The Need For Community

The Need For Community

Community isn’t always going to be readily available, but you won’t get through this life without needing it because God hasn’t designed us to function independently of the body of Christ. So if you can’t find a community, create one. Create a solution.

Protected or Prepared

Blueprint's lead pastor Dhati Lewis and his family recently moved to the Old Fourth Ward of Atlanta, a diverse area in need of a strong gospel presence, where Blueprint's church building is located. Today on the blog, Dhati's wife, Angie, shares about why they have elected to raise their children in the O4W. Our faith has been tested here in the Old Fourth Ward. While Dhati and I have both either lived or gone to school in areas where crime and violence happen regularly, we have never had to navigate our family through anything like it.

Since we have moved to the O4W, people question if we are sacrificing our kids for the mission. Why do you send your kids to that school? Will they be educated? Won’t other negative influences affect them? Or, why would you build a house there? Are you not afraid it’s not a safe place for your children? But I challenge parents to consider their views— should the perspective to parenting be protecting our children from the world or preparing them for battle?

Psalm 127:3-5 says,

"Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward.

Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one's youth.

Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them!

He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate."

There was a shooting a few days ago; in fact, this shooting took place in a park across the street from where we are building our house in the O4W. That was sobering enough, but later I was sitting at my children’s school working on some things for the principal. My oldest son’s teacher walked through and told me this heart-wrenching story:

A boy walked up to a girl in class and said, “Your daddy died and you are going to die like him.” What a horrific thing to say, but even more so when your daddy is the one who was shot last night! The girl began weeping and collapsed in the teacher’s arms, sobbing. In turn, the teacher began crying— lost, she wasn’t sure if the boy completely fabricated a story or if there was any validity to it. The little girl— only a 2nd grader— kept saying, “He was alive when I left.”

The boy was sent out, the principal came down, the class was collectively sad— and the teacher looked up and saw Dhati Jr with his head bowed, praying. The teacher asked Dhati to continue to pray, to pray for the girl, the dad, for the kids in class, and for her.

If my job as a parent is to raise up my kids in the way they should go, to view them as arrows that will be shot out into battle— this battle in which we as Christians are actively attacking the gates of hell-- if that is my job, then I have to realize an important truth:

Arrows are not meant to be protected; they are meant to be shaped and prepared. 

Have we missed our call as Christian parents? Is our call to give them the best we can with what we have, the best education, best experiences, best opportunities, best set of friends, best clothes to help them fit in, gadgets that will best prepare them for this technological world?

Or is our call still the same one from back in Deuteronomy 6? Is it to teach them about God, inform them of His faithfulness, call them to seek Him in every scenario and to make His name known? Is it to train their hearts to seek the Lord, to depend on Him, is it to shift their dependence from me as parent to Him as Father? Is it to prepare them for battle?

I am incredibly proud of my son for turning to the Lord in a dark moment. I am grateful to the Lord for giving us, as a family, the opportunity to live in an area that requires faith daily. There are days that this call is harder than I ever imagined, and there are more days that I see His incredible grace and I feel His endless presence and I walk in His hope.

Please continue to pray for us as we prepare our Arrows in the Old Fourth Ward.

Tough Questions: The Resurrection

This is the second question/answer post in our Tough Questions series. Question (from Loretta Hazel): "Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24 all tell us about the Resurrection, but they all have some key differences in the accounts. Differences that I personally struggle to piece together to form one story. How do we explain how all 3 accounts are accurate?"

Great question. It's one that people have written entire chapters and sections of books on.  With that being said, I don’t think that a single blog post is gong to be the silver bullet that completely resolves this dilemma.  Most answers that I’ve seen and heard are basically timelines that have been constructed (which are often pretty accurate and very well put together).  The only problem that I have is that timelines don’t really help us to read the Bible with any more confidence.  I don’t just need an answer, I need to understand the process of how someone came to that answer.  I need to understand the principles behind the process.

Just to restate, your question is basically how can the resurrection accounts all be different, but all be true at the same time? Common sense tells us that there needs to be a certain amount of congruence or someone is lying.  I remember when I was younger and I knew that me and my boys were about to get into trouble, we would all get into a room and make sure the details of our story lined up so that it would be “believable."  If someone’s story doesn’t line up then it can mess it up for all of us.  Before an interrogation, get your story together.  Why didn’t the disciples have the foresight to do this?  They were all friends.  Surely they could have all gotten together and made sure everything lined up so that the truth wouldn’t be questioned.  Maybe if they all had the same copy editor we wouldn’t be struggling with this.

As I said before, there’s a host of resources that help to line up how all of the events fit together (I’ll reference some of those resources at the bottom of this page).  However, there are two quick principles that make this dilemma a little less intimidating.  I’m grateful to Robin Schumacher for clarifying these two points and making them so plain.

A Partial Report isn’t necessarily a False Report.

One thing about history is that every account of history is a partial report.  It’s impossible for a historian to record to every event that happens.  No one writes a history book and recounts the temperature outside, the color and texture of the grass, the exact amount of people in a crowd, etc.  Every historian edits.  They remove what they deem to be unnecessary events in order to highlight the other events that lend themselves to what they’re trying to communicate.

The Bible is no different.  Some authors record one trip to the tomb, others record multiple trips back and forth to the tomb.  This isn’t a sign that’s meant to move us to to discount their records and disbelieve what they say.  It’s simply a historian seeking to remove the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak.  Much like a sculptor creates a statue by removing what he deems to be excess pieces of stone, a historian always tells a partial story.

A Differing Account isn’t necessarily a False Report.

This is really just an implication of the previous point.  Just because two stories highlight different events doesn’t make one of the accounts any less true that the other.  For example, the gospel of Matthew (28:1-10) mentions that one angel speaks to the women, but in the gospel of Luke (23:56-24:12)  it states that two angels appear to the woman and speak to them.  These accounts may seem different, but it doesn’t mean that someone is lying.  It could just mean that Matthew only decided to make mention of the angel that spoke.  It doesn’t negate the fact that there may have been other angels.

Differences can either be contradictions or complements.

Really it comes down to understanding that differences aren’t always contradictions… sometimes they are complements.  Sometimes (as in the case of the resurrection accounts) they all come together to form a series of accounts that complement one another to give us a well rounded picture of all that took place.

Authors, like Luke, who were very familiar with the other gospels that had been written and decided to write another account weren’t trying to contradict the other writers… his intent in recounting the resurrection (as well as the life) of Jesus was to provide a complete picture of this amazing event.

Conclusion

The differing accounts of the resurrection are merely differing perspectives of the same accounts.  It’s the same event seen from various vantage points and relational connections.  Which at the end of the day, makes for a more believable account of the resurrection.

For instance, if every one had the exact same story, with the exact same words and the exact same vocabulary, the same people that already doubt the resurrection would still claim that this was a hoax (and their evidence would be that the story is “too tight”).  Really, at the end of the day, there is no “ideal” way to say that someone who was murdered is now alive and isn’t a zombie.

Once we get past the secondary details, we can remember that everyone was consistent with this one fact… JESUS ROSE FROM THE DEAD.  These people went to their deaths and many of them experienced death as a result of holding on to this truth.  And if you ask me, the fact that their convictions about the resurrection were written in blood should carry more weight than the myriad of convictions that are merely written on blogs.

Resources

1. A Harmony of the Gospels  (for $0.01 on Amazon)

2. Craig Blomberg – The Historical Reliability of the Gospels (You can preview much of the book on Google books.  His section on the resurrection begins on page 136 and is also on Google books in its entirety.)

3. John Wenham – The Easter Enigma (an entire book dedicated to this very question)

Which Way Should I Go?

Romans 12:1-2 is a passage most often discussed with an emphasis on being a living sacrifice. But what does that look like? The fact that we are living means that there is a day to day aspect to this sacrifice. I want to bring to your attention the little four letter word that comes up far more often in the daily lives of believers: will. How often do we ask "What is God's will for my life?" or "What does He want me to do in this situation?" Far too often we think of God's will for our lives as some kind of decision-making assistant or crisis removal service.

So where can we look for examples of people truly following God's will? We should look to the Bible. From the beginning to the end we find accounts of God's interaction with humanity and creation.

The Book of Acts is a record of the acts of the Holy Spirit at work with the beginning of the church and the passionate followers of Christ including Paul and Timothy. In Acts 15 we read that there are false teachers already distorting the gospel and telling the non-Jews that they must first live like Jews in order to be followers of Christ. This includes the painful obedience of circumcision. So the church leaders get together and produce a letter to tell the believers this is not necessary to follow Jesus. Paul and Timothy are taking this news to believers, yet Paul chooses to have Timothy circumcised. Why? Let's read on.

Acts 16:6-7 is even more perplexing, for it tells us that God forbids them to share the gospel in Asia and then even specific cities. Why would God tell them to not share the gospel there?

The end result of this advancement onward is Paul and Timothy arriving in Philippi. This city is a big deal in the region as well as a Roman colony. What happens here is confusing. They share the gospel and in the process a demon-possessed girl is heckling them for days. Paul finally casts the demon out but instead of receiving praise they are beaten and thrown in prison. At this point surely Paul and Timothy could be thinking that they should have spent more time in one of the places the Holy Spirit led them away from. Timothy could be upset that he left to follow Paul, was even circumcised, just to end up in jail.

Then God shows up. He shakes the ground and all the prison gates are opened. God even removed all their shackles. The jailer wakes up and realizes he will be executed for letting the prisoners free so he goes to kill himself. Paul and Timothy alert him to see that no prisoner has left. This is obviously an even more miraculous thing than the gates and shackles being opened, because what prisoner is going to stay put in a chance like that?

The jailer takes Paul and Timothy to his house and not only does he accept Christ, but so does his whole family.

Our lives will most definitely not match this story exactly, but what I want to point out is that so very little of it makes sense to our minds. There is only one good explanation: Paul and Timothy had a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit was leading them day by day along a path that only God can see.

Now back to you and me. If you are going to buy a big price item or even just to out to eat at a restaurant, you seek out three types of data. You look up people's reviews and you read what the company says themselves. Finally, you go and experience it for yourself. This is exactly how we are to know God and know His will for our lives. Read His Word, seek healthy Christian community, and seek His face.

God's will for your life is summed up in the greatest commandments: love God and love Others. Seek The Lord wildly and live actively on mission with Him. Don't live for God, live with God. He desires to know you and be known intimately.

Tough Questions: Violence in the Old Testament

This is the first question/answer post in our Tough Questions series. A few months ago, we preached through the book of Judges at Blueprint.  If you’ve ever read through the book you know that there are some tough things to grapple with.  In my opinion, there’s nothing more difficult to wrestle with than reconciling God’s goodness with His apparent command of mass genocide of entire nations.  How could a loving God do something like this?  How could He not only kill innocent people that haven’t done anything wrong, but also enlist other people (namely the Israelities) to be accomplices in this act?  Is it a contradiction for Him to command His people not to murder but then order them to kill people?  How could God’s people be holy while they carry out a decree like this?

See what I mean?  Lots of questions (difficult questions) come to mind and most of those questions appear from reading the first two pages.  My goal isn’t to answer all of these questions exhaustively (because it would take more than an 1000 word blog post to do that).  My goal, however, is to help you understand a few truths that should help you connect the dots (or at least move some roadblocks that exist) between God’s goodness and His command for His people at this specific juncture.  By asking and answering three questions I hope to get to the underlying assumptions that keep us from reconciling these two truths.

Who has the right to decide to end a human life?

I think that before we begin making judgments on what’s good or evil, the first question that we have to ask is who has the right to end a human life?  We immediately look to ourselves and other humans and recognize that we don’t have that right.  That’s why murder is something that is so appalling.  We look at murderers as people who “stole” someone else’s right to live.  Many times you’ll hear people say things like, “you had no right to take his life.”

Which leads me to my point: if we as humans don’t have the right to determine who lives and who dies, then who does?  Really, the only person with the right to determine who lives is the Author of Life Himself.  Hebrews 1:3 says that God sustains all things by His powerful word.  Psalms 104:10-14 talks about how God nurtures the earth and provides the rain and water that brings the vegetation in the earth.  So we see that God both directly (by sustaining our every breath) and indirectly (by providing the earth with everything we need to survive) keeps each and every one of alive daily.  If He were to stop producing oxygen for an hour, the whole world would die.  God doesn’t just wind the clock and let all of us carry on in our life, He actively gives us every breath, He is actively engaged in every heartbeat.  God decides second to second, minute to minute, and hour to hour who lives and who dies.

In a nutshell, God Himself has the right to determine who lives and who dies because He is both the creator and sustainer of life.  If you’re discontent with this, then the question becomes, if God doesn’t have that right... then who should?

Who sets the standard for what is worthy of life and death?

Since God created and sustains our life, then He is the one who determines the standard by which life and death are “earned”.  This is something that you and I praise and are grateful for in every judge.  It’s a concept of justice.  Someone who has power and authority and uses this authority to uphold a standard of good.

God’s command to Israel to wipe out a nation wasn’t something that God determined would be done by His “favorite” nation to a nation that He liked less.  In Deuteronomy 9:4-6 God tells Israel that He is going to drive out the nation because of their unrighteousness (not because of Israel’s righteousness).  God is not practicing favoritism.  God is not a colonialist that is wiping out the Native Americans so that “His people” can possess the best land.  God is a just judge who is (in His infinite wisdom) using sinful people to judge a nation that’s rebelled against Him.

Before we start to cry out that this is unfair, and that the Israelities have it good, let’s remember that God (because He is just) does the exact same thing to the Israelities as they progress in their unrighteousness.  In the book of Judges, time and time again God turns them over to another wicked nation because of their sinfulness.  The book of Habbakuk is a conversation between God and an Israelite.  The Israelite begins the book and is appalled that God is using a wicked nation to enact justice on the Israelites, but by the end He begins to understand that God is just and has the right to govern His creation how He chooses.

Does God have an obligation to keep us alive?

If anything both of these truths should cause us to reflect on the fact that because of our sin, we have earned death (Romans 3:23, 6:23).  God has no obligation to keep any of us alive.  Every breath that we take is a gift from God, and we shouldn’t assume that just because God’s justice doesn’t take place immediately that it’s not deserved (Romans 2:4; 2 Peter 3:8-10).  God’s continuous patience with us is meant to lead us to repentance.  Every breath that we take is a gift of grace.  If he were to judge us for our sin we all would have been gone a long time ago.

On that day when God decides that our life will end (regardless of the means that our death comes about), one thing that we’ll all be forced to remember is that God was extremely gracious for all of the days that He granted us.  Understanding this truth should give us a new perspective on how we spend our days (especially how we acknowledge God each morning).

A brief word to the two types of people who may be reading this blog:

Like I said before, you’ll be hard pressed to find a comprehensive answer on this blog or any blog.  For the person that is doubting and a skeptic this may not be sufficient proof because the underlying assumption that we haven’t dealt with is “is God good?”.  If you come to the table with the assumption that God is wicked, then there are much more extensive works that could help you reconcile some of the apparent paradoxes that you find.  My encouragement, however, would be to start reading the Bible and look at the patience with which God deals with His people.  Look at the gross ways they sin against Him and how much self-control He has.  Ask yourself, if you had no limits on your power and there was no one to judge you or restrain you from retaliation, how would you exercise that power towards people that offended you?  Compare your response to God’s and let me know who is more gracious, more patient.

For the person who begins with a devotion to God and has the underlying assumption that God is good and just has trouble connecting the dots, I hope this helped.  This is a good starting point, but it may not answer all of your questions either.  My hope and prayer that this will help to ease a little of the tension and cringing that comes as you read and try to explain these portions of Scripture.