Nothing Can Separate

There are many things in our lives we want separation from and other things we want connection to.

In light of our current US presidential race, you may be wishing you could separate from social media altogether.

Or maybe you want to connect with a friend you haven’t spoken to in years.

But what about God?

Deep down, do you want connection to God or separation from God?

Do you think you’ve done something to cause God to separate from you?

Or do you think God isn’t strong enough to stay connected to you?

Take a few minutes and see that once you’re connected with God nothing can separate you from Him.

 

 

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For Those Who Don’t Know It All Part 2

Last week I wrote a post entitled “For Those Who Don’t Know It All.” (Go ahead and read that post if you haven’t already done so. It will help this post make more sense.)

In it, I posed a simple question: “What if _______?” When you or I ask those 2 words followed by a specific instance in our own lives, it causes us to begin to wonder about the possibility of it actually happening or being true.

But the catch is this: we cannot simply stay at wonder. We have to move into wander.

I had some pushback on this idea of wander,” so let’s look at this word for a second.

Here are a few definitions from Merriam-Webster: “to move around or go to different places usually without having a particular purpose or direction;” “to move about without a fixed course, aim, or goal;” “to go idly about;” “to ramble.”

Now maybe you are saying to yourself, “I don’t want to be purposeless or ramble, so why would I wander?”

Great question.

But here’s another question to consider that I posed in last week’s blog post:

“What if instead of thinking you had to have the perfect idea and plan of action, you allowed the wonder of your idea to compel you to wander into action?”

See, after having multiple conversations with various groups of people I’m convinced that those who are struggling with some aspect of their life are at one of two places. They’ve either never begun to wonder or they’re paralyzed by thinking they have to have all the answers or have a perfect plan of action.

If you’ve never asked the “What if____?” question, start there.

But if you have and you’re sitting still. If you’re paralyzed by not having all the answers or having a plan of action. Then start to wander.

Start trying out certain things that your wonder is calling you towards.

Let’s take two common examples: diet and faith.

“What if I went on a diet?” By asking that question, you are beginning to think about what your life could be like if you were healthier. You are compelled to do something about it. But then, the mountain seems too tall. The temptation is too real. The diet seems too rigid. So you don’t even try. But what if you just started wandering through different diets to find one that worked for you? What if you tried a few different ones for a couple weeks?

“What if there is a God?” By asking that question, you are beginning to think about the possibilities and implications of there being a higher power. You are compelled by it. But then, the countless number of world religions overwhelm you. The hypocrites that claim to be “religious” disappoint you. Bad things happen all around you making you angry at that potential God or at least causing you to doubt even more. But what if you started wandering through the claims of the major world religions? What if you began to examine whether or not they contradicted each other and if there was some historical reliability of certain faith’s claims?

See, wouldn’t you rather wander about and risk being called aimless, purposeless, a rambler, etc. instead of sitting still, becoming apathetic and doing nothing with your wonder? Doing nothing with your life?

I know I would.

Actually, I did.

And my wife, Rachel, did too. Maybe you can relate to her story.

If I can say so myself as her husband, Rachel is a very talented graphic designer. She didn’t major in graphic design in college and she sure didn’t have a plan for how she was going to get to where she is now before starting. But one day while volunteering at her local church, someone was talking about how they needed a design done. And Rachel must have said to herself, “What if I tried?” So you know what she did? She said to that staff person, “I’ll give it try.” Wonder led to wander. Her first design wasn’t that great. But it was the start of something. She loved it and was compelled to keep trying. More wonder led to more wandering which eventually led to a sustained plan of action. She now stays quite busy with clients doing graphic design work and absolutely loves it.

I can’t promise your wandering will lead to success. Characteristics like discipline and determination matter. And I’m not, nor would I ever, advocate a constant state of wandering. Certainly, you need to eventually figure out a sustained plan of action for your life and commit. But to get started, all you need to do is wander. And by wandering, you will find that sustained plan of action. But by sitting still, you never will.

Start wondering your way into wander today!

For Those Who Don’t Know It All

“What if?”

Have you ever asked that question in regards to some aspect of your life?

If you’ve already arrived and have no need to grow, then this blog post isn’t for you.

But I’m guessing you haven’t.

I know I haven’t.

So no matter who you are or where you are it’s one of the best questions you could ask yourself.

And you should ask it today.

A “What if?” question is pregnant with possibility.

Once you ask it, you’ll start to wonder.

“Could this really happen? Is this really possible? Wow, what life would be like if…”

Then you’ll quickly experience a tension. And it’s painful to wrestle with.

This tension is so strong that millions of dollars have been left on the table. Relationships that could have been haven’t. Businesses were never started. An invention never developed. A book never written. An apology never said. A difference never made. A God never explored.

It’s the tension between an idea and action

You don’t have to be brilliant or clever to stir up an idea. And you don’t have to be strong or disciplined to step into action.

You must only wonder your way into wander.

What if instead of thinking you had to have the perfect idea and plan of action, you allowed the wonder of your idea to compel you to wander into action?

Don’t worry about not having a detailed plan or a stellar track record in the past.

Simply wander into doing something about that possibility you sense.

Start walking.

Make some kind of move even if you don’t know why or what you’re doing. Even if it’s aimless.

Take a baby step in the direction you long to know more about or desire to be true for your life.

I don’t know the exact “What if?” question you should ask yourself. But below are several to give you an idea of some you could ask.

What if life’s not all about me?

What if I switched my college major?

What if I tried harder in school?

What if there’s more to life than living the American dream?

What if there is a God?

What if I could beat this addiction?

What if I was a better father?

What if I was a better husband?

What if I went on a diet?

What if I ran a marathon?

What if I wasn’t in debt?

What if I invited my neighbor over for dinner?

What if I wasn’t so empty inside?

What if I went for what I’ve always felt called to do?

What if I got a new job?

What if I apologized to my friend?

What if Jesus really is who he claimed to be?

What if __________?

So. What “What if?” question do you need to ask?

Don’t wait until tomorrow or 20 years from now.

Ask it today.

Begin to wonder.

Move into wander.

Then tell me a year from now how thankful you–and those who know you–are that you asked that simple question.

What if?

Whatever It Takes

I wasn’t sure what was going to happen last Wednesday night.

I had prayed a lot and I knew our leaders were praying too.

I had challenged all of our students to bring one friend. “Plus 1” we were calling it.

I tried my best to show from Scripture that following Christ necessitates inviting others to follow Him as well.

I promised that the gospel would be shared and their friends would have a chance to respond.

Our office had sent out reminder emails, Facebook posts, text updates and gathered supplies. (My administrative assistant is amazing!)

We were offering lots of FREE food and exploding watermelons with rubber bands. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that?!

We also gave incentives for meeting certain attendance goals. Pies in the face. Getting slimed. And the thing no sane adult looks forward to–a Lock-In.

I’m not sure what else we could have done.

I was confident it would be a good night, but there’s always that doubt. There’s always that question of “What if nobody shows up?”

I mean, I’ve certainly been a part of events that didn’t go as planned and I’m sure I’ll be a part of more in the future. Haven’t you? You pray, work hard, get commitments from people who say they’re going to come, and then they don’t show up, a projector breaks and it rains. Total bummer.

And in this case, it’s middle school. We’re depending on parents. So if we have a student who is iffy about coming, a parent can say “get in the car, you’re going. You’ll have a great time!” Or, we could have a student who really wants to come, but a parent gets off work too late to get them there, doesn’t feel like bringing them, or makes the student stay home to get homework done (I’m not against doing homework, by the way). There are lots of factors.

All to say, in faith, I was believing it would be a great night!

So what happened?

We had a Wednesday night attendance record and 5 students prayed to receive Christ! Amazing!! And for breaking 1 goal and coming within 1 person of another (We had 139 in attendance and the second goal was for 140. I showed some grace.) I and 3 other leaders got a pie in the face. And gladly, I might add.

It was a FUN night. Lots of laughing. Lots of celebration. And we will be doing another night like this in the near future.

Some might criticize and say, “Oh that’s gimmicky. You should want kids there who want to be there. Kids who have the right heart. And just preach the Word. Stop all the shenanigans.”

Sure.

No doubt.

I hear ya.

But often times it takes doing something you don’t want to do, or even doing something for the wrong reason, to be exposed to a message that changes your heart.

So if playing a crazy game and getting pied in the face brings a student out who wouldn’t have come otherwise, we’ll keep doing it. At least 5 students are glad they came. Their eternity has been altered. 

Also, we do this kind of night once every couple months. It’s not an every week thing.

And don’t forget, Jesus didn’t just walk around preaching. He performed miracles, hung out with people and gave away a lot of FREE food. 

Bottom line: We need to have a more “whatever it takes” approach to life and ministry instead of doing the “same old thing” and expecting different results. 

What could you do differently for your next event to see extraordinary results? What do you need to change in your life personally to see some change? Have you truly exhausted every opportunity and option to do your part, or are you being stubborn or lazy and just praying that God will do something miraculous?

What happened last Wednesday night was an “Only God” moment. God was the one who brought the students, changed hearts and made the night a success. He gets all the glory. But at the same time, there was an incredible team of people that He used to accomplish the night. Those people get all the credit.

So, thank you volunteer leaders! It’s a honor to serve with you each and every week.

Thank you Parents! It’s a privilege to partner with you to reach and grow your students for Christ.

Thank you students! I pray you continue to catch the vision that life isn’t about you, but is about serving others and inviting others to follow Jesus. Keep it up!

Let’s continue to pray for God to do incredible things in our lives and ministries and work hard to see them happen. Let’s do whatever it takes.

It’s Sunday

It’s Sunday.

You’re tired from staying up late to watch college football games.

You’re bummed because Chick-fil-A is closed.

You’re excited for the first full day of the 2015 NFL season.

You’re…well…maybe you aren’t a football or chicken fan. I know I am! And these 3 things for sure describe my feelings today.

But there’s something more. This Sunday, and pretty much every other Sunday of the year, I get together with other people and attend a church service. I don’t say that arrogantly or to try and make you feel bad if you don’t attend, it’s just what I do. For those who know me might say, “Well of course that’s what you do. It’s your job. You’re a pastor.”

And you’d be right.

However, that’s not the primary reason I go each week, and if I wasn’t on staff I’d still go.

Why?

Because I believe in the church.

I believe in its mission.

I believe its message, the gospel, is the only true hope for the world. 

My life was changed through being a part of a local church.

And I want to be a part of helping others have the same story.

So that’s why I go and I serve.

Maybe you’re already planning to go to a local church this morning.

Or maybe you’ve had a terrible experience in the past with a church. You don’t believe. Or you’re skeptical at best. That’s okay.

It’s Sunday. And that means there are churches that have prayed for you this morning, have planned services with you in mind, and will bring a message of hope that you might just need to hear. I know I do.

So even if you hadn’t planned on it, why not give it a try?

It’s Sunday.

I pray you do.

Zaxby’s, One Penny and a Slap Across the Face

A few weeks ago, Rachel and I were out late and both got a pregnancy craving. So we did what all responsible adults do and made sure that craving was quenched. It just so happened that Zaxby’s was the first restaurant we came to, so we thought “why not?” and pulled into the drive-thru.

I ordered the delicious Wings & Things and Rachel ordered some mouth-watering chicken tenders.

As we pulled up to the window we were greeted by a sweet, I’d guess high school-aged girl. She gave us our total and Rachel handed me some cash to pay with. Not paying too close attention to the differential between our total bill and our cash payment left me surprised when our change was one penny.

That’s right. She handed us the receipt with a single penny. One cent.

Now most people wouldn’t have said anything about that one penny. Maybe you would have tossed it in your change purse or thrown it in the cup holder. Maybe your pocket. Maybe just dropped it on the floor. Because I mean after all, it’s just one penny.

But I’m not most people. It was late and that drive-thru wasn’t getting any more action. And for some reason at that moment I wanted to have some fun. So of course, as Rachel rolled her eyes, I made a small scene.

It went something like this:

Me: “Wow! One penny!? Thank you so much for making sure we got our correct change. I don’t know what we would have done if you’d not given us back our penny.”

Her: [Awkwardly smiling and not sure what to say.] “Ha. You’re welcome?”

Me: “I’m going to make sure this penny goes in a very special place and I’ll never forget this moment.”

Her: “Haha. Okay…I’m so glad.”

Me: “Haha. I’m just messing with you. Thanks for being fun to joke with, doing your job well, and seriously, thanks for the penny!”

Her: [Now realizing I’m not one of those crazy customers (well, maybe I still am), she laughs and enjoys the moment.] “You’re welcome. Have a good night!”

That was it. Nothing too monumental. But more than the normal “Thanks for the food.” with a less than truly grateful look on the customers face.

People are longing to connect with other people. And most people won’t take the initiative. That means it’s up to you. And sometimes it takes being willing to be awkward and going against “normal.”

I learned this first hand from my Dad and one of my mentors in high school. They’ve both never met a stranger and are willing to be awkward to make a connection. And they’re pros at it. So maybe I have a leg up on you because of my upbringing. Regardless, you know what it feels like when someone goes out of their way to make a connection with you. It makes your day. Wouldn’t the world be different if we all focused on connecting with one another?

Years ago I worked at Chick-fil-A and would be placed in the drive-thru window. When people came to pay and receive their food, I’d have a small conversation to just try and brighten their day. Sometimes it went well, sometimes it didn’t. But one thing was for sure: I wasn’t fast. Long story short, it didn’t take long before someone else was working the drive-thru window.

If you’re going to connect with people you have to slow down and take note of the smallest things in life. Laugh at them. And make a moment. Sometimes even with a penny.

As I drove away that night from Zaxby’s, I was reminded of a story in Scripture that basically slapped me across the face. It highlights the significance of “one coin” and is found in Luke 15: 8-10. Here’s what Jesus says:

“Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

You see why I felt slapped across the face? I had been joking about one penny as if it was truly insignificant. And in reality, one penny isn’t a big deal. But when it comes to making a spiritual connection, one life is never insignificant. That was Jesus’ point.

It’s easy for you to see how 1 coin out of 10 is significant if that’s all you have. Jesus is essentially saying that searching for 1 lost coin out of 10 is no more justified than searching for 1 lost person out of billions. So then we can never say “that’s just one penny” or “that’s just one lost person.” He’s passionate about not losing one.

Connecting with people and laughing isn’t bad. That needs to happen and is an end in itself. But the greatest end is connecting people with their greatest need. And their greatest need is a relationship with Jesus. 

So the next time you get a penny as your change, maybe make it awkward, laugh and connect with the cashier. It’s awesome! You have to try it. But don’t forget that that person might very well be like a “lost coin” who needs to be found. Try to bring Jesus into the conversation. It won’t happen every time. And it will be difficult. Don’t beat yourself up. But if you’re able to connect them with Jesus…Celebrate! The angels in heaven will be. Let’s not let them have all the fun!

10 Things I Want Students to Know as they Start the New School Year

Today marks the beginning of the new school year for public school students in Hillsborough county. I live, work and play in this county and according to one of my favorite websites, Wikipedia, Hillsborough County Public Schools is the 9th largest public school district in the entire country. Crazy big!

On top of that, there are thousands of more private, charter, and homeschool students within our county borders, as well as thousands more college students who have already started back.

Pretty overwhelming, huh? Try driving on the roads around here when school lets out. 🙂

Since I work with students, these stats and the reality of the new year got me thinking. So I decided to write a short letter to all those who already have or are starting school today. Here it is.

Dear Students,

It’s that time of year again. Back. To. School. Some of you are indifferent, some of you are excited and others of you are disappointed. Regardless of your emotion, it’s here.

As I prayed for you this morning, it got me thinking: “What would I have wanted someone to say to me if today, August 25, 2015, was my first day back to school?” So I came up with a list of 10 things. Maybe one or more will stick out to you and challenge you as you start the new year.

  1. You are blessed to be able to receive an education. Millions of people all around the world do not have access to the schooling options you have and would give anything to be in your shoes. You have the opportunity to develop your mind. Your mind is incredibly powerful. Don’t see school as a necessary evil. Learn all you can. Don’t take it for granted.
  2. Do your best. Not everyone is an “A” student. That’s okay. But everyone can give their best effort.
  3. You are NOT entitled to good grades or preferential treatment. Life’s not fair. Others will get what they don’t deserve. That’s okay. Trust that hard work pays off and that there is more satisfaction in earning what you have. Don’t be lazy.
  4. Slow down and have fun! Enjoy the moments. Don’t get caught up in comparing yourself to others or their achievements. Enjoy it. Laugh. Cry. Pause. Soak it all in. It will be gone before you know it.
  5. Figure out who you are. This is a life-long, evolving process. If you’re in college, you should be further down the road with this than a middle school student. But start asking tough questions now. What are your strengths? How has God gifted you? Then take classes and pursue a career around “WHO” you are. And always remember, your character is something you decide and incredibly important. Don’t let others tell you who you are. Don’t downplay it. While figuring out “who you were created to be,” make sure “who you are” is someone of high character.
  6. Get to know people who are different from you. Join a random club. Sit with someone new at lunch. Talk to people who look, believe and think uniquely. Learn to just “be” with people and enjoy them.
  7. Live passionately and love boldly. Be different. Don’t settle for mediocrity or blending in with the crowd. Be set apart. Serve other people. Say over and over again “life isn’t about me.”  
  8. Find a small group of friends who accept you for who you are and encourage you in your convictions. Where you end up can often be predicted by who you surround yourself with. Choose your friends wisely. Don’t worry about being the most popular kid or having everyone like you. Pursue good relationships.
  9. Respect and honor your teachers. They didn’t get into teaching to make the big bucks. They got into it because they care about teaching students. Don’t make them regret teaching. Make it their best year yet.
  10. It’s all about Jesus. If you don’t know Jesus, realize that no amount of fun or achievement in this life can fulfill the deepest longing of your soul. All of life will only become less meaningful the older you get without Him. Anyone can begin a relationship with Him. Even you. If you do know Jesus, my challenge for you is to make Him famous in your school. Honor Jesus with the life that you live and don’t let the school year pass without making sure your friends know about Him. Don’t beat them over the head with Bibles or become judgmental. But grow in your relationship with Jesus so much that others can’t help but want what you have. Let Jesus be at the center of your life.

It’s a new year. You future is not hindered by past failures or guaranteed by past success. Today is a new day.

I Believe in you!

Matt