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!"

I’ve led many special events. This one might have taken the cake.

Cowan Christian Church

Over the years, I’ve put together all kinds of different events. During my youth ministry days, we hosted all kinds of major events. We had Super Bowl parties and Volunteer Appreciation Nights and almost everything in between. The “Saw You at the Pole” rallies were always fun. I put together big concert events, including a major grand opening of a firehouse-turned-teen-outreach center. We had hundreds of teens and adults at that event. We called the building the Fire Escape, from Jude 23.

Save others by snatching them from the fire Jude 23

That event was pretty stinkin’ cool.

When I was preaching in Muncie, we hosted a “safe alternative to door-to-door trick or treating” called Trunk or Treat. It was a huge hit. Kids and their parents looked forward to our Trunk or Treat every year. We were able to make it bigger and better every single year, in spite of the bitter wind that cut through our church’s front lawn during the Trunk or Treat. It became a big stinkin’ deal.

And it was pretty stinkin’ cool.

Of course, during those days as a pastor,  I planned many weekly worship services. I also helped execute special services like Candlelight Christmas Eve services and Maundy Thursday services. There were also Mother-Daughter Banquets and church Homecoming celebrations. From fun to contemplative  to everything else in between, I’ve done quite a bit of event planning and coordinating and execution. Continue reading I’ve led many special events. This one might have taken the cake.

These songs have brought me comfort

Free Stock Photos for Blogs at picxclicx.com
Free Stock Photos for Blogs at picxclicx

I’m not going to lie. The last few months have been hard. Heartbreaking, really. I went through a similar experience while preaching south of Muncie. I think I wound up conducting something like four funerals over the span of three months. It takes its emotional toll.

Back in November, we lost David, his mother, and his daughter. My grandma died right before Christmas. And then Dr. Phil Gerhart, a man who impacted my life and the lives of so many others in ways I cannot even describe (but will try to at some point in the very near future), died. There are moments when I feel overwhelmed with wave after wave after wave of loss. It’s almost like I’m drowning.

And that hurts.

In these moments of hurt and loss and sadness, it is inevitable that a song pops into my head and I find my heart pouring out in worship. The songs that keep popping up in my head? They are songs I haven’t heard or sung in years.

The Old Rugged Cross

It is Well with my Soul

Are you familiar with Audrey Assad? You should be. There’s a haunting beauty in her voice. And her story as the daughter of a Syrian refugee is especially poignant today. I admit that this was not the version of this hymn that has been churning in my soul, but it could be. It could be…

How Great Thou Art*

The majority of the congregations where I’ve worshiped and served over the past 30 years have leaned toward the contemporary side of Sunday morning worship. I’ve sung countless worship songs during that time. Many are deeply moving and have strong connections to my own personal faith story. And songs from the likes of Andrew Peterson, Rich Mullins, and Steven Curtis Chapman are woven into my story, too.

It’s an interesting thing, however, that the songs that I have found my heart singing over and over again these past months are songs from my childhood. Don’t read too much into that if you’re looking for me to take some kind of stand in the decades-old “Worship Wars.” I just think it’s a fascinating thing that during times of sorrow and heartbreak, I have found myself turning to the classic hymns.

Of course, it’s not just the simple music of the hymns. It’s not the creativity of contemporary songs of worship. It’s the One to whom these songs point. That is where real comfort, hope, love, and strength is found.

I don’t really have anything profound to say about this. I just pray that you are able to find some comfort in these songs that I’ve shared. And I hope they impact you they way they have touched me throughout the years.

*Yes, I know this is sung by the BYU Singers. Yes, I know BYU is a Mormon school. No, I’m not getting into any theological discussions or debates about that. The history of the hymn is powerful. Challenging. Inspiring. I don’t care who is singing it. The message remains. 

Why cast iron makes me think of David Rinehart

David Rinehart playing the grand piano at the Villa Philmonte at Philmont Scout Ranch, 1990
David Rinehart playing the grand piano at the Villa Philmonte at Philmont Scout Ranch, 1990.

One of the few bright spots from my middle school experience was my involvement in Boy Scouts. Scouting had a huge impact on my life because of the adults who were there to mentor me. We also had a great group of older Scouts who would guide us and teach us. One of those older Scouts in my early days in Troop 322 was David Rinehart.

I looked up to him. A lot.

I know he was flawed. We all are. This is no hagiography. I know David wasn’t perfect. But to a kid entering his preteen and teenage years, David was about as close to the embodiment of the Scout Law that you could get. He ultimately went away to a small Christian college in Kentucky and then came back to our home church to serve as a worship leader.

I hadn’t really been in contact with him after I left Evansville. Unfortunately, that does tend to happen. Even in this hyper-connected age of social media. I was still happy to see him whenever I returned home. I think it’s safe to say that I still looked up to him. And I thought about him often.

In fact, I think about him every time I use a Dutch Oven or a cast iron skillet.

I think I was in seventh grade, serving as Assistant Patrol Leader. It was late one evening and we had just finished dinner. I’m not sure why, but I was the one in charge of my Patrol. The Dutch Oven we had used had burnt food that was caked onto the bottom of the pot. We decided to fill the Dutch Oven with water and sit it on our camp stove. This was somewhat standard procedure. The idea was that the hot water would help release the burnt food while you scraped the bottom with a metal spoon.

Shortly after turning our camp stove to a high flame, all patrols were called to an evening Troop meeting. Thinking it would be a quick meeting, we left the camp stove on so the water would reach a boil. I know. Big mistake. But I wasn’t really thinking. And even if I was thinking, I’m not convinced I would have known better, anyway.

With the stove set to high, the water started boiling pretty quickly. During the Troop assembly, I forgot about the Dutch Oven. We took our time getting back to our campsite. When we did finally make it back, I was shocked to discover that all of the water had evaporated and the camp stove was just burning the burnt food even more. Our Dutch Oven was a carbonized, unusable mess.

I went to the adult leaders. They asked David to come to see if there was any way he could help salvage the Dutch Oven. Late into the evening, we scrubbed and scraped and rinsed. At one point, as we started to make some progress, he stopped, looked up at me, and chuckled, saying,

“Don’t ever do this again.”

Then he continued scrubbing and scraping away.

cast-iron-skillet

This moment is etched in my memory. I think of it every time I cook with cast iron. In my mind’s eye, he looks up at me and says “Don’t ever do this again.” Then I chuckle and go back to cleaning the skillet or Dutch Oven. It reminds me of his servant’s heart. And the more I look back at those middle school and early high school days, the more I realize I really looked up to him.

Things will be different now.

In the early hours of Sunday, November 13, David, his mother, and one of his daughters died in a horrific traffic accident. They were on their way home from an amazing, season-ending performance at the Bands of America Grand Nationals here in Indianapolis.

Since learning of the news, I’ve seen countless testimonies about how David led worship with all of his heart, ushering others before the Throne and joining them in praise to Our Father. I’ve been reminded of how passionate he was when he directed a choir. And I can only imagine what kind of choir music he might be directing in heaven. What a glorious sound that would be.

David Rinehart leading worship
image via the Crossroads Youth Choir & Babd facebook page

After seeing David kneeling down with a servant’s heart, I hope I see this image in my mind’s eye the next time I’m cooking with cast iron. I hope to see him leading worship with everything that was within him. Maybe I’ll even catch a hint of the melody. And I’m sure I’ll have to swing and sway along with the beat. Just like he did.

In that moment, I will remember that there will be a day when He will wipe away every tear, as I shed a tear of my own. And I will long for a day when there will be no more death, no more mourning. No more crying or pain. I will see the beauty that will rise out of these ashes.

But for now…Now I weep. I weep for a man I haven’t seen in over a decade, but who had a much larger impact on my life than I ever realized. And I know he touched countless others with his life, too. So I join the chorus of those countless others, saying (or singing) the words that I long to hear someday. I am confident he heard these words early that Sunday morning.

“Well done, David. Well done.”

Now, if you’ll excuse me. I think I need to find a cast iron skillet and fix some dinner tonight.

My Ultimate Christmas Playlist: O Come, Emmanuel

O Come Emmanuel

This song is, without a doubt, my all-time favorite Christmas song. I guess this really shouldn’t be that much of a surprise. With musical and lyrical roots that date back approximately 1,000 yearsO Come, Emmanuel has some serious staying power. The tune is haunting. The lyrics echo the cry of a people yearning to be free. It has been known to bring a tear to my eye on occasion.

I have such a deep appreciation for this song that it has been known to show up in worship services that I’ve planned that aren’t in the month of December – like Ascension Day. After all, celebrating Christ’s first coming and longing for His return is something that should be practiced throughout the year, isn’t it?

A glimpse of Heaven at Milligan Homecoming

In I’ve heard it said that Heaven is a long “hello.” I’m not here to debate the theology of that statement, but when you take into account that saying “goodbye” is so difficult and the book of Revelation says there will be no more tears or mourning or crying or pan, it’s hard for me to say that this statement is too far off.

And if that statement is true, I feel like we had a little taste of Heaven during Milligan’s Homecoming weekend. It was a weekend full of reunions and introductions and saying “hello” to long-lost friends. Here’s just a glimpse of the people and places we said “hello” to during Homecoming…

Bays Mountain State Park

Christy used to bring the kids here while we were in our grad school era of Tri Cities living (as opposed to the BK – Before Kids –  undergrad era of Tri Cities living).  We had to go back to Bays Mountain to say hello to the wolves, deer, and predatory birds. Of course, we also had to ask the fox what he says.

Pondering what the fox say

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Deer at Bays Mountain State Park
These deer were so calm that they barely even noticed the small group of paparazzi who had gathered to take their picture.

The food

Although Cheers is long and gone, many of the old stand bys that have become closely associated with Milligan we still around. And it was a beautiful thing to be reunited with them.

Firehouse

We met Melissa/Bob/Miss Awissa at Firehouse for some Southern barbecue that was out of this world. I don’t think I really appreciated Firehouse while we lived there because… well… it wasn’t Shyler’s. I guess you could say my palate has matured because there’s plenty of room on my plate for both barbecue (assuming Shyler’s does eventually reopen).

Christy insists on eating her pulled pork with slaw. That’s probably the “right” way to eat it, but I don’t understand why one would want to mess with perfection.
Firehouse BBQ in Johnson City, TN

Pal’s

Not only is Pal’s tasty, but it seems they’ve hired some mind readers, too…

Misaki

I wish they would bottle that shrimp sauce so we could bring it home…
Misaki

Misaki
Unfortunately, they don’t. Oh well. I guess that just means we’ll have to go back soon.

Bojangles

No trip to the South is complete without at least one meal that includes Bo-Berry biscuits from Bojangles.
Bojangles Bo-Berry Biscuits

Church Friends

I wish we had time to meet with more people from our old Southside/Summit Church, but it was great to get together with some former members of the Wandering Church of the Nomad.
Homecoming 2013  Homecoming 2013

That’s our Goddaughter on the trampoline. She’s dressed up like a fairy princess. I think. And she’s practicing so she’ll be able to learn how to fly. Since she’s our Goddaughter, this really shouldn’t be a surprise. Should it? It’s just par for the course.

And Miss Awissa/Bob/Melissa would like for me to inform you that no, she is not pulling Mihret’s arms out of her sockets. They’re dancing to music that wasn’t playing. That’s kind of par for the course, too.

The Kids and Their Old New Friends

It was amazing watching our kids play together. Some of them met for the very first time. Some hadn’t seen each other in quite a while – and most of them probably didn’t really remember each other. But they played and played and played. It was heartwarming to see them play like they’d known each other all their lives.

Homecoming 2013

Tossing a stuffed buffalo at Milligan Homecoming 2013

football at Hoover Farm

The Hoover Farm

Heather and Randy invited us to their farm for a bonfire. It was great spending more time with everyone and it was just a little bit reminiscent of the bonfires we used to have at Milligan – without the kids running around and playing, of course.

Toasted Marshmallows - Milligan Homecoming 2013

Aly met a real live Tennessee Fainting Goat

Buffalo Creek

We walked along the banks of Buffalo Creek for some family pictures. I couldn’t help but remember and pray for the guys I had baptized in that creek more than a decade ago.

Buffalo Creek

Milligan College Homecoming 2013

Milligan College Homecoming 2013

I think the weekend convinced Aiden to consider attending Milligan (years down the road when it’s time for him to start looking seriously at college. I know it’ll be here before we know it though). Until I opened my big mouth and talked about the tradition of throwing a guy in the Creek after he gets engaged. Now I think we’re back to square one with him.

Aiden at Buffalo Creek - Milligan Homecoming 2013

Of course, since Milligan doesn’t have a football team, our efforts might be futile anyway.

Vespers

Milligan students of the mid to late 90s gathered with their families in Lower Seeger for a night of Vespers, not unlike the services we used to have every Sunday evening while we were students. It was moving beyond words.

I don’t know why it took us 15 years to decide to do something like this, but I pray that this will become a regular part of Homecoming weekends in the future.

Seeger Chapel

After the amazing Vespers service, we had to take a quick walk through the Chapel. The kids, however, weren’t satisfied with just a walkthrough. They had to jump on stage.

Milligan College Homecoming 2013

Milligan College Homecoming 2013

Milligan College Homecoming 2013

We left Tennessee’s fair eastern mountains with our hearts full and already looking forward to the next time we’ll be able to say “hello” while standing in the shadow of Buffalo Mountain.

Why I Cried in Church Today

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

Bethany Memories

There are several characteristics about our church that remind me of some of my earliest church memories. If memory serves correctly, the demographics are probably similar. It was a smaller church and you knew that the people really loved each other.

I remember the church pot lucks were a pretty big deal. I can remember going downstairs to the basement and being greeted by wave upon wave of phenomenal smells. I also remember the basement floor having a shuffleboard triangle painted on it (I’d assume there were two). I never knew how to play.

I remember Brother Taylor (the preacher) greeting us as we left the church service. He always had a stick of Big Redfor us kiddies. I don’t really remember any sermon he preached (hey – I was pretty little), but I do remember that gum. In fact, every time I chew Big Red today, I think of him. Kinda makes me wonder if I should be passing out Big Red to the kids at our church after the service.

Throughout my life, there have been several old hymns that always make me think of our time at Bethany. I can close my eyes and picture myself in the Sanctuary of that building, surrounded by the members that I can remember. Conveniently, many of them were extended members of my family. And I can see my Great-Uncle Donald standing at the front of the congregation, leading us in the songs. I was young enough that I didn’t really know them, but I definitely remember the melodies. Songs like Victory in Jesus, He Keeps Me Singing, and others take me back to that different time and place.

This past Sunday, we sang one of those songs. And although I was up on the stage at Cowan, I still had images of the Bethany congregation flashing through my mind. And I could hear Uncle Donald singing the loudest of all of us. It was surreal. Like I said, some of the hymns make me think of Bethany every time I hear or sing them. This time was different. I couldn’t get the image and music out of my head.

I already had Uncle Donald and my extended family on my mind when I received word that he had passed away this past Sunday evening. He was laid to rest today. Although it was impossible for me to get down to Evansville for the services today, I’m still sad that I couldn’t be there.

Well done, Uncle Donald. I hope you’re singing those same hymns with the same gusto as you’re standing face to face with Jesus.

Shout to the Lord – American Idol style

Christy and I watched American Keraoke last night – the one where they were raising money for some pretty great causes. OK – we really didn’t watch it that much. Christy was working on stuff for school today and I was working on some stuff for church. But the show was on and we’d pay attention every once in a while.

Before I go to far, I want to say that I usually can’t stand the group segments where the Idol contestants sing some big number together. They remind me of the musical shows at amusement parks like Six Flags, Kings Island, and Holiday World. It’s not that those are bad, but that’s not why I’m watching the show. If I wanted to watch groups sing, I would have watched Next Great American Band – and I didn’t. There’s just something about these show choir segments in AI just feels…I don’t know…hokey.

So, I was about to turn the channel when the AI contestants took the stage for the grand finale. I recognized the first few notes and wondered which song it was. There are three or four songs that I think start the same way, and I always get them confused. So I stayed on the channel for a little bit longer to see which song it was. I was moderately surprised when I heard them sing what sounded like the beginning to a song I’ve sung in churches for ten years.

Are they really singing a worship song in the finale? I thought to myself.

I wasn’t so sure what I thought about that. I’m still not. It’s quite apparent that there is some Christian influence on the show. Carrie Underwood is getting radio play on Christian music stations with songs like Jesus Take the Wheel. Mandisa sang with Beth Moore before she took the AI stage. Now she’s in the Christian music scene. There was Chris Sligh last year: worship minister-turned Idol contestant, who sang a dc Talk song. Scott Krippayene co-wrote last year’s ‘coronation’ song (This is My Now). So, in some ways it shouldn’t have really been a shock. But it was still surprising to hear it as the grand finale of such a heavily promoted episode.

Something felt strangely uncomfortable as I listened to them sing Shout to the Lord, though. Christy and I sat there with our mouths agape as they sang. Maybe it was because they took out the explicit reference to ‘Jesus’ in the opening line. Does the song actually make any sense without saying the name Jesus? I don’t know. I’d assume it does. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not jumping on the ‘censorship’ bandwagon. I’m just curious if the song makes any sense with the changed lyric.

Maybe it was because I still don’t like it when they have them sing as a group.

Maybe it was because it just felt…strange. I can’t put my finger on it.

Idol Gives Back version
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Did anyone else feel strange listening to it last night?

Ascension Day Service

So, I’ve been chronicling the development of my Ascension Day service for the Sacraments & Worship class. I finally had to turn it in, even though I don’t think it’s finished. This is something I’ll probably be working on for years. The professor liked it. He even said it’s “very creative and imaginative…right on target seeking to adopt the historical themes of Ascension Day to the postmodern audience,” and gave me an A, even though it was quite late. The final project was 19 pages, with four appendices (including a layout of the setting…I’ll try to post it someo other time) and a Power Point presentation. I think the amount of work that went into it might have been a little overboard, but hey – it is a graduate program, after all.

When we discussed Ascension Day in class, I was struck at how little the Evangelical or even the Protestant churches as a whole do to recognize Jesus’ ascension into heaven. With the whole emphasis on the “End Times” and the Left Behind phenomenon, it’s a wonder that Christ’s ascension is not emphasized more. There cannot be a second coming if Jesus had not initially left his disciples, after all.

Even without a premillennial worldview, Ascension Day should still be an important time for contemporary Christians. THis service is an attempt to flesh out the different aspects of Ascension Day within a worship setting. With experience as “king” in today’s culture, I tried to make it as participatory and experiental as possible, engaging as many senses as possible as frequently as possible.

So, without further ado, I present the Ascension Day service…

Ascension Day

As mentioned earlier, I’ve been working on a service for Ascension Day that builds upon the historical observance of the feast day, but also something that’s more participation than observation.

This is a basic sketch of it:

Sursum Corda

Brief Welcome

Songs (possibly Christ Arose, Crown Him with Many Crowns, My Glorious)

Sermon – delivered from the stations around the room

Visiting the Stations – the different stations focus the participant on different aspects of what Jesus’ Ascension means and why it is important. Each station has different visuals (props, video clips, songs, “active learning”-type stuff, etc.) that help relate the point to the participant. These are in no particular order and the participants have ample time to move from station to station.
* We have an Advocate at the Father’s right hand.
* We will face persecution
* We are challenged to spread the Gospel with others
* We will join Him in the Great Banquet (Wedding Feast)
* The Kingdom of God is being ushered in right now
* We have the presence of the Holy Spirit
* We anticipate His return

Trumpet Sound

Collect

Songs

Communion “hymn”

Communion

Closing Video and Benediction

So that’s it in a nutshell. When I have more time, I’ll post more of what I’m thinking. The idea is to really make it something in which everyone feels like they’re participating instead of just watching what’s going on up on stage.