Why I’m Taking a Blog Sabbatical

Over the past year, I’ve made a point of blogging at least once a week. I enjoy writing, and this blog provides me with that outlet, along with a chance to connect with friends and readers on a regular basis.

At least once a year, though, I try to take a short break from blogging. Doing so allows me to rest, but also to read and to learn. One danger of always creating new content is that after awhile one’s output can exceed one’s input. When that happens, there’s not much left to say. For that reason, I won’t be regularly posting until at least July and this “blogging sabbatical” might extend to August.

In the meanwhile, there are two projects I want to focus on. The first and most important one is prayer and preparation for Grace’s third campus, where I will be the teaching pastor. We have a lot to do, and I want to spend the necessary time making sure my heart and mind are ready for this huge transition. The second priority for me is to consider what direction I want to take my writing in the next few years. I’m increasingly captivated by the grace of God in Jesus, and over the years this blog has moved more and more in the direction of exploring that grace in writing. As I’ve seen that theme emerging naturally in my writing, I want to consider how to focus things even more specifically. But I need to step away from the self-imposed demand of regular blogging in order to do that.

I imagine that I’ll still be writing here and there, and I might even put up the occasional post. But it won’t be on a weekly basis for the time being. On my Facebook page, I’ll periodically post links to older posts, along with short reflections and ideas.

I look forward to connecting with readers again toward the end of the Summer and into the Fall. 

Matt

The Hero

In his mind’s eye, he sees a younger man, although the mirror presents a different image. The mirror makes clear the passage of time and offers no shelter from the reality of age.

He isn’t troubled by the graying hair or the deepening lines around his eyes, but sometimes he’s troubled that they tell a story divergent from the one he had planned. The younger man never considered the years beyond 30. It wasn’t that the timeline stopped at that age, but that it simply grew dark. 35, 40, 45, 50, and beyond…those were the ages of parents and grandparents. Those days held no clear place in the narrative he wrote for himself.

With 30 more than a few years behind him, he’s adjusting to a new story.

He was a hero in his old story, much like the heroes he admired. He knew in his bones that at 30, the world would be his. Or at least the small slice of it that he hoped to occupy. He saw others who seemed to have it made by then. They were angry, talented young men, men whose footsteps shook the earth and left a wide imprint. People listened to those men, and the younger man knew he would be one of them.

But he didn’t have their talent. Or perhaps he didn’t have their anger. Maybe his story just moved in a different direction, each chapter introducing new characters and new twists that interfered with the story he had constructed. His story is far earthier than the one he dreamed about as a younger man. His is the life of a mortal: learning to love God, to love a woman, to support his children, to work hard when nobody is paying attention, to love his neighbor as himself.

Noble, quiet, and hardly earth-shaking.

The lines on his face and the gray in his hair trace the appearance of unexpected joys and pains, and he realizes that the story shaped him more than he shaped the story. His footprints landed differently than he thought they would, and he knows that he’s a character in Somebody else’s story, rather than its Author.

Success and significance appear to him differently now, and he is learning that the widest footprints aren’t always the deepest. He knows that 30 was only a beginning, even for those angry young men he once admired. Some of their stories ended badly, others ended well, and many others are still being written. Never judge a story while it’s still a work in progress.

He sees now that the world can be changed by a million ordinary men who choose to follow the steps of the One Hero for whom the earth truly shakes. He no longer hopes to leave his own massive footprints, but instead to trace the steps of His Savior, one after another, until he sees Him face to face.  As his story closes one day, he may just turn around and find a few others following him as he follows His Hero. But he figures he has a few years to go before then. 30 was just a beginning.

This is a new story, smaller than the one he planned, but somehow richer and more beautiful. He smiles at the mirror and steps into a new day.

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Mom is the Glue

Last year, I wrote a post for Father’s Day about the life lessons I’d learned from my dad. Writing a post about my mom is harder in some ways. It’s not that I learned less from her than from my dad. Instead, it’s that the things I learned from her are so much a part of the warp and woof of my life, it’s often hard to consciously reflect upon them.

To put it simply, my mom has always been the glue of our family, a sort of spiritual force holding us all together. Our ideas about God and family and relationships often originated from the tone she set in our home. She held us together more with the force of her character and her actions than with her words, although she taught us with words when necessary. More than that, though, she modeled what it means to love God and others in the context of daily life.

I learned to think deeply about God from my dad, but I think I learned to love Him from my mom. She knew how to connect God’s Word to the daily struggles of life. She taught my brothers and me to be unashamed in identifying with Jesus.

Because she believed that the church is God’s hope for the world, she actively volunteered and worked at church. We spent a lot of time there, not out of a sense of legalistic obligation, but because she loves the church and wanted us to love it also. And all of us still do. I’m the only one of her sons who works at a church, but my brothers and their families love the body of Christ as much as I do. Mom taught us to see church as an extension of our relationship with Christ rather than as just another activity.

Mom taught us about joy and laughter. My kids sometimes roll their eyes at the silly songs I compose around the house, songs about making their beds or doing the dishes. They say they don’t like those little songs, but they always say it with a laugh. I said the same thing when my mom sang them — I was embarrassed or felt awkward and please could she stop? Today, all I remember about them is the laughter.

She didn’t only laugh at her own jokes. She laughed at ours, and encouraged us to be creative and funny and joyful. I remember stepping out of the car once on a very windy day. I could hardly stay upright and my hair must have been standing on end. I looked at Mom and jokingly shouted, “Auntie Em! Auntie Em!” Mom laughed at my dumb joke, until she nearly cried with laughter.

When I preach, people sometimes comment on my humorous illustrations. Mom was my first receptive audience. She taught me that life is too serious not to laugh. Laughter is a gift from God, a grace that soothes the pain of a fallen world. 

I learned from her that you can find joy and comfort even in the midst of failure, and that losing isn’t as bad as refusing to try. In 3rd grade, I made it to a county-wide spelling bee. I lost in the final rounds by misspelling a relatively simple word, one I should have known. Later that night my mom presented me with a poem she had composed about my adventures in the spelling bee and how brave I was. My dad told me to treasure it, since she rarely wrote in verse. In fact, I still have the poem. It reminds me that we learn as much from failure as from success, and that life is boring if you only play games you are certain to win.

I’ll end with this: I learned from my mom that love really is the glue that binds families together. And love isn’t always dramatic or loud. Usually it means being present and available. Despite having three sons and seven grandchildren, she rarely misses a significant milestone. She and my dad travel around the state and country to be there for birthdays, class presentations, soccer games, and other events. She calls me and my wife when she knows something important is going on, just to let us know she’s praying. She learned to text and use social media, largely so she could view and share pictures of her family.

As I’m sure is true with many moms, her love for our family is a reflection of the love of God. When I say I learned to love God from my mom, I think I really mean that I learned how much He loves me. It’s a gift that’s hard to quantify, but one for which I’m forever grateful.

Happy Mother’s Day!

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We Stand and Stare at Our Hands

“For the joy of the Lord makes us sleep!”

OK, those aren’t actually the words to the song. It seems that way, though, when we sing about raising our hands or bowing down to God while we stand motionless, staring into space. Why are we so hesitant to worship God with our bodies? Many of us fear coming across as Charismatic or crazy in church, but we have no such inhibitions later in the day when the Cowboys game comes on (or earlier in the weekend when we’re watching the Aggies).

I’m a naturally reserved person, at least when it comes to physical expressions of emotion. And I, like many of my readers, grew up in a church environment that generally frowned on hand-raising (for fear that it might be distracting to others).

As I read the Scripture, though, I’m struck by the fact that worship is a “whole-person” exercise. We worship with our minds, bodies, and spirits, because God owns every part of us. David danced before the Lord, even though his wife thought he was crazy (2 Samuel 6:14-23). She may have been right, David may have been crazy, but it apparently was a lunatic God was looking for. (Yes, I just paraphrased Billy Joel in a post about worship). God valued David’s worship, even when others found it offensive.

Read the Psalms and you’ll find that worship involves lifting hands (Psalm 63:4), clapping hands (Psalm 47:1), dancing (Psalm 150:4), bowing down (Psalm 95:6) and shouting (Psalm 81:1). For us dispensationalists, it’s not just the Old Testament that encourages whole-self worship. Paul tells Timothy that men everywhere should pray while “lifting holy hands” (1 Timothy 2:8). Paul says he “bows his knee” before God (Eph 3:14). I don’t think that’s metaphorical.

I know we need to be sensitive to others in the corporate worship context. If your church is very reserved, you won’t change anything for the better by dramatically running to the front and rolling on the floor. Part of worshiping together is being concerned with how the people around you are feeling. Some of you probably need to dial it down a few notches and use your mind as well as your body.

On the other hand, many of us refrain from worshiping God with our bodies. We say we’re simply contemplative people who like to just think about the songs. We don’t worship God with our bodies because we’re too intellectual, as if smart people are incapable of love. For those of you who are married, ask yourself how that line of thinking would go over with your spouse. “I’m not really the hugging or kissing type. I’d rather just think about how great you are.” You might legitimately be less physically affectionate than somebody else, but love always involves the body as well as the mind and the spirit. That’s true in romance, and it’s true in worship. 

Part of worshiping corporately is finding that sweet spot where we can worship God with our whole selves, while taking into consideration the needs of others.

So here’s a challenge for those of you who are more reserved: Next time you sing a song about raising your hands or bowing down to God, do what you’re singing about. You don’t have to go crazy. You can raise your hands just a little at first and keep them by your hips. If you feel adventurous, bring them to chest level. I dare you.

One day we will worship God with our bodies, minds and spirits. We’ll bow down to Him (Phil 2:10-11). We’ll wave palm branches and shout praises in a loud voice (Rev 7:9-10). Might as well start worshiping Him now with everything we have, body, mind, and spirit.

 

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