What I’m Doing These Days

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It’s been a hot minute since I posted something to the blog, and well, the time has come. As of September 2015, I began working from home as a freelancer. I’ve done a good many things in my 11 months, from inbound call center support, outbound calling, data mining, research, social media profile creation, social media management, email marketing, customer support and more.

I’ve learned that with the right tools and techniques, you can find a ton of legitimate work-from-home opportunities and I’m living proof of that.

I would love to share what I’ve learned from this past year with you, so if you’re interested in knowing more about how I am doing what I’m doing, reach out and let me know. You can email me at mattplanet (at) gmail dot com.

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What I Know, 2016 Edition

I know that you’re never prepared for hard times.

I know the reality is always worse than what you think, even if you think it’s as bad as it can get.

I know that we are loved by God who gave us choice.

I know we can use that power to choose happiness.

I know we can use that power to choose sadness.

I know we can use that power to choose despair.

I know we can use that power to feel shame.

I know that you can’t know your whole story until you live it.

I know love is an action.

I know love is a choice.

I know forgiveness is a choice.

I know forgiveness is hard.

I know forgiveness is constant.

I know that grief hurts.

I know that losing a friend is one of the most regrettable things that you can go through.

I know you cannot control what is outside of your circle.

I know there is no secret formula to each day, beyond knowing you are loved, you are chosen, you are cherished.

I know my gratitude knows no bounds.

I know I am blessed beyond measure.

I know I will strive to live every day in that blessing and choose happiness and actively love every single person God puts in my life.

I know you probably didn’t make it this far but I hope you did.

I hope you did.

Happy 2016, friends.

A Little Bit of “Ok” in a “Not Ok” World

(Author’s note: The following are my journal entries during my mission trip to Tijuana, Mexico in June 2015. They are in chronological order although I’m not entirely sure on the exact days/times. Also, last names have been removed due to privacy issues…)

First entry

Wow God!

What a day today has been! I am amazed at how full my heart is already from the traveling day we had today.

I wish I could be with my family tonight. I hope they are okay. I hope Everett calmed down and got some rest.

Reading this verse on this page (of my journal) brings me peace. (Author’s note: The verse is “Being with You will fill me with joy.” Psalm 16:11) I love how confident and hopeful it is.

Ezra 8:21: The hand of our God is for good on all who seek him and the power of his wrath is against all who forsake Him.

Let me not forsake you, God, this week!

Second Entry

It’s 5:45 a.m.

Not okay, Rooster. Not. Okay.

Today is Day One of building. Yesterday was spent traveling from Orange to our campsite and it wasn’t without it’s own things.

For one, I had my first In-N-Out burger. For the record, I had a Double-Double Animal Style. It was good but not the best thing I’ve ever had. Scott H. was surprised.

Then Greg S.’s truck broke down at the (US/Mexican) border and me and like 10 other guys pushed it across the border with the Mexican border guard watching (and laughing at us).

All-in-all, I slept good except I had to pee a lot. The snoring didn’t really bother me thanks to the white noise machine.

Let’s do this!

Third entry

(Author’s note: The verse at the top of this page in the journal is Psalm 28:7 which is “The Lord is my strength and shield, I trust him and He helps me.”)

Great verse, God!

Today was concrete day. Maybe the hardest I have physically worked in my life. We have an amazing group, led by Pastor Scott, Kelly, myself, Val S., Michelle B., and a ton of great youth that are on our team.

We killed it today. We got our slab poured for the foundation, and got both roof panels and two walls built. It was an amazing day and I am even more thankful to be here.

The poverty that I am witnessing is so heartbreaking. Kids and more kids make me miss Collin and Everett so much! I hope they are having a good day and night.

Tonight is Peyton S.’s baptism. I am so excited to be here for this thing in her life. She is such an amazing young lady.

Fourth Entry

About six hours of sleep.

That’s about what I’ve gotten the last 3 nights. In truth, that’s probably what I get at home, but for some reason, it seems shorter here.

Rooster was back but he didn’t get me at the crack of dawn, so that helped. I feel like medically induced sleep may be necessary.

Snoring is one of God’s creations I plan on asking God about when I get to Heaven along with gnats and mosquitoes.

Today is wall/roof day. All the hammering.

Fifth entry

Hammer and nails.

But no broken thumbs. So that’s a good thing. Today, we put up the walls, and most of the roof. We strung wire that will be used to put a type of bubble wrap insulation. All in all, a great day. I’m tired again and somewhat anxious about how sleep time is going to go tonight.

Last night, Scott went out (of the tent) and back in and woke me up and I couldn’t fall back asleep right away. The snoring was bad but it’s just two more nights.

I am becoming acutely aware of how ridiculously blessed I truly am. And how for granted I take it practically all the time.

Tomorrow we finish the roof, put the wire and wrap on the house and hopefully do both coats of stucco.

Then we’ll be all but finished.

I am filled with both happiness and sadness at the thought.

There is a kid here who is six years old who reminds me of Collin so much it hurts. This is the longest I’ve ever gone without talking to them. The pain of missing them is so real. I hope and pray that Disneyland was amazing today and they were well behaved for Christy.

I want to rededicate my life to earning her love that she so freely gives me and the boys.

Thank you God for opening my eyes.

A new command I give you.

So welcome back.

I’ve been spending a lot of time in thought and prayer about what to say…and how to say it. But I think my best form of communication is open writing, that is, without exactly putting any borders or restrictions on it. So here goes.

We have completely forgotten John 13:34 as Americans.

Sure, there are plenty of people who have taken this verse to heart and are practicing the active love of Jesus to their fellow man on a daily basis. But based on recent events, I can’t help but think we as Americans as a whole have completely lost the meaning of this verse.

Between laws that do nothing but give people the right to discriminate against other Americans based on who they love to police officers resorting to violence in situations that should never call for it, we are lost.

We have stopped believing that God is in control of our world, of our situations. When I saw this Religious Freedom Restoration Act get passed in Indiana, I couldn’t help but wonder what these business owners think about God’s influence in this world. If you believe that everything happens for a reason, then how could you not believe that God knows what he’s doing when he sends a gay couple to your bakery? Isn’t it possible that he wants to both teach you something and teach them something about love? I’m pretty sure He is not putting these people in your business and life just so you can deny them something that would make them happy…to teach them a lesson…to stand on a principle.

The veil was torn.

Seeing the video of Walter Scott being gunned down in cold blood makes my own blood run cold. I cannot imagine any situation outside of Scott firing on the officer that would cause anyone to think shooting someone 8 times in the back is what they should be doing. And yet…there are still those who think the fault somehow lies with Scott, that because he had outstanding warrants for his arrest or that he had a record that he was somehow complicit in this.

Yes, he ran away. He resisted arrest. These were his crimes. Nothing he did warranted his execution. The officer who murdered Scott will hopefully be found guilty and will spend the rest of his life in a prison. The God I love will forgive him. But sometimes we are absolutely nowhere.

Allow me to break this down for you.

John 13:34 – “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”

First…Jesus says “a new command”. Command is defined as “an authoritative order”. Jesus is giving us an order. And anyone who has served in the military or police will tell you that when you receive an order, it’s wrong to even think about not obeying it.

Secondly, the command is to “Love one another”. But how are we to love one another? Jesus goes on…he says “as I have loved you…”

The ultimate form of love is sacrificial love. Laying down one’s life for another. Jesus did this for us. And as Christ followers, we are called to do this for the people in our lives and the people in the world. No, we’re not called to martyr ourselves (usually) but we are to put the needs of others above our own.

Thirdly, Jesus says something important at the end of the verse… “…so you must love one another.” This overrides the laws we know of because Jesus says “you must love”.

You must love.

You must.

I can’t, you say.

I know…but you must.

We must.

If you call yourself a Christ follower, you must love one another.

Not judge. Not discriminate. Not murder them in cold blood. Not think you’re better than them.

Love them.

You must.

I must.

We must.

This thing…it changed everything.

I should’ve known that following Jamie Golden on Twitter would’ve resulted in something awesome happening. I should’ve known that from the get-go.

A few weeks ago, I see her mention something about SocialEcclesia, and the name sounded too cool to pass up looking up what it was all about, so I do. Checking out their website, I’m immediately intrigued and convince my senior pastor, Chris DeGreen (quick newbie Twitter shout-out) to go with me to it.

We head up early Thursday morning and get there about 10 minutes before the thing begins. Just time enough to grab coffee and our seats. What happens next is just really a God thing.

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We are bombarded by awesome speakers and great material, super resources and incredible ideas, from the time we get there until the time we leave. There are moments of clarity that I am still wrestling with, and things I hope to remember as our church’s leadership continues to chew on everything together.

It was, quite possibly, the perfect thing to come along at the perfect time. Having the opportunity to hear folks like Justin Wise, Dave Willis, James AndrewsCarrie Kintz and more speak with passion about reaching the lost through social media…it was nothing short of extraordinary.

It was eye-opening. It was a time to re-evaluate everything we are doing as a church to reach people for Christ. Our entire car ride back to Birmingham was filled with ideas and thoughts and motivations.

If you have an opportunity to attend one of their one-day conferences, I would highly recommend it. It was an awe-inspiring day!

And now for something completely different…

Many of you that would read this blog probably know that I recently accepted a position at my church, Christ The King Lutheran Church, as the Communications Director. I’m doing a lot of things, but right now, I’m redesigning the church’s website and managing the church’s social network activity. I’ll be helping folks with implementing new email marketing things as well in the months to come.

But, I’ve also been volunteering my time with the youth of the church, for about the last year or so. It’s been an extremely surprising and rewarding time, and as I’ve gotten to know the kids in the group, I’ve seen my relationships with them deepen. In turn, my walk with God has deepened and it’s become a source of tremendous blessing for me personally.

This weekend was the annual winter retreat, and like last year, we convened in Gatlinburg, TN at the Roosevelt Lodge. The lodge itself is just an awesome house and I was really excited to be back there this year. Christy and the kids went with us, and we had 19 youth and three other adult leaders, including our new Youth Director, Kelly Mongoven. Kelly is into her first year in a program through the Memphis Theological Seminary and the Center for Youth Ministry Training. Every time I see how she is with the youth and how much thought and prayer goes into what she does with them, I thank God for placing her at CTK. I’m sure whoever God placed there would be great, but I believe in my heart that Kelly being selected for this program and being placed at this church was God’s chosen plan.

This year, the theme for the trip was “You Are Beloved”, and we focused on the things that the Bible tells us about being one of His beloved children. The kids really took to the lessons and songs we sang and as we broke into our small groups, I was privileged enough to be asked to lead the boys’ discussion group after each worship session. Our discussions were real, they were funny, they were poignant. I was constantly amazed at how this group of 13-16 year old kids could express themselves.

We spent a lot of time in playing together as well, and got even closer. Then Saturday night, something very special took place. Kelly had organized a prayer walk (playlist for the walk linked). Throughout the house, Kelly had set up 12 stations for the kids to go through, each one representing a different style of prayer.

This was the first station.

This was the first station.

As the kids took more than an hour to go through the stations, it was apparent to me and all the leaders that the kids’ hearts were being changed with this activity. It gave them a chance to express in words, actions and thoughts, and it was very liberating to them. Without a doubt, this was the highlight of my experience this weekend.

I went through the prayer walk myself and was blown away at how the activities really brought about thoughts I didn’t know I could have, feelings that lay dormant inside of me came springing to life. I saw kids who were “too cool” for most of the discussions throw themselves into the activities with reckless abandon. I saw Kelly being transformed as she walked throughout the house watching her kids participating in this.

This was Kelly’s first retreat with this group as Youth Director, and it will certainly be remembered as maybe the best trip of it’s kind that I’ve ever been associated with. I can’t wait to see what God is going to do with these kids from this trip!

 

Shroud of the Avatar – Release 1 Review

This past week, around 25,000 of my closest online friends got a chance to play around in the new world created by Ultima creator Richard Garriott.  Shroud of the Avatar is a new RPG that can be played in both single-player and online multiplayer modes.

Garriott’s new company, Portalarium, is the design studio behind Shroud of the Avatar, and after a successful Kickstarter campaign, they gave us all a taste of the game with some in-game footage right around the 30-day mark. Then recently, a 6-month progress video came out, and really showcased the game’s crafting and housing aspects. Around that time, the guys at Portalarium decided to give us their “release schedule”, a series of 3-day play tests designed to help test and showcase the various aspects within the game, giving backers a chance to play the game early on and help shape how the game is released.

Portalarium has done an outstanding job so far in getting the input of it’s fan base by plugging into their interests and giving them a forum to say what they want in the game. They’ve also made it possible to continue giving to the project, allowing you to increase your original Kickstarter campaign gift to unlock more and more goodies within the game.

This test was to showcase the town of Owl’s Head, one of the larger towns in the game, and give players a chance to claim whatever kind of house they wanted to and begin house decorating. The conversation feature was also enabled, giving players a chance to speak to the various NPCs in the town and test out the call/response format they’ve set up in the game. The point of the conversation feature is to make receiving and turning in quests much more organic (i.e. no more pushing an “Accept” or “Yes” button).

First off, I ran into the town and was met by an Owl’s Head guard who wanted to know my business in the Vale. He has been tasked with keeping all rough looking sorts out of the town, but after a few minutes of conversing with him, it seemed he was satisfied (for now) with my story. So into the town I went. I wasn’t aware of it right away, but the devs decided to place chests of loot, both housing stuff and armor and weapons, in various places throughout Owl’s Head.

Once I figured that out, it was quite fun to run around and treasure hunt in the various open public buildings in the town for the chests. I found a bunch of armor and weapons and a ton of housing things, including furniture, crafting stations, paintings and more (even the coveted Throne of Bones!)

The most expensive house in the game (to date) is the Lord of the Manor house, and it was in the Owl’s Head for claiming, so of course I went and claimed ownership of the property. The only downside to this property is that (at least in this set up) there wasn’t a ton of outdoor space to work with. But this is overcome by having nearly endless space on the inside.

A few of the locks inside were buggy but I worked my way around that. There is so much space in this house, I’m not sure I’m going to be able to be comfortable in something smaller!

There were so many little things that reminded me of Ultima Online, the Ultima game I remember and cherish most. Things like the paperdoll character screen to the animals roaming the town, the text of speech being above the characters head and more. You got a sense that this game not only pays homage to the past but is trying to innovate it and bring it forward into the new style of gaming choices.

This game is only 8 months into an 18-month development schedule, and there are many bugs (mostly small ones) but from what I’ve seen, I couldn’t be happier that I’ve contributed to the development of this game and look forward to Release 2 coming in late January when the crafting system is released! More on that in January! Here are a bunch of screenshots I took in the game.

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