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.

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.

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?

Genuine Faith Remembers

Perhaps seminary is to blame. The study of theology is really important-- people’s lives depend on how well I apply the gospel to their context… right? Perhaps I embody the one word I promised never to utter because it is the thickest of veneers to authentic living: busy. Or perhaps the praise others offered to me about my “genuine” spirit actually transmuted into a “genuine” fig leaf. I’m not sure the reason, but I believe God is teaching me that genuine faith remembers how to feel. I’m not talking about the psychological “So, how does that make you feel?,” or Dr. Phil’s pointed verbal arrow, “How’s that working for you?". I’m talking about the beneath-the-surface response to “How are you?” that only suffering, unexpected joy, and delight in the Lord can reveal. First John is meant to be an encouragement to those who claimed to follow Christ. They followed because their hearts were captured by Jesus’ proclamation of good news to the poor, liberty to the captives, and sight for the blind. Not because it aligned with their cultural preferences or gave them an excuse to wear their new sandals fresh from Rome. Following Christ was not a means for them to engage in small talk in the synagogue about how their fields were doing or where to get the best scented-oils on the cheap. It was a call to devotion and obedience in light of what they knew.

Following Christ did not a guarantee their problems would go away. The invitation was to live real life with Christ as our advocate to overcome the world. Only then could they stop pretending and start living as children, abiding in the Father. Their identity was not leper, slave, or outcast. They needed to remember that the same Jesus that came in the flesh was still with them in Spirit. The testimonies were true-- He did die and rise again! They were alive in Christ.

Yet, how could they, in the light of that reality, love one another under persecution? How could they sacrifice money, time, family identity, and possessions knowing they still struggled with sexual sin, greed, and idolatry? How could they know they had genuine faith? John O. preached that Genuine Faith repents. Genuine repentance requires genuine sorrow. Genuine sorrow reveals where we find life-- in Christ or in the world. But before it reveals, sorrow guides the heart to remember. God is teaching me what and how to remember.

As I have reflected back on my doubts, fears, and even crises of faith, I remember godly men allowing me to “be” but then gently pointing me to the assurances of 1 John. I remember the sleepless nights wondering if God would forgive me… again. My assurance was found in 1 John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."

I remember the pain of betrayal and broken promises. My assurance was that I didn’t have to fear relationships and the risk of loving others, because His perfect love casts out fear (1 John 1:18). And I remember feeling the shame of “what if people knew I…?”, when the sin was too deeply rooted. It wasn’t worth fighting anymore. My assurance was that Jesus didn’t just die for my sins, but the sins of the world (1 John 2:2). But if I do sin I “…have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1).

Genuine faith calls me remember God’s truth in light of my circumstances-- not in spite of them. God, again, is teaching me to be honest with where I am and to remember what He first did for me. The beauty of remembering how to feel is that it doesn’t happen in isolation. It happens in communion with God, His Word, and His body. I am blessed beyond measure that my wife is often the instrument God uses. Yet I also need my friends to remember, and the guy who is sort of socially awkward to remember, and the older gentlemen still struggling with lust to remember. That is what I’m learning. That is my prayer for Blueprint-- that we would remember together.

Abiding in Christ

Genuine faith abides. This simple statement has rocked my being.  As a believer, I have struggled with performance.  While I understand grace conceptually, I have struggled to apply grace in my personal life.  I would attribute my struggle partly to being male and partly to being prideful and selfish.  Throughout my life, accomplishments have been the measuring stick of manhood. In high school I was a decent athlete. Yet I was never the biggest nor the fastest person on the field. So, to compete I learned to overcome physical limitations with hard work.  As I’ve gone through life I’ve developed a pattern: hard work, failure, more hard work, favorable result, failure, more hard work.  With every failure or limitation the only situation I felt I could control was my work ethic. I’ve always believed hard work pays off in the end.  Yet failure continued no matter how hard I worked.  To escape my failures in life I retreated to sin and passivity.  Failures with sin and passivity put me in a rut.  While in my rut, I figured I should just work harder. Yet my hard work only frustrated me more, which led me back to sin, which made me feel more like a failure.  Soon, my hard work became mundane, which continued to perpetuate my feelings of failure.  I directly related these actions to my relationship with God. I thought the reason I was struggling personally, in my marriage and with my relationship with God, was because I was not working hard enough.  Basically, I thought the only way to perform well was to work hard.  I felt God would honor my hard work and eliminate the failure in my life.  I felt my hard work demanded God’s attention.  Yet no matter how hard I worked, I continued to suffer.  I mean, faith without works is dead, right?

Most people would say, “Hard work is noble, I don’t see the problem."  I agree, hard work is noble. Nor am I giving anyone the excuse to become a couch potato. But I’ve learned that for me hard work produced a secret rebellion. When we came to 1 John 2: 15-17 in the Genuine Faith series, the Scripture highlighted my issues in HD.  In my heart I was struggling with pride.  I wanted to execute my own will and bring God along for the ride.  My hard work was for my benefit and my comfort. The tricky thing about pride is that it doesn’t appear to be sin.  After all, shouldn’t I deserve a good life, shouldn’t I deserve good things, shouldn’t I deserve a payoff for my hard work? Why wouldn’t a good God want me to have success?   In my pride I fully believed my work honored God.  In reality, I honored myself.  I was working hard at the wrong things.

I looked up the word "abide" and noticed some interesting synonyms: continue, endure, submit, withstand, await.  One definition stated  to abide was “to accept without opposition or question” or to “accept and act in accordance." Each word and definition I found required me to relinquish control and put complete trust in something.  That something for me equals Jesus. Which leads me to 1 John 2:28-3:10. While there is work involved, the object or focus of my work is pursuing Jesus and HIS righteousness not my own.  Jesus doesn’t “come along for the ride” in my life.  Jesus is the ride and he directs my path.  I must sit down buckle up and ride with full confidence that he is in control.   The issue with pursuing or practicing Jesus’ righteousness is that it constantly reminds us of how unrighteous we are.  As I lived life faced with my frailty, failures, and limitations, I felt it was my responsibility to compensate for my weakness.  But now, I’m learning to abide. I’m learning to remain and not seize control when things get scary.  I’m learning to submit my desires to him and trust that every command is for my good and not a restriction on my life.  I’m learning to trust that every good thing originates from Christ. I’m learning, as Pastor John stated,  “to live a life defined by Him."

What Submission Looks Like

1 Peter 3:5b-6:

"They were submissive to their own husbands, like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her master. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear."

My family and I are in the process of planning to move-- and fear is real when you start talking about selling and buying houses and moving. If you know me, moving would come as a shock to you. For almost five years we have invested into a neighborhood, into a school, into friends. We settled, I said I was never packing a box again, never would have a need for a moving truck, never need for more bubble wrap or tape--I was done moving. Dhati and I have been married for 13 years, and have moved 7 times--this will be our 8th. We have 6 kids. You can imagine the logistical nightmare that moving with 8 brings.

Five years ago, Dhati came home and told me that he felt like the Lord was changing his heart and that we may be being called to move our family to an urban city-- out of the small college town of Denton, away from Texas, where I was born and raised. I had told him two weeks before this that I appreciated his leadership and 'I would follow him anywhere, even Budapest, and I didn't even know exactly where that was." In 2008, we moved.

This Thanksgiving, Dhati came home and I saw that look in his eyes. He was coming home from a Old Fourth Ward council meeting (the Old Fourth Ward is the area our church is now permanently in since we bought a building). He said, "Angie, it may not be Budapest, but..." Where we are hoping to move is only 20 minutes away, but it is a new spot, with new schools, new friends, new neighbors.

When I say we have invested here, I mean I know almost all of the teachers at our public school, we have great relationships with our neighbors, great friends, the kids have made friends, we have the trust of their parents-- we are that house in our neighborhood. I know where to go for good food (Ethiopian, Thai, Vietnamese, Mexican, Indian). I know where to buy my groceries and where to get my oil changed. I know my grocers' names. I know our librarian. We have made some significant investments here. And now, we start over again.

I made a promise on our wedding day to follow my husband where he leads us and my prayer has been that the Lord would help me do that with a sincere heart and as a helper, not a hindrance, "...like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her master. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear."

This doesn't come without a voice and it doesn't come without sadness and even frustration. When Dhati threw out the possibility of moving, I had a ton of questions. Was this just because you got excited about a meeting? What about the people here? What about schools? What happens with our missional community? What about Trinity going to middle school next year? Can we afford the city? Do they make houses big enough for 10 people? Can people still live with us? Why did we just build a tree house?! Do you think we can sell this house? Is this best for the church? Is this best for the kids? Is this best for you and me?

Then something daring came out of my mouth, something that wasn't from my flesh: "If you think this is what we are supposed to do, the Lord will orchestrate it all and He will show his faithfulness through the whole transition. Dhati, you just need to lead, we will follow you-- you just lead us and we're there."

We told our kids about the potential of moving, and tears flowed! Dhati asked their thoughts and 5 out of the 6 said they didn't like the idea and were not excited about the possibility. Nathaniel said he didn't care. Much like when we were in Denton, we had a great situation. We have a great house, in a great area, at a great school, with amazing neighbors, on a cul de sac where we have safety, comfort and familiarity; we know much of our neighborhood by name. The kids are known as the respectful, responsible, and mature at school, and they know who are loyal friends and who are not.

A friend of mine told me, "Angie, your kids watch you. If you are on board with this move and if you choose to follow your husband with grace, they will follow suit. You don't have to worry about them."

We told them on Friday--I explained to them that I have fears as well. I don't want to have to move, I don't want to be the new people again. Then, I reminded them what the Lord did with the last move, how faithful he was-- that a church got birthed out of it. That God allowed our family to make this a home. I explained Dhati's burden. By Saturday afternoon, two of the kids came back to me and said, "If this is what Daddy thinks is best, we are on board." Then later that week, another came back and said, "If we can please just finish this year at school, I will be fine with moving." A couple days later, another was on board and then finally 2 weeks into thinking about this, the Lord transformed another heart and she came to me and said, "I am in."

So here we are... prepping the house for a realtor to come. Why? Because this is what it looks like to 'obey' your husband. I want to set him up to lead in the best way possible. I know I have the ability to allow him to lead with freedom and I have the ability to hinder that with my complaining and attitude. I also have the opportunity to model what healthy submission looks like to my children. And most importantly, I give way for the Lord to show up in big ways and to glorify Himself--and for the faith of myself and my family to grow by watching Him at work.

Jesus is Here

I feel like one of the greatest truths I think I can teach my children is that of Joshua 1:9, which says, "Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go." We all have fears and anxieties. Parents know that this is a very real and normal part of childhood. Fear of failure, fear of the dark, fear of being alone, fear of being kidnapped, fear of meeting new people, fear of the house burning down--some rational, some irrational. I have six children and each of them deal with different fears-- some 'deal' better than others.

A couple of nights ago, my youngest was getting into the bed. "Mom, I'm scared."

In the past, I would have said, "Don't be afraid, that is silly. There is nothing to be afraid of..." and went on to explain how they shouldn't 'feel' that way.

Something I am learning quite recently, however, is that fear is real and normal--it's a feeling. Why else would God mention it so many times in the Bible, if it were not a real issue? Rather than act like there is nothing to be afraid of, it is instead an opportunity to point my children to the Lord.

When my youngest told me he was afraid, I asked him why. He said because everyone else was already asleep and no one was awake to protect him. (I have taught my kids that it is their job to protect each other, and they take that seriously.) But, I had to explain--it is not your brothers that protect you ultimately, it is the Lord. I asked, "Nathaniel, how can you be sure you are protected?"

He answered with a simplistic and honest, faith-filled answer... "Because Jesus is here."

Yes! He's 4, and there are times that I wonder if he is listening to a word that is coming out of my mouth. But on this night, he held dear to a truth that I have tried to pass on to him-- Jesus is with us and promises to never leave us.

He curled up, pulled the covers up, puckered up his lips for a kiss, and we said goodnight.

What's interesting is that children and adults alike have these fears, but we act like it's just wrong to have fears-- because they are not from the Lord. Instead, why not embrace our fears and allow them to lead us to faith in the Lord? Today, I wrestle with fear--I have a fear of change. And as I was diving headfirst into these worries--what if this happens, what if this doesn't happen-- I was brought back to the other night with my son. I know I can be confident and courageous, not because this world isn't really crooked and depraved, but because 'Jesus is here,' and He promises not to leave or forsake me.

Own It

The best Christmas present I've ever received wasn't a TV or a piece of jewelry. It was a silver Bach Stradivarius trumpet. In the few years leading up to that Christmas, I'd thrown myself full-force into the world of high school band. Up to this point I'd only owned used, dented, scratched beginner or intermediate instruments. They were nothing compared to the shiny, brand-new, professional-grade beauty I received that year. It sounded amazing and I adored it, even gave it a name. I was a weird kid.  I loved this trumpet so much that one night after Christmas I had a dream (read: nightmare) that I took it to school and somehow it got a giant dent in its malleable metal body. In the dream, I proceeded to interrogate all my friends and classmates until I found the culprit. When I woke up, I ran over and unzipped the case to check my Strad, relieved to find it was just a dream.

While this story could speak to the dangers of materialism, it also speaks to the power of ownership.

When you own something valuable, you reap the rewards of having it at your disposal, but you also take on the responsibility of caring for its well-being. Responsible ownership is not passive. It's active, on-watch, progressive.

When I first held my new trumpet, I imagined playing it in beautiful concerts, butt-kicking marching band competitions, and fun jazz band gigs. And I did. Even won a marching band state championship with it. It reminds me how ownership also brings vision. It places hope in your heart and gives you the guts and resources to follow through.

But ownership isn't just about material objects. It's really about anything for which we take responsibility: our talents, jobs, passions, relationships. We need ownership and co-ownership in our lives. Not so we can be in control, but so we can be invested.

I struggle with this. I'm scared of over-committing. Of getting myself into situations where I let people down. Of losing my freedom because I'm tied to a responsibility. But when I avoid ownership, when I just go through life always touching things in passing instead of grabbing them with both hands, I miss out. I forfeit the many benefits: belonging, seeing hard work come to fruition, making an impact, etc. I know this. And I'm working on it, but I'm still not there yet.

Some people struggle with the other side of ownership. They forget there are times to cut loose and move on. And you should choose what to invest in wisely. Many things are worth your time, but not everything. And even when you can fill your life with worthy causes, you can't do everything. You can't own everything. You can't have your hands on every project. You need to learn to delegate, share, take a backseat, train up others to fill your position.

Remember, investment is more important than control. Because as much as we cling to the lie that we can have control, we aren't in control.

It's helpful to think of what we have as ownership, because of our natural relationship to the results of that term. But what we really have is stewardship. God owns all things, and we are stewards of what He's given us. But we are still responsible. God deserves more than a second-rate effort for the  mere fact that He trusts us with His gifts, not to mention everything else He has done for us.

We own God's gifts in a similar way to how I owned my trumpet. It was a gift from my parents. They bought it out of their love for me and gave it to me for a specific purpose: to make music. They expected me to play it, as I did nearly every day until the end of high school. It was given to me, I took responsibility for its use, and we all got to enjoy the music. I think stewardship looks a lot like that, except God takes more of a hands-on approach to helping us make the most of what He's given us. He helps us own it.

"His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’" -- Matthew 25:21

What do you need to take ownership of in your life? We're at a point in time at Blueprint when we need people to step up and own this family like never before. What has God given you? Where are you able to invest? Think about it. Pray about it. Own it.

Be Rooted in Service

Firemen and police officers are individuals who run into harm's way. They have been trained and equipped with the tools to do their job. They have slogans like "overcome, adapt, and improvise" and "protect and serve." As believers, God has equipped us with the tools and the training to obey His commandments. God created us and sustains our very breath. He gave us the Word so that we can know His character and understand Him better. This is a great gift that we so easily overlook. To quote Trip Lee, "praise The Lord that He chose to reveal Himself."

God not only gave us the living and breathing Word that reaches the very fiber of our being (Hebrews 4:12) but God also sent the Holy Spirit to dwell in us ( 2 Tim 1:14) and be our Helper (John 16:7). The Bible tells us that we have been made new, a whole new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17),  with a new mind and a new heart. The idea of God giving His people a new heart is a theme you can see throughout the Bible in how God relates with His people (Ezekiel 11:19; Ezekiel 36:26; 2 Corinthians 3:3). With the help of the Holy Spirit we are to renew our minds (Romans 12:1-2) so that we can see God's perfect will.

So we have the tools and we are constantly receiving the training, but what is our slogan? Does God give us a motto to live by? In Luke 10:27, Jesus Christ commands us to LOVE God with our everything and to LOVE others as we love ourselves. Christ is quoting the very words that God spoke to Israel in Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18. This is not a new teaching; this is God's original plan. He created us for His glory (1 Peter 4:11). The best way to give God the loudest praise is not to practice singing as loud as you can alone, but to gather as many other people as you can and bring them to the worship circle.

 

This brings us to the part where we have to act. Our neighbors and friends and coworkers and the person in line with us at QuikTrip, they are in horrible danger. They are running headlong into the wrath of God and we have been given the tools and the training to bring to them salvation. We don't do this by throwing the Bible in their face, but by showing them selfless love. As it is often said, "no one cares how much you know until they know how much you care."

 

I am going to let you in on a little truth about me: I am a car fanatic. I like the old ones more than the new ones, but I just really like cars. I have this tendency to buy ones that don't run and then waste more money than it's worth to get them to run again. In this process, I have changed countless bad tires. This has given me a heart for the people stuck on the side of the road with a flat tire.So despite the obvious dangers, I try to stop and help people change their tire as often as I can. I keep jumper cables, an electric air pump, some tools and even a floor jack in my car for just such an event.

 

Christ went to the poor and the broken and the needy. All of us are in need of Christ's love. So when I stop to help someone change a flat tire, I don't have to tell them they have a problem and that they could use some help. When I change the tire with the tools I have been given, I don't have to tell them that I care about them.  Most of the time they ask why I would stop what I was doing to help them, a complete stranger, and put myself in harm's way. Then I get the opportunity to tell them that Jesus came to my rescue when I was His enemy. He came down from all glory and honor in Heaven to deal with hunger and pain so that in the end He could die on the cross-- for me and you and them. Christ offered up Himself as a servant because He loves us more than His comfort.

 

So when you see your neighbor's trashcan laying in the road or their dog running loose, show them some love. It makes a powerful statement. Seek out the needs of others so that you can be a light of God's love in their lives. They are in peril and don't have the Holy Spirit to show them the danger. Improvise and Adapt. Protect and Serve.

 

I pray that God will break our hearts for the things that break His.

 

"But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have."
--1 Peter 3:15

 

Courage in Calling

“Without your wounds where would your power be? It is your  very sadness that makes your low voice tremble into the

hearts of men. The very angels themselves cannot persuade

the wretched and blundering children on earth as can one

human being broken on the wheels of living. In Love’s service

only the wounded soldiers can serve.”

-Thorton Wilder

Having clarity doesn’t always translate to courage. Clarity is a catalyst for courage-- but we’ll get to that. Courage is a word we throw out often and misrepresent almost as much as we throw it out. Interestingly enough, we can't walk courageously if we don’t know what courage looks like. I’ve come to the conclusion that one of the main reasons we have an inadequate definition and view of courage is because we have an inadequate definition and view of fear.

Fundamentally, we view fear negatively-- and because of that we try to suppress or dismiss it altogether. Suppressing or dismissing fear doesn’t do away with it; it just causes it to be expressed in unhealthy ways. Maybe you’re super controlling and you’ve masked your fear with a desire for predictability. Maybe you’re irritable and you lash out periodically, masking your fear with anger or frustration. Maybe you’re full of anxiety and the past, present, and future drowns out joy and the sweetness of life because you’re tying to prevent past mistakes from invading your present and “ruining” your future. Or maybe the sweetness is drowned out because you’re trying to relive past successes in the present to “ensure” your future.

Dismiss it or suppress it if you want, but it’s coming out in some way or another. Because we don’t deal with our emotions by starting with suppression, we start by embracing that we actually feel the way we feel. Though fear is one of those emotions we view negatively and rush to suppress or dismiss, there is such a thing as healthy fear, and fear has the opportunity to produce faith if we let it and courage is a fruit of faith. We can’t walk courageously in calling unless we embrace there are some things that cause us to be afraid…

Courage…

The most fearful I’ve been in my entire life was 2 years and a half years ago. I was battling depression, wrestling with purpose, trying to figure out what being a good father and husband looked like (not just on paper), and scared out of my mind. That fear came out as sarcasm, withdrawing emotionally from relationships, working harder, and trying to be overly charming so that people wouldn’t notice what was wrong (I know that's hard to believe… me try to be charming…).

Despite all of that, I knew there was a fear that ran deep into my soul. That fear was rooted in my disbelief that God was who he said he was and  that he really cared about my family and me. My heart was fragile and I was afraid I would wake up one day and forsake the God who I proclaimed as King over creation and my soul. I saw the same hands that fashioned galaxies and formed humanity, allowed me to be wounded deeply and I was afraid that they weren’t capable of healing, and that the owner of those hands wasn’t worth giving myself for. If you’ve ever felt or thought along those lines, please know you’re not alone. Before I get into essay/sermon/private journal mode, let me start to land the plane on some thoughts that I think may be beneficial:

1. I had to embrace how I felt and the fear that was present. Embracing it put a face and a name to what was hindering my intimacy in relationships and effectiveness in life. I wasn’t fighting against some secret enemy, I was warring with my soul and the very tangible fear present there.

2. Biblical courage is anchored in the presence of God. God’s presence reminds us of who he is, full of compassion, love, wisdom, purpose, and power! So for me the very person and place I was fearful of was the very person and place I had to run to. There are many verses in the Bible that remind us of the confidence we can find in God's presence, such as:

Joshua 1:9

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.

Isaiah 41:10

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you;

Matthew 28:19-20

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

3. God's presence is felt most, through His word (the Bible), through His people (community), His Spirit (in prayer), and His purposes (on mission/serving). Here are a couple of sermon resources that may help: Upside Down and EN-Couraged.

Community is the x-factor, because while all of those environments or conduits of the presence of God seemingly fluctuate with fear, community is the component that depends the least on you. God’s people can come alongside you and help you fight when fear is crippling.

The quote at the beginning of this post was shared with me when fear was ruling.  It reminded me that wounded soldiers fight with dependence on the one who enlisted them, Jesus. Those words spoken to my soul from God’s people invigorated me to run towards God and beg him to be with me---to which He replied and reminded me He never left.

4. Calling is both a journey and a destination. A lot of times we get bogged down in either the destination or the journey, but embracing both dynamics helps us walk courageously. Embracing the destination reminds us that there’s an endgame we can be confident in, one that doesn’t rest on us. Embracing the journey reminds us that there’s a process we work and live in that’s much bigger than us. Both help bring and reinforce clarity.

There’s no courage button that zaps you with emotions and energy to do what you feel called to. Walking courageously is a daily decision and a daily fight but life in a cell wasn’t/isn’t God’s intent.  When calling becomes a cage that traps us in a cycle of work, choosing courage frees us to live purposefully and passionately, knowing the work doesn’t rest on me and the natural fear we all feel isn’t something to be dismissed but a door to have courage lead us to dependence.

The Cage of Calling

God is not merely the Creator of our life. He is also the Author of our life, and he writes each person’s life to reveal his divine story. There never has been nor ever will be another life like mine—or like yours. Just as there is only one face and name like mine, so there is only one story like mine. And God writes the story of my life to make something known about himself, the One who wrote me. The same is true of you. Your life and mine not only reveal who we are, but they also help reveal who God is. -Dan Allender

I really like this quote….alot…I’ll come back to it.

Since humanity committed high treason against the Creator and King, Jesus, we’ve been searching for purpose and significance. I think this truth is seen clearly in the way culture propagates materials that deal with discovering or living out this idea of calling. We want to know why we are individually here and what we are to do in light of that. Unfortunately, unhealthy views of or fixations on calling turn it into a cage that traps us in a cycle of work and significance—leading to burnout, discouragement, or apathetic living. Burnout occurs because we’re fighting tooth and nail to ensure we succeed in calling for our own feelings of significance and in our own strength. Discouragement and apathetic living come because we’ve failed at it so many times that we’ve equated failure with being forsaken by God. Either way calling becomes a cage that traps us in the cycle of work. Life in a cell wasn’t God’s intent, so allow me to think out loud and identify some keys for the cage: clarity, courage, and consistency. (You like the Cs don’t you…it’s the pastor in me.) Today, we’ll focus on the first and dive into the others next week.

Clarity…..

The beginning of my sophomore year in college I was angry, sad, and felt like God was turning His back on me. On my birthday, I laid on the floor in my room crying and ignoring people’s texts and calls to go out and party. I had a sword to my chest, and I remember yelling, “God I’m done….I quit,” then I cried myself to sleep. The next morning I went to church and the sermon was about not quitting—that’s called irony. I never gave up on anything and the first time was on God! In all honesty, there are still some times when it’s hard to embrace the future because of that moment. Did I alter my future or my destiny because I told God I quit, even if I’ve still been pursuing Him? If I may continue speaking candidly, there are a couple of issues with that frame of thinking: the first being my future/my destiny. I really like the aforementioned quote because it expresses three realities: people are made in the image of God, people are made uniquely, and God designed us to know Him intimately and reflect Him personally and corporately. So, I will fight and advocate for self discovery and awareness; however, if we’re created by God and in His image, then “self” discovery and awareness doesn’t occur apart from looking to Jesus and looking at life through Jesus. In other words, my feeling like I altered my future/my destiny meant that I ultimately viewed the focus as myself. (If you can relate, it’s okay to amen in your head; if not, repent, then amen in your head because we’ve all done/do it at some point and time.) Clarity in calling identifies the focus of calling as the Creator, not self-actualization.

6 “You alone are the Lord. You have made the heavens, The heaven of heavens with all their host, The earth and all that is on it, The seas and all that is in them. You give life to all of them And the heavenly host bows down before You.

-Nehemiah 9:6

When the earth totters, and all its inhabitants, it is I who keep steady its pillars.

-Psalm 75:3

3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life and the life was the light of men.

-John 1:3-4

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

-Colossians 1:15-17

36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.

-Romans 11:36

All those scriptures identify a truth that all things were made by God, through Him, and for Him—all things includes us—meaning the road to purpose runs through the person and work of Jesus, and the focus of calling is found in Him as well. While clarity may not occur in a day, we can remind ourselves daily of the reality of by Him, through Him, and for Him, which can help refine our perspective and focus our enjoyment and activity in life and calling. So, if my skill set changes, my passion runs dry, my faith fails me, and my work is insufficient, the ointment for my conscious and soul is that by Him, through Him, and for Him are all things. Significance and subsequent sweetness and security will be that much richer as our hearts submit to that truth.

Broken but Beloved

With this series, we want our blog to invite a spirit of confession & vulnerability that would define our community.

How did I get here?

Who am I?

Now what?

These are the questions I've been asking myself the past couple of days. Where is here? Embarrassed, ashamed, broken, contrite and wishing I could run away or sit in my room watching On Demand all day, so I don't have to deal with reality.  Reaping what I sowed and scared that my future doesn't look so bright anymore. How did I get here? Chasing satisfaction. Consciously and subconsciously. Embracing the tangible because I couldn't feel the invisible. And hiding from the light to keep my dark deeds hidden.

Who am I? Beloved. It cracks me up to hear Iyanla say this so often, but I've been reading a book that has me embracing the truth that I am loved. Trying to root my identity in the fact that the Creator—perfect, holy, and full of light—loves me: prideful, addictive, weak, sinful me. But let me not glaze over who I've been up until a few weeks ago. Someone once said that we make the most fuss about the things we're actually guilty of ourselves. Either we are intentional hypocrites or we think if we insist on the wrongness or rightness of something long enough we will actually get the memo we've been passing around to others. Arrogant and prideful either way. You've seen it: preachers and gospel artists ruined by affairs, the down-low population, and conservative politicians caught in scandals. I fell in the latter category: looking at specks and ignoring my plank. I've often acknowledged my wrongdoing inwardly, but rather than confessing it to others, I set out to cure myself or minimize my shortcomings thinking they'd go away. And I've been very protective of my golden child image. But that old Baptist pastor was right when he said, "You reap what you sow, more than you sow, and later than you sow." Or better yet, my mom's warning: "What's in you is gonna come out!"

It felt good to become a Christian in college. Not only did I think I had a Heavenly hook-up for my dreams to come true, but it rounded out my already well-rounded Cosby-kid life. Yet, believing that now there was the divine requirement for me to be perfect,  I went right into performance mode. What are all the do's and don'ts? Ok. Got em. But what happened when I did a don't?  Rather than prostrating myself on an altar, I developed an alter ego that was so righteous it made up for the wretch in me. What I didn't realize was that because that wretch was still in me, whether I acknowledged its presence or not, it was growing. I was feeding it in my darkest hours, and caging it when the sun came up. But it peeked out every now and then and broke loose this summer: every unchecked thought, every explicit visual, and all the lonely moments I'd ever filled with something or someone that I wasn't supposed to. They collided with my desires for childhood and adolescent friendship that would make me feel wanted, accepted and loved—sin was the result. My shiny car that had long been admired was totaled.

Here I am now—wrecked. I can't just patch myself up. I can't look at anyone else's dents to distract me from my own ruin. And I can't pretend that I don't need healing, because I've shown people my scars now. Scared and ashamed, I confessed to others my shortcomings and need for healing. There goes the image I worked so hard to construct. I feel so dumb. So exposed. Is this my true self? This person controlled by passion, emotion, desires and lust? Yes and no. Born sinners. We all are. And what I didn't get all these years was that God is not asking us to pretend like we're not. He's not asking us to fix ourselves up before we come to Him. He's pleading with us to see ourselves as people in need of redemption, so He can come in and do what He loves: make beautiful things out of dust. He doesn't want us to think we can muster up enough strength to overcome our dark pasts (and even the dark presents we find ourselves in) or earn our way into His grace. Nor does He want us to be independent of Him and others. He wants us to need Him, not because He needs attention but because He knows our hearts are restless until they rest in Him as Augustine confessed. Kinda makes sense. We were created by Him for intimate relationship with Him. Unfortunately, there's countless miles literally and spiritually between us. But He wants us back and has gone through great lengths to display His love. He's asking us to come out of hiding behind relationships, in closets, under sheets, in front of our computers, alone in our rooms, in the pews and in the pulpit and meet Him at the foot of the cross. He's been beckoning me to find all the love I've longed for in Him first and foremost. He's asking me to trust that all that I can feast my eyes on here and wrap my arms around is not all there is to life. What I see now are just shadows of something greater. There is more. But I have to fight to see it. And do whatever it takes to stay in the light as gravity works against me.

It's not easy though. No need for misconceptions or false expectations. And considering that we'll never reach perfection in this life and the world around us won't either, I have to accept that I will not live my best life now. He hasn't promised that. As one noted, "Every day with Jesus will not be  'sweeter than the day before.'  Some days with Jesus we are so sad we feel our heart will break open. Some days with Jesus we are so depressed and discouraged that between the garage and the house we just want to sit down on the grass and cry ... The reason David praised God with the words, 'He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul,' is because he had bad days."

What's the point then? Is ultimate satisfaction here and now to be found in my faith?  If not now, then why not instead pursue happiness and pleasure here the best I know how? Well, that's what I've been doing and today I'm farther from happy than I was when I began my pursuit. I'm seeing that nothing here lasts forever and there are consequences to the chase. Everything is fleeting, so once the pleasure fades and you come down off the high, the reality of what you sacrificed along the way sinks in. There's no turning back the hands of time. And there's no red carpet laid out just because you decide to move forward.

There's no easy way to travel the path that leads back to God. It's a narrow, humbling road, but I hear rest for the weary soul awaits now and forevermore. And the good news is that not only has He given us His son as the way to reconnect with Him, but He's given us His word so that we may know Him. Even more, He will bestow His spirit to guide us from within and wants to connect us with others journeying towards Him as well. Confessing to others was hard, but now I'm not alone in fighting sin. I had to realize that while others may not have had a tainted view of me as I kept my sin hidden, God knew who and what was behind the mask.

I've claimed Christianity for years and gone to church even longer, but I feel like I'm just starting down this rocky road. It's time for a new platform. Not one built on perfection. Instead, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power—the power I need to lift my head out of the rubble—may rest on me. Besides, I have nothing left to boast in.

All is Vanity.

Glory and Love

My husband and I have started to teach our two year old the basics about God.  We have catechism questions that we are slowly working through as he begins to understand the world around him.  The first question we worked on was: Who created you?  The second one was: What else did He make?  The next one we will start on is: Why did He create you?  The answer is simple: For his glory.  Isaiah 43:7 says, “Everyone who is called by my name, and whom I have created for my glory…”  This is the purpose of our existence — to glorify God.  Everything we do is to glorify God. I don’t have a problem with Mathias learning this truth this early, but I looked ahead to see when the catechism covered the fact that God loves him.  I felt that knowing that God loves him is paramount to understanding his value as a person.  As I glanced through the next seven questions, I saw this was not explicitly covered.  Now, that does not prevent me from telling my son God loves him, but it did make me wonder: Does knowing that we were created for God’s glory lead us to knowing God’s love?

If we start at the beginning of the Bible, our very first introduction to God is as Creator.  In Genesis 1:26 He declares that He would make male and female in His image.  It is this creation that he makes for His glory as He declares in Isaiah 43:7.  Now if we fail to see God for who He is, we could simply stop here and think that we, humans, are just a means to an end.  We’re just a creation simply created to satisfy the lofty, dare I say, self-serving purpose of a cosmic being.  This would lead us to feeling very detached, isolated and unloved by God.

It seems critical then to understand how God as Creator, the One who created everyone for His glory, is also—in that same action—the unconditional Lover of our souls.  I believe that understanding God’s immense love for us is implied through his creative ability.

God created us for His glory.

That simple sentence has packed in it all the love we would ever need.  It implies relationship, possession, purpose, intentionality, and care.  God intentionally made us for a relationship with Him, one from which we could gain our value, worth, and purpose.  Since He is perfect, right, and the very definition of love, His actions in creating us are not with impure motives.  He is not like a fallen, arrogant human seeking praise from those around him.  He is God.  He is right (Isa. 45:21).

Therefore, we can trust His perfection, then trust His actions, and believe that His purpose will lead to the ultimate fulfillment in our lives.  Simply put, our Creator is complete; by creating us, we (the created) can find unconditional love in His actions.  This is why God loves us.  We are his intentional, thought out, cared for, planned creation.  Our mere existence shows how much He loves us. The Perfect One made us on purpose.  When we realize that all we can say is God is worthy of all praise and devotion because He made us.

The closest I have ever gotten to understanding this truth was when my dad called one night, early on in our reconciliation journey, and said, “I love you because you are mine." His simple declaration of possession and love filled me with such value and worth that I just broke down and cried.  I believe when we read the verse in Isaiah or the creation account in Genesis, we should be hearing the loving voice of our Father say, “I love you because you are my creation.”  That revelation can only lead to a life that then glorifies its Creator.