What are you gonna do? Shock the world.

In my post about Todd Bussey’s influence on my life, I said that he will probably shock the world in Florida. That was intentional.

Here’s why…

Shock the WorldIn high school, my summers were pretty jam-packed. Thanks to Scouting, we had a trek at Philmont and Summer Camp to look forward to. Marching band consumed many days and nights as we tried to put together a top-notch show that would (hopefully) rival those of Castle and Reitz. And our family would always squeeze in a family vacation during the Summer, too.

It was wall-to-wall action with little downtime. And it was just the way I liked it.

“Here I raise my Ebenezer…”

One of the first events of Summer was our church youth group’s annual trek to Summer in the Son at Kentucky Christian College (now known as Kentucky Christian University). Friendships were forged. Faith was challenged. Bonds were strengthened. We “koinonia-ed” all over the place. Lives were changed at Summer in the Son. When I look back on my faith journey, I see several Ebenezers – key landmarks that remind me of where God intervened in my life.

One of these Ebenezer Monuments occurred during the main worship service. A speaker, whose name I cannot remember, shared a story that changed the direction of my life. I’m going to do my best to retell it. Please note that I have made up the names and dates of this story. It’s not because I’m trying to protect the innocent. It’s simply because I heard this story back in the early 1990s and details like names and dates in this story are honestly a bit of a fuzzy memory. But I promise. It’s a good story. And it changed my life. It went a little something like this… Continue reading “What are you gonna do? Shock the world.”

Ashes, birthdays, and legacies

By Oskar H. Solich (Rhingdrache) – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

Eleven years ago, I celebrated a significant birthday milestone by participating in an Ash Wednesday service. You know: the service that’s all about reminding you that you came from dust/ashes and you will eventually return to dust/ashes. It was a memorable experience for several reasons.

The service was conducted by two seminary professors of mine. Considering how I come from a non-(some might even say anti-)liturgical church background, I had never experienced an Ash Wednesday service until I was a student at Emmanuel. My first Ash Wednesday service was eye-opening. And awkward. And memorable. It wasn’t a foreign experience for me this second time around, but it was still unique. And it didn’t hurt that two of my professors were imposing the ashes.

“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you will return.”

Thank you. Thank you very much, Dr. Blowers. That’s exactly what you want to hear the day you turn thirty. “You’re gonna die soon.” I know, I know. Thirty is the new twenty. Or is it forty? I don’t know. And I don’t know if it really matters all that much. The point is that time keeps on ticking. There’s nothing you can do to stop it. Continue reading “Ashes, birthdays, and legacies”

Thanks, Todd Bussey

I’ve shared this story on several occasions in several different ways. I don’t think I’ve ever shared it here. Todd Bussey might be tired of it. But I’m not. And I’ve decided that it is altogether fitting to share it today as we wish Todd countless blessings as he begins the next chapter of his ministry life.
Todd Bussey with me before my wedding, 1998

There I was –

some 40 feet in the air. A helmet was strapped to my head. A harness was firmly fastened around my body. I was safe. But I was stuck. I wasn’t going anywhere.
It was one of my first years as a Boy Scout and we were participating in the high ropes team building course the National Boy Scout Museum in Murray, Kentucky. The climax of the afternoon was climbing a giant tower and then walking across a high wire from one tower to another. I could choose to take one of thee routes to this second tower. I chose the path that was most difficult.
Of course I did. I had to look cool in front of my friends, didn’t I?

I chose the path called The Hourglass.

The Hourglass is made up of a single wire to walk on a wire to hold onto. As you’re walking across the wire that’s suspended among the treetops, the wire that you’re holding onto is gradually sloping downward. Once you’re in the middle of the path, the wire that you’re holding onto has descended enough that it is actually attached to the foot wire.
How high did I say this course was? Forty feet? Felt like 75.
So there I was, 125 feet in the air, squatting down on a wire, holding on to another wire for dear life. Behind me was another wire that was attached to the wire at my feet. That second wire slopes upward and leads to the second tower at the end of the course.
There was a trick. One I didn’t expect. There, in the middle of the course, 235 feet in the air, I had to let go of the wire in order to adequately turn my body and grab hold of the other wire and make my way toward safety.

 Let go.

My head knew what I needed to do. I think my heart even knew. But my body? Not so much.
Let go?
That was crazy talk. I was hanging 376 feet in the air. That cord at my feet was my only lifeline. And I was supposed to let go? There was no way I was letting go of that wire.
So I squeezed harder. My knees started to shake. The wire I was standing on started to sway. Sweat ran down my brow and started to sting my eyes. I was in bad shape. Things were looking bleak.
I was certain I was going to die up there. I just wasn’t sure how. Maybe I would shrivel up and die from dehydration. Or maybe I would just shake myself into oblivion. Or maybe my safety harness would wear out and I would tumble 563 feet to my doom.

So I stayed there and waited for my certain death. At least I had my safety helmet on, so when I finally fell to oblivion, the staff could sweep up all of the pieces into my helmet, wrap it up, slap a sticker on it and send me home on my way.

Friends down below were shouting encouragement. “Just let go with one hand! Everything will be OK!”

Of course, every time I tried that, the tightrope would shake. I’d panic. And then I’d find myself gripping the wire even tighter.

After an eternity, which was probably no more than five or six minutes in realtime, something unexpected happened. I heard a familiar voice from the tower.

“Matt,” the voice said. “I’m coming to you. We’re going to finish this together.”

It was Todd Bussey, my youth minister. He had come with our Troop on this camping trip, and had already taken his turn on the high ropes course. He had strapped on the safety equipment and was already making his way towards me on a nearby obstacle.

It only took a few seconds after he came out to me. He calmed me down. He coached me through the next steps and encouraged me as I let go of the wire and grabbed the other one. The rest was a piece of cake.

I survived the Hourglass. And I owe it all to Todd Bussey.

Todd is wrapping up a ministry at my home church that began back in the 1980s. He’s moving his family to Florida to write a new chapter of ministry with some new church work.

I know.

Florida.

Tough life, huh?

But he’s going to help turn the region upside down. Perhaps he’ll even shock the world. Because that’s what Todd does. It’s what he’s always done.

Todd Bussey at the Welcome Back sign at Philmont Scout Ranch, 1990

Todd baptized me. He co-officiated my wedding. He ordained me. And if something unfortunate were to happen in the near future, I hope he’ll bury me, too.  We went on our first Philmont trek together. And he coached me through some important merit badges in Scouting, including Communication and Citizenship in the Nation. Of course, he was also a spiritual mentor of mine. We have some pretty great memories from five Summers in the Son together. Oh, and we were the Summer in the Son volleyball champions of 1990, even though we were the clear underdogs. And he even introduced me to A-180/Audio Adrenaline.

His story has been wrapped into my story for the past 30 years.

And I share this story about the high ropes course because it’s a nice little illustration of what he has done for me over and over and over again.

As a ministry coach, a spiritual advisor, a pastor, and a friend, Todd has always been there for me. He was there when my dad had a heart attack. He was there when I needed a listening ear after I left my first professional ministry. And he helped guide me through preparing for my first funeral as a preacher.

Just like when he was there for me 722 feet in the air, I have always been able to count on Todd Bussey to be there for me. And I know there are many other people who feel the same way.

This leaves a large hole in my home church’s leadership. Shoot, it leaves a large hole in the entire Tri-State area. But Evansville’s loss is going to be Jacksonville’s gain.

This most definitely is not goodbye, it’s “see you later.” In Florida. I can’t wait to see how God uses Him in this new chapter!

Love, heartbreak, and our humanity.

Love, Heartbreak, and our Humanity

Senior Year. High School. Creative Writing Class.

I walked hand-in-hand with my girlfriend as I headed for class. My Creative Writing teacher looked on as we said our goodbyes as we went our separate ways, already counting down the minutes until we’d see each other again during the next passing period. The bell rang and I sat down at my desk. There were seven of us in the class. To say we were an eclectic bunch would be an understatement.

Mr. Hughes (of the Great Celebrate the Lord Love Debate) completed his hall monitoring duties and began class.

“Was that your girlfriend?” he asked. At least, I think that was what he said. To be honest, I didn’t really think he was talking to me so I wasn’t really paying much attention because it felt like I was eavesdropping. But he was talking to me.

“She’ll break your heart, you know.” Thanks for the vote of confidence there, I thought. Then he clarified, “Because all relationships end in heartbreak.” And then he went about his business, opening up some kind of discussion about writing or storytelling or something along those lines.

I was really bothered by that statement. It felt so…dark. So…defeatist. Continue reading “Love, heartbreak, and our humanity.”

I didn’t know you like I should have

I knew you. But I didn’t. I knew the kids. Tried to make a difference in their lives. I tried to be there for their mom. I don’t think I did a very good job.

But you?

I didn’t bother getting to know you. And maybe I should have. I mean, that’s what Jesus said we should do – right? Love my neighbor? What would have happened if I had tried harder to show the love of Jesus in your life? Would it have made a difference? Would it have mattered?

What if I had figured out a way to get members of our church to be involved in your life? What if we had decided to actually be the church instead of just playing church? What if we had spent more time talking with people instead of about them? Would it have made a difference? Would it have mattered? Would it have stopped you from destroying so much?

I know I can’t dwell on “what-ifs.” And I certainly can’t ask you now.

I do know this, though: I could have been a better neighbor. I should have been a better neighbor. Would it have mattered in the end? I don’t know.

I know I can’t change what has happened. But I can change what I do today. I can choose to be love the people around me – even those who are different from me. I can choose to push back the darkness in the lives of people around me. I can choose to be a neighbor the way Jesus defines a neighbor.

I don’t want to miss any opportunities that God has placed before me. I don’t want to have a life full of asking “what if?” And if that means having a life that’s a little bit messy?

So be it.

The measure of a life, after all, is not its duration, but its donation.
Corrie Ten Boom

J is for “Just Pizza”

J is for Just Pizza A to Z Challenge

A to Z Challenge letter J

Ten years ago, I was a Shift Leader at a local pizza franchise. There were times when it was an especially stressful job. There’s nothing like having an unexpected rush of delivery orders on a Friday or Saturday night after you’ve already sent the majority of your cooks and drivers home. When tensions would be high and people were at each other’s throats, the store manager, Chad, would look at us and say, “You guys! It’s just pizza!”  It wasn’t rocket science. And in spite of what some people might have tried to make us think, it wasn’t the end of the world if things didn’t go well one night. Just keep your head up and get the job done. It’s just pizza, after all. This wasn’t an excuse to do things poorly. It wasn’t an excuse to slack off. We still needed to work hard and do our best. But in the end, it was just pizza that we were producing. He did a pretty good job of helping all of us keep things in perspective.

“It’s just pizza!”

I’ve found myself using this phrase a lot over the years. It’s helped me remember what’s important in life. It’s helped me keep things in perspective.

It’s also helped me learn that I am not defined by what my job is. When I was working in the pizza industry, I learned very quickly that pizza, although fabulously tasty, is not my passion. While I worked with pizza, I wasn’t a pizza guy. I was me.

I think I forgot about this when I started serving as a pastor in rural Indiana. All of a sudden, I was The Preacher. I had allowed that to define me more than allowing my God-given personality to define my me-ness. Much like Brandon, I even allowed my position as a professional Christian to define my faith for me. I get the impression that I haven’t been alone in this misidentification of  self. Instead of finding my identity in Christ, I had allowed my church profession to define who I saw myself as. And those are two completely different things.

It’s hard pretending to be someone you aren’t. It’s hard trying to live up to others’ expectations because they have this preconceived notion of what a person should act like, look like, like-like, and probably even smell like. And it’s even harder when that spills over into what your family is “supposed” to be like.

So when I remind myself that it’s just pizza, I am reminding myself that I refuse to be defined by the work I do. I refuse to major in the minors and worry about things that really aren’t that big of a deal in the grand scheme of things. I refuse to lose focus on what’s important.

I refuse.

After all, it’s just pizza.

Why I Cried in Church Today

baptism water

I cried in church today. And I’m OK with that.

It happens every time there’s a baptism service. Of course, part of the reason the tears start to fall is because I’m reminded in a very powerful way about how deep and wide God’s love is for me. And then I remember two of the most amazing moments of my life: baptizing Aiden and then baptizing Aly a year later. Then I think of how I hope and pray that Mihret will choose to be baptized one day, which makes the tears flow even more freely.

baptism water

And then I think of other people I’ve had the honor of baptizing. People like David, Ginny, Peter, Jerry, Tom, and Jim.

This inevitably leads me to thinking about the people who had such an impact on my own story while I was growing up. Now, some may argue that I haven’t grown up. They’d probably be right. But that’s not the point. I’m talking about people who stepped in and made a difference in my life during my formative years.

I grew up in a God-fearing home. Some of my earliest memories revolve around church and being scared of the Preacher’s Wife because I thought she was mean to me when I had to sit by her during Sunday evening service. How dare she expect me to sit still and be quiet while the service was going on? Even with that legacy of faith that my parents established for me, I still had to take this faith I had inherited and make it my own story. I came to that realization because of people who surrounded me and encouraged me to make that faith my own.

So while I witnessed the baptisms today, I couldn’t help but think of the people outside my family that God has used in ways they can’t even imagine.

Cheryl Stroud led some pretty amazing children’s choirs and challenged me to be more than I thought I could be.

Todd Bussey baptized me, married me, and ordained me. I think you could say he’s a pretty special guy.

Dr. Gerhart (we always referred to him as “Mr. G.” in Scouting circles) has always encouraged me and challenged me to continue to work at becoming a better man as a leader and as a disciple. He has been a shining example for me, reminding me that scholarship and faith are not mutually exclusive. He also taught me how to worship God when surrounded by His creation.

Scott and Corri Brooks were like second parents to me during high school. A small group of us met in their house every Wednesday for the better part of four years. Their shared desire to follow Jesus at home and in the workplace couldn’t help but rub off on me.

There are other faces that show up in my mind’s eye, too. People like the Teskes, Nova Conner, Judy Taylor, Jack Arney, the Hedwalls, Jack Bruce, the Gowers, the Linges, Pam Jordan, the list can go on and on…

cloud of witnessesI guess you could say they are my own personal cloud of witnesses. God used them to shape my faith. God used them to shape my story. So I thanked God for them again today. I prayed for them again.

And yeah, I cried for them, too.

Who has had an impact on your faith? Who is in your cloud of witnesses?

baptism water

A letter from a sponsored Compassion child

This is the final assignment for Compassion’s Blog Month. I’m glad to have been able to participate in this exercise and am excited that Compassion is only 76 sponsors away from reaching the goal of having 3,108 newly-sponsored children for the month of September!

I must admit, this one has been the most difficult for me to do because I’ve been going in about 55 different directions when I read the instructions, which included this statement:

You are a child living in extreme poverty. What do you have to say?

This is my feeble attempt at trying to capture the mind of a child who has just received word that she is going to be able to go to school at the Goba Meserete Kiristos Church Student Center in Ethiopia. Of course, you have to suspend disbelief just a little bit because a six year old girl with little-to-no schooling isn’t going to write very much except አመሰግናለሁ (amesege’nallo’ – “Thank you.”), but I think you get the idea. Right?

I chose to write from the perspective of a little girl who is still in need of a sponsor. You can find her on this page if you’re interested in sponsoring her.

Mihret from Ethiopia needs a Compassion sponsor. Will you sponsor her?Dear My Sponsor,

A nice lady from the church down the street came to see me today. She told me that you are going to help me be able to go to their school so I can learn how to write and to read better. I love to read! My favorite story is the one about the elephant and the pelican. I want to be able to read better so I can read stories and the Bible to my family. I liked Kindergarten and hoped I could keep going to class after finishing Kindergarten. But my mom could not find work and could not afford to send me to school. I am so excited to be able to use my pencils! I have been wanting to use my new pencils ever since that nice man in the van handed them to me through his window.

I really like helping Mama make injera. I am not very good at it yet, but she keeps telling me to practice. One day I hope to be as good a cook as she is. I also want to help stop my friends from getting sick. My friend down the street, Gebereal, has gotten really sick. I think I heard someone say he has something called malaria. I was just playing soccer with him last week. I am very sad for him. He is not the first of my friends to get sick like this. I hope he is OK. I hope he gets better. I hope no one else I know gets sick like this. I want to learn how to stop everyone from getting so sick. I want to become a doctor and help other people like the nice people from Compassion do.

I would like to write more, but Mama says I need to run an errand. I hope I don’t see any dogs while I am out. They are so scary!

Thank you for showing me Jesus. I love him and I know he loves me. I want to sing to Jesus all day long. Thank you for being My Sponsor.

Amesege’nallo’! 

Mihret

Please consider sponsoring a child today so children like Mihret can be released from spiritual, economic, social, and physical poverty!

Long Time No See!

This has turned out to be a busy week. We had our final face-to-face meeting as part of the homestudy process last night. It’s 98% complete! We’re just waiting on a couple of pieces of paperwork to come in and then we’ll be ready to send it in.

I’m also working on getting ahead on some sermon preparation.

I’ve also had to make some unexpected hospital visits (visiting others…I’m OK) this week. So things are a little busy this week.

On top of this, I’ve had trouble adjusting to the ‘Spring-forward’ time change. Unlike many people in Indiana, I grew up with the time change, so it’s nothing foreign to me. But I’ve never had as difficult of a time adjusting as I have this year. I’ve just been so sleepy all the time this week!

Because of this, blogging has been placed on the back-burner for the week. I’ll try to post something as soon as time allows. I’m still giving quick updates on twitter (@mattdantodd), but even that has waned this week.

An answer to prayer

Christy and I have been praying for this day since before he was born. As mentioned earlier, I had the honor of baptizing my son this past Sunday, February 15.

I’m still trying to articulate my thoughts about this experience. And I’ll post those thoughts as soon as I can put them into words.

It was definitely one of the most amazing days of my life.

[vodpod id=Groupvideo.2118222&w=425&h=350&fv=]

more about “Aiden Baptism :: 034-1.flv video by m…“, posted with vodpod

That’s Caedmon talking about Aiden in the background. He was sitting by Alyson, who took this video. After the service, Alyson asked when she could get “bathtized.” Of course, she asked if she could do it this coming Sunday. I think we’ll encourage her to wait a bit.