Howdy. I'm Matt Todd. My wife and I have four kids and a dog,. I'm passionate about orphan care. I'm a die-hard fan of the Evansville Aces, the Indiana Hoosiers, and Star Wars. I'm trying to live life by the Todd family motto: "It behooves us to live!"

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

Are you tired of just "getting by"?

Leadership Quotes

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“Getting by”

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that political season is in full swing as we are hurtling towards November’s General Election at breakneck speed. The two parties’ national conventions are behind us and I although I only listened to a few speeches during those two weeks, the fear-mongering was in full display. And now we’re about to be bombarded with even more negative ads after negative ads, accusing politician’s opponents of doing everything from willfully watching corporations send good-paying jobs overseas to secretly kicking puppies and taking candy from sweet, innocent children.

I fully expect a whole lot of arguments about why I should vote against candidates and not very many arguments about why I should vote for their opponents. Such is the nature of contemporary politics, unfortunately. But, hey, it works. Or so they say, anyway. I disagree. Shouting down your opponent isn’t winning. It’s bullying. Turning your opponent into a straw man caricature you can easily convince 51% of the people to vote against doesn’t give you a mandate. It’s just getting by.

Just “getting by” is not acceptable. It isn’t acceptable for my kids when they do their homework. It’s not acceptable at most jobs, either. So why is just “getting by” acceptable when it comes to our elected leaders?

Servanthood and leadership

As I was contemplating making a run at the governorship, I thought a lot about leadership and what I believe a public leader should be like. I thought back to one of my favorite classes from my seminary days. It gave me a lot of leadership concept to chew on. That was ten years ago. I’m still chewing on them.

I even went back to my notes from Dr. Wasem’s class. As I perused those notes, it strengthened my belief that true leadership isn’t displayed by those who shout the loudest or generate the most fear. Leadership is about servanthood. That’s the heartbeat of a leader. With that in mind, I wonder what our local, state and Federal governments would look like if leaders truly approached their positions as service opportunities – chances to get their hands dirty – instead of stepping stools and ways to grab more power. That’s what Hans Finzel says in
The Top Ten Mistakes Leaders Make
:

A servant leader must be willing to get ‘down and dirty’ with his [or her] troops in the implementation of his [or her] objectives.

Don’t get me wrong. I know some people who approach their leadership positions with true servants’ hearts. They are heroes. I wish politicians would emulate them more.

I also found a few quotes about leadership while I was reading. I think they’re worth sharing here:

Changes

Change is inevitable; not to change is a sure sign of imminent extinction. Hans Finzel

This is true in almost every area of life. Look at a teenager. Holy cow, things are changing every single day, and sometimes multiple times a day. There’s also regular change in Church life, family life, society in general, world affairs, government, politics…you get the point?

Things change. It happens. So we look to leaders – servants who have gotten their hands dirty with us, who lead from the trenches – to help us navigate change. That’s how we move beyond merely surviving to thriving. And that’s what I want to do.

Change is inevitable. So why not make the most of it? Why not use it to expect our leaders to stop shooting for “just getting by” into the realm of dynamic, challenging, and inspirational leadership. That’s what our country needs.

Changing laws and changing hearts

And then there’s this quote. I like it. A lot. I’ve tried saying something similar. I even did it in one of the first posts I ever wrote. Mr. Greenleaf was just more succinct and eloquent.

we in the United States are more naive than most about what can be done with law, especially with the labyrinth of laws with which business is surrounded. It comes out better if one persuades rather than compels. Robert K. Greenleaf

I could easily write several posts that disagree with this quote. I could also write just as many posts supporting it. With that being said, I’d like for this quote to remind us that we cannot put all of our eggs in one basket if we want real, lasting change. And since change is going to happen anyway (see above), let’s pursue lasting change that makes a difference.

A change in leadership

Meaningful change can happen, folks. It can even happen in the midst of our national parties doing nothing but puffing themselves up while tearing their opponents down. We need real leadership. Servant leadership. And I imagine this happens from the ground up. It doesn’t require a top-level position. It does require dirty hands. And a servant’s heart.

I’m tired of putting people into power who are simply aiming to “get by,” aiming for the common denominator that gets them just enough votes to slip them into power. Aren’t you? Let’s do something about it.

So, what are you waiting for? Grab a towel. Let’s get started. Let’s navigate change together and make the world a better place. Together. If we do that, maybe our politicians will follow our lead. If not, maybe we need some new leadership.

Who’s with me?

G is for Getting Organized

G is for Getting Organized - A to Z Challenge

All my life, keeping things organized has been an issue for me. It started in elementary school and got worse throughout my academic career. Let’s not talk about my pitiful excuse of a science fair experiment that I tried to throw together over night in middle school. Or the semester-long research paper that I scrambled to research and write the weekend before it was due my Junior year of high school. And that poetry project I pulled an all-nighter to create during my Freshman year of college? Although the final product was pretty good, I’m convinced it could’ve been better. It certainly wasn’t my best effort. I’d run out of time. Because I wasn’t organized.

“Get organized.” That’s something I was told quite a bit during high school and college. I was even told that by my immediate supervisor in my first experience in full-time ministry – the one that only lasted for 9 months. Part of the reason I didn’t last that long was because of my poor organizational skills. People just kept telling me to “get organized,” though. And I was never really given any tools to discover how to get organized.

I knew I needed to get organized. I just didn’t know where to start. So I’d write “Get Organized” as an item on my to-do list. Like that was going to help. Are you surprised that I never checked the box on that line of my lists?  I didn’t really know any better. I have the feeling that a lot of people feel that way. They know they need to improve the way they have things organized, but they just can’t figure out how. They don’t even know where to begin.

I’m not the most organized person in the world. Just ask Christy. But I’m better than I used to be. I’ve read books. I’ve checked out articles on the Internet. I’ve watched news segments about organization. None of that really helped. The best thing I did was about ten years ago. I got help. I was able to talk to someone and she helped me figure out how to take tasks that were overwhelming and break them down into manageable things. She helped me realize that I need to create patterns in my own life so I can maintain some level of control when things get all crazy and seemingly unmanageable.

At the time, I was also learning about management at a pizza place. The best thing I’ve taken away from that experience was this little nugget: Don’t wait until later. If you think of something that needs to be done, go ahead and do it. Don’t wait until later because you’re assuming you’ll have time later in the day. You don’t know what is going to happen later in the day. So don’t put off until later what you can do right now. This is true in most things, not just the pizza making business. If something needs to be done, get it done. Don’t procrastinate.

Both of these mentors in my life helped me realize this key thing when it comes to getting organized:

Getting organized is a process, not an event.

You can’t just wake up one day and say “I’m organized.” It’s not an item you can just check off your list and everything is magically organized for the rest of your life. It’s an ongoing process. At least, it’s an ongoing process for people like me. I have a feeling it’s an ongoing process for you, too.

Here are some things that have helped me get a handle on the organization process. Now I don’t have to just write “Get organized” on my to-do list and hope things magically get better:

  • I use alarms like crazy. If I want to remember to do something, I have to set an alarm. That makes my phone buzz a lot (I usually use silent alarms), but it’s totally worth it.
  • I hinted at it a week or so ago, but I’m a big fan of Evernote. I used to use it all the time when preparing for sermons. Now I use it to help keep me on task. I know I’m only scratching the surface of its functionality the way I use it. Michael Hyatt has taught me quite a bit about great ways to use Evernote. I’m still learning.
  • I’ve used Trello for projects. It’s a nice visual taskmaster.
  • Even with all of the bells and whistles on my phone, I still use a physical calendar to chart out my “editorial calendar” for my blog. Have I followed it to a ‘T’ this year? Nope. I think I was a bit too ambitious. But it’s definitely helped to keep me on track.
  • I try not to procrastinate because I know it gets me into trouble. Still working on that one. A lot. And I’m trying to encourage my kids to avoid getting into that habit because it’s a hard habit to break.

I’m no organization expert. Like I said, just ask Christy. But I’ve gotten better. Seminary kind of helped force me to get a handle on things. But I’m still not great. But that’s OK. It’s a process, not just an event. This leads me to ask:

What do you do to stay organized? What lessons have you learned? What tips can you share?

I want to keep learning. I need to keep learning and keep getting better. And the only way I can do that is by learning from other people. So…what tips do you have?

**I’m participating in the April A to Z Challenge. This post is part of that endeavor. You can see my other entries to this year’s challenge here. A lot of people are doing the same thing. You should check out some of their posts!**

Egyptian Christians, St. Bartholomew, and counting the cost

In light of recent news of the beheading of 21 Coptic Christians from Egypt because of their faith, I was reminded of something that I had written 10 years ago for a church history class while in seminary. It was a meditation based on the painting of St. Bartholomew. Christian tradition says that Bartholomew the Apostle was martyred for his faith. It was a brutal execution.

St. Bartholomew

You can read the whole devotional thought here, if you’re really interested. It’s OK if you aren’t. That’s not really the reason I’m writing today.

I really want to share one of the meditation’s final paragraphs. Because the point is just as important today as it was when I wrote it ten years ago.

The image of St. Bartholomew calls upon us to pray for the persecuted church around the world.  It tells us the story of the millions of Christians who have given their lives for the sake of Christ and His kingdom.  It is a startling reminder that the price of following Jesus Christ is not cheap.  It is not a road that will be traveled lightly.  There will be trials and persecution of all kinds.  In the end, it could cost the believer everything – including the loss of life.  It is the example of St. Bartholomew that encourages the believer to press on towards the prize, knowing full well the costs involved.  It is with that same confidence that we face the perils of following the Lord of all things.

I think these martyred Egyptian Christians do the exact same thing. While the nations rage and come up with a fitting response to these barbaric acts, let us count the cost and take up the cross with reckless abandon. Let us live in boldness, full of hope, joy, and love, as we press on towards Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith.

I know it’s not easy. I’m not pretending it is. But this is how we are going to change the world, my friends.

Go with the Flow

Every morning, without fail, the kids ask me if we can walk to school.  The problem has been that they ask at 7:55 a.m.  School starts at 8:05 a.m. and is between a third and a half mile away from our house. With all of that considered, I would regularly say “Not today.  If you can get ready by 7:30, then we’ll try to walk to school.”

At 7:30 this morning, they asked if we could walk to school.  They were pretty close to ready, so I reluctantly agreed.  I was planning on going to a lecture at Anderson University this morning that started at 9.  My original plan was to drive them to school and then head on to AU, since it’s about a half an hour drive to the school.  I’ve been determined to become better at  “Leading with a ‘Yes'” both in leading our church and in raising our kids.  I’d rather say ‘Yes’ much more than ‘No.’ I think my reflex is more ‘No’ than ‘Yes.’  So, trying to say yes more than I say no to our kids – which means I told them we’d walk to school today.

We didn’t get out of the house until 7:45, which is usually pretty good. Cutting it close when you’re walking to school, though. Long story short, we got to school on time.  It was around 8:00.  This delayed my departure for AU by about 15-20 minutes.  Long story short, I didn’t get to AU until 9:00. Couldn’t find a parking place right away.  I finally arrived at the chapel about 10 minutes late.

Now, the chapel at Emmanuel is pretty good sized.  I figured AU’s School of Theology would have a similar sized chapel and I could sneek in the back and find a place without causing much disruption. 

I was wrong.

The chapel was approximately 1/4 the size of ESR’s.  And it was packed!  So much for not causing a disruption. I quickly decided to abandon my plans to attend the lectures today.  Although I like the topics, I wasn’t planning on attending tomorrow’s sessions.  Maybe I’l go anyway.

But that’s OK, though.  I happened to bring our new laptop with me (did I mention we bought a new laptop? It’s sleek, lightweight, and it was cheap – the most important quality in a laptop right now), so I walked over to the Library and decided to do some research for the new sermon series I’m starting this week.  I’ve managed to accomplish quite a bit this morning.  I’ve signed up for lending privileges at AU’s Library, downloaded several sermons dealing with the topic we’ll be discussing the next 6 weeks or so, and found some more resources online.  It’s such a busy week for me this week that this will probably turn out to be a very good thing.  It’s funny how plans can change at a moment’s notice.  Sometimes you just have to go with the flow.

And this morning keeps getting better.  In a few minutes, I get to go to Ci Ci’s and have lunch with my lovely Bride!  Man, I’m so lucky!

Wrapping things up

I’ve delayed turning in my formal request to withdraw from school because it felt so…final.  I turned it in today.

In addition to trying to pack everything up (we’re at about 80% completion right now), we’ve also been trying to pack in as many visits with as many friends as possible in the few remaining hours we’re living here in upper East Tennessee.  

Today was the kids’ last day at their school.  It wasn’t as traumatic as I thought.  I had imagined all of us leaving the place looking like blubbering idiots and all of the kids going into hysterics.  Don’t get me wrong, there were some tears.  It wasn’t nearly as dramatic or traumatic as I’d envisioned.

So, it’s been a busy few days.  Not much time to update on here.  I have a few posts that have been brewing in my head.  As soon as I have both time and energy at the same time, I’ll share them.

For now, just know that we’re still alive and still moving to Muncie on Monday. 

What if I can’t read the Neon Sign? I think it’s in Hebrew

Earlier this week, I got a message from a pastor at a local church we’ve been attending off and on.  He sent the message to his entire congregation telling us that he had received a ‘Word from the Lord,’ and that we didn’t want to miss this Sunday.  I really didn’t want to go.  In fact, I wasn’t planning on going.  Christy and the kids were going to a festival in Greenville with her mom.  I was planning on helping out with the breakfast that Emmanuel was having for graduates and their families.  Turned out I wasn’t needed.

So, I decided to go to said church at the last minute.  I was actually five minutes late and they had already sung one song.  After just a couple of songs, it was time for the revelation of the special Word from God.  Why this was different than any other Sunday is still a mystery to me.  Shouldn’t every message you have be a ‘Word from the Lord?’  If not, then what’s the point of preaching, really?   Anyway, that’s a different issue for different post. 

Usually, when someone announces to a congregation that they have received a special revelation from God, you expect some big new vision to be revealed (like when Gary Lamb recently announced their church was going multi-site), or some major shakeup is going to happen (many people had initially thought the pastor was going to announce his resignation…he didn’t).  Christy was secretly hoping he was going to challenge everyone associated with the congregation to adopt a child, and they were going to do everything possible to help families do that (adoption is yet another post for another time. I’m sure it’s in our future at some point…).  None of these ideas are even close to what he had to say…

“Don’t give up.  Persevere.”

That’s the basic thrust of his message.  It was, honestly, one of the better sermons I have heard from the guy.  He was passionate and had obviously put a lot of time, thought, and prayer into the sermon.  Even the songs we sang tied into the message, which I always appreciate.  Although this ‘Word from God’ seemed a little anticlimactic because it wasn’t anything earth-shattering or paradigm-shifting, it was still a message that definitely needed to be spoken.  It’s one that needed to be heard.

So, a few hours later I’m at Emmanuel’s graduation.  The man delivering the commencement address had one basic point that he expounded upon for about a half an hour.

“Don’t give up.  Persevere.”

Now, these two events have absolutely nothing to do with each other except for the fact that 1) They seek to honor the same risen Lord, and 2) I was the only one to have been at both places.  When messages/events converge that have nothing to do with each other at face value, but tell me the exact same thing, I’m usually one to sit up and take notice.

In my Elijah sermon, I spoke about waiting for a neon sign from God and how that doesn’t normally happen to people.  In many ways, I’m wondering if this was my neon sign.  I get the message – “Don’t give up.”  But here’s where I’m confused – Don’t give up what?

For the last few weeks, I’ve been wondering if I should give up on the ministry search for right now.  It appears that whirlwind tour will end up fruitess.  Some more churches have expressed interest and I’ve still been sending out resumes.  But we’re almost to the ‘point of no return.’  Once the kids start school again in July, we really don’t want to yank them out of school to move away.  That would be too hard on them.  So, I’ve considered putting the whole ministry search ‘on hold.’

In addition, this semester was rough for me.  I bit off more than I could chew in some ways.  On top of that, I had a general sense of apathy throughout most of the semester (as expressed several times in this journal).  I’ve considered giving up on seminary.  If I were to take a ministry position, I would probably have to give up on the degree anyway – at least for a while as I tried to get established in a church.

And then there’s thewhole idea of planting a church in Evansville.

So – I get the point that I’m not supposed to give up.  I see the neon sign flashing away.  I just don’t know what exactly I’m supposed to persevere at pursuing.

Maybe next time God will hit me on the head with a brick instead.  Or at least write the sign in English.  Or SpangDeutschLish, since I’m such a wonderful communicator in both Spanish and German.

Uhhhh….yeah…

So, I mentioned earlier that I had been reading the wrong book for a class this semester. Well, the drama of said book continues…

The book Dr. Shields showed us in class was not one that I recognized – at all. ‘I must have missed that one when I bought my books,’ I thought to myself. I went to the bookstore. Didn’t see the book. So, I started checking it out from the library. Since it’s a required book for our class, it’s on reserve at the library. That means I can only have it for an hour (or so) at a time. I tried to sneak over to the library as often as possible, but I wasn’t getting as far as I had hoped. As I was reading it, I thought, ‘This is a pretty good book. I probably should look into buying it.’

I did a web search for the book today. Saw a picture of the new cover. Realized I’ve had said book in my possession all along. It’s a new edition, and some substantial changes have been made (i.e. no more references to the Bush/Quayle administration). I’d actually read some of it earlier in the semester.

Yeah, I feel pretty stupid right now.

Friday’s Sermon

I preached my final sermon for OT Preaching yesterday.  In spite of my ‘writer’s block’ Thursday night, it went really well.  The class’s reaction to is was overwhelmingly positive, too.  One person in the class has a degree in creative writing and told me I had ‘excellent storytelling skills.’ 

Yes – that made me feel pretty good.  Especially since said person ripped into my last sermon (I wasn’t too pleased with it either).

I’ve been debating whether to post the sermon here or not.  I really want to share it, but it could very well be a sermon that shows up somewhere down the road (if some church ever decides to hire me…). 

Of course, I wouldn’t necessarily preach the sermon right away.  It would probably be a few months (or years) before I pulled it out and used it.  If that’s the case, then it wouldn’t hurt to go ahead and share it here, would it?

So that’s my moral dilemma at the moment, which isn’t really saying all that much.  Other than that, life’s pretty good.

Stuck

I’m supposed to preach in class tomorrow.

I’ve had this whole outline in my head for several weeks now.  Unfortunately, as it is unfolding on my computer, I’m not too happy with it right now.  In other words, I’m stuck.

It’s time to get unstuck.  Writer’s block ban be such a pain sometimes.

In completely unrelated news, Christy is in the process of taking her final final.  After tonight, she’s done with her Masters program!!