In The Shadows

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My heart flooded with the hope of life. The tests didn’t show anything yet, but I knew something changed. I welcomed the nausea like a gift at Christmas. Every moment felt full of hope and life and purpose. Barely an hour passed each day where I did not dream of the life to come. With Christmas just around the corner, I planned a reveal for each person in our family. I dreamt of rearranging the guest room to make room for a crib. I bought an ornament to give to my husband to let him know of the little life on its way. August 5. That was going to be our baby’s birthday. With each day, the anticipation and hope swelled within me. I was hyper-aware of every sensation, every wave of nausea, anything that confirmed the reality of the hope of my heart.

The first sign of loss came without warning. And with it, a wave of gut-wrenching sorrow. But then – the symptoms stopped. My hopes and dreams stubbornly resurfaced, only to come crashing down a few days later as my body made clear the loss was indeed final.

Empty. Empty is the greatest way to describe the feeling of my heart and my body. In some moments the loss is so tangible my body shakes with the grief of it. In other moments, I feel completely numb.

I can’t shake a profound sense of self-doubt as the fears rage war. Was it my fault? Is something wrong with me? Could I have prevented this? How do I make sure it never happens again? How do I talk to people about it? Was it really real? Did I really feel what I felt? Is it ok to grieve so deeply? Is it ok to cry so much? Is it ok to stop crying? Am I feeling too much? Am I feeling enough? Is it ok to be ok? Is it ok to be not ok? These questions plague my heart and my mind.

Somewhere in the middle of the raging questions, I hear the tender voice of my earthly daddy reminding me, “There are days we feel the weight of pain. And that’s grace from the Lord because we get to feel the ache He feels. And other times, we don’t feel it at all. And that’s grace too, because He is the only One who can handle it all the time. So wherever you are, accept it as grace.”

At times, I remember these words and receive my emotions as grace. But with the relentless barrage of questions, most moments I forget that I have permission to feel without pressure to compare or perform.

Many women have lost babies and hopes and dreams in tragic ways. Infertility, miscarriage, unfulfilled adoption, still-born babies – each loss carries a powerful grief of its own. They pull at a unique place of a woman’s heart and mind and body. They carry within them the pressure and shame of a body who fails to do what it was designed to do. They carry the emptiness of unfulfilled longing, depleted hope, and loss of life. I never wanted to join in solidarity with other women who lost babies. I never dreamt of having this as part of my journey. Nevertheless, here I am, resonating with the deep heart-ache I never hoped to share.

And yet, somehow, in the midst of the questioning wars and deep sorrow, I am aware of the tenderest of loves washing over me. I am reminded that life is a miracle over which no amount of planning and calculation can control. I feel the Father give me permission to rest. To let questions go unanswered. To accept the emotions of the moment as grace from Him and not worry about what I should or shouldn’t be feeling. I’m reminded to be present, to live fully in THIS moment – even when it means accepting the sharpest of pains.

I am finding that in the emptiness lies an unexpected gift, for it reminds me to find my identity and hope in Jesus. Sometimes that idea can seem arbitrary to me. But in the emptiness of loss and the questioning of my own womanhood, I discover anew the power and gentle love of my Father. I feel tempted to place my hope, identity, and value in my ability to bear a child, in my role as a mother, in the presence of a baby in my arms. And with the loss of this little one, my heart is remembering to turn back. With tears and the deepest of aches, my heart is remembering that my identity rests in my adoption as a daughter of the Most-High King. My womanhood does not lessen with the loss. My value is not depleted as hope fades.

Here, in the shadows of sleepless nights and an empty womb lies a gift that draws me deep into the arms of Jesus. It might be one of the most painful gifts I’ve ever received, but it is a gift nonetheless. For what I need most in this moment is the assurance that I am not alone. I need to know that God did not forget about me. I need to know that He holds me on the nights when I cry myself to sleep. I need to know that God loves me even when I don’t understand why He took our baby. I need to know that my hope and identity did not bleed out of my body.

To feel hope at this point is so painful I can hardly imagine it—because hope comes with the threat of loss. Even still, I need to know that, as painful as it is, I can hope again. I can hope because I have a good Father who loves to give good gifts to His children. I can hope because He delights to give me the desires of my heart. I can hope because He heals broken hearts. I can hope because He promises to make all things new. And I can hope because I know that the little one I lost is resting in His arms.

And so, to my little one, I write to tell you that I am so grateful for your short life within me. It is an honor to have held you—no matter how short our time together.

To my husband, I write to tell you that your gentle love and faithful presence with me in each moment have been the most powerful reminder and reflection of God’s love for me in the midst of this ache. I can believe that God is good and loves me even now because of the way you show it to me.

And to my Father, I write to tell you that I need You. I write to tell You that a lot of days I felt like you are teasing me, and truth be told, I don’t understand why this happens to me or anyone else. But I also write to tell you that I choose to trust You. My life belongs to You. If you bless us with a baby, that baby will be Yours long before it is mine. I want to tell you that I am so grateful for Your presence, Your love, and for our family in this time. I am not naïve to the reality that often times in the midst of pain and loss I am unable to see even a glimpse of You. The fact that I can feel Your presence and see Your love is, I know, a gift from You. And I will cling to that in the days ahead when my heart and flesh fail to see it.

“I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty.”

Ruth 1:21


A Note from the Author:

I have asked to remain anonymous in posting this to safeguard a time of grieving for my family. In writing this, I do not pretend to capture the stories or emotions of all women who have lost little ones. Nor do I wish to ignore the deep loss and painful journey that fathers experience on this road. My hope is simply to share my journey and pray that it may give others freedom to grieve and share their stories, too.

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.

The Color of Gratitude

If you wouldn’t mind actually, can you pray for my friend Leland? Last week Leland was fly fishing. As he drew back his fishing rod the wind suddenly caught the fishing line and his fish hook whipped towards him and sunk straight into the centre of his pupil. And as if that wasn’t bad enough the fish hook was barbed. A barbed fish hook sunk bulls-eye into a human eye . . . let’s just say I don’t need to see you cringing to know you’re cringing. Leland is currently out of the hospital but now that the high from the pain killers and well-wishes from family and friends have worn off, he’s dealing with the stark reality that he might not regain sight in his right eye. If the eye doesn’t heal properly he may never be allowed to drive again. At the end of a recent email updating us on how he was doing, Leland wrote: “Hope this message finds you grateful for who you are and what you have.” Grateful.

I’m coming to believe gratitude is a true life-changer. My gratitude began to really take off when I moved to Saudi Arabia two years ago to work as a teacher. For starters, I’m from Canada where there is a lot of green. Now I live in Saudi Arabia where there is a lot of … not green. When you live in the middle of the desert, beige isn’t just the new green, it’s the new everything. You can’t imagine how grateful I now am to come from a country where green things grow. When I lived in Canada green was a given, now it’s a gift.

My gratitude for my Canadian citizenship and education grew when I saw the many expatriate workers who come from other countries such as Pakistan, Afghanistan, India or Nepal to earn more money in Saudi Arabia. And yet they still earn so much less than I do. When I lived in Canada my job and salary was a given, now it’s a gift.

And I have to say, it feels different when I read about another bomb killing fifty-three people in Iraq now that I am living in a country that borders that chaos rather than living in a country across the Atlantic Ocean. Let me be clear: I’m not suffering at all because of what is happening in Iraq (or Syria). But there is something to be said about proximity; to a smaller degree you more easily understand “that could be me” the closer you are to the violence. And that small degree will change you. When I lived in Canada peace was a given, now it’s a gift.

Can I be honest with you? I don’t really enjoy living in Saudi Arabia, but there is one undeniable benefit that has taken place within me as a result of living here: my gratitude has skyrocketed through the roof compared to what it was before.

I’m fascinated with colors because the way we see colors is a complete paradox. A quick explanation: white light contains all the colors of the color spectrum (which, incidentally, makes Jesus’ statement “I am the light of the world” pretty darn cool!) When light comes in contact with an object, all of the colors within the light are absorbed by the object—all of the colors expect one. The color that isn’t absorbed reflects off the object and shoots into our eye and that’s the color we see. So in truth, that “red apple” you ate for lunch today wasn’t red at all, in fact, it was every color except red. Basically, you ate an anti-red apple. Do you see the paradox of how we see color? The colors we see aren’t the colors an object is holding onto, but the colors an object is letting go of and reflecting out into the world.

All of this color science makes me think of gratitude. I’m going to venture a guess and say one of the reasons we aren’t more grateful than we should be is because we, consciously or subconsciously, believe we are in control (or worse, the source) of the gifts God has given us.

And so in our self-deception we mistakenly label something as a “given” of life when it is actually an amazing gift we receive each day that, for all we know, might not be around tomorrow. As Leland has recently discovered, our eyesight is a gift, not a given. And sometimes it takes a barbed fish hook to sink through the middle of our pupil for us to see the truth: that we aren’t in control of the many gifts God gives us.

The irony of those things we often call “givens” is that we so easily forget they are exactly that: given. When I say thank you to God, or someone else, in essence I am saying, “This thing didn’t come from me. It came from someone else and it’s now being given to me.” Gratitude is a reminder that we don’t control the gifts God has given us. We are stewards, not owners.

I don’t think God wants us to beat ourselves up because we aren’t as grateful as we should be. I don’t believe he wants us to paw the ground with our feet in bashful silence for being wealthier than ninety-eight percent of the world’s population (and if you are able to read this, you most likely are). And I don’t imagine God wants us to feel guilty because we don’t live within a war-torn country. I think he wants us to be grateful, and then act on that gratitude. We won’t all respond in the same way, but he has taught us and will teach us how to color this world with the beauty and supremacy of his love.

I have a feeling that coloring begins with gratitude, and gratitude begins with restored sight. Jesus has a habit of first blinding people (with mud or barbed fish hooks) before their vision is restored. The restoration isn’t always a physical vision, but a vision that sees the truth about our relationship with the gifts of God and the God of gifts: that we control neither. Because the colors we see aren’t the colors an object is holding onto, but the colors an object is letting go of and reflecting out into the world. May the same be true for how we respond to all the gifts God has given us.

Why I Serve

There are so many reasons why a person might choose to serve. Starting off, it’s Biblical. The Bible challenges, encourages, and commands us to various types of service, and it is central to the Gospel message. Jesus perfectly sets the example of service in His death on the cross. As we strive to look more like Jesus, it is only natural that we would become servants as well. "And whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”-- Mark 10:44-45

Serving as a host and greeter for Blueprint Church for the past two years has been great. It began as something I signed up for because of the truth above. I knew that God had challenged me to serve in all areas of life, and specifically to contribute to my local church. The host team just seemed like a natural fit. It wasn’t that hard to me-- just smile, welcome people, and guide them to their seats, right? I learned that it wasn’t that easy; I have to say that it is actually pretty awkward and unnatural to go up to people you don’t know, to start up a random conversation, just as it is kind of strange to have a muted battle with people (both members and non-members) who clearly do not want to sit where you’ve asked them to. I also didn’t guess that it would be so frustrating to see first time visitors leave because there are no available seats or that serving as a host would help me to start to understand the way that the Lord has wired me.

Throughout my time as a host, Blueprint has transformed from the church I attend, to being the church I am a part of and where I contribute. Blueprint is my church. I care about what is going on, I care that people sometimes cannot find seats to sit in, I care that people visit at times and don’t feel welcome, and honestly, I feel responsible. No, I don’t feel responsible in the same way that the lead pastor is, but in the sense that I want to do something about the needs or problems that I see.

In a sense, serving once a month as a greeter has challenged me to serve regularly. When the church became my church, I began to care more about church initiatives and efforts, and it wasn’t what they’re doing anymore, but it became what WE are doing. Gradually, my missional community wasn’t something I passively participated in or another small group that wasn’t “my cup of tea” anymore, but I fought to genuinely plug in to the family the Lord placed me around. I began to view the elders and leaders of Blueprint as people who weren’t in their positions solely to give (their time, energy, focus) to others, but, in fact, as people who desperately needed and need to be served and encouraged as well. I realized my contribution was needed frequently, not just when I was on the schedule to greet.

Thanks to being plugged in, things have changed for me. Though I am encouraged greatly by the leadership and members of Blueprint, that really is not the main focus. I just want to be a faithful servant to and with the family the Lord has graciously given me in Blueprint Church.

To all the family and friends of Blueprint: How does Mark 10:44-45 challenge you as it relates to our church?

God, You're Late

“Don’t let sin dim out God’s beauty, let God’s beauty dim out sin.”

~John Martyn

My heart was pierced with conviction when I heard Pastor John M. utter these words last week. I could not help but reflect on the many times I’ve carved out a space for sin to dwell comfortably. My ears were burning and my eyes watered. I wanted him to stop preaching to me because I knew I was responsible for the truth God had already been speaking to my heart. Nevertheless,  he continued, “If there are areas in your life where you place conditions on God’s rule, it’s probably an idol.”

Ouch, I thought, I knew that prayer all too well. For me it sounded like this:

Lord, you can do whatever you want with my life, just please bring me a husband.

This unfulfilled longing has led me to build barriers between myself and God, leading to sin, leading to idolatry. Just a few weeks ago I spoke with a group of women here at Blueprint about my journey to a life where desire and contentment coexist . Here’s a snippet of the inner monologue I shared with them:

I hate being late for things. Most who know me would likely laugh at that statement because strangely enough, I have always struggled to be on time. It is literally an effort I have to invite others into in order to accomplish. Of all the things to be late for, the worst was undoubtedly my very own life. Two years ago I was turning 27 and that was my self- induced deadline for life as I thought it should be to begin. I was raised by married people. My parents have been married for 30 years and both sets of grandparents have persevered one another’s quirks and irks well beyond 55 years.  I had never considered singleness as a part of my life after my deadline of 27.

Why 27? By 27, my mother had moved up the corporate escalator enough to have an article in the local newspaper featuring her professional and personal triumphs: “27- year old Burton has taken the company's marketing to the next level while juggling the demands of being a full- time wife and mother.”

The article is guarded by a plastic cover in a book of memoirs exuding my grandparents' pride in my mom. And I of course always wanted to make them all just as proud with my own accomplishments and by starting my own family.

Two years later, I’m realizing how incredibly angry I have been with the Lord. I decided, I can serve you and others, but we do not need to communicate. In my heart, I’ve been waving my fist at God, “You’re late!"

Perhaps truly succumbing to God’s beauty would subside the anger and disappointment that only pushed me farther away from the God I love. Can you imagine what David must of known and believed about God to say in Psalm 27:4, “One thing that I have asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon his the beauty of the Lord and inquire in his temple”?

Just one thing David, really? David actually asked the Lord for many things. He went to God with all of his desires, but there was only one thing that captured his heart enough for him to ‘pursue’ it, God’s beauty. As hard as it may be to live day by day with a longing unfulfilled, I am convinced that there is no greater thing than to rest in all that I have been given in Christ Jesus.

According to Ephesians 1 I am wealthy beyond measure. In Christ, I have: redemption through his blood, forgiveness of sin, adoption into His family, knowledge of the mystery of his will, his grace lavished on me with wisdom, His Holy Spirit, and most significantly a promise of eternity with this beautiful God. His beauty is worth seeking!

I know others may not share my exact discontentment but as sure as blood pumps through your veins there is guarantee of a longing unfulfilled. In those moments, run only to God, for his beauty is the only thing that dims the illusional bright lights of sin and idolatry. The hymnist said it best,

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,

Look full in His wonderful face,

And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,

In the light of His glory and grace.