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Redding, CA

Singer, songwriter, beard grower.

 

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Value vs. ability, or: Why I'm okay being terrible at basketball.

Matt Stinton

When we're young, we don't really care about the question "who am I?" because we're too busy climbing trees and pulling pig-tails to be concerned about questions of identity. However, there comes a point in everyone's life where we began to discover things that we were good at. If we were lucky, we gained acceptance from our peers for these things. All of a sudden, we became the athlete. The funny one. The painter. Or in my case, the songwriter. 

I remember writing my first "good" song as a teenager (and please do note the quotation marks). I knew that if I played that song at youth group that week the girls would surely be impressed. And I was right. The song was a success, drawing me comparisons to whatever singer was their favorite at the time. And so my identity as a songwriter was solidified. That was who I was going to be.

From that point on, songwriting became both my outlet and my escape. When I was inspired, I wrote a song. When I was heartbroken over a girl, I went home and wrote a sad song, seeking solace in the melodramatic words I scribbled in my college-ruled notebooks. What I didn't know then was how wrapped up I had become with songwriting. It wasn't what I did, it was who I was. 

I would imagine this is pretty common for most of us. We can probably all think of something that gained us acceptance in our circle of friends or at least something that gave us a sense of worth. Once we found it, we clung to it. We wrapped ourself up in it and hid there.

The problem with this is that when we answer the question “who am I?” with an ability (or a list of them) we have built a very shallow and collapsable self-image. As soon as someone comes along who is more talented, better looking or who simply receives more attention than we do, our world collapses. I think most, if not all, identity-crises are the results of this process because as soon as our circumstances threaten or destroy our self-image, we have no idea who we are. We have invested ourselves into who we want to be instead of investing into our hearts. 

I’m pretty bad at basketball. Maybe even terrible, actually. If I have the misfortune of playing a pick-up game with some friends, it’s probably going to be amusing to the other team and frustrating for whatever suckers got stuck with me on their team. If I play with someone who is much more gifted at basketball than I am, I’m not threatened by that. If someone tells me I’m bad at basketball, I’m just going to agree with them. I won’t feel like my world is falling apart because someone is showing me up or being blunt. The reason is that I don’t care about basketball. I don’t identify myself as a “baller” and so whether I’m good at it or not doesn’t affect me. Now, if someone tells me I’m bad at writing songs, that’s going to sting a bit and the reason why is clear. I am a songwriter and I’ve identified myself that way since I was a kid. 

Do you see what I’m getting at here? We tend to get overly protective of the things that make us “us” but we should never have to defend them. In reality, that’s insecurity. We will never feel the need to defend anything we have faith in. If we never develop a sense of value and identity apart from our abilities, our roots cannot grow deep and the first storm that comes along can easily topple us.

The good news is that it’s never too late to start investing into your heart and the best place to start is by identifying who God has called you. 

In Matthew 3, we read the account of Jesus' baptism. I'm sure we all remember it but the Father said of Jesus, "This is my beloved Son and in Him I am well pleased." The interesting thing about this is that Jesus hadn't done anything yet. Have you ever thought about that? In fact, this happened before He had performed any miracle of any kind. In other words, the Father wasn't pleased because of anything Jesus had done. Rather, Jesus' “doing” was birthed out of knowing He was a son and had already found favor with the Father.

To further drive this point home, let’s look at Genesis. After God created man, He looked and saw that it was "very good." He didn't look and say "Do these three things and I'll love you." He said it was good because He had made it good. He didn't need us to do anything to become pleasing. He was already pleased.

What this means is that God has never attached value to us because of what can do for Him. All of His pleasure in us is grounded completely in the fact that He loves us. If God doesn’t define us by our abilities, then why should we?

Our identity, first and foremost, is who God calls us. Our gifts and talents are all great but they are secondary to His voice. We were never supposed to get our identity from what we can do because everything can change in an instant. Jobs can be lost, opportunities can be given to someone else, inspiration can run dry. Circumstances can change what you do but they can never change who you are. 

Investing, or: Why God looks good in a business suit.

Matt Stinton

This is not an article about the stock market so if you're wanting stock tips...I don't really have any to offer so feel free to skip to the next post. What I actually want to talk about is a different sort of investment altogether. 

If someone I've never met walks up to me and tells me I have issues, I'm probably not going to receive it very well or think very highly of that person. They have not been given an invitation to speak into my life nor have they shown me any value as a person. Therefore, they have no right to tell me what I should do. However, if a friend I love and trust tells me I have issues, I'm much more likely to actually listen to them and take their advise. Makes sense, right?

It's funny how we'd say that the first person was rude and out of line for what they said and yet we, as Christians, do that all the time. Traditional evangelism is actually based completely on telling people they have problems. We have really become famous for what we disagree with. If I remember the song correctly, it says they will know we are Christians by our love not our negativity. Why do you think the homosexual community, for example, is often so anti-church? They've been repeatedly told that their lifestyle is wrong by a bunch of strangers who have invested little to no time into them save the time it took to conjure up a condemning comment or two and some insensitive Facebook posts. 

What made Jesus so effective was His willingness to invest into people. In fact, He became very unpopular with the religious crowd because He actually practiced what He preached. He came for the lost and the broken so that's who He spent His time with. He wasn't a political figure, He was a friend of the hurting.

To be honest, I have a big problem with the outspoken nature of some Christians on social media. It's sort of like the internet killed our good manners. People post the nastiest comments without any regard for the effects of their words. Hiding behind a profile photo has made it so there is no accountability for what is said. I just can't help but think this critical spirit is so devoid of the very love that changed our own lives. 

I've heard it said that what brings you into the Kingdom is what will be required to keep you in it. So many people use the fear of punishment or hell as a motivator but if someone comes into the Kingdom because of fear then they've come in without knowing who the King really is. He is depicted more as an angry, vengeful tyrant than as a loving Father. He is not vindictive, He is the perfect embodiment of love. If there is no fear in love then there is no love in fear.

Thankfully, God is a brilliant investor. He has every right to sit up in Heaven and criticize us for everything we're doing incorrectly--the mistake we just made, the relationship we're damaging, the time we're wasting. He is wholly perfect and wise, after all. Fortunately for us, He's also stubbornly loyal and infinitely patient. He knows that if we're going to be changed, that He will need to be continually involved. We need His constant care and attention and He always know just what we need to grow.

One of my favorite things I've ever heard about marriage came from my friend Jeremy. He said, "you love your spouse into who they become" and that's exactly what the Lord does with us. He knows love, not criticism, changes lives. 

Love is the ultimate investment and it is the only thing that can bring true and lasting change. Establishing laws can only attempt to control symptoms but it can never fix the pain that causes them. It is only when we are willing to love as He loved that we will see society transformed.

Curiosity, or: how pornography kills cats.

Matt Stinton

Clearly I'm aiming at a particular audience with this post but I do think that the principles behind overcoming something like this apply to a lot of different areas of life.

Pornography is something that is ruining lives, relationships and marriages. It is attempting to ruin this generation's view of Godly sexuality and turning our fathers, sons and brothers into addicts (it obviously does affect women as well but on a much smaller scale). It has never been easier to access and it has never been so successful of an industry than it is now.

However, there is a glimmer of hope that I've been seeing. Not only is the Christian community addressing the inherit problems of a porn habit, but so is mainstream media. GQ wrote a fascinating article about the complications that accompany this addiction. (Note: if you decide to read their article, just beware that they likely will have a few "spicy" photos advertising other articles they've written...sort of funny how they don't connect the dots there.)

While all this attention is being brought to the detriments of pornography, the attention in and of itself doesn't answer the question of how to avoid the allurement of such a foul temptress. As someone who had his collisions over the years, I'd like to pass along a few things I learned along the way. I don't consider myself an expert but if anything I've learned can help someone in their own struggle then it's worth writing about. 

1. KNOW YOUR ROADMAP

When faced with any temptation, one must remember that rarely do you "suddenly find yourself facing the big decision." When you find yourself face-to-face with the thing you've been trying to avoid, chances are you've made small decisions along the way to find yourself there. If I'm trying to get to somewhere like Cincinnati, for example, it is doubtful that I will suddenly find myself passing the city borders unless I've made a series of turns that have brought me there. The same thing applies to pornography. (By the way, sorry, Cincinnati. In this article, you're porn. I know Las Vegas might be more fitting but I'm sure they get enough of that.) In my own life, rarely did I ever go from "OK" to "DANGER" unless I allowed myself to gradually come closer through a series of seemingly insignificant decisions. What I didn't fully realize is how much closer to breakdown each of those decisions took me. 

2.  CURIOSITY KILLED THE CAT

Curiosity is probably most people's #1 downfall and "first turn" on the road to "Sincinnati" (sorry, I couldn't resist). Sometimes we let our wonderings get the best of us. "How short is that skirt...it looks short. I should check it out." Or "Is that person really not wearing anything in their profile photo? I'll just look real quick...just to see." Or how about "It's 3am...I wonder what's on the popular page on Instagram..." If you don't keep your curiosity in check, it's really only a matter of time until you find yourself right where you don't want to be.

3. KNOW YOURSELF

Gosh, this one is a loaded topic and could really be an entire book...I'll try to be brief and informative. To know yourself is to be self-aware. Very often the final straw before full collapse is emotional. Have you ever known someone who had a meltdown or outburst every time they were faced with a specific circumstance or emotion? Here's a fictitious example. Every time Judy gets lonely, she binge eats. If she is going to stop binge eating she needs to become aware of when she starts to get lonely. She also probably needs to get some emotional healing because somewhere along the line she started using binging as a coping mechanism to get her past whatever she needed to get past. Similarly, it is very common for people to find themselves going to pornography when they're feeling a certain emotion. These emotions could be any number of things like frustration, powerlessness, loneliness, or feeling directionless in life. Once you identify how you were feeling before you caved in, you can confront the lie that is inevitably keeping you feeling the way you are. (Note: if you find yourself continually facing an emotion + breakdown cycle that you can't get past, please get counseling. There is no shame in asking for help. We all need it.)

4. THERE IS A LIGHT AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL

I am living proof that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Sometimes, what we need is a good kick in the pants to get us there. Let me be that size 11.5 shoe that kicks you by telling you that you have what it takes to get past this thing. You are strong enough because God didn't make you weak, right? He didn't make you broken, He made you to overcome. But if you don't believe in yourself then you will have a very hard time beating this thing. If you are having a hard time believing in yourself, find someone who does believe in you and ask them to remind you until you're sick of hearing it. Also, don't forget to celebrate progress. The best way to get discouraged is to focus on how far you have to go rather than celebrating the progress you've made. If you're only able to take one step toward victory, that's one less step that you have to take. As the old adage says, a thousand mile journey begins with a single step. 

What I want to leave you with is maybe the best part of all. It does get easier. Willpower is a muscle. Each time you make a good decision, you're giving your willpower a workout and the more you exercise it, the stronger it gets. Keep at it. You've got this.

Identity crisis, or: why to never trust someone in a mask.

Matt Stinton

Pride is a funny topic. While it is usually thought of as arrogance, I actually think it's more than that. While it does often manifest itself as arrogance, I think pride isn't just simply thinking too highly of yourself. 

Pride is typically the overemphasis of something we think we're good at (or would like to be good at) either hoping it will compensate for our insecurities or give us some sense of self-worth. Our problem is we so often have our value tied to our abilities and performance rather than to our identity as a child of God. 

The way I see it, pride is actually insecurity. Someone who is arrogant is motivated by maintaining a certain persona; one that makes them feel superior, brave, successful, or whatever it is that they feel they lack. It is an attempt to make themselves be seen as they think they should have been. Instead of facing their insecurities, they cover them up. Someone who is insecure is overly aware of their shortcomings and doesn't feel like they measure up to anyone's standards, including their own. Anyone who is secure is comfortable in their own skin and doesn't feel the need to hide behind pretense because they know who they are.

Really, this is all a question of identity. My personal definition of pride is believing that your view of yourself is more true than God's opinion of you. It's the direct conflict between who God calls us and who we call ourselves. If we really believed we are who God says we are, we would no longer feel threatened by others or be afraid of being overlooked or rejected.

Our identity as a child of God is vital. Why do you think that when Jesus went off into the wilderness that Satan started every temptation with, "If You are really the Son of God..." The enemy knows that when we are not operating out of our identity, we are not a threat. That's why his biggest attacks are always to distract us to keep us from feeling or acting like God's kids.

Throughout my adult life, I have often found myself hiding behind the mask of confidence, always making sure that I was perceived the way I wanted to be. In reality, I was desperate for affirmation and all I wanted was to feel like I measured up. It was only when I stopped looking for significance from other people that any of this started to change.

My main thought today is this: if we believe that our identity is tied to the Lord and that He was pleased with us before we said our first words then any masks we might wear are just hiding up His craftsmanship. If He's pleased with us then who are we to say He's wrong?