Monday, November 8, 2010

New Beginnings...

I published my first blog post on March 11, 2004 and at that time it was called Swainlife. I began writing a blog primarily as a place to keep my friends and family up to date with our ministry happenings while we were living in Spain. Over time I realized that it was not only a place where I could inform friends and family, but could also teach and use it as a forum to share things I was learning. Then the blog began to be less about the Swains and what we were up to and more about how living Life as Ministry could and should be lived out by all who claim to follow Christ.

In recent months I have found myself not having much more to add to this blog. I believe that this blog has served a purpose as a creative outlet for me (and hopefully an inspirational resource for others) over the last six years, however I find myself being drawn to different media. I used to use this as a place to drop photos of the kids, but Facebook is much better for that now. As I move forward I intend to focus my creative energy more in music, photography and other creative ventures that will let me express my thoughts. I don't plan on taking down this blog because, for me, it serves as a sort of diary of the last several years during some of my most formative spiritual growth. I wanted to highlight some of my favorite posts over the past several years and say thank you to those who have followed regularly and also to those who have dropped in from time to time.

Madrid Train Bombing (2004)
See the Cafe (2004)
Life Is Ministry (2004)

Life in General (2005)
Seasons Change (2005)
Why are We Here? (2005)

Hugs and Tears (2006)  
So you're looking for a new job??? (2006)
Random Facts (2006)
Misconceptions (2006)

Top 25... (2007)
Random Chicago Fact (2007)
Thoughts on Solitude (2007)

Missing the Point (2008)
Practical Ways to Support a Missionary (2008)
Is Christ Divided? (2008)
Human Trafficking (2008) 
Our First Allegiance (2008)
Addicts make the Best Church Leaders (2008)
Faith of a Mustard Seed (2008)
Will the Real J.C. Please Stand Up? (2008)
Consumerism (2008)

In Danger of Missing God? (2009)
Anemic Christianity (2009)
American Health Care Makes me Sick! (2009)
Cultivating Life in the Dessert (2009)

Looking Back on a Decade (2010)
Jesus' Response to Healthcare (2010)
One Christian's Response to Adam Savage (2010)

Monday, August 23, 2010

Life in Salem.

Wow! Things here have been chugging along at a fast pace and I wanted to share some of the highlights with you, before so much happens that I can't. So, here goes:

Crater Lake: Two days after we arrived in Salem we met up with our good friends Ric and Jannie Halloman and their daughter Fiona. Before they knew we were moving out west they had already made plans to visit Crater Lake, OR. When they found out that we were moving, we all decided that we had to meet up during their trip. We spent a beautiful day together at Crater Lake with warm weather around 65 degrees which was contrasted by leftover snowbanks that were easily 13 feet high in some places. It was really good seeing friends from the mid-west upon touching down in the Pacific NW.

House: We spent the next week settling in to the house that we are renting. It has a cozy feel and is the perfect size for the family. The girls instantly fell in love with the tree house that was already in the back yard.

Job Search: The Monday after we moved into our house I hit the ground running on my job search. I had been networking for several months and I began to follow every lead to find a job that was a good fit for our family. I talked to some design and marketing firms, some local businesses and made connections with some non-profit agencies in the area. During this time I took on a small project for a local design firm setting up a website for a non-profit group that is selling SOMO Beads to raise money for school children in Uganda.

Coffeehouse: During the time that I was looking for work, one of our new friends in the neighborhood introduced us to someone involved in the local CMA church. They mentioned to us that they were looking for someone who understood both running a cafe and had some experience in ministry. This church is setting up a community center five blocks from our house with many programs serving the neighborhood including a free medical clinic and a cafe. Lori and I spent some time prayerfully considering this and felt like we should move forward with the interview process. The more I discussed the vision with the church leadership for the Coffeehouse, the more we became excited about what they are doing in the neighborhood.

On July 27, I accepted the position and went from being one of the interviewees to one of the interviewers as we had to immediately hire a staff of ten baristas. The coffeehouse is currently under construction and is an entirely new project that will be launched a couple of weeks from now. Since I was hired I have been working closely with the Assistant Manager as we order cafe supplies, attending barista training, and doing everything possible to make sure that we are as prepared as possible for our Grand Opening on September 13.

Life in General: In our free time we have been soaking up the life and culture of the Pacific NW. We have enjoyed various expeditions to state and national parks, the mountains, and the ocean. Lori has been taking care of a garden plot in a local community garden. Also, we have taken advantage of a program in Salem called Neighborhood Harvest. If you follow the link you can see Lori interviewed by Oregon Public Broadcasting (She talks around minute 3). Local farmers donate portions of their fields for the general public to come and harvest for free. Half of what you pick is donated to the local food pantry and you get to take the rest home.

Overall, we are settling in here in Salem. We want to say thank you to all of you have been such an encouragement to us and have lifted us up in prayer throughout this entire transition. We are constantly amazed by our God and thankful for the ways that he works, even when it is beyond our own understanding.
"For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
       neither are your ways my ways,"
       declares the LORD.
  "As the heavens are higher than the earth,
       so are my ways higher than your ways
       and my thoughts than your thoughts.
  As the rain and the snow
       come down from heaven,
       and do not return to it
       without watering the earth
       and making it bud and flourish,
       so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,

  so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
       It will not return to me empty,
       but will accomplish what I desire
       and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.
  You will go out in joy
       and be led forth in peace;
       the mountains and hills
       will burst into song before you,
       and all the trees of the field
       will clap their hands.
  Instead of the thornbush will grow the pine tree,
       and instead of briers the myrtle will grow.
       This will be for the LORD's renown,
       for an everlasting sign,
       which will not be destroyed."

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

We have arrived in Salem, OR

Two weeks ago, we put all of our worldly possessions in this Pod and watched it drive away as we prepared for our move from Hoffman Estates, IL to Salem, OR.

We spent our final weekend in Chicagoland at our church's annual retreat. It was a huge blessing to be with everyone one final time, but saying goodbye was neither easy or fun.
We spent our last night in the area with our dear friends the Hanlons.

Next, we drove to Sioux Falls, SD and connected with our friends from our time serving at IT, John Kathy and Kaitlyn Barcanic.
We spent the next 8 days driving across the country and through various mountain ranges. What a beautiful and vast country we live in! I have shared photos of our journey here (part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, and part 5)

This is our new home in Salem, OR. If you would like our new address feel free to drop me an e-mail or leave a comment in this post and I will respond.  We want to say thank you for all of your prayers as our family settles in to our new home! We always love visitors so if you make it up to the Pacific NW please drop us a line.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Tim Keller: Creativity and Entrepreneurship

Tim Keller "Creation & Creativity" Clip from Redeemer Video on Vimeo.

In this Vimeo Video on the Redeemer Video Page Tim Keller talks about how creativity is a reflection of God. Ex nihilo- bring something out of nothing!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Opportunity is Knocking

This weekend Harvest Community Church will be highlighting Compassion International and its work around the world. Seize the opportunity to get involved!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

One Christian's Response to Adam Savage

Adam Savage is one of the hosts to the Discovery Channel show Mythbusters. I am a huge fan of the show and watch every episode that I can and I also follow Adam's twitter feed. I love how the Mythbusters take things that we assume to be one way or the other and put them to the test to see if indeed our assumptions are correct. I love how they seek the truth and attempt to avoid letting their own biases persuade them.

On more than one occasion I have even seen them admit to being wrong after the conclusion of an experiment. I find this to be a strength, not a weakness. This kind of humility and commitment to the truth is extremely rare in modern society and I appreciate their intellectual honesty. Last week the Harvard Secular Society gave lifetime achievement awards Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman. At the awards ceremony, Adam gave an acceptance speech and that speech is what I would like to respectfully address in this post.

Here is a link to Adam's acceptance speech Food for the Eagle. (Please read the whole speech before going on with this article). Below are some excerpts from Adam's speech along with my own responses.
...It's provably false that there exists no morality outside of religion, therefore the statement sounds defensive to me.
Confirmed... I agree with Adam on this point. I think as Christians we err in assuming that only Christians are charitable or look out for the good of others. I have some great friends who are atheists and I have seen them be very generous and caring and loving because it is the right thing to do. I think Christians have a tendency to assume that we are morally superior to non-Christians or those of other faiths, and this is just not true or accurate. My question for atheist friends is: "Where does this desire to serve and help others come from even when it is contrary to evolution of the species or self preservation?" In my worldview it is a reflection of how God made us to be, but I am sure we would disagree so I will say no more on this for now.

... and Busted- While I agree that morality exists outside of religion, I don't think anyone is intrinsically and completely good. Everyone has capacity for and participates in evil on some level (and I mean everyone, even me, even Adam). A true follower of the way of Christ realizes that no matter how much we try to be good we all fail miserably and utterly in comparison to the kind of life Jesus Christ called people to live. That is the whole story of the Christian faith and for too long Christians have acted as if we have it all together. One Christian writer says that Christians should be among some of the most humble people on earth because they are the ones who truly realize how far they fall from God's idea of what it means to be good.
By what route does anyone come to believe what they believe? We all like to imagine that it's based on a set of logical facts, but it's often a much more circuitous route.
For me it was pretty simple. I'm actually the fourth generation in my family to have no practical use for the church, or God, or religion. My children this trend.
Confirmed- I have to say that I agree with Adam on this point. Most people believe what they believe (religious or otherwise) simply because they grow up in a culture that imposes itself on them. If one only believes what they believe because that is what they grew up being taught and they have not challenged their own beliefs, then you have to wonder if it is really a deep conviction or merely a cultural script that they are living out. Regardless of what you believe, if the only reason you believe it is because it is what your parents and culture believe, then I would say that you might want to revisit and retest your belief structures. Many well intentioned parents and grandparents have been wrong on occasion, and we should be cautious not to just live out what they taught without challenging and testing the veracity of it.
Prayer doesn't work because someone out there is listening, it works because someone in here is listening. I've paid attention. I've pictured what I want to happen in my life. I've meditated extensively on my family, my future, my past actions and what did and didn't work for me about them. I've looked hard at problems and thought hard about their solutions.

See, I order my life by the same mechanism that I use to build things. I cannot proceed to move tools around in the real world until my brain has a clear picture in it of what I'm building. The same goes for my life. I've tried to pay attention. I've tried to picture the way I want things to be, and I've noticed that when I had a clear picture, things often turned out the way I wanted them to.

I've concluded by this that someone is paying attention—I've concluded that it's me. I've noticed that if I'm paying attention to those around me, to myself, to my surroundings, then that is the very definition of empathy. I've noticed that when I pay attention, I'm less selfish, I'm happier—and that the inverse holds true as well.
Plausible- I agree with Adam that one of the main things that happens when I pray is that my own convictions change. As I lift up my needs or the needs of others it is often impressed upon me that I am the answer to my own prayer.

However, in my life I have also seen visible answers to my prayers on behalf of others. These were sincere and authentic prayers where I had no direct influence in the outcome in the other person's life and no one other than me (and God) heard my prayers. The challenge is this: I can't prove that this is not coincidence. What I see as an answer to prayer Adam would see as coincidence at best. So, for my part, I have to at least admit that his point of view that prayer does nothing is plausible. On the other hand, I have seen enough "coincidences" in my life and in the lives of others that I will continue to pray.
While nobody's going to take care of us, it's incumbent upon us to take care of those around us. That's community.
Hmmmm- I would love to grab a pint with Adam sometime and have him unpack this a little more for me. I would like to ask him why it would be incumbent for us to take care of those around us. As an atheist, I wonder what moral imperative there would be to not only take care of others, but to even be willing to lay down your own life for them (maybe that would be going too far).

As a Christian, I believe this statement is true because all of humanity is created in the image of God. As we take care of one another, the weak, the poor, and even our own enemies we are taking care of God (Jesus said that whatever you do to the least of people, you do it to him as well). We are called by God to consider others better than ourselves and die to our own ambitions and desires for the sake of serving and loving others.
We'd all like our good and evil to be like it is in the movies: specific and horrible, easy to defeat. But it's not. It's banal.
 Confir... Actually, I have to go with half-Busted-  Ok, one must admit that some evil in the world is specific and horrible. Take things like human trafficking, the sex trade, slavery, or tyrannical regimes who despise and starve an entire population. To deny this would be to have your head in the sand.

On the other hand, like Adam says, most of the evil in the world is banal. This is because it is something that we all participate in almost daily without even realizing it and this is probably the worst and most prolific kind of evil. The real problem with defeating this kind of evil is that we are all contributors. We may think we are not contributing to evil when we purchase our cheap food, clothing, and electronic products, but then when we hear that they are made in unsafe working conditions we have to ask "are we participating in and even benefiting from evil". It is We are the sleeping masses who go through life without questioning their our actions that contribute to the power structures and systems around the world that lead to injustice and inequality. If we really hope to defeat evil then we should be most concerned with our own actions and pruning out all of the evil our in our own lives. Anyone, who would claim this kind of everyday, commonplace evil is easy to defeat is gravely mistaken and probably has never seriously tried. In this Adam and I agree.  
As far as I can see, the three main intolerant religions in the world aren't helping in that mission.

For all their talk of charity and knowledge, that they close their eyes to so much—to science, to birth control education, to abuses of power by some of their leaders, to evolution as provable and therefore factual (the list is staggering)—illustrates a wide scope of bigotry.
Plausible- I will only speak on behalf of my understanding of the Christian faith. I believe that there are many loud and vocal voices in Christian circles who do close their eyes to some aspects of science. However, for anyone to even hint that science and Christianity are diametrically opposed either does not understand science or does not understand Christianity. For me, trust of the scientific method comes out of my belief that God is orderly and has instilled the universe with order. However, I also realize that our ability to use science in a completely unbiased way to understand everything has its limitations. Recognizing those limitations still leaves us with quite a few questions. Questions that science will never be able to answer or solve.
At the end of The Eagle's Gift, Don Juan reveals to his student that there's no point to existence. That we're given our brief 70-100 years of consciousness by something the mystics call "The Eagle," named for it's cold, killer demeanor. And when we die, the eagle gobbles our consciousness right back up again.

He explains that the mystics, to give thanks to the eagle for the brief bout of consciousness they're granted, attempt to widen their consciousness as much as possible. This provides a particularly delicious meal for the eagle when it gobbles one up at the end of one's life.
And that, to me, is a fine mission.
Plausible- As a Christian, I have to admit that there is a possibility that what Adam says is plausible. I personally would find this kind of existence very depressing. If there is really no point to existence then it seems to me that using our consciousness for the pursuit of knowledge would be no more or less noble then seeking comfort, power, money and using whatever means necessary to do so. While Adam seems like a great guy, I can see that if everyone defines and chooses their own mission in life this could (and does) lead to some pretty hedonistic and destructive practices.

Some Concluding thoughts- I appreciate Adam's candor and honesty in this speech even though my worldview sees the same world through a different lens. While for me, family, culture, prayer, miracles, and church have all played a significant role in my life, none of these influences are strong enough to compel me to practice something that I believe to be false. Also, none of these alone are enough to prove to me that my faith is true.

However, the one thing that is my rock and the foundation of my faith is the great narrative of the Bible and its culmination in the life of Jesus of Nazareth. This story that took place across multiple cultures, languages, and times all points towards the life of one amazing historic figure. This story is, for me, so compelling that I can't imagine anyone in this world being cunning enough to paste this many stories together into one cohesive narrative. I guess it is possible that this series a random stories just happen to fit together into one cohesive whole, but I find that implausible.

I wish Adam and the Mythbusters the best and look forward to learning more as I continue to watch their show!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Matt Swain | Portfolio Website

Hello, Life is Ministry friends. I wanted to invited you to my new website and online portfolio at and my new design blog to go with it. I hope you like it!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Images of Holy Week

The Big Picture Blog has an amazing collection of photos of Holy Week from around the world. Some are beautiful and some are disturbing. Which photo stands out the most to you and why?

Friday, April 2, 2010

The Heaviness of Good Friday

The innocent suffered alone at the hands of the guilty.
Friends fled, silent about injustice.
The wicked jeered and rejoiced.
Darkness covered the world.

God was silent.

God was silent...

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Blessed are the Poor...

I just read about a church in Corpus Christi, Texas that is going to give away over a million dollars in prizes during their Easter service.

"Cornelius asked church members to donate during services two weeks ago. The response since has been overwhelming. The plan was promoted as a $1 million giveaway, but the actual value is going to be much higher. The 15,000 gift bags alone are worth $4.5 million if all the goods and services are cashed in." (Complete article here)
So, what do you think about this? Is this something that is beneficial to the Kingdom or is there a better way to wield generosity?  I would be curious to hear what you think.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Important News from the Swain Family

 About a year ago Lori and I took a vacation to go to the Pacific NW and visit our friends Jacob and Tania Bailey. We lived and worked side by side with the Baileys during our time in Spain and upon returning to the states they moved to Salem, OR. Their plan was simple, get a job and pour yourself into loving your neighbors in the local community.
After visiting Lori and I felt a strong desire to move right away to Oregon and join them, but that didn’t seem prudent and we figured it was just a passing whim. However, during the following weeks and months we continued to feel drawn the Pacific NW and I began to hear Oregon talked about everywhere (books, the TV, movies, movies, you name it). Still not wanting to be rash, Lori and I began talking with friends and mentors and as a family we began to pray about what our next steps should be.
So, to make a long story short we have come to the decision to move to Salem, Oregon. In our quest to live out our faith missionally and incarnationally in the community (These two words simply refer to the concept of Life is Ministry) it is our desire to find gainful employment in the Salem/Portland area that will afford us the ability to connect with the local community in Salem. In ministry terminology this is referred to as tent-making (the term comes from the Apostle Paul and his ability to pay the bills by making tents).
We have been very blessed, honored and thankful for our time at Harvest Community Church over the past three years. This time has been extremely valuable and formative in our lives and we have so many great friends at HCC that it has been very difficult decision for us to make. We have felt fully supported and encouraged by Harvest Community Church and its leadership throughout this entire process. We only hope that we have been as much of a blessing to our friends at Harvest, as they have been to us!
Three ways we could use your help at this time:
1) Networking
I just arrived in Portland this morning on a networking trip to Salem and the surrounding areas. I have scheduled some interviews and several meetings over the next couple of days with local business and ministry leaders, but I don’t want my time to go to waste while I am here. If you have in friends in the Salem/Portland area that you feel comfortable connecting me to, then drop me a comment in this post. I would love to connect with as many people as possible while I am on this trip.
2) House for Sale
We have a beautiful 3 bedroom ranch in the Hoffman/Schaumburg area that is for sale. If you or anyone you know is in the market to buy, Cornerstone Reality will be hosting an open house this Saturday from 1-3pm at 605 Mohave St. Hoffman Estates, IL.

3) Prayer

We cannot tell you how much we appreciate your prayers! Moving is never a simple or easy task. We would just ask for your prayers for our family as we plan to make this move. 

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Jesus' Response to Healthcare

When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, 
he had compassion on them and healed their sick.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Information Overload, Social Networks and the Gospel

Check out this video! Our world has changed rapidly in the last decade. I often am amused when I hear people speak about the Gospel as though it were merely information to be disseminated among the masses. If that is the case then the truth is that it will probably drown in the mass of information overload that the world is just beginning to come into contact with.

ALL THIS INFORMATION MAKES OUR WORLD A VERY NOISY WORLD (why is he shouting?) A world clamoring for community (did you you see how many social networks exist?). I participate in my share of online social networks, but I sometimes wonder if it is like gorging on junk food when what I am really craving is a healthy meal.

What would happen if followers of the way focused more on living the kinds of lives that Jesus called people to? How would that influence the way we think about this Gospel and how we share it with others? What if there was a better kind of social network than the one that is found on twitter, Facebook, and Linked-In? What if people had such amazing conversations and meals together that they did not have time (nor interest) in dropping a 140 character message to an anonymous audience?

Wednesday, March 3, 2010