so strong that in the midst of unimaginable adversity, this message of strength, hope, and faith would pierce through their darkest of hours?

How is it that this resolve is not only possible, but exists in the lives of people everyday, yet many miss out on it and are left with a feeling of hopelessness over situations that are so much less dire than life in a concentration camp?

Allow me to share a passage with you that points to where I find my strength.

Ephesians 3:14-20 (NLT)

14 When I think of all this, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father, 15 the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth. 16 I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. 17 Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong.

18 And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. 19 May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.

20 Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.”

Just know that having this foundation for strength & resolve goes much beyond an intellectual understanding and has to be coupled with real experience to produce lasting results.  Much like a fall arrest system (a.k.a. safety harness), you can read the manual and learn that if you tighten this strap and properly hook in to the right place, it will protect you against a fall, but you don’t really KNOW that it will protect you until you’ve experienced a fall while wearing one of these pieces of equipment.  Then you know the power of the harness in a completely new way.

You learn that you really CAN rely on this equipment to do what it says it will do.  This type of knowledge allows you to focus more on the task at hand- knowing that this system will do what it is supposed to do- and allows you more fully engage those around you as you seek to help them understand what safety is available to them as well.  And this, I suppose, is where I’m at in my journey.

I KNOW my source of strength and I’d like others to know how to have it as well.  I hate seeing people hurt, confused, lost, hopeless, bitter, and spun up because they don’t have anything secure to rely on when the world they thought they could rely on comes crashing down around them.

So, if you’re curious on how to gain this secure footing, please ask!  Reading the above passage is a great start, but without knowing how to couple it with experience, it is remain something that sounds good now- but when the time come that you need it, you don’t know how to rely on it and it will just add more confusion later.

My prayer for you this week is taken from the passage above:

16 I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. 17 Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong.”

Fog Lights

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As Christ followers, we are called to be a light in a dark world.  We are called to help bring clarity to a world that is covered in a fog of confusion, selfishness, greed, and disappointment.  We are called to help people navigate this journey on earth is such a way that they can see dangerous obstacles ahead in enough time for them to go around them and not have to find them AFTER a collision happens.

I wonder how well we’re doing that?  I wonder how many of us insist on going everywhere with our bright lights blazing- even when conditions are foggy.  You see, not all light is useful light.  Sometimes light can be blinding and cause more harm than good.  Sometimes situations call for a specialized type of light to be used to get the job done.  This is a light that is carefully placed and not wielded around aimlessly without care for what is headed your way.

Just like when driving a car in dense fog, a certain level of maturity is required to know when to use the different types of lights available to you… and while you CAN learn by trial and error, it is often better (and much less dangerous) to study a bit before you go out and flip the high-beams on.

Next time you are in a situation where people are having a difficult time seeing, maybe the right approach isn’t to give them all of your educated opinion on the topic at hand.  Yes- you might be bright, but at what expense?  Maybe it would be good to give the fog lights a try and see if you all make it out alive and a bit less stressed.

Just my thoughts…

Matthew 10:16 (NIV)

 “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”