Plowshare

Smoke choking, power pressing,

Fire around, pain within, black, orange,

hot, pliant, sparks, strikes, gray horizon.

Coals, coldness, violent  anvil,

Dark desert, dimming forge.

Hammer, Hammer, hate your sword?

Hammer, Hammer, why strike more?

Burn. Crash. Turn. Quench.

Contact bellows, crashing echoes,

Burn. Crash. Turn. Quench.

When? When? Hope seeks end.

Now? Now? Never, ever?

Strikes again.

Swing! Stroke! Wild, free!

Willing, sharp, ready! Start?

Swing, swing, swing sharp sword!

Bash lies, bring truth,

break world loose! Break world free!

Burn. Crash. Turn. Quench.

Hammer, Hammer, hate your sword?

Hammer, Hammer, why strike more?

Pause.

Swords divide, angry, violent,

Cursing, fighting, piercing, forcing.

No swords making, no swords swinging.

Trust hammer, trust timing,

Blacksmith knows, Blacksmith sees,

Imagination.

Burn. Crash. Turn. Quench.

Metal to fallow, strength for breaking,

Hope in furrows, seeds for sowing.

Burn.

Crash.

Turn.

Quench.

Change.

The Media of God & the Digital Age

For his under-appreciated sci-fi thriller Minority Report, Steven Spielberg gathered together a team of scientists to predict a vision of our technological future. Spielberg used their input to create a gritty world of advanced touch screens, virtual entertainment, and seamless digital gadgetry ranging from smart houses to personalized advertisements in shopping malls.

Beyond the story of the movie, there was a clear message in the tone of the world Spielberg created: The media saturated culture we've created is only going to increase in pressure, availability, and allure. You will be surrounded and assimilated.

The movie released in 2002 and only a decade later, many of the concepts are already a part of our social fabric, and the prediction of an increase in the saturation of media has proven eerily accurate.

In a world of Skyping on holidays with relatives, tweeting with celebrities, wireless in McDonald's, bluetooth in our cars, DVRing whole seasons of TV shows, running our own YouTube channels, the society of Facebook calling our name every minute, and sleek swiss-army-knife phones app-ing our life into ease, what is our reaction as the people of God?

Run away from it all! Get off the grid!  The government and the devil are behind it all!

Don't over-react! Embrace your culture and use it! They're gifts to you!  Stay relevant!

Thoughtful discernment, as usual, is hard, especially when there's no Proverbs that say "The wise only Facebook for a minute, while the fool reads the newsfeed all morning." 

Fortunately, my friend Andrew Byers climbed up TechnoMountain and came down with a balanced, thorough, and God-honoring book entitled TheoMedia: The Media of God and the Digital Age. 

This book is not a blog rant on the ills of social media or a how-to on leveraging technology for your church. Andy's heart is not for us to be equipped with one-liners to use in the digital debates, but to root our paradigm and principles in the media of God. He crafts an understanding of media beyond the individual devices we use, looking more at the character of God and the varied media God uses throughout history to commune with us and reveal His character.

This book is Scripture honoring, Christ revealing, and intellectually satisfying. If you are a church leader in any capacity, I would recommend this book as necessary reading for communicating effectively to a media-addicted culture. Like every other Andrew Byers sermon or writing, it is filled with passionate honesty and a hopeful realism for our future.  

You can purchase the book here on Amazon

Wax & Bottles

Two travelers walk the woods at night. Rain pours through the canopy of leaves, drenching clothes, obscuring sight. They lower their heads, determined to arrive safely at mountain homes. 

One traveler relies on the flashes of lightning to get him home. It comes in spectacular streaks of luminescent brilliance, staggered over time, their patterns matching their intermittent arrivals. The light of lightning inspires a sense of awe every time, and the traveler stands and marvels, eyes seared by the perfect image, a sending from heavenly places, unable to be controlled or explained.

Blind and groping before, the intense flash of pure energy fills his vision with swimming spheres of light, after-images accompanied only by the answering thunder.

For one brief moment, as the bolt arrived, he could see! The world of the woods, with its roots and snarls, its brush and mysteries, illuminated perfectly in searing white! Yet for all that clarity, for all that crisp detail, he now stumbles again, worse than before, the roots and the snarls, no longer framed by lightning, jump from the earth and grab his ankles.

If only he had a bottle, or some container, something to catch the perfect transcendent lightning with so he could carry it with him always, to guide him home. But alas, he does not- - he wanders, tripping, unable to see the woods and wondering, when, oh when, will lightning strike again?

The second traveler reaches into her pocket and pulls out an ugly nub of a candle, wax clumped in misshapen forms, like flooding rivers captured in still as they left their natural beds. She sits on a wet stump, striking well-worn tools with practiced hands, waiting for a sputtering spark to catch the wick of the tiny wand she holds. She does not move from her spot, but simply waits for the ritual to run its course, knowing in time it will light.

It does light, giving birth to the smallest of flames, the dark wick sheltered by cupped hands, growing into a steady but shifting brightness, one she can walk by if she holds her body protectively and does not move too swiftly. Her eyes focus not on the candle itself, but on the ground the light bathes, defining it with detail she never knew in the midnight darkness.

The roots have texture and purpose, twisting and turning like otters at play, feeding the massive trunks above them with food transformed magically from sun, soil, and water. She no longer fears the roots as enemies of her journey, but  delights in their unheralded complexity. . .as she steps over them smoothly.

She continues this pattern, traveling slowly by her faithful and flickering waxy companion, appreciating the wonder of the world as her mountain home grows steadily closer. When it fails her, she finds another stump, sits, works, and waits for the flame to appear again and then proceeds on as before. . .

Two travelers walk the woods at night. One worships the lightning strikes and wanders tripping and cursing through the forest, hoping to arrive at the place he seeks. The other walks in intentional deliberation, by the light of an imperfect but illuminating candle, seeing the woods, marveling in the detail, and approaching a place called home.

Matt O.

Where the Real Wolves Are

Town Hall Meeting of American Churchianity, sometime in 2013:

“I’d like to thank you all for coming this evening. I know you made a lot of sacrifices to be here, but we all know it was necessary,” said the kind, gray-wooled mayor, “I’ll assume you all read the warning in the newspaper?”

The last few sheep wandered into the remaining folding chairs, hooves holding styrofoam cups of heavily creamed coffee. Several seated sheep murmured affirmation to the mayor’s question. Even in the dim lighting of the town hall, anxiety showed on every face, eyes flicking back and forth among the herd, wondering who could be trusted. One freckle-faced lamb, clinging to his mother’s leg, broke the awkward silence and bleated out, “I’m scared about the wolves!”

His statement gathered more reaction than the mayor’s opening question.

“That’s right!”

“We all are!”

“How do we know you’re not a wolf, mayor?”

“I didn’t come here just to be scared all over again!”

 “Yeah! Let’s decide right now who’s in and who’s out!”

Three large claps from the wooden gavel and the crowd settled. The mayor cleared her throat, hooves raised in a posture of calm, like a preacher blessing their congregation.

“The service announcement in the newspaper was not placed by me or anyone in my office,” she said.

Commotion erupted again at this statement, shouts ranging from anger to confusion, but the voice of Baa Baa Black Sheep from the back row carried the room, “Then who did write that announcement?” he asked.

“That’s a great question and one my team and I have tried to figure out,” said the mayor.

“Was it a wolf in sheep’s clothing?” said a voice from the back row.

“That’s where it gets interesting. You see, we’ve been studying the content of this public service announcement for quite some time. Before it appeared in the newspaper, our office has received numerous letters, faxes, and emails warning us about the wolves amongst our very own flock. We believe the animals responsible for the warning in the paper are the same animals who sent the warnings to our office,” said the mayor.

“You’ve been studying it, eh? So which of us is a wolf then?” said one angry sheep.

“I think that’s the wrong question,” said the mayor, “I think the right question is: what is a wolf rather than who is a wolf?”

The flock fell silent at their wise leader’s words. Baa Baa Black sheep again broke the quiet.

“Can we hear your answer to that question?”

“Yes. Yes you may. But I will start with this affirmation: I love you all. I am just a sheep trying to follow the Good Shepherd myself. I have no agenda other than trying to follow His voice and love my fellow sheep. These answers I give you are from that heart, and I hope they point us all in that direction. In my limited studies, the Good Shepherd warns about wolves in sheep’s clothing only once. It’s in His sermon on the mount where He does warn His disciples to watch out for them. But He says the distinguishing way we can identify wolves is by their fruit. In the immediate context of that sermon, I cannot help but think the “good fruit” he meant was the humility and peace-keeping of the beatitudes, the  turn-the-other cheek love of forgiveness, the lack of hatred for enemies, and the contrite prayers of those who desire the rule of Christ. The “fruit” He condemns in the sermon consists of harsh anger, hidden lusts, big talkers, revenge-seekers, religious rulers broadcasting their great deeds, and judgers of other sheep. Right after He mentions these wolves, He says not everyone who seems to be religiously awesome actually knows Him.”

“Hold on a minute, mayor! The way you’re talking right now sounds like wolves are identified by their attitudes and habits and not by their theological differences. The newspaper announcement said the wolves were the ones whose theology was different than mine!” said a portly sheep in the second row.

“I’ll discuss that more in a moment, but yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying. Because that’s what Jesus said. He’s the one that warned about ‘wolves in sheep’s clothing.’ And He’s the one that told us how to recognize them,” said the mayor.

“But don’t we sheep have an obligation to defend the gospel? Isn’t it under attack? The announcement was very clear about that, it even used multiple exclamation points to affirm the severity of the emergency,” asked another sheep.

“How did Jesus defend the gospel? With angry arguments and accusations? He defended the gospel by submitting His privileges and powers to the mercy of the worldly system. His defense was a ‘laying down’, not a ‘standing up’! The Apostle Paul is the only person to use the phrase ‘defense of the gospel’ and he used it while defending the gospel by humbly and graciously submitting to his own unjust arrest!”

“I’m glad you brought up Paul!” shouted a grandpa sheep, his forelegs crossed over his chest, “He clearly says some will arise and distort the gospel!”

“Yes. Distort it how, though, grandfather?” said the mayor, “The Gospel is distorted when it is not communicated with the gentleness and compassion of the Savior who represents in Himself the Gospel itself. The Gospel is distorted when it is no longer about grace but about knowledge. The Gospel is distorted when it is accompanied by acts of arrogance rather than legacies of love. The Gospel is distorted when power isn’t perfected through weakness and suffering but only through position and popularity.”

“But you’re still not giving Paul a fair shake on this,” said grandpa sheep, “He told those Ephesian elders that wolves would come and scatter their flock. And he told them preacher boys Timothy and Titus to watch their doctrine on account of those folks that would twist the gospel!”

“Thanks grandpa, for reminding me of the time Paul mentions wolves. I think it’s important. In that final speech, he calls the gospel the ‘gospel of grace’ and he declares he was always preaching the Kingdom. He also states that these savage wolves would be trying to lure disciples away from their congregation by distorting the truth. Lastly, he prays with those elders, and tears are shed all around because of the deep relational intimacy he shared with that congregation. So I ask the following questions about this passage in regards to identifying wolves: Is their Gospel one of grace or one of exclusion? Is the Kingdom ever mentioned in their gospel or is it all about technical details of an individual belief system? And the supposed wolves out there: are they trying to steal members from your flock or are they just shepherding their flock a little differently than yours?

And I would also ask those who wrote the extreme announcement warning us all of wolves: does your gospel lead you to have close and rich relationships with a diverse group of people? Community where people would mourn your personal absence rather than just your massive influence? Or do you only warn us other sheep of a distorted Gospel from an impersonal tower separated from the smells of the flock?”

The mayor paused, letting her words soak into the harried herd, dear friends she knew by name who had spent all week weighing each other on mental scales. She pulled in a deep breath and resumed her speech.

“As for Timothy and Titus, he repeatedly warned them about divisive people, about those who argue about words and break up the unity in the flock. That is the mark of wolves! Division and devouring! Causing sheep to separate or turn on one another in fear and mistrust. They are the source of controversies! Ask yourself: when did I get paranoid about wolves in sheep’s clothing, when did I begin to accuse my fellow sheep of Gospel distortion? It was when that newspaper announcement appeared! The stated goal of Paul’s command to his young preachers was love, not going on wolf hunts.

The Gospel of Jesus that Paul preached was one of unity, a unity he consistently stressed throughout his letters. The false prophets Paul warned of were guilty of counterfeit miracles and deceptive signs rather than alternate wordings of certain phrases. They were folks spying on the Kingdom community because they wanted to destroy the freedom the disciples found in Christ. Wolves make people into slaves of their particular brand of knowledge!

Lastly, the thief comes to steal, kill, and destroy. I think we make a grave mistake thinking of those evil objectives in material terms. The thief comes to steal, kill, and destroy our relationships. First with our Creator, and secondly with each other. The Good Shepherd’s sheep know His voice and follow Him, experiencing life, life to the fullest, and thus have an otherworldly unity because they follow one Master. Wolves and thieves destroy that beautiful unified life. The Good Shepherd also warned us against the arrogant hypocrisy, hidden greed, and self-righteousness of the religious rulers of His day, calling it a yeast that spreads. This is what we should be on guard against.”

“Whew, mayor! You sure sound like you’re defending things now!” said grandpa.

“Maybe I am. But I don’t think the cross needs more defending, I think it needs more carrying, and that’s what I’m trying to say,” said the mayor.

“Should I still be scared of wolves?” asked the freckle-faced lamb.

“Nowhere does it say we should be afraid of wolves. Fear is of the enemy. We follow the Good Shepherd and He does not run when the wolf appears--nor should we. Should we be on guard against wolves in sheep’s clothing? Certainly, but the way to do that is to pursue more and more the sound of the Shepherd’s voice. A voice of life, unity, grace, humility, and compassion. When you hear something that doesn’t sound like that, ignore it and just keep nibbling the grass right in front of you with the sheep already around you.”

“Who do you think wrote that announcement, was it wolves in sheep’s clothing?” asked Baa Baa.

“At best I surmise it was sheep in sheepdog’s clothing, and at worst, wolves in Shepherd’s clothing,” she answered.

“Thanks, mayor. Your words were helpful,” said grandpa, “I make a motion we adjourn the meeting. All in favor?”

“AYE!”

“Opposed?”

sheep and wolves.jpg

Even If You Were Perfect, Someone Would Crucify You

Many summers ago I met a youth pastor at Crossroads Summer Camps who watched over a flock of excited and unique teenagers, many of whom did not know Jesus or only recently believed in him. The youth pastor explained the heart of their ministry and their passion for helping teenagers understand the love of God. His name was Rob Shepherd and he became a dear friend and someone I admired for not only saying spiritually healthy things but living by them as well. During our busy prep season, Rob used to send the Crossroads staff a fun care package full of candy and knick-knack toys. After he planted a church and became a HEAD PASTOR we never received anymore candy which is in keeping with strict reverend protocol. In addition to being a former youth pastor, planting his own church, and keeping a blog, Rob and I also have in common the release of our first books this summer. Here's an interview I did with him for you to get to know him and so I could support a fellow first-time author I believe in:

Tell us about your calling to be in vocational ministry: when and how did it develop and what led you to planting a church?

When I was a junior in high school I attended a very boring summer camp. I don’t remember anything the speaker said. God didn’t move in my life. I zoned out completely the entire week until the last sentence on the last night. The speaker did an alter call for anyone being called to ministry. I don’t have a fat clue why my brain zoned in at that moment but after I heard him a still small voice in my head said, “This is what you are going to do for the rest of your life.” I hope that still small voice was God. It was still and small but really loud at the same time. That probably makes no sense but that’s what it was. I told that voice no. I didn’t want to go into ministry. I had zero interest in it. Over the next year the voice wouldn’t leave me alone. I finally surrendered and haven’t looked back since. I’ve been paid to work at a church since I was 18 years old. As far as the church planting thing goes I felt like God was leading me. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was supposed to help people take their faith to the Next Level. I felt led to try and create something that would help people fall madly in love with Jesus, learn to love people, and to make a real difference in the world by serving. So that’s what we are now trying to do.

What is your vision or paradigm for your church? What has surprised you the most during the church planting process?

Great question! Our vision is to love Jesus, love people, and make a difference. We want churched people to become disciples. We want the lost to become found. We want everyone who becomes a part of our church to be an owner and not a spectator by rolling up their sleeves and doing the work of ministry. That’s our vision. As far as the thing that surprised me, I was shocked that we started out with as many people as we did. My plan was to start in a house. I did one blog post letting people know what we are doing and from that we had 96 people show up to an interest meeting. From there we had 60 people commit to start the church and one person commit to be a full time staff member for free. She still runs our admin to this day and is a HUGE life saver because admin is my kryptonite. From there we met for 8 weeks doing vision meetings. Since then we’ve grown to 150 hired a full time worship pastor and had an awesome Director of Preschoolers and Kids commit to work full time for free. These people are unlike anything I’ve experienced in ministry. It’s wicked awesome!

When did the itch to write a book develop? What was the most rewarding part of the writing process for you? The most difficult?

The itch started about five years ago. I wanted to write a book, but I didn’t know how. I also need deadlines in my life so not having one helped keep this a dream and not a reality. I connected with a guy I met through Twitter who just happened to own his own publishing firm. That lead to a lunch and then I got my deadline to write. The most rewarding part was working with others. I love to write but stink at grammar. I had friends and family proof the book, give ideas, and read it before I sent it to the publisher. The most difficult part was the admin side of the book. I loved writing it but once it was written I wanted to be done with it. It was hard going over and re-writing etc.

Give us the “elevator pitch” for you book, the condensed summary that grabs our attention:

As a Christian I want to live for Jesus, but so often I fall to a deep seeded desire to please people. This book is my story of how I started going down the road of caring more about what Jesus thought about me than people.

Who do you think your book is written for? What kind of impact would you like it to have?

It was written with Christians in mind. Specifically my fellow people pleasers. I would love for whoever reads the book to fall more in love with Jesus. That might sound broad, but I really want whoever gets their hands on this book to find something that makes them laugh and think and then fall in love with Jesus.

Why do you think we as people struggle with transparency and vulnerability so much?

I know for me it’s because I want people to like me. Fear tells me that if anyone sees the real me they will judge me. What I have found is the complete opposite. When we are real people actually respect it and then open up about their struggles as well. I might get judged for this but I actually learned this from watching the TV edited version of the movie 8 mile. Notice I said TV version so Christians won’t judge me too hard. I’m still a recovering people pleaser. I digress. In the film Eminem wins a rap battle by taking away all of his competitions ammunition about himself. He was real and honest and then he dropped the mic like a boss. It inspired me to be real. To be me. To let people see some of my flaws so that they can help me become more like Jesus. Ultimately I’m not interested in having a fake me that’s awesome but a real me that stinketh. I went King James on you there. Sorry. I want my life to look the same no matter where I’m at or who is looking. I want to know who I am in Jesus.

Do you think the Lakers should just tank this next season and get a high draft pick as well as having an insane amount of free agent cash? Do you think it is in Kobe’s DNA to actually tank? Will he pass Kareem’s scoring title? And more importantly, will he get his 6th ring?

Matt, this is a tough one for me. I’ve been a Lakers fan since I was in the third grade. I can’t imagine they would just tank. They have no draft picks next year and I can’t imagine Lebron isn’t going to become a Laker. So basically I think they are going to try to do as good as they can this year and pull in some close to All-Star caliber players to get Kobe his sixth. It wouldn’t surprise me if at the trade deadline they landed someone that can do what Pau did for them years ago. They were in 8th place when he became a Laker and ended up playing in the Finals. I don’t think Kobe can pass Kareem. He would have to play for too long and age isn’t on his side.

You and your wife have twin children.  Is it true you’re raising one of them to be a Celtics fan because you like a little more drama around the house?

Matt, you are funny. NO! But God does have a sense of humor by making almost every one of my close friends a Celtics fan. They sure do put a lot of pressure on my kids to go to the dark side.

Tell me what it means to “thaugh.”

One of my blog readers said that’s what I make him do. It’s the combination of the words think and laugh. I liked it so much that it became one of the tag lines for my blog.

Best summer movie you’ve seen so far or one you’re most looking forward to.

I think I’ve seen all the ones I was looking forward to. Before the summer started I was really amp’d to see Man of Steel, Star Trek, Iron Man 3, and Monsters University. The movie that I was surprised to like as much as I did was World War Z. I was shocked that it was as good as it was. I was pretty disappointed by Man of Steel and Iron Man and I never thought that would become my favorite.

You can order Rob’s book, Even If You Were Perfect Someone Would Crucify You, at this link.

Things Jesus Never Said

"Well done my good and successful servant!" 

"Follow me only when you understand completely what I'm doing and absolutely know where you're going." 

"Suffering and evil are pretty simple to understand and explain if you're smart enough." 

 "You're right! If you were more like them, I would love you more!"

 "Believers should never doubt."

"I'm vegan." 

"Blessed are the debaters and arguers, for theirs is the Kingdom of Rightness." 

"All dogs go to heaven and all women stay at home." 

"Vengeance is yours."

 "If you can just figure the One Big Thing you're supposed to do, you'll arrive at the Perfect Faith that all the real saints have."

"Science is silly." 

"To truly know how great my love is for you, you must constantly remember how terrible your life would be without My Awesomeness. And if you forget, I'll remind you what a worm you were." 

"Tolerate your neighbor as you tolerate yourself."

"Take my yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am wild at heart." 

"People reap what they sow, and sometimes you need to be the reaper."

"Verily, verily, I say unto you, vote Republican." 

"All authority in heaven and earth has been given to Me. Therefore go and get as many people as possible wearing my T-shirts and singing my songs." 

"By this will all people know you are my disciples, if you can articulate the mysteries of God better than those people."

"My followers will all look the same and sound the same and smell the same throughout all of History." 

"Before I heal you, what have you done to deserve this healing?" 

"Loving your enemies means rooting for them to get theirs." 

"But small is the heart and narrow-minded the road that leads to life, and only the stubborn find it." 

"If you are really good wheat, you will spend most of your time looking for weeds and trying to pull them out with all your might." 

"PCs? Muhahaha! God only uses Macs." 

"Whoever would be my disciple must vehemently deny any other version of following Christ other than their own." 

"I like to take long walks on the beach, carrying really heavy church people through all the drama in their lives." 

 "Therefore, whoever is the most cynical is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven."

"Great leaders don't wash feet, they surround themselves with feet-kissers." 

"The true worshippers will worship the Father in Hymns and Hillsong." 

"I pledge allegiance to the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands." 

"If you're born in America, you should feel very guilty when you enjoy life." 

"What are those called? Crocs? Where can I get a pair?" 

"Can I be your co-pilot?" 

"For God so needed more glory for Himself that He forced His Son to pay for the ridiculously worthless humans' debt so that whichever of His chosen few were forced to understand His meticulous theology about Himself would not be destroyed in unmitigated wrath, but would be able to experience an everlasting life of discovering His preordained decisions for their lives."

Huge Thanks to All These Kickstarter Backers

These names represent the community of folks responsible for the publication of my first book and are in no apparent order. Thank you all for your affirming support and for not all giving legitimate names.

Anna Blanton - Paul - Tony "Buckets" Delk - Vince Oliveri - Hunk Solesbee - Kevin Bui - Joshua Canova - Rrrrrrodriguez! - Zak James - Rat Stick - The Pizzos - Doc Billups - Tracy Combs - Kyle Sisk -Michael Alsop - Stephen Rabon - Matty O. Rocks - Caleb Thornley - Michael Laffey - Rev. Chris Breslin - Jacob - James Mauney - Flapjacks - Jessica Greer - David C. Dunham - Berdy - The Real Brian Cason - Jess "Moze" & Ryan "The Great Hambino" Kelly - Bro Brent - Amanda Leigh Brown - Rachel - Andy & Miranda Byers - Alma Laurent - Anna - Maryanne - Rory - Team Overholt - George - Brittany - Hardcore - Scott Waechter - Jill Daughtry - Tony Martinez - Champ - Joshy - Erin Dalton - Dan - Zach Dickson - JayBunn-izzle - Cody - lil Wayne - DT - Anna Sheehan - Mom and Dad - Mark Collins - Martha Flowers - Seriously, Martha Flowers twice! - Kim Family - Chuck and Tania Scott - Sapaughs - Amy Sandusky - Harris Family - Zeleski - Donald 'farming grounds you' Eslick - Brandon Varner -Hannah Vaughn - Craig McClellan - Elliott Jones - Becky Wood - Holz - B-Rizzle - Meghan Gillis - Erin Spruell - Han Solo - Harry Potter - Jake Borem - Ryan and Brittany Etheridge - Kelly - Darla - Brian Cason - Taylor Doo - JSage - Beth and Scott - Dan G - Jane and Andrew Woods - Lindsay Brown - T.J. Chesnut - Jacob & Heather - Bailey and Kyle Wilkinson - Matt R. AKA "The Renfer" - Greg, Ashley & Baby Wells - Ryun Forsman - Maggie Bozovich - John Clay - Natalie Anderson - #freeman4 - Natalie Davis - Clan Vena - Clan Defranza - Clan Stevens - DLee & Alisha - Daniel "DC" Lipford - Derick "Lebron of Youth Pastors" Shepherd - Taylar Thomas - Brianna - Team Loftus - The Laurents - Jay Becker - Karate Jones - President Dan Seaman - Pelagius

Early Reviews: Questions of a Curious Nature

Hey everyone! We are blessed and excited around Orth Lodge! Folks keep sending in their early reviews of the book, and the responses are something! Check them out:

“I’m just glad Matthew finally completed a creative project. When he was growing up, our house was a graveyard of half-finished macaroni trees, 12 syllable haikus, and bird houses with no holes.” Matt’s Mom

“Matt calls himself a pastor and a writer. I call him unemployed.” Matt’s Dad

“KITTY! KITTY! KITTY! MEEEOOWW!” Matt’s toddler daughter

“Matt O. reminds me of a modern-day magician shepherd. In fact, other than myself, he’s by far my favorite wizard.” Gandalf

“I resent that.” Dumbledore

“How do you think I feel?” Harry Potter

“I hate you all.” Merlin

“I killed a Philistine rugby team with this book. By paper cuts.” Samson

“Every table in our store used to wobble until we wedged all those free, perfectly-sized books from Matt Orth under them.” Starbucks Manager, Gaffney, SC

“Finally! A heroine with intelligence and wit! A woman whose passion is for God and not a romance with the local Amish farmer or Puritan sheriff! Look out Redeeming Love! Questions of a Curious Nature is gunning for you!” Women Everywhere

“It’s weird and we don’t get it.” State of Alabama

“I was promised a steady boyfriend and a pack of Twinkies if I said something about so-and-so’s book.” Taylor Swifft

“I beleeb this is the best book ever.” Justin Beeber

“No pictures. Pastor sad.” Marc Driscoll

“We’re still voting on whether or not we’re offended. If I was a betting man, which I am clearly not, I would go all-in on us being royally offended.” Southern Baptist Convention

“Love it, I did.” Yoda

“This wasn’t the book I was looking for.” Stormtrooper #2

“Maintaining a consistent meta-narrative while juxtaposing a satirical tone with paradigmatic kerygma, Orth navigates the evangelical milieu expertly, weaving his motley cacophony of characters into an allegorical brew worth relishing.” Chewbacca

“You’re pretty much the worst steward of resources ever if you don’t invest 12 bucks into this book.” Dave Ramsee

“I have two weaknesses: putting this book down and Kryptonite.” Man of Steel

“Superman is a pansy.” Batman

“I make a motion everyone reads this book. Second? All in favor?” Robert’s Rules of Order

“Ladies, if you want a shot with me, you gotta read this book.” Tim Teebo, said from a kneeling position somewhere in New England

“This book goes great with Dunkin’ Donuts.” Everyone

"We need more love and grace in the world, and this book is a step in that direction." Papa Smurf

"It's the smurfiest!" Pope Francis

Thanks to everyone for their glowing endorsements. Apologies to Jon Piper, the Apostle Paul, and Celine Dion for not including your comments, but space was limited!

Be looking for the book in late June! Here's a sneak peek at the cover:

Trial and Error

My family recently went on a vacation road trip to Boston, MA and stayed with dear friends in the nearby community of Beverly. Rocks, trees, and harbor towns basking in the May weather accompanied our jaunt around the historical sites. We sipped tea at the site of the Boston Tea Party, stopped by Paul Revere's house and successfully went whale watching off the coast. Beverly is also close to Salem, the town made infamous for its witch trials in the late 17th century. Not on our original itinerary, we stopped by and noticed immediately the distinct vibe of the landmark town.

Salem completely oriented its identity around its historical association with witches. Folks dressed in pointy hats and black capes traipse around on the streets, some for pure entertainment, others offering spells and encounters with your future. People around the world call it Witch City, and flock there every Halloween on pilgrimage. Most of the mall stores have some kind of witchcraft or occult connection both in name and product, often utilizing a terrible pun. Even the logo on the police cars contains a female witch riding a broom. Our local friends informed us a popular term for the concentration of witch memorabilia is "witch kitsch." A name I found extremely apt.

Guess what I didn't find?

Puritans.

Nary a Puritan anywhere. I did not go door to door asking for Puritans, and had I showed a little gumption, I'm sure I could've found a solitary gentlemen reading the  King James' Bible and packing a blunderbuss. But clearly the Puritans were not victorious in the battle for cultural supremacy in Salem.

The Salem Witch Trials are frequently, and rightly, used as a cautionary tale to the dangers of insular thinking, unquestioned power, and religious fanaticism. People today often employ the term to describe any situation where people in power appear to persecute a minority group without much evidence.

The easiest application of the Salem errors to our current culture is how quickly we make conclusions about a person's character when we listen to a 30 second blurb on our favorite news station. We have a tendency to judge when we are not only absent of all the facts but do not have any sort of relationship with the persons involved or any vested presence in their community. But I'm not interested in that application, though our mentality in the arena of public opinion could use some major surgery . . .

The Puritans acted out of a desire to eradicate evil, a convincing motive and position when verbalized with passion. A perspective still held today by those who name themselves conservatives. We could debate the applicability of the Old Testament verses about witchcraft and the occult, but I'd rather look for insight from the Author of our faith, and the image of the invisible God.

Jesus did not instruct us to judge our enemies but to love them, serve them, and pray for them. He didn't condemn the demon-possessed; He was full of compassion for them. The young girls having seizures and other bizarre health issues caused the powers-that-be to assume Evil was manifesting under their watch. The Us vs. Them mentality of paranoia and judgment ran like a fever through the populace, accusations flying faster than broomsticks, and a few conversations later, 19 people were dead by hanging.

300 years later, the very thing the Puritans thought they were destroying is thriving exponentially.  Lord, help us to remember that shining our lights not winning cultural fights is our calling, Love is personal action not victorious legislation, and darkness is defeated by compassion not persecution. In fact, darkness may be multiplied by the very efforts to stamp it out-- an irony we should be quick to recognize.

Matt O.

Jesus is Not a Rockstar

This is a blog about what Jesus is not. . .not a blog about what other preachers may or may not be (Just a brief word to those of you expecting something else. . .)

Have you ever met someone famous? Or remotely famous?

Did it go the way you imagined it?

Pretending this famous person is your favorite musician/band, I imagine it went something like this:
You bought tickets to see them, spending more than you usually do on entertainment.
Surprisingly, you saw the musician in public, completely available for fans to meet, maybe after the concert for autographs or at a restaurant before or after the show.
You gather the nerve to engage them, and you approach, words forming in your worshipful mind, as your eyes register what they really look like up close. . .
Wow they look way rougher than I thought, OK, don't mess this up, don't say anything stupid, wow, wow, I can't believe I'm actually getting to do this. . .

And out from the mental portal known as the mouth comes some combo of the following:

"Hey, I'm a big fan. I love your music."
"You're so awesome. I've followed you forever."
"I have everything you've ever done, even the hard to find live stuff. Don't worry it's all been legal."
"I still have a pick you threw into the crowd when I was in 7th grade."
"Can we get a picture with you?"
"Will you sign_____________?"
"That was a great show."
"Thanks for making great music." 
"I'm from Rhode Island too!"
"I love you I love you I love you so much!!"

After your initial contact, they say something gracious and practiced (unless you interrupt them as they bring a bite of broccoli to their mouth, in which case it goes to Awkwardsville real quick.) They give some combo of these kind of statements:

"Hey thanks. We really appreciate the support."
"Awesome. Who should I sign this to?"
"Of course. YOU are awesome."
"We have the best fans. It's why we do what we do."
"Oh yeah, Cleveland always rocks."
"Thanks for the support. We have a new record coming out soon."
"Excellent. Are you on our email list?"
"Thanks so much for coming out."
"Rhode Island. Sweet. Where at?"
"Well, I love you too."

If you're lucky and you set them up well in conversation, or wore a homemade T-shirt with flashing glowsticks, you might get a few more seconds of airtime and interaction, but inevitably, The Pause happens. . .the moment when you both know the brief collision of your worlds is over. And for the fan, it was too brief, but for them it was one more random connection in a bottomless pool of faceless interactions, an affirming moment objectively assimilated into their matrix of what it means to be adored.

Nothing particularly awesome or witty or insightful happened. No phone numbers or home addresses were exchanged. Your short dialogue didn't convert them into one of your texting buddies. Your families still never share picnics on Sunday afternoons, lying on blankets in the sun discussing the beauties of the universe. . .

But you did get a story, a moment when you met someone Famous, an anecdote you can pull out the next time someone says "Oh I love_________!"
"I got to meet them. The lead singer signed my larynx! And he was eating broccoli! With a fork!"

When I listen to the way many people talk about Jesus, particularly younger folks, they talk about Jesus like He's a Rockstar.

They describe some moment they had with Jesus (but usually they say God and not Jesus) at some event, where for one brief moment they got to see Him, and IT WAS SO AWESOME. And when God's name comes up, they pull out a story from some event and speak of the moment they got to encounter the famous God.

Fans that follow bands will debate the awesomeness of certain shows and concerts, compare band members and set lists, and dissect the legitimacy of alternate versions of tunes for hours and hours in conversations and on message boards.
"Oh, ____________'s vocals rocked so much harder at that festival in '09!"
"You had to be there. Sweet venue, great sound. Best ever."
"Since they got ____________ as a drummer, it's just not the same."

The way some of us talk about God and His awesomeness is similar to these discussions--God tied to an event and a brief encounter you had with Him, an encounter ending when the venue closes, and all you have is a story to blurt out when His name comes up.

I know there is a popular book out now called Not a Fan that stresses the idea of us being followers of Christ rather than fans. I don't think I'm re-tooting the author's horn here, nor going down the path he does. I think believers are both followers and friends of Christ. My bigger point is Jesus is not some Rockstar we only get to worship from afar, being satisfied with intermittent encounters with Him at special moments.

I don't think He died and rose again so we could have awkward moments in the autograph line with Him, not knowing what to say, but being completely satisfied we have a story for our friends which is verifiable on Facebook by a grainy pic of our arms around Him. 
"Hey thanks Jesus, you rock!"
He is the opposite of the Rockstar: you are not some faceless entity He interacts with as long as you affirm His gifts, moving you along quickly so He can meet all His fans. He is Immanuel, God with us, but we transform Him into God on stage. He doesn't exist to entertain you by giving you your latest sensational buzz--He exists in a goodness He freely shares in Christ, a goodness not contained in isolated moments on mountaintops but a Presence with you in all of Creation.

I think He died and rose again so we can know Him. Not just know about Him and not just adore Him from a distance. Not just meet Him but walk with Him. Redemption and Reconciliation mean we can discuss the beauties of the universe with Him lying on blankets but we also can walk through valleys with Him, intimate and personal, hopeful and trusting. We don't have personal trust with Rockstars, we only have a separated appreciation.

This is good news, this is great news, this is Gospel. This is what we live, sharing the eternal shine of the King who leads us from the inside-out.

If Jesus set up a table in your church to sign autographs, what would you do?
What would you say?
You know what I would do?

Nothing.

I already know Him.

And He knows me. I say that gratefully and as an invitation for you to experience the same.
He'd probably laugh if I asked Him to sign my bible--oh wait, I would probably get in line to do that--just so I could hear the King of the Universe laughing. . .

RockstarJesus.jpg

Father & Son Faith

"Father Abraham had many sons! Many sons had Father Abraham!
I am one of them and so are you! So let's just Praise the Lord!
Right arm! Left Arm! Right. . ."

I hear the children yell-singing along with me as we act out the motions to the simple melody. The intricacies of Galatians and Romans, the covenants of circumcision and grace, and the fulfillment of both law and promise the furthest things from our minds. We are hyper and alive in Children's Church today, delirious with an environment that allows us to shout the joy of being God's Chosen while marching in place like tiny, silly soldiers.

"I AM ONE OF THEM AND SO ARE YOU! SO LET'S JUST PRAISE THE LORD!"

The truth that I can be a child of the blessing, one of the counted stars of the uncountable galaxy, a cherished grain of sand in the endless beaches of God's grace, comforts me often when I doubt my identity and position in Christ and His world. I probably should do a crazy little dance with my friends more often as we project our voices triumphantly, spinning around in amazement.

Yet sometimes I feel like old Father Abraham himself. . .
I pack up and leave the confines of the familiar, walking in lands not my home. . .
I cozy up to my bride participating in the sacred, intimate act, struggling to trust against common wisdom that the Lord's Word remains solid. . .
I saddle up the donkey headed to a mountain where my greatest fears wait for me. . .

What faith! How awesome! The Lord provides! So let's just praise the Lord!

But I also watch my servant work and see not just a female but a contingency plan, a way for me to bring about the Lord's wishes in my own way, in my own time. . .

And I am not just Abraham's son, I am the son of Sarah, laughing when I get a glimpse of what the Lord's plans might be, sprinkling in some (un)holy sarcasm for my own enjoyment, and rolling my eyes when my husband of promise stares at me with the eyes of the young. . .

I am the twin of Isaac as well, tramping along dutifully, doing the math in my head, asking Father where the sacrifice might be, except I ask quite a few times more than young Ike, and wonder what bonds I would let my dad tie me with, and whether I would lie still on the altar as his sun-spotted hands raised the killing blade. . .

So let's just praise the Lord!

Just praise the Lord--as I walk in my schizophrenic faith, my multiple personalities of Abraham, Isaac, and Sarah keeping the silent donkey company as we walk, waves of trust crashing into walls of doubt, steps of obedience tripping as they tango with sexier options.

Did Abraham have white knuckles as he gripped the rope guiding his beast of burden and trust?
Did Sarah allow hope to peak through the clouds of cynicism when Abraham placed his head on her chest and murmured the creed of promise given decades before?
Did Isaac feel pride in his dad's unwavering gaze towards the mountain even as he naively followed with arms full of wood meant to be burned under his own body?

When we are asked to fully trust God, we are still fully human no matter how much we shout the praises of the Lord. He asks us to follow Him, not to cease being human, and most of the time the following slogs through swamps where both faith and doubt reside. Maybe fixing our eyes on Christ in those moments has nothing to do with sight but with the ability to remember Gethsemane, whispering not-my-will-but-yours prayers in the midst of cups full of anguish.

Or maybe we need to stop praying and thinking so much, put down our Bibles, power down the blogs and just start swinging right and left arms, and start stomping right and left feet, as we spin around screaming our defiant trust that we really are children of the Good Father. . .

Matt O.