reflections on taking chances

I was 23.
April 2008.
Nearly a year of wonderings and wanderings after graduating from college.
I was ready.
Ready to spread my wings and fly,
ready to take a chance.

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In 2007 I graduated with a degree in music.  In my young, naivete I thought I would immediately be hired in full-time music ministry and that church job offers would simply flood in as soon as I walked across the stage with my diploma.

(I was wrong, by the way).

That summer I travelled to India for a two-month long mission trip.  In many ways, that trip changed my life.  My first time overseas, my first time fully immersed in an eastern culture, and the first time I really caught a glimpse of life abroad serving a God who isn’t American.  A God of all nations.

I returned home more sick than I’ve ever been in my life, and still had no job and no direction for my life.

The difficult months that followed shook me to my core: extreme culture shock, depression, meandering and wanderings…  but then in April of 2008, everything changed.  You see, when I returned from India, my team spent several days in Bangkok, Thailand debriefing.  I had a distant feeling in my heart, a feeling that I would return to Thailand one day.

Ten years ago, in April 2008, I interviewed for a Music Teacher position in Bangkok, Thailand.  A few weeks later, I boarded a small airplane with 2 large suitcases (and a very heavy carry on) and moved to the other side of the world.

I didn’t know a single soul.

But that decision – that chance.  It changed my life forever.

The friendships forged during that year forever changed me, the students I taught showed me what compassion looked like with hands and feet, and living in another culture taught me how to be empathetic.

That chapter of my life opened up doors for me to later serve in full-time Worship ministry, and the relationships there inspired me to pursue seminary.  Many of the co-teachers I taught with are still my friends today.

The thing about taking chances is this: when the Holy Spirit of God prompts us to take steps of faith, or “chances” in our human thinking, the greater chance to take is to ignore that prompting and taking the wider, easier path.

I’m so glad I took that chance.

S6300051India, June 2007

S6300243.jpgKolkata, India, July 2007

IMG_1493_7Thailand, October 2008

IMG_5313Our street, Nonthaburi, Bangkok, Thailand

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Silence and Sound, Day 4

The following is an excerpt from a free advent devotional guide put together by myself and several close friends.  To download this guide, see here.

Week 1
Day 4: The Intertestamental Period
by meridith matson

Within one blank page in our Bibles, much happens in the story of the nation of Israel and within the scope of world history as well. This page between the Old and New Testaments represents a 400 year period of time known as the the Intertestamental Period. This era is known as a time of silence, where God does not speak through a prophet. This time of silence, however, was not an uneventful period in history, or an idle time in which God was not actively present in the world. There were many changes in the region of Israel that also directly impacted the people of Israel during this time.  

The rise of Alexander the Great, and his conquests within this region of the world, significantly impacted culture.  His ideals, as taught to him by the philosopher and his teacher, Aristotle, gave him a vision for unity.  During this drive for unity the Greek language, culture, and ideals were violently forced upon the world in a process known as Hellenization. After the death of Alexander the Great, the areas he conquered were divided into four sections ruled by four generals.  

Another significant period was the Maccabean Era (165-63 BC).  During this time, an elderly priest named Mattathias rebelled against Syrian officials who were trying to force the Jewish people to participate in heathen activities. As a result, a large group of faithful Jews followed him and later led the “Maccabean Revolt.”  These Jews were responsible for eventually cleansing the Temple and restoring devout Jewish worship.  In their persistence, they created the culture and norms present when Jesus shows upon the pages of the New Testament.

Upon further study, we see that though it was a time of silence God was anything but removed from His people.  In the fullness of time, when everything was culturally, politically, and religiously the way God intended them to be, He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to be born of a young Jewish girl.  And through this baby, change arrived: not just for those of Jewish descent, but for the entire world.

Contemplation:
Can you think of some “blank pages” in your life, times when you felt God was silent or that you had removed yourself from God’s presence? What unexpected revelations came out of that time?

 

For more on the Intertestamental Period see: http://www.thetransformedsoul.com/additional-studies/spiritual-life-studies/the-intertestamental-period-and-its-significance-upon-christianity

Silence and Sound Advent Devotional

Faithful readers,

As promised, our contemplative Advent devotional is ready now for download.  Beginning Friday, December 1 through December 25, enjoy a reading and contemplative exercise each day.

Silence and Sound 2
Download Advent Devotaional

Silence & Sound Advent 2017 is our gift to you this Advent season. We hope that through this devotional, you are called to deeper understanding and fuller practice of the faith we share in Christ! We worked together across the world to compile these readings and thoughts as short daily readings with accompanying contemplations or actions you can pick up at any point in the day or integrate into your personal advent practice.”

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“Silence and sound are two vital themes in the Old Testament. Although this pair are often discussed as opposites, we have placed them on a spectrum–silence can sound like many different things. From the beginning, we encounter the silence of the void into which the Creator speaks, a certain silence of good creation at peace as the Creator rests; but also the silence of Adam during the Temptation, the silence of Eve as she gives the serpent too much shrift, the silence of dread that must have filled their ears, knowing the Lord God would show up. Silence gives the foundational mythos of Scripture its cadence, while sound accompanies the interventions of the Creator. God speaks, and the world is created, and so the morning stars sing for joy. Prophets prophesy and kings decree; people cry out in repentance, and then praise.

“All the way through, silence and sound punctuate this holy history of the Old Testament. The silence of pain: from the uncomfortable silence between Abraham and Isaac on Mount Moriah to the deathly silences Esther endured to save her people. The sound of distress: the sound of Israelites groaning under their slavery, the repentant sound of Nineveh’s decree, and the reluctant sound of Jeremiah’s prophecies. The silence of blessing: from the stupefied silence as his brothers are reconciled to Joseph to the hushed silence as the ark of the covenant is placed in the Temple. The sound of victory: the sound of the Lord God cursing the serpent, the sound of the ram’s horn and warrior’s shout crumbling Jericho, the sound of Isaiah’s response “Here am I.”

“Beyond these guiding narratives, we find silence and sound woven through the lives and the faith of believers throughout history. Silence and sound can be sources of strength when we have trained ourselves to hear them. If we will attune our ears and attend to the message, we will hear the glory of God in the sounds and silences of life. The Advent season is a reminder to us of the power of waiting and listening as well speaking out. May the voice of the Lord guide your lives and faith!”

Writers:

Bethany Stallings
Charlotte Cline-Smith
Meridith Matson
Nathan Bingaman
Scott Matson

Artist:

Ellie Stager
letterandjournal.com

arrival of advent

The arrival of advent awaits us.  Beginning December 3, the church begins a season of expectation and waiting, culminating on Christmas Day as we celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

A few friends of mine have put together a contemplative advent guide, which will be available for free.  Check back here later this coming week for a link to download.  This guide is meant to help you create some calm in the midst of this often busy season.  We hope it is a blessing and refreshment to your soul this season.

Check back here for a few of my original writing and poetry, as I’ll post on the day each one is read in the guide.

Peace to you this Christmas season.

Summer, and updates

Hello new and old readers!

I just wanted to take a moment and update everyone on summer, and my upcoming trip to Nicaragua.

School.     Summer is well underway here in Dallas, with the temperatures to prove it!  I’ve been done with the Spring semester for nearly three weeks, but the summer session began as soon as the spring semester ended!  I’m taking just one class over the summer, The Gospels, online and so far I’ve been quite busy with it!  My work schedule has stayed the same so far, with our summer session of lessons beginning in two weeks.

Nicaragua.     Though my plane ticket has not been purchased yet, I plan to leave Friday, June 28 for Nicaragua, and to return July 6 or 7.  There are a few details to be ironed out still, and I’m in need of $600-700 more to be completely funded for the trip.  If you have more questions about my mission trip, please visit the Nicaragua tab here on my blog, and feel free to contact me by email if you have further questions, or would like to help support me financially to help with Vacation Bible School at El Padul in Nicaragua!

THANK YOU.     Thank you to everyone who has prayed for me for this trip to Nicaragua, and just through the past year as I’ve jumped into the deep end of my seminary studies.  God is so good, and I’m so grateful.  Thank you to everyone who has given financially so far, enabling me to go once again back to Nicaragua.  Words cannot say enough.

 

Meridith

Wrath.Grace [John 8]

The scene was not uncommon in the Gospels: Jesus teaching.  The audience also not uncommon: the twelve disciples, various other followers, and the skeptics: the religious teachers of the law.

I always image the religious teachers standing with their arms crossed in the back of the crowd whenever Jesus taught.  Yet still hanging on to every word Jesus said, to judge and find fault with him, or perhaps on the verge of believing he was more than just a teacher or prophet.

Then, a woman was “placed” before Jesus.  This woman, they said was caught in the very act of adultery.  “Such women” were to be stoned.

What say you Jesus?

The crowd eagerly listened.  Perhaps Mothers with young children scurried back to their homes, offended to be in the presence of this woman.  I always imagine her wrapped in a sheet.  However this woman was presented, I’m sure her face wasn’t unknown to those in the crowd.  They knew her, at least her reputation.  And now this reputation was confirmed as she knelt on the ground, weeping tears from the depths of her heart and soul.  Her sin was now exposed.

[Too bad the religious leaders were more concerned with what Jesus was about to say or do, and not this woman herself.]

The Old Testament was serious about sin.  Well, God is serious about sin, but read Leviticus for a new view.  It will bring perspective to the demands a Holy God.  He expected holiness from His people.  God’s wrath and jealousy for his people was that they have devotion to only Him, and that their actions reflect this devotion.

The religious leaders knew the Old Testament like the back of their hands.

“If a man commits adultery with the wife of his neighbor, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death.” Leviticus 20:10

“And I will judge you as women who commit adultery and shed blood are judged, and bring upon you the blood of wrath and jealousy. And I will give you into their hands, and they shall throw down your vaulted chamber and break down your lofty places. They shall strip you of your clothes and take your beautiful jewels and leave you naked and bare. They shall bring up a crowd against you, and they shall stone you and cut you to pieces with their swords.” Ezekiel 16:38-40

Yet this picture in John 8 paints a different picture of God.

(AND, side note = where was the man she had been sleeping with?  The law also says he was to be killed too, but for some reason they only felt the need to condemn her.  Interesting.)

Next, Jesus writes in the sand.  Bible scholars have their own speculations on what he wrote, but truthfully, we really don’t know what it was.

Jesus then said: “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.”

[Scribbles in the sand again.]

woman-caught-in-adultery

And one by one, they all walked away.
Every.
Single.
One.

No one condemned her.
No one could condemn her.
Not even the sin-less Jesus Christ, who knelt down next to her.

Friends, there is much to be said about these short 11 verses.  But tonight, I will not begin to say it.

We all are sinners in desperate need of God’s grace.  Good thing for us: God is in no short supply of grace.  He has lavished it upon us in ways we may never know.

So walk in grace today.  Wherever you are, whatever your situation, whatever your story is: may it be told with grace.  Lining every corner and crevice of your heart.

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