God Called Me To Cut My Hair

God called me to cut off all my hair.  This may seem like a strange request, but not when you consider what He was really asking me to cut out of my life.  He was asking me to trust in Him only and completely, without relying on anything or anyone else to validate me.  He was asking to be my only source of comfort and strength and to realize that nothing else could satisfy me. I moved to Atlanta from Dallas in July and started my breast surgery fellowship at Emory.  I had just finished general surgery residency which was, to say the least, difficult.  I often questioned my belonging and self worth.  I was the only African American in my entire department and the first black female in the program ever (the second black person ever).  During the five years of my surgery residency I was often face to face with the reality that I did not belong, for too many reasons to count.

Somewhere along the road, I made my hair my escape.  When everything felt out of control, I could control my hair.  I often blamed it for why I didn't fit in and then controlled it.  If I had a bad day, I could “treat myself” to getting it done.  If I had a big event, I could celebrate by getting it professionally styled.  Before I knew it, it consumed my thoughts.  I ended up having more mindless thoughts than I am proud of admitting to of how to style it for certain events or days of the week.  I was sad if it didn’t “look right."  I spent time that could have otherwise been productive watching YouTube videos or hair blogs on how to style it.

In spring 2013, God convicted me that my hair had become an idol.  I began trying my hardest, in my strength, to ignore my hair.  I tried not thinking about it.  And sometimes I was successful.  I prayed for God to show me what to do with it so it didn’t consume my thoughts.  I thought I heard Him say to get rid of it, but I couldn’t.  What would my peers say?  I already didn't fit in at my job.  That would make me stand out more.  This aversion to cutting my hair shocked even me, because just 9 years earlier, I had chopped off all my hair with reckless abandon and without a second thought to “go natural.”  I wondered what had changed.  Over and over I tried to put my obsession with my hair in its place, but in the idle moments, I found my thoughts drifting right back to it.

In October, the cycle continued. Many situations in my life felt completely out of control and I still found myself trying to exert control over something, anything, and that was usually my hair.  That month I attended a service at Blueprint Church and heard a message on idol worship.  I was just listening to the message, not really thinking it directly applied to a specific situation in my life, when God spoke to me.  He told me again, “Your hair is an idol.  You have tried in your own strength to tear it down. This has not worked.  Cut it.” I started crying!  I knew it was God speaking to me.  He was asking me to let go of what I thought I had to hold onto for comfort and for strength.  When things were shaky and uncertain, my identity had been in my hair.  I told my husband and he said, "Okay."  We went after church to a hair salon and I asked to have it all cut off.

The hair salon was open!  On a Sunday!   This was a foreign concept to me because every city I have lived in before has hair shops closed on Sundays.  I was so happy it was open because 1) I got to cut my hair off and 2) I got to tell everyone why!  I was sitting there in the salon and the hairdresser asked me why I was doing this.  They were used to people cutting it off to “go natural,” but I clearly had a head full of natural hair already.  I told her (and everyone else in the salon) that my hair had held too high of a position in my life and it had to go.  It could no longer provide the comfort or identity that needed to only come from Jesus.

Many people after that day also asked me why I had cut my hair.  It made a lot of people really uncomfortable!  As a result, I got to tell my story to so many people.  Some people thought it was great.  Some people thought it was silly and couldn’t understand how hair could be an idol. Some actually got defensive or told me I didn’t have to do it or shouldn’t have done it.  But I know I did the right thing.

Before.

After.

I think the most powerful moment in this journey was right after I cut my hair and saw it all on the ground.  It was nothing more than a pile of trash.  It looked disgusting.  What I thought was so precious on my head now looked like trash when it was detached from me.  Philippians 3:8 says, “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.  For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.”

It seems silly even counting my hair as something I have “suffered the loss of,” but for the first time I was really able to see it as “rubbish." In my own strength, while it was still attached, I had tried to see it as such but couldn't.  Now that it had been separated from me, it became so clear.  I keep that image in my head to remind myself of what my hair (my grades, my job, my degrees, insert whatever you want here) really is.  These things cannot define me or give me my worth.  They cannot comfort me.  When I feel out of control, there is a God who loves me and will never leave me and He is in control. That is all.

I know God doesn’t ask this of everyone.  Hair in itself is not evil.  But God asked this of me at that time.  And when I cut it, in this very simple act of obedience, He freed me.  He did for me what I could not do myself.  And I am so thankful.

The Bad Dream: Adoption Blog 2

Today's post is the second in a two-part series in which Angela Lewis shares about how she handles her son's thoughts and questions about adoption. Not only are these thoughts helpful for other parents, but they encourage us all to think about what it means to be adopted by God. Every night the kids and I spend some time writing in our journals together, all sprawled in the middle of their bedroom floor— writing silently. Each person writes their prayers and if anyone wants to share their prayer out loud, we do that. This is one of my favorite parts of the day; I learn so much each evening. I see God working in their hearts, I am reminded of answered prayers, I am encouraged by their faith and their expectancy of the Lord's answers. I hear their pleas, their honest confessions, I share mine, we get pretty vulnerable and amazing conversations come as a result. 

Every night my son's prayer sounds something like this:

"Lord, thank you for you a house and a bed and for clothes and most importantly for a family to love me."

Or, "Lord I am grateful to you for brothers and sisters and a mom and a dad who love me forever."

Or, "God, thank you for older sisters and for two brothers. Nathaniel is funny. I thank you for giving me a family."

I know my son loves our family. I also know that he has struggled to fully understand that we love him forever and without strings attached. He used to think if he did something bad enough, we would send him back. He used to think that we love the others more. Slowly, he is owning the fact that we are his and he is ours and we are forever.

But, he still struggles.

About a week ago, my 6 year old told me he had a bad dream. (A week prior, we had conversations about him questioning if we had stolen him and that is how he ended up with us. I explained to him that the state came and took him from his birth mom because she wasn't able to take care of him.)

So, this little child stood before me and whispered his bad dream: "The state came and got me again and took me away from you guys."

My heart broke. I pulled him into my lap, looked him in his eyes and told him that he wasn't going anywhere, ever, that he would always be in our family. I prayed and asked the Lord for wisdom. That day, I picked him up from school at lunch and just he and I went and had some cheese pizza and salad. We talked. I explained his adoption story. I let him know that adoption is final and forever. I shared with him what a blessing he is and how much I have grown and learned and how much I have gained through him becoming my son.

He didn't say much, just smiled and then gave me a big hug, and said he wanted to go home and cuddle.

The following Friday, my son was invited on a play date. I asked if he wanted to go and the answer was yes. That morning he asked if he would see me that night. Yes, I answered, not comprehending the meaning behind the question. When the friend's mom came to walk Brayden home for the play date from school, my son was paralyzed with fear and didn't want to go.

I praise God for his teacher, whom I had made aware of what he was working through. She knelt down and told him, "This is a play date, your mom and dad will always be your mom and dad, you will be home before supper to eat with your family—this is just a time to go and play with a friend for a bit." He decided to go, but the first words out of his mouth when I called to check on him were, "Will I see you tonight?"

I am still navigating these adoption waters and realizing there are hidden currents and sinkholes that no one could prepare me for. I am seeing that in revealing truths to my son, I am uncovering some amazing truths of the Lord's adoption of me into His family. Forever, always, final, fully... even if I question it, it is still true.

I Think You Stole Me: Adoption Blog 1

Today's post is one of a two-part series in which Angela Lewis shares about how she handles her son's thoughts and questions about adoption. Not only are these thoughts helpful for other parents, but they encourage us all to think about what it means to be adopted by God. One of my sons came to me after a day of being disciplined several times. The words that came out of his mouth caused me pause and made me realize how much I, as a mom, need to be in tune to my children's emotional health.

"Mom, can I tell you something I have been thinking about?" asked my six year old. I encouraged him to go on.

"I think you stole me?" It was half statement and half question. He was adopted by us 3 years ago. He was 3 years old when we received him into our home, but he was 18 months when he was taken out of the care of his biological mother. He doesn't remember much about her, just pictures and her name. What he recalls, though, is his foster mom, whom he refers to as Mrs. Nessa.  So my son went on: "Yes, I think you saw me in Mrs. Rebecca's house (birth mom), decided you wanted me instead and came and took me."

I approached this with basic logic. "Well, how did you get to Mrs. Nessa's house?"

He was already realizing that didn't make sense. I assured my son that we didn't steal him. I told him that the state came in and saw that he was not being taken care of in a way that he deserved so they had him live with Mrs. Nessa until they could find him a mom and dad to love him, and voila... we came into the picture.

His response: "What is the state?"

"So, the police saw that you were not being taken care of and they came and got you and took you to Mrs. Nessa." I was realizing this explanation was way more complicated than I was ready for.

I went on to explain that his birth mom loved him dearly and wanted to take care of him, but couldn't. Rather than fabricate something in avoidance of the truth as to why she couldn't care for him, I just told him that I would explain more to him later when he is more ready to understand. He seemed happy with my answer.

See, there are times (daily) in parenting that wisdom and discernment have to be exercised. More than anything, I realized on this day that if my son believes that me stealing him is a possibility, then me being a bad person is also a possibility. And, if I am a bad guy, then I don't have his best interest at heart and in fact have robbed him of a life that he could have had.  Now, I know with full awareness that my son's life trajectory was changed for the better, but I have to sensitively walk him through this time.  As he battles with his identity, his worth, comparisons, questions of our love, fears, etc., I need to remain keenly aware of what is going on in his little heart.

To do that is remaining diligent on my knees praying to the Father that loves this wonderful six year old even more than Dhati and I do. My prayer is that one day he will own with 100% surety that he is loved and accepted. I pray that because of our adoption of him he will be able to understand more keenly how the Father too has adopted him into His family because of Jesus.

Until that day... I keep loving, keep affirming, keep steadfast in patience and plead with the Father to create in my son an emotional stability and identity that is rooted in the truths of who God is and what He has done.

Saved-- Or So I Thought

We’ve been going through a sermon series at Blueprint called Genuine Faith, focusing on the book of 1 John. As part of this series, Pastor John O. has reminded us that there are four kinds of people in the world: those who are saved and know it, those who are not saved and know it, those who are not saved and think they are, and those who are saved and don’t know it. Today’s post is a story from the third category. There I was, standing in front of everyone. My mother had waved me down the aisle of our small Missionary Baptist Church to make the “walk of faith.” I looked over to my left as my cousin stood there next to me smiling from ear to ear. She had done this before and all I could remember was her whispering to me, “You’re saved now!” After the pastor asked me a few questions, which I had memorized because I had seen many others go before me, I recited the three affirmative answers: ‘Yes.’ My baptism was scheduled and concluded a couple of weeks later and I was saved – or so I thought.

Many people, like myself, have suffered from what I like to call the simplification of salvation syndrome. This is where churches convince hundreds if not thousands of unassuming sinners to believe that a simple repetition of a prayer, a walk down an aisle, or a “spiritual” experience has relieved them from the wrath of God and permanent residence in hell in the next life. While I feel there is great need to call these churches to a greater level of accountability in how they propose salvation to people, I realize now that the church’s negligence never absolved me of the responsibility I had to genuinely understand the gravity of my sin and the true work of Christ to free me from that sin. This is not to completely disregard the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of people who come to know Christ in these ways, but it is to say that the people who come to faith in these ways do not always possess a certain grasp of what true salvation is.

The fact of the matter is that real conversions require real understanding. “Understanding of what?,” you may ask. Understanding of three essential things:

  1. One’s sinfulness and the penalty for that sin
  2. The work of Christ in saving sinners
  3. Understanding what it means to repent and turn from sin to a life of service and devotion to Christ

The fact of the matter is that my misunderstanding of these essential facts led me to believe I was saved, but in the truest sense I had not come to grips with my sin, I had not believed and confessed Christ as Lord, and I definitely had not repented. In my thoughts, words, and actions there was no real evidence of the transformative power of the gospel… until I went to college.

At this time, I sat in a seat at yet another church and again there was another petition from God for my life. However, this petition was different. In this pastor’s speech there was no quick rambling off of phrases that were repeated verbatim each week, there was no urging me to come to the front of the church, there was no pressure from him at all. However, there was an extreme urge on the inside of me, a pull towards something I felt was innately better, but that I could not explain on my own. More so, I felt an extreme discomfort with the inconsistencies in my life in comparison to what the pastor was speaking and the Bible was explaining. There, for the first time, what I now know as conviction had gripped my heart and I truly understood what my sin was like in God’s eyes and what the remedy was. I wrestled with this reality for a couple of weeks afterwards, but in a moment of sobering realization I knelt in prayer to confess and repent to God for my sin, and I was saved.

Now, not every person has a story as dramatic as mine or even as clearly defined as mine, but each believer has a story. If you cannot identify a point in time or a span of time where the gospel wrecked your life and changed the way you viewed yourself, Jesus, and life, I would urge you to ask yourself a few critical questions:

  • Do I understand that I am a sinner and what the consequences of my sin are?
  • Do I understand and believe in who Christ is and why He is so important?
  • If I do understand these first two things, am I willing to ask God’s forgiveness for my sin and live my life in grateful service toward Him?
  • Am I willing to submit to a church that encourages me to grow spiritually and live my new life in community?

 

All of these questions helped me understand my true need for Christ when I was genuinely converted, and I believe that they can help anyone seeking to know God even now.

Doubt in a Life of Genuine Faith

We've been going through a sermon series at Blueprint called Genuine Faith, focusing on the book of 1 John. As part of this series, Pastor John O. has reminded us that there are four kinds of people in the world: those who are saved and know it, those who are not saved and know it, those who are not saved and don't know it, and those who are saved and don't know it. Today's post is a story from that last category.  I grew up a mile from the church my family attended. My mom was the director of the children's ministry and my dad taught seventh and eighth grade Sunday School (he's a brave guy). Actually, they both still serve in these roles and have for almost 30 years. Naturally, I was at church every time the doors were open. I even remember one snow day when we had to drive so slowly that our dog followed us all the way there.

Our church was not perfect and has faced some rocky times over the years, but the gospel has always been preached and taught. From my saturation in God's truth both at church and at home, it was only a matter of time before I began to understand the implications of what I was being taught. When I was 7 years old, it all clicked for me. I was lying in bed, but couldn't sleep. I knew I needed Jesus to be in charge of my life. I described it as Him "tugging on my heart." So I got up and talked with my parents. Then I prayed to ask Jesus to be my Lord and Savior, and the rest is history.

Or so I thought.

Years later, in high school, I really started digging into the Bible and was troubled by some passages when I thought about them in relation to my own salvation. Was I one of the ones to whom Jesus would say, "I never knew you?" Was my faith authentic? Was there fruit in my life that proved I was a true Christian? How could I have understood all that salvation meant when I was 7 years old? Did I really mean it? I still struggled with sin, every day-- had I really been made new? Was the Holy Spirit really dwelling inside me?

These questions and doubts ate me up inside. I loved Jesus and I desperately wanted to live for Him, but much of the time I wasn't very good at it. I believed in eternal security-- once saved always saved, but I feared that maybe I had been insincere in my childhood surrender to Christ. The thought that I could have been wrong all this time and wasn't really a Christian terrified me. I didn't want to end up in hell, thinking all my life I was heading for heaven. I didn't want to spend my life pouring myself out for a faith to which I didn't actually belong. I didn't want to say I loved God and point other people to Him, but not actually be His child. But I also didn't want to be one of those people who "rededicate" their lives to Jesus over and over again, hoping it will eventually stick.

My doubts were mainly based on my poor memory of how things went down when I was 7 years old and the sin I saw in my life. But God has grace even-- maybe even especially-- for forgetful, sinful people.

In the few years after I began having these doubts, God opened my eyes. Through reading things I'd written even at a young age, talking with my parents, and even remembering things I'd forgotten, over time I realized that crazy as it is, I really did begin a relationship with Jesus as a 2nd grader. I don't believe this is wishful thinking on my part-- I believe God has reminded me (and continues to remind me) that our relationship reaches back farther than my faulty memory can recall. I remember going into my elementary school class the week after I was baptized and telling my entire class about it. I remember writing  my little brother's name in a prayer journal and praying for him to become a Christian every single day until it happened. I remember quiet mornings spent reading my Bible before school. I remember loving my Jesus dearly, even when I failed to follow Him completely.

When you become a believer at an early age, you don't see as much of a dramatic change as you might when you're an adult. Many with my kind of story feel that their testimonies aren't as powerful as others. But childlike faith and gradual growth are miraculous and beautiful in their own ways.

Even if I'm wrong about what happened when I was 7 years old, the most important thing for me is that I know that I am a child of God now. I look back and see the evidence of God at work in my life, both years ago and days ago. Even moments ago. I trust that I am a true believer because I trust God. He didn't stop being my God because I forgot or questioned or doubted. He is so much greater than that. I'm so thankful my standing with Him doesn't depend on me-- but on Him.

It's amazing how God uses the trials of our lives-- even our doubts. I worked at a Christian kids' camp for a few summers during college. Each year, I had the opportunity to talk and pray with several 4th and 5th graders who were already doubting their salvation. With kids, you have to be careful because sometimes they don't fully understand what it means to become a Christian or they want to so for ulterior motives, like because their friends are. I definitely did not want to falsely assure them of salvation. But I also didn't want them to end up like I did in high school-- overcome with doubt. I had some great conversations with these kids, several of whom I will never forget. I was only able to speak into their lives the way I did because the Spirit guided me and allowed me to draw from my own experience and concerns.

Sometimes waves of doubt still hit me-- but I don't let them affect me like they once did. I only have to think of God's love for me and His promises. I know He will never leave me or forsake me, even in those moments when I can't remember why. My past is important, but not as important as my present and future with 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.

Life Verses: Romans 8

We just concluded a sermon series at Blueprint entitled “Life Verses.” Each week, one of our pastors walked  us through a set of verses that has been influential in his life. But God’s Word isn’t just for pastors! It has the ability to powerfully affect and transform each of us. Today, we're featuring the Life Verses of Laura Coulter, one of our interns.  I get excited about the book of Romans, especially chapter 8. It's gotten me through quite a few hard times in my life. It reminds me who I am and where I stand in Christ, no matter what I feel at the time or the external circumstances weighing me down.

Paul wrote this letter to the Roman church from Corinth, planning to go through Rome on his way to Spain. Since Paul had never been to Rome before, he wanted to establish a strong relationship with the Roman believers and unite them around a well-clarified and powerful gospel in a way that would ease tensions between believers of different backgrounds, as well as encourage them to avoid false teaching and immoral living. That’s why the book of Romans is such a great explanation of the gospel and Christian life. It’s no coincidence that we often use verses in Romans for evangelism. It’s a well of gospel truth: clear, deep, and pure.

By the time he gets to Romans 5, Paul’s dealt with sin, death, the law, and justification by faith. In the next four chapters he ties it all together. Through  faith in Christ, because of what He’s done for us, we are more than conquerors (Romans 8:37)— righteousness wins over sin, life wins over death, and the Spirit wins over the flesh. To me, Romans 8 is a victory cry, beginning with, “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus” and ending with, “[nothing] shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).  That just reaches into my heart and injects joy!

But Romans 8 isn’t just spiritual candy. It’s deep, nourishing, tough, make-your-head-want-to-explode spiritual truth. Paul talks about:

  • -life in the Spirit instead of death in the condemnation of sin ( verses 1-4)
  • -the mindset of the Spirit versus the mindset of the flesh (verses 5-11)
  • -the fact that the Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead now dwells in us (verse 11)
  • -how the Spirit testifies that we are God’s adopted children, and we are able to call him Father (verses 14-17)
  • -how our suffering for Christ now will lead to a much greater glory later (verses 17-18)
  • -how believers groan with creation in anticipation of resurrection and regeneration (verses 18-25)
  • -the Spirit of God interceding for us when we don’t know what or how to pray (verses 26-27)
  • -the ultimate good God has in store for those who love him— to be conformed to the image of Christ (verses 28-30)
  • -how we are more than conquerors in him, because nothing can stand against us and nothing can separate us from his love when we are in Christ (31-39)

 

If you have never shouted "Amen" in your life, that has to at least make you want to! And that’s why I love Romans 8— it’s the beauty of the gospel wrapped up in a way that makes me paralyzed in wonder at God’s love, thinking: I don’t deserve this.

I don’t deserve the Spirit of God living in me, leading me, interceding for me, and reminding me that I belong to Him. I don’t deserve to be adopted into God’s family, to be a coheir with Christ, who died for me. I don’t deserve glory and resurrection. I don’t deserve the ultimate good. I don’t deserve to be made anything like Christ. I don’t deserve to conquer anything. And I certainly don’t deserve a love that will never, ever let me go. Yet God loves me with that love. And He gives me all these things, not because I deserve them, but because He loved me enough to reach down into my world and bring me up into His by the blood of His Son.

I love Romans 8 because through it God says, “Daughter, you belong to me and I will never let you go.”

What does a truth like that do to me? Ultimately, the response to this wonder isn't paralysis, but action. God's active, invasive, ridiculous love motivates me to live with confidence in Christ, sharing His love with others however I can, empowered by His incredible, creative, intimate Spirit.

 

Adapted from a post previously published on LauraCoulterwrites.com. Used with permission.

 

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.

Life Verses, Volume 2

We’re currently going through a sermon series at Blueprint entitled “Life Verses.” Each week, one of our pastors is walking us through a set of verses that has been influential in his life. But God’s Word isn’t just for pastors! It has the ability to powerfully affect and transform each of us. Here are the “Life Verses” of some of Blueprint’s other staff:

Shane Kidd, Intern

John 17:3:

And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.

“This verse lays out what is true about everlasting life: it's not about us being able to live forever, but it's being able to know the Father and Jesus whom He sent. Living eternally without communion with God is not true life but real everlasting life is found in our relationship with God. This verse gives meaning to the way I live. I pursue to know Him more and have my life be a reflection of knowing Him.”

Dena Burress, Director of Operations

1 Corinthians 1:27-31:

But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

1 Corinthians 15:10:

But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary,I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.

"These verses in 1 Corinthians remind me of being chosen--that God chose to lavish his lovingkindness on someone's whose heart was far from him.  God's reach is never too short; we're always in his reach.  My life is now hidden in Christ.  God's grace to me was not in vain."

Taylor Hendrick, Intern

Hebrews 12:7:

Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father?

James 1:2-4:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

"These two passages kind of go hand in hand for me. They have given me hope in the midst of great trial/hardship and they also allowed me to look back through my past and see how God was molding and shaping me through my experiences to prepare me specifically for future events. I learn a ton by examining my past. The rest of chapter 12 in Hebrews talks more about discipline and why it is important and painful at times. Contrasting that with James 1, I saw that we are able to find joy because we know God is at work. These were words that I clung to in my darkest times and in my deepest trials, trials that came because of my disobedience or simply for my sanctification.

The two specific times I surrendered to these verses were my junior year of high school in the midst of an ugly relationship and my first semester of college when I was a Christian in isolation and starving for community. Perseverance has definitely come from both of those experiences and I felt the Lord's discipline.

These are verses I constantly use to encourage people when they are down or going through a tough time. God is showing us that He cares enough to discipline us. And the simple fact that we can recognize a trial or hardship is evidence of the Spirit working. When we are able to take the attitude of clay being molded, we can really say to God 'have your way, even if it's going to hurt.' Being joyful always is something many of us struggle to do, especially when we are also meant to mourn and have other emotions. But this passage in James shows our reason for pure joy is that the end result of this trial is better than how things were before. I also find that this verse points specifically to our future home, because essentially we are under trial for the entirety of our Christian life. We are meant for another world and having joy because we know where our 'end' will be is exactly what this verse is talking about."

 

Check out Life Verses, Volume 1 here.

 

Life Verses, Volume 1

We're currently going through a sermon series at Blueprint entitled "Life Verses." Each week, one of our pastors is walking us through a set of verses that has been influential in his life. But God's Word isn't just for pastors! It has the ability to powerfully affect and transform each of us. Here are the "Life Verses" of some of Blueprint's other staff: Diamone Ukegbu, Music Director

1 Peter 5:5-11:

Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him,firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.

"Throughout my life, I keep finding reasons to feel alone, haughty and without purpose. This passage is so clear in reminding the believer of all these things. Suffering has a place in life and it is full of purpose and joy if you let it be; eyes stayed on Jesus will sure up your identity in the suffering, giving you life and direction through it all. Peter is talking to elders and the flock and challenged them in their posture toward all people (v. 5) and then toward God (v. 6). Verse 7 is my 'safe haven' verse; my haven of rest and where my burden is light is in Jesus, so that I may run the race and not tire. With that posture and haven, there is a challenge of awareness of our enemy in verse 8. I feel a call to stay in the fight like Nehemiah and the workers did as they rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem in the Old Testament, despite the threats of their enemies. Verse 9 gives the challenge of resisting the enemy and 10- 11 brings the promise of full equipping and purpose.

In this passage, believers are challenged in their posture, reminded of their haven, admonished to be aware of our enemy, and called to resist our adversary as we rest in the equipping of our God through His presence for His glory. Everyday of my life I need this-- fuel for my life."

Jillian Marsh, Director of Hello World!

Psalm 73:25-28:

Whom have I in heaven but you?

And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.

My flesh and my heart may fail,

but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

For behold, those who are far from you shall perish;

you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you.

But for me it is good to be near God;

I have made the Lord God my refuge,

that I may tell of all your works.

"This passage reminds me that God is in control  and is due my gratitude.  It keeps me humble, reminds me of priority and leads me to worship.  I've loved this verse since my early teenage years."

Evan Moon, Intern

Luke 21:15:

I will give you words of wisdom that none of your adversaries can rebuke or contradict.

When I was in high school a group of friends who were believers got together every Thursday morning near the cafeteria to pray, read Scripture and sing praise songs. Obviously this opened us up to public criticism and mocking. Our desire was to interact with non-believers and to boldly share our faith. No matter how outgoing I am there is something about sharing the gospel that makes me clam up. Luke 21:15 says that when obedient followers of Jesus Christ are being held as prisoners and questioned by the most powerful people then Jesus Himself, the very Son of God, promises to give the perfect words to say.

This forces me to consider who is my source of strength. If I rely on my own understanding, even my own grasp of the Word of God, then I do not have the same sure footing as if I was relying on the Rock of Ages Himself. Pray and seek the face of God. Read His Word to know His character and fall deeper in love with Him. Go boldly with the good news of Jesus Christ and trust in Him for the strength to share your faith."

 

Looking Back, Moving Forward

As I pause and take a look back over the year I am amazed at God’s grace. I am amazed that God would take a man filled with pride, endless flaws and insecurities, and allow him to partake in his glory. With that being said, 2013 was an excellent year.  As a parent, this past year has afforded me the opportunity to watch my youngest son grow leaps and bounds, my daughter enter the first grade, and my oldest son enter Pre-K. While my wife and I have put forth supreme effort raising our children I realize daily I can’t take credit for how awesome my children are becoming. I stand amazed at them daily.  Financially, God has continued to provide. In years past, it was hard to find contentment regarding my finances. Yet, despite my best efforts, God has continued to provide for my family and I. As I learn to trust in God’s sovereignty and providence my desire to worry is continually laid to rest.

Personally, 2013 was a transformative year. One would think great personal growth would be a reflection of great accomplishments. Once again, God used 2013 to reveal that my efforts to perform and achieve righteousness have only contributed to putting distance between myself and Him. God used my failures and character defects to communicate my deep need for Him.

I’ve begun to learn the meaning of true repentance. The more God reveals my frailties the more I cling to God for survival. In years past, I would measure my relationship with Christ by my ability to make right decisions. Needless to say, my ability to obtain righteousness left me discontent. My discontentment would leave me disappointed and prideful. While underachieving made me feel like a failure, pride made me feel as though I deserved more. After all, I worked hard to live a Christian life. This attitude affected my marriage, my work performance and my overall quality of life. To top it all off, I fought a seemingly never ending battle with pornography.  Yet, in 2013 I have grown to learn that my identity in Christ prompts me to right action. While I have always known this in my head, it took 32 years for this truth to penetrate my heart. This realization has revolutionized my life. God has radically transformed me as a father, husband, brother, son and friend.

Lastly, 2013 was the best year of marriage for my wife and I.  After 9 years of marriage, my wife and I have grown to love, respect and accept the good and the flaws in each other. We have grown to challenge each other in grace and love. As a husband I’ve learned it’s impossible to love my wife properly when pride is involved. I look forward to growing with and loving my wife.  I look forward to becoming a better father. I look forward to becoming a better son, brother and friend. I look forward to experiencing the plan God has laid out for me.  As I go into 2014, may God be glorified and His image be displayed. May I grow to be a tool at his disposal and ready for use!

A New Heart Towards Christmas

Christmas used to be a time of year that brought on so much excitement and anticipation for me. On Christmas Eve my sister, brother, and I would stay up until twelve o’clock at night (against our parents’ wishes, of course) in order to run down the stairs and rip open our presents. In the beginning, we viewed Christmas as “gift-giving” time. But over the years I began to learn that Christmas was much more than that. It was about being good to others and spending time with family.  As I grew up, I realized that Santa Claus wasn’t real, our Christmas tree came down, and we focused on being together as a family and that was awesome. However, in my early twenties I began to hear messages about how Christmas began as a pagan holiday and that by having a Christmas tree meant that you “worshipped” the tree. Although I did not celebrate Christmas as I did as a child, I was a little sad to hear about that. But I was strong in my convictions and did not celebrate Christmas at all. We did not have a Christmas tree, there was no gift-giving, and we did not even hang out with family. We may have spoken about how it was when Jesus’ birthday was celebrated, but that was it. Although when I think about it, I celebrate my birthday every single year, but for the one who died for me I did not celebrate his… but that’s another story for another day.

When I became a mother I knew that I wanted to share some of the traditions and experiences that I had in my childhood with my children. One of those experiences was celebrating Christmas and the traditions that go along with it. So my husband and I talked about it and last year was the first Christmas we celebrated as a family. It was awesome, but getting to the place of actually being completely comfortable with celebrating Christmas did not actually come until this Christmas season.

Philippians 4:6-7 Contemporary English Version states, "Don't worry about anything, but pray about everything. With thankful hearts offer up your prayers and requests to God. Then because you belong to Christ Jesus, God will bless you with peace that no one can completely understand. And this peace will control the way you think and feel."

These Scriptures have helped me in life and in particular with Christmas. I knew that I wanted to be completely free from the legalistic views that I had about Christmas.  So as the Scripture stated, I “prayed about everything,” which included Christmas, and God gave me peace. I know that as the saying goes, “Jesus is the reason for the season” and we put Him first. In regards to gifts, I want to give my children gifts, simply because I love to see the joy on their faces.

This year and every year after I am going to celebrate Christmas the way that I feel lead to from the Lord and I refuse to feel any condemnation. I am going to spend time with my immediate and extended family and we are going to laugh, eat great food, exchange gifts, and use the opportunity to continue to teach our children about Jesus. We even have a Christmas tree this year and I’m already wrapping gifts to go under 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

 

Off the Sidelines

It all started with a question. “What’s your burden?” and at first I didn’t have an answer and then it clicked. Men! If men could get it all together the world would change immediately. That’s what popped into my head then and what continues to sit in the corners of my mind now. After I was asked this question and gave my answer, I was invited to come to a men’s group that was going to start meeting on Tuesday mornings. The next Tuesday I woke up ready to attend this meeting, not knowing what it was really about or how it would go down. When I got there at 5 am I found out that we were going to be going through this six week series called 33 The Series.

This six week session became a game changer in my life. It was the first time that the Gospel was brought down to the ground level of my life, not as a Christian but as a man that was a Christian. It was like I was in the fight of my life and never knew it, until during these six weeks, the question was asked: “How many men in here either don’t have a father or your father was there but very ineffective?” That day there were about ten guys in the room and all ten raised their hand. At that very moment a bomb went off in my head. I finally realized that I wasn’t the only one and that this thing might be at epidemic proportions. It was totally mind-blowing to me that it was unanimous, ten out of ten guys had a bad outlook of the man who is supposed to mean the most to us, Daddy! Every boy longs for his daddy to be his superhero, but for every boy in the room, this superhero never showed up. Wow!

I really felt like I could no longer sit on the sidelines. The Gospel had been made real in my life and now I know my true burden. I must do something, but what? I felt like God wanted me to take some men through 33 The Series. Why not use that to help some other men? I was frozen with fear and the thought of “I’m not qualified.” Who was I to take some guys through this? I don’t know that Bible like that and I’m not a pastor. So for months, I did nothing.

I produce a comedy show called Hollalujah that we have been putting on for three years now. We draw a nice crowd of about 500 every third Friday of the month. I often invite people from Blueprint out to come and enjoy. This one particular time I gave out some free tickets and it was one of the largest groups from Blueprint we’d ever had (I don’t think it says anything about them being cheap, just that they like free stuff). It also just so happens that Muche Ukegbu also came to his first Hollalujah experience that day. At this point, Muche had become my mentor and sounding board about everything that I didn’t understand about this newfound walk with Jesus that had engulfed my life.

At some point during the night of the show, I found Muche and asked how he was enjoying it. He said, “Dude, this is crazy. Let’s connect this week... seriously.”

I didn’t know what he wanted but I felt the need to make sure we connected. When we did, I clearly remember him saying: “Do you recognize that the room changes when you go on stage? These are the people you are suppose to be pastoring.”

He went on to explain that pastoring doesn’t always look like the pastor in the traditional sense, but these were that people that God placed me over. As he talked I could hear God say, “33-- do it” and a few months later I introduced the first volume of 33 at Hollalujah. That night we had 11 guys sign up. For six weeks I took eleven guys ranging in age from 27 to 57 through this series. These guys all came from different walks of life. We had elders of a church, college grads, former drug dealers, and former addicts all in one room listening to me help them understand how the Gospel applies in their life, right now. I went from “Why me?” to “Why not me?” The thing that I began to realize is that it wasn’t me. This thing was way bigger than me and I couldn’t do it anyway. I had to rely on Him.

We just finished Volume 2 of 33 The Series with a total of sixteen guys. My wife Jessica and I are also closing out a nine week Bible study on Mondays with people who had often crossed our paths and wanted to know more about this God that has changed our lives. This too has been an amazing time with people who don’t go to Blueprint but want to know more about Jesus Christ.

The funny part is, three years ago I wouldn’t have been this dude. I would never have jumped in. Today, I am truly learning to trust God. I have come to realize that when God gives me something it’s always bigger than I can handle. What’s becoming clearer each day is that He is not asking me to do it, He is asking me to believe and follow Him. Even though we have denied Him like Peter, He comes back, affirms us, and tells us to go tend His sheep.

John 21:15-19:

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time,“Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.”

It’s not for us to know. It's all about being willing to trust Him and just GO.

Celebrating Recovery

My name is Kendall. I’m a grateful believer in Jesus Christ, and I struggle with pornography. I witnessed my first pornographic image around the age of seven. I can remember it pretty clearly. I went into the living room and pressed eject on my parents’ Betamax VCR (of course, this was ages before DVD or Netflix). When the VCR opened, a tape came out that I didn’t recognize. Being a normal, curious seven year old, I pushed the tape back in and pressed play. The image I saw seared itself into my memory and exposed me to something that would haunt me into adulthood.

Growing up in the 80s and 90s, I’d say the lack of technological advances kept my issue at bay for a long time.  Because there was no Internet, seeing naked women on a screen was pretty difficult. As a child, the only options I had for nudity came by way of sneaking through VHS tapes to find movies with love scenes, staying up as late as I could to watch late night Cinemax (when it came free as a promotional), or catching the squiggly lines on the pay-per-view channels. Sometimes my cousin and I would try to sneak and find his older brother’s dirty magazines. But during the early years, I understood pornography was wrong because my parents would cover my eyes when nudity or objectionable material would come on television.

Around the age of nine, my mother became a Christian. It was around ages nine and ten that I began to hear Bible verses like: If one looks lustfully on a woman he has committed adultery in his heart or if your eye offends you pluck it out. It is better to have one eye than to have two in hell. I know that is paraphrased, but needless to say, I began to get the picture: not only do my parents forbid me to look at naked women, but God hates it as well. Beyond that, I could possibly go to Hell for it! So, of course no child is ever going then tell others, “Hey I’ve been looking at naked ladies and I need help.” So, moving into junior high and high school I tried my best, on my own, to stay free of sexual sin. I was semi-successful. I didn’t have sex until my senior year in high school and pornography was limited to the occasional rated R teen movie. Of course in the 90s everyone had tells of sneaking into the dirty section of the video store, and there was one time my best friend managed to get a hold of some porn (which seemed to make my curiosities normal). I considered those early years were somewhat tamed.

So, when did it really hit the fan for me? August of 1999. I remember because this was my freshman year in college. The Internet was still pretty new, and the ability to see free porn on a computer was mind blowing to hormone-raging young adults. It was like every guy in my dorm had stories of how they went into the computer lab and found countless porn sites. I was far away from the Lord during this time and was sexually active, not to mention my then girlfriend and I would even watch porn together. Things began to change when I met some students who loved Jesus. We became friends and eventually started a Bible study. I grew in my love for the Lord, and I had a lot of accountability. During this time, my then girlfriend and I called it quits, and I committed myself again to abstinence. Abstaining from sex turned out to be somewhat easy to get over, but abstaining from porn was a much harder task.

Eventually, I transferred to the University of West Georgia where I met my beautiful wife. My wife and I got married in college as we were head over heels in love (not to mention we were struggling with sexual purity), and I thought once I got married all my sexual struggles would be over. I quickly found that my sexual struggles would actually jump into overdrive. I realized very quickly that the fantasy of marriage is exactly that: a fantasy. I discovered how selfish I was and how selfish I “thought” my wife was. I also began to realize that marriage exposes you in ways I could not imagine. My wife and I soon began to experience financial trouble that marriage counseling didn’t prepare us for. Not only that, we realized there were things about each other we didn’t really like. With all of the perceived pressures, let downs, failures and rejections overwhelming me, the one safe haven I began to lean on was pornography.

Pornography provided an escape sexually for me.  It also helped me get my mind off of the world around me. My wife and I even argued less about sex, and I didn’t let personality flaws, rejection, and failure bother me as much. But this feeling of euphoria only lasted for a few months. Soon, I realized I wasn’t as affectionate towards my wife, and I had less patience for her. I felt like a horrible Christian and began to realize that this habit was growing into a big problem. But there is no way I could tell her what I was doing. So, I hid my addiction and only talked to a few trusted friends about it.

About two years heavy into my addiction, the light was shined on my secret. My wife found out, and I was forced to come clean. That was one of the lowest times in my life.  Yet, while I was remorseful, I was still hooked. I had to find a new way to deal with my issues. Needless to say, I had a hard time coping without it. After being caught, going to counseling, and being caught again I realized I needed accountability. Yet, how could I tell people I have struggled severely with pornography and sexual sin? Confessing this sin to people would change peoples perception of me. So, again, I would tell only certain people.  And I would have long periods of success, but they would end in failure.

Finally, after being forced by my wife to come clean a final time, I was left broken, defeated and depleted. I actually had to face the fact that I had a real problem. So, I called a mutual friend and asked him about this recovery group. The recovery group was called Celebrate Recovery. The first day I went, I was terrified and broken. I felt as if I had failed so horribly that it landed me in a room sitting next to drug addicts and alcoholics to get help.  What God showed me through Celebrate Recovery (CR) was that I needed to come out of denial and accept that I am a sinner in need of a Savior. Of course, this was a crazy revelation to me considering I’d been a Christian for years. Yet, God used CR to show me what repentance really is. My human effort was worthless in God’s eyes.

God showed me that true repentance is surrendering to him and realizing that I am powerless in my own strength to overcome this addiction. My addiction produced shame, which caused me to isolate from anyone I felt would reject me. But I learned that there is no possible way to abide in Christ and be who God wants me to be in isolation. CR created a safe environment for me to confess failures and victories and modeled an example of community that helped me welcome people into my struggle, so that I didn’t have to endure the struggle on my own. It also gave me a clearer picture of God’s love for me and how he designed the body of Christ to operate as it relates to community.  As a result, I am currently experiencing joy like never before in my walk with Christ and in my marriage.

Victory (taken from participant guide 3 CR)

  • Voluntarily submit to every change God wants to make in my life and humbly ask Him to remove my character defects: “Happy are those whose greatest desire is to do what God requires” (Matt 5:6)
  • We are entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of Character: “Humble yourselves before the lord, and he will lift you up” (James 4:10)
  • We humbly ask him to remove all our shortcomings: “ If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”  (1John 1:9)

 

My Broken Plate

For our Utopia series, we wanted to invite our community to share their brokenness on plates and break them to symbolize how God takes that brokenness and makes something beautiful.

Here’s what I was going to write on my plate Sunday:

I have a mind that is easily distracted and a heart that easily grows lukewarm and numb.

The general, albeit honest, confession of a mature Christian woman. I watched the film played during service, and I felt for Jackie as she talked about her broken family. But I couldn’t relate. Maybe this is the pride that contributes to my lukewarm heart, but I kind of think we have a utopian family. We’ve weathered the frazzled years with infants and toddlers, the frustrating years with teenagers, and now we have these grown up men with wives and children of their own. And we have healthy relationships with them.

But then I got distracted from my self-satisfaction long enough to hear Jackie say something I realized—like an arrow shot—I could relate to. She spoke of a family that “stigmatized” her. It’s a harsh word, one I’m fairly certain none of our sons would say was inflicted upon them in our home. But there it was, out loud and pointed and very clearly meant for me to hear.

***

We’re personality test kind of people. We, Bill and I, relish the inner-dissection you can perform once you have a viable label to apply to yourself. I’m a High I on the DISC, an ENFP on Meyers-Briggs. But you know how it goes with your kids. You don’t need the tests. You know who they are before they can speak. It’s like they wear a personality profile penciled on their chests that you, the insightful parent, can see more clearly than anyone else. So our Matt was a rebel, David was sneaky, Stephen was driven, and Andrew was a responder. You see what I just did?

These labels represent our children’s strengths, but I’ve given them a subtle negative twist. A weakness is the immature version of a strength. And because children, by definition, are immature, their strengths emerge as weaknesses before they begin to look like strengths.

Early on, I began to identify each of my children’s unique strengths. Soon that became their identity. But it also—because the other side of that strength was an equally unique weakness—became the stigma I attached to them. And because sometimes, to survive, you have to laugh, the stigma became the punch line in our family jokes about each other.  By assigning a stigma to each of our kids, I put them each in a box. Maybe it didn’t have a lid nailed to the top, but still it was a box. A limitation.

I had to write that on my plate Sunday. The plate broke, and right after I flinched at the sound, I went to my seat, lifted my hands, and sang. Free. Whole.

Our youngest may need to hear me confess this to him. He is the only one I fear may still be wounded by the label I’ve placed on him. But he is not limited by it. The other day, when we were discussing one of his interests, he said to me, “I don’t want that to be my identity.” He, like his brothers, is stronger than any box.

Our children have also had the privilege of being loved the way we all need to be loved: by being known. I know they are more than one-dimensional beings. The stigmas are nothing more than their particular flesh patterns. I have mine and they have theirs. And maybe, just maybe, by identifying those and even laughing about them together, we have all learned that brokenness isn’t something to hide.

I don’t know what to do with Sunday’s exercise in worship. As an ENFP, I live my life on the outside, thinking that everything should be shared as openly and verbally and immediately as possible. (Which is why I fired off a blog post about it, of course.) But that is not all I am. I have learned the stillness and quiet of an inside life by spending time with the only One who defies any stigma. My stillness and quiet may not look like yours, especially if you are an introvert, but for me it is a miracle.

Pray for me Blueprint, that I would know what to do with the brokenness I wrote on my plate Sunday. Maybe I need to have a conversation with my sons, although Bill thinks not, and he’s usually right about these things. But maybe all I need to do is remember the sound of breaking and sing along with you as you hear it, too.

Born This Way

I was born a sinner. What does that mean? I figured it meant I was born bad, like we speak of unruly kids. But that'd mean a few spankings and punishments and then I'd be a good kid and eventually a good adult.

Right? Wrong according to Christianity.

I am totally depraved (it says), not just bad. Well, what does that mean? It means that every part of me—my mind, will, emotions and flesh—has been corrupted. Everything I do and say stems from a rotten core. There is absolutely no good in me. Even my "righteous" deeds are tainted by an evil heart incapable of conceiving of any pure act.

That's a lot to digest. So, I don't really. I can't be THAT bad. I'm no murderer, no thief, no terrorist.

I know I'm not perfect, so I thank God for His grace, which allows me to still experience good from Him although I do bad things. But I don't need to bash myself into believing I'm some terrible person. For one, I don't see it. Two, what good would it do to believe that? Three, I think Christians do that to each other and the outside world enough. Whether it's homosexuals or fornicators, everyone receives hate from those people who say their God is Love.

But I went ahead and humored myself last night and listened to a pastor give a message in a way I'd never expect. Christians say that all people sin and fall short of God's glory, but they don't seem to really believe that all includes them. But this guy did. He put homosexuals, liars, drunkards, adulterers, I mean everybody on an even playing field. How? He explained that Christians are "justified sinners battling together to walk in purity, with all of their differing genetic, hormonal, environmental disorders that incline everyone of them, in varying ways, to do sinful things." He said that all of us were born totally blind to God's beauty. We all wander towards different things or lifestyles as a result. We just don't realize it. What blew me away and made me take his words in was that this preacher, who I know calls himself a man of God, said his heart was no different than the next man's—apart from Jesus. Just by being born, he has the capacity to be gay, to be a killer, to be filled with anger, you name it and he could have been it. And he has been a man controlled by a number of sins and even now, in Christ, he must fight to submit his life to God daily. But in Christ, he also no longer has to operate from a rotten core. He is free to glorify God with His life. But that's primarily because God gave him that ability and not because of any good within him.

Man, that gives me hope. Tells me that I didn't inherit something alone. The whole world got this sort of defective gene. No need to be in denial. No need to feel ashamed. But also no need to let how I was born dictate how I live now.

Born sinner. Born amongst sinners. In a world subjected to the effects of sin. It's rough. Seems like we're all in need of grace. Guess since he sent Jesus, I'm left without excuse. Apparently, he's made a way to be born again.

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.