Who Is The Greatest?

Perhaps the most intense battle in my Christian walk is my confidence in myself.  If anyone thinks I can write a book, become a doctor, and save the world before bedtime, it’s me. In my opinion, I’m the greatest. That’s perfect if I’m a New Ager, but miserable because I am indeed a Christian.  Not that ambitious Christians should be stoned or disqualified, but when my confidence in my awesomeness eclipses the finished work of Christ and trips up my ability to depend on and trust in Him, I am in trouble. Unfortunately, I learn best by experience and this truth was so vividly apparent to me when a good friend of mine asked me to go for a run with her.  It had been months since I’d ran. Nevertheless, I accepted the invitation to run a hilly 6- mile trail. I knew it would be difficult, but there was no doubt I could do it. My confidence springs from a half marathon, 13.1 miles, I’d completed a year and a half previous. I agreed with my friend who ensured, “Muscle memory is on your side.” Her remark was in response to my declaration that I had no intentions of keeping up with her. I confess, I was puffed up on my abilities, but I reserved that truth for my thoughts alone.

Not only was my confidence built on my past feat, it also wreaked of my past running escapades with this particular friend. She has never outrun me, and even out of practice, I believed we would at least keep the same pace.

Steady and small characterized the first 10 minutes of our walk and talk. Just warming up.

“My dad always likes to run this steep hill at the end, I think that’s so silly,” she said.

“Let’s do it! Sounds fun!” I felt good and up for it.

Twelve minutes into the actual run, I stop to nurse the cramp ensuing on my side. My friend graciously stopped too, dissolving the gap between us.  “Thank God,” I thought. This became the trend until around mile 4 or so. At that point I started begging for water. “There is a fountain about a half a mile up the way.” Can I make it that far? My side was pulsating, I was hungry, I was hot, and my mouth was drier than ashy elbows. At one point, running had become “my thing” and now, all I wanted to do was lay in a tub of cold water and cry. I could not believe how difficult it was for me to make my body move.

We finally got to the water fountain. On a normal basis I’d be too skeptical to consider seeking refuge in a public oasis. But today I could not get to it fast enough. Breathless and sloppy, I let the water crash into my face and mouth. Who knew water in the park could taste so good?! It was cool. It was refreshing. It was restoring. I gulped as if it were 1999. This was surely the world’s last supply. I savored the feeling of the water passing through my throat and down whatever organs are behind my chest.

“We can just walk the rest of the way,” my friend said. And despite my desperate condition, I felt the pride in my heart yet bursting to scream, “I got this!” Not only did I want to finish, I wanted to finish strong. I refused to celebrate the 4 miles I’d come, recognize the compassion being extended through my friend, and accept that I needed to take it easy. It wasn’t until the last mile of the ordeal that I began to notice the convicting similarities between this run and my walk with God.

Cut to two weeks ago, off the heels of yet another gripping Sunday message from the book of 1 John in Blueprint’s Genuine Faith series. I was on the phone with the same running partner and best friend, weeping because I am always the last one to know how I’m really doing. I verbally processed through how I was feeling after the message, “I’ve really been trying to push through to get time with the Lord, even though I’m not really feeling it… I just want to abide.”

Her words to me beautifully summed up the hope etched within Pastor John’s message: “Abiding in Christ does not just mean having the discipline to get a quiet time in, it means resting in the work Christ already accomplished on the cross.”

If I were to sum up the way Pastor John said it in his message, I’d say, “My Christianity is often about doing the right things and staying away from the wrong things, when what God desires is that we abide in Him…. Abiding is not about our actions; it’s about our allegiance…  To abide in him means that my life is confined and defined by His life.“

Jesus is that cool, life- giving gulp of water and he is available for his children, in and out of shape, on a daily basis. Why would I ever seek to climb this mountain of life in my own strength? Why would I forgo rest for an anxiety attack? Why would I choose to be the captain of the ship when I know the one who built it?

God knows me more than I have the capacity to know that I am known (Psalm 139:1-6). He has been graciously exalting himself to show me mercy through the Genuine Faith series, just as he did when I barely made it through that 6 mile run.  The past few weeks in 1 John have restored my resolve to abide in Him. Why I continually put weight on myself that God himself doesn’t I do not know. I am grateful for the opportunities and reminders to trust him in this life. I pray my soul would rest in Him; He is the greatest.

The Gospel Gives Me Chills

The Gospel did it to me again today. I’ve been reading Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken. (Spoiler Alert: If you haven’t read it yet and plan to, I’d click this post away right now.) Several of my Christian friends recommended Unbroken to me, so I assumed it was a “Christian book.” But halfway in, I decided it wasn’t. It is an amazing story told with sharp journalistic acumen, but I couldn’t find a Christian subtext in it anywhere. Not that I minded. A good story is a good story.

But as I read chapter after relentless chapter with titles like “Missing at Sea” and “Sharks and Bullets” and “Hunted,” I got bone-weary of Louis Zamperini’s tragic life. When would the pathos end? Once he got safely home to country and family, it only continued. How could it not, considering what the man had endured at the hands of his Japanese captors during World War II? I felt that surely this seemingly indestructible man was going to self-destruct in the end.

Then I turned to page 904 and got chills.

The middle section begins, “In the second week of September 1949, an angular man climbed down from a transcontinental train and stepped into Los Angeles,” and there it was, tucked away at the end of the paragraph: “His name was Billy Graham.” No, the arrival of Billy Graham on page 904 did not give me chills. But I knew what his appearance on the page had to mean. It meant the Gospel was about to do what only it can do. It meant things were finally looking up for Louis Zamperini.

This, by the way, is a real-life story.

In my world “real” is a cheap word. My favorite mascara is called “They’re real,” for heaven’s sake. Real food as opposed to the fast kind, real coffee (decaf is fake, right?) real stories of real celebrities on TV, these things have so diminished the word that I have a hard time distinguishing what is absolutely, truthfully, undeniably real from what isn’t. And so I forget how real the Gospel is. How it alters this flimsy reality we call life. How, when it shows up, it’s as if Mount Fuji just toppled right over into the Sea of Japan.

***

We spent a long weekend this summer in Lock Haven, Pennsylvania, where we lived over twenty years ago. On Sunday we showed up like regular ole visitors at the church where my husband pastored for five years. Denny Marconi met us at the door. He grabbed Bill and said, “I still remember the night you introduced me to Jesus, Bill. My life has never been the same.”

If someone says, “my life has never been the same” twenty years after what changed that life, you believe them. But we asked around about Denny. It’s true.

Then, after the service, Bill stood in the aisle and got a bear hug from our old neighbor, the one who had a crazy marriage, a crazy bunch of boys, and a crazy alcohol problem. He echoed Denny’s statement. Like Louis Zamperini, our neighbor, Gary Barrett, got cured of a host of ills when he met Jesus. Overnight. I am not kidding.

Right before we moved away from Lock Haven, Bill, who was only thirty-eight at the time, had a heart attack. Matt, our oldest, was almost 11. One night, while I was two hours away with Bill at the hospital and Bill’s mom was managing our other boys who were eight, four, and two, Gary heard Matt sobbing his boy-heart out through an upstairs bedroom window. (It was springtime, and we didn’t have air-conditioning, so the windows were open.) Gary crept up our back stairway, let himself in, and knocked on Matt’s bedroom door. (No locked doors in Lock Haven either.) This burly, compassionate man was exactly who Matt needed that night. He encircled our son in his arms and wept with him.

This summer, Gary thanked Bill for introducing him to a Change Agent like no other, and I thanked him for, as a changed man, looking out for our son when we couldn’t all those years ago.

That is exactly what the Gospel does. It gets inside us and changes us. But sometimes I forget that.

***

In Acts 3, Luke tells the story of a broken man whose life and health were completely altered by the Gospel. It’s a familiar Bible story, so even though I know better I tend to read it as less real than Denny’s or Gary’s or even Louis Zamperini’s stories. Or even my own. But as I read it this morning with all these real-life stories humming in my head, it shocked me with its authenticity.

Peter described what happened like this: “Faith in Jesus’ name put this man, whose condition you know so well, on his feet – yes, faith and nothing but faith put this man healed and whole right before your eyes.” (Acts 5:16, MSG)

So there’s Louis Zamperini, a man whose “condition” I know well after reading about him for over 1000 pages. And here’s Denny and Gary, men I personally know who were in no condition to radically alter the trajectory of their own lives for the good. And here’s me, a woman who is “healed and whole” even if I don’t always look like it. Who, from time to time, has to pinch herself to believe this delightful wholeness is real.

So I think what happened in Acts 3 could actually happen now. Peter said the end result of the Gospel was that we can know “times of refreshing from the Lord.” (Verse 12) Yes, I feel the gentle breeze only God’s breath can circulate into my life. So today I find the Gospel reality to be crystal clear.

But I have non-Christian friends who do not look like they need to be healed or refreshed. They are compassionate, healthy people. And I have Christian friends who worry me with all their issues. People can be troublesome. They don’t always follow the rules, me included. People make the Gospel all fuzzy. But I find this only happens when I place people at its center instead of Jesus. If perceived need was the lynchpin of the Gospel, it would lose its power. Jesus, Almighty King over life and death and the life that lies beyond death, he is the focal point of the Gospel. Peter and John knew this.

“Why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we have made him walk?” Peter asked the crowd that had gathered around the healed man, because miracles do seem to draw crowds. We don’t have the piety or the power to do this stuff, he’s saying. I get that.

Peter understood that the chills we get in the presence of a Gospel miracle don’t ever belong to us, not even if we are Billy Graham or a bona fide Apostle. They belong to Jesus alone.

The Many Faces of Freedom

The other day Bill said to me, “I don’t relate to the Psalms.”

“Whaaat?” I sputtered, “we’ve been married however many years [I can’t count when I’m upset] and you’re just now telling me this?”

Seriously, this might have been a deal-breaker thirty-five years ago.

“I didn’t say I don’t like the Psalms,” Bill said without a hint of defensiveness, “I said I don’t relate to them.”

“What do you relate to then? Leviticus?”

“The Sermon on the Mount.”

Okay, I said, in so many words, I absolve you of what I thought was surely some kind of heresy. And once again I realized that although Bill and I share a love for Jesus, Jesus’ love for us meets us and transforms us in completely different ways.

Years ago, Bill told me the one character in the Bible he related to most was Lazarus. One morning he read Jesus’ words spoken, full volume, at the mouth of a stinky, stopped-up grave and he heard them at the mouth of his stinky, stopped-up heart:

“Lazarus, come forth.”

And then, as if waking up a dead man wasn’t enough: “Unbind him and let him go.”

Power from heaven came to my husband in those words. See, he’s the kind of guy who doesn’t relate to the Psalms because they are so messy and emotional and dramatic. He is none of those things. He is naturally neat and logical and restrained. But something supernatural happened when Jesus said “Bill, come forth” followed by “I am going to unbind you and let you go.”

My husband’s fundamental personality did not change (for which I am grateful), but a change began to percolate inside of him, and he began to experience the freedom that only grace can offer. Then the Sermon on the Mount, that high calling which none of us can ever fully attain, became a place to which he, no longer bound, could soar. He was becoming free through an intimate message straight to his heart. Not perfect by any means, but free.

***

When he shared this with me, I thought, “Which biblical character most reflects the way Jesus speaks to me?” Because I knew I was not a Lazarus. Most days I do not need to be unbound and let go. I’m already free enough as it is. It’s my freedom that gets me into trouble. It’s my freedom that causes me the most regret and makes me wish for the one quality I lack most: self control. Like the Psalms, I’m messy and emotional and dramatic. So, other than David, what person in the pages of scripture most reminds me of me?

It wasn’t long before I figured it out. This is not an attempt to one-up my husband in humility, I promise, but I see myself in the demon-possessed man Jesus met “among the tombs” who “could not be restrained, even with a chain.” (Mark 15:3-4)

Restrain this guy? No way. Mark tells us “No one was strong enough to control him.” But restraint was exactly what he needed. Not chains or ropes or, as in Lazarus’ case, a long swath of grave muslin. He needed the kind of restraint only God can give, the kind that heals and restores.

Jesus’ words to me have often been along these lines: “Allow me to pat your arm as a wife does her husband’s when he is angry or tense” or “ Would you let me stroke your back as a mother calms a child in the throes of a tantrum?” or even the practical “Maybe it would be best if you didn’t say that right now.” Gentle reminders that I’m teetering on the edge of spiritual insanity, and only God himself can bring me the miracle of peace. The end result is that I am, like Bill, free.

This is why I love the true stories the biblical writers saw fit to record. They make God’s grace real. If he can unbind a rotting corpse and restrain a crazy homeless guy, then I have hope when the more didactic passages tell me in less dramatic terms that he will do this for me.

And they make God’s grace real to me.

Our children’s elementary school principal once calculated that his children would have approximately fifty teachers in the course of their education before college, which meant there would be a few teachers they adored or who adored them, and there would be a few teachers they disliked or who disliked them. His point was that parents shouldn’t protect their kids from “bad” teachers, because it was likely they’d have a few among so many along the way. Like the variety of real live people God sovereignly places in our lives, God has given us this vast array of biblical characters, real live people whose stories are recorded for us to either relate to or, in some cases, not.

This is not about marriage between two very different people, although I guess it could be. Mostly it is about the stories and the people God uses to say his grace out loud to us when we need to hear it most. These stories—at least the two I’ve referenced here—take place in a graveyard. I take this to mean God likes to find us when we don’t have a pulse, when we are hopeless to do what we need most, to be unbound or to be restrained, and when we are least able to work up a sweat in order to earn the gift of that grace.

Blogs and Tesseracts

I have been wading in the blog world for almost six months now. Most days this is a little like plunging my feet in scented water for a spa pedicure. I emerge refreshed. Sometimes it’s more like one of those tubs on the sidewalks in Cambodia, the ones with the fish that will nibble the dead skin off your feet for one dollar and, as the signs claim, “Make You Funny.” I get my chuckle for the day. But some days it’s like a shark tank.

That’s because of the tension.

There are the bloggers with a serious case of the lovelies, the ones who showcase their children and their homes and their parties. Who saturate the heck out of their photographs and pour on the charm. Who don’t mean to, but who make me feel inadequate and unshiny.

Then there are the writers who feel it is their God-given right to strip the very skin off their words and serve them raw. The ones who beat their chests and rail at everything that’s wrong with the world. Sometimes they jolt me awake to things I needed to hear. But sometimes, no matter how hard I try, I cannot find a redeeming purpose in these tirades.

I read, and a tug of war commences in my head. But blogs did not invent this tension. They simply reflect a fact of life.

As a follower of Jesus, I’ve swung from military-like obedience to free-falling grace. I’ve read the Bible as research and as rescue for my soul. I’ve saved money and given it away. I’ve made purely Spirit-driven decisions and purely rational ones. As a wife, I struggle to be submissive and to maintain my own identity. I’ve been silent and I’ve spewed. As a mom, well, the tensions start early and proliferate quickly. Breastfeed or bottle? Rock to sleep or cry it out? Spank or time out? Homeschool or public? Christian school or homeschool? Don’t even get me started on teenagers. Wise people have plenty to say on both sides of all of these issues. Especially now that they can blog.

I wrote this post in my head at the precise spot on my run where, just last week, I watched a group of Nepali boys strike the overhanging branches of apple trees with sticks and gather the fruit in their shirts. Today, all that remained of that happy scene were flattened, rotting apples that, steamed by hot asphalt and rain, smelled like the dregs of hard cider… in bottles in our recycling bin… after two weeks. I could not escape the smell, even when I ran to the other side of the road.

What’s lovely one day can rot the next. We cannot escape this truth. Tension is a pervasive odor suffused into the atmosphere of life, every single life.

Let me point out that tension is not the same thing as polarity. We polarize when we stand on our far end of the tension and insist that others join us there. When we moralize our side and demonize the other. I’m appalled at how many preachers do this. Polarity wounds. Tension just is.

So what do we do with tension? I’m tempted to close my laptop when the words on the screen feed that awkward feeling I already have in my gut. But we all know denial is a sorry fix.

I think what we need to make the tensions bearable is a tesseract.

Read the rest of Kitti's post here

Making Sense of Sovereignty

This past Sunday, as we continued walking though the book of Acts, I preached on a subject that I’ve battled with—the sovereignty of God. I used to spend so much time speculating and trying to make sense of God’s sovereignty, then I realized that God’s sovereignty makes sense of me. (That’ll make more sense later—pun intended.) The "why" and "if" questions I would (still) ask showed me that the bulk of my tension with the sovereignty of God deals with two questions. Is God good? Is God trustworthy? (Stick a pin right there.)

A little background

I’ve never met either one of my grandfathers, but they both helped shape my life tremendously. My dad’s dad abandoned his family when my dad was 10 years old. Though he left his children and his wife alone to fend for themselves in a village where community was valued, the hardships they faced were tremendous. My dad and his siblings grew up without knowing the affirmation of their father, and he went to work very early to help provide for his family. Picture a 10 year-old spending every day working 12-hour shifts. The insecurities and anger of watching the one who gave him life walk out of his were (are) plentiful. The image of my grandfather leaving out the door with a bag of clothes and some food was seared into my dad’s soul. He talked about it often…really often.

My mom’s dad was the complete opposite—full of love, grace, compassion, and strength. There are countless stories of how he sacrificed so my mom and her siblings could get a good education. I was always told of how inviting he was and how much respect he had in the community. In addition to that, he named me. You see, when I was born I wasn’t breathing. The doctors frantically rushed to resuscitate me as my family begged God to spare their second born. God in His mercy did, and thus my grandfather named me Onyemauchechukwu, which translated means "no one knows God’s mind or who can understand the mind of God?" It’s meaning finds its roots in Isaiah 55:8-9,

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

I was reminded about that often...really often.

My dad was so impacted by what his dad did to his family that at the age of 10 he swore to himself he would NEVER get a divorce, no matter what happened. But what drove that determination wasn’t righteousness, faith, or resolve—it was pain. 30 plus years later of marriage, and they’re still working each other’s nerves and madly in love at the same time. Granted, while they have a funny way of expressing it at times and I’m confident my parents love each other, there’s no doubt in my mind that pain he felt and that image that was seared in soul were extra incentives to push through when hardship came (because they came a plenty). Ironically, the sin, wickedness, evil, selfishness, fear, passivity, and abandonment by my dad’s dad contributed to me being able to grow up with both my parents—a luxury that most minorities unfortunately don’t have.

Even in his brokenness, I watched my dad serve as a loving father and sacrifice willingly and regularly for his family. I watched him work five jobs without spending a dime on himself, when we had nothing, so that his family could eat and have a roof over their head. I watched him engage with the community and model service for his friends and family. I watched him manipulate and attempt to affirm me even though he never got it growing up. I saw his good, and I saw his sin. I saw him lose it when I told him I wasn’t going to be a doctor, because I wanted to pastor instead. I saw him soften when he saw I wasn’t joking. I saw him fight back tears when he watched me marry the woman of my dreams. I saw him light up with smiles and tears of joy when he laid eyes on his grandchildren. I saw him cry and mourn when we buried my little brother. His good and sin, in good times and difficulty, I’ve had my dad large in part to him not having his. My dad’s dad shaped me tremendously.

My birth and name provided ammunition to hurl at God’s goodness, “You spared me, but all that I’m experiencing is suffering and hardship. What did you spare me for?” When the pendulum swung to pride it was, “I must be your favorite cause you spared me when you didn’t have to.” Or “if your methods are beyond my comprehension, then you CANT be trustworthy.” You see, more than just the example he left, my name identified a truth that I would struggle to deal with—God is sovereign and does what he pleases, when he pleases, how he pleases, for who he pleases, and for why he pleases.

Isaiah 55:8-9,

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your though”

Lemme take that pin out now.

Two completely different individuals and situations shaped my life tremendously. Let me be clear, my hope or confidence can’t come from seeing how things played out, because my scope is very limited. In addition to that, for every fairytale grandfather story, I can also tell stories of times that hurt me deeply and I have zero clue why they happened or their current benefit. Hope isn’t in trying to make sense of God’s sovereignty, it’s allowing it to make sense of me. The tension that I deal with and I think most of us deal with as it relates to the sovereignty of God isn’t just a control issue. Now, hear me, humanity has SEVERE control issues that are rooted in our man-centered humanism, or as Augustine would say homo encurvatus en se (the inward curve of the human soul). We look inwardly for purpose, meaning, life, hope, and rule. However, life has a way of forcing us outward and revealing our lack of control regularly and forcing us to acknowledge it on some levels.

I think the felt tension is if whether the person or governing entity who ultimately has the control is good and can be trusted. If I see the government as good, I’m inclined to give them grace or the benefit of the doubt; if I see the government as trustworthy, then I give them grace, the benefit of doubt, and I follow. Before I get into a theological discourse and drag this on further, let me start wrapping up with this: EVERYONE wrestles with the sovereignty of God because it makes us uncomfortable, and if you say you don’t, you're lying. Over and over again the scriptures remind us about God’s complete control and his unmatched goodness and faithfulness. Sin and struggles have a way of obscuring the scope of his goodness and faithfulness, causing us to doubt his rule.

One way we wrestle well is through reminder. Reminding ourselves through the scriptures of God’s character, reminding ourselves through the stories of community of God’s character, and reminding ourselves through examining our lives in hindsight and reflection of God’s character. Making sense of God’s sovereignty is allowing God’s sovereignty to make sense of you. The solution isn’t in figuring out the whys to your life or the what ifs, nor can your confidence be in seeing the silver lining of suffering or past events. It’s not formulaic. The solution is in fighting to see the who behind it all and coming back to His goodness and trustworthiness as fuel to keep fighting.

 

Homosexuality and other loaded words

It’s hard to have a fruitful conversation about faith & homosexuality these days unless you’re having them with people that already think like you on the topic.  Hopefully, what follows will lead all of us (whatever side you’re on) to having conversations about these topics that actually lead somewhere.

Homosexuality is such a loaded word.  Because it’s so loaded, it really makes it tough to have a conversation about it.  Two people can use the word 'homosexuality' and have two completely different things in mind.  (It’s kind of like using the word “trunk". It could refer to a part of an elephant, a storage container, the base of a tree, the rear of a car, etc.  There are so many uses of that word that it has to be defined further before any intelligent conversation can be had.)  So, it’s no surprise that when Chris Broussard was baited into a question about homosexuality and Christianity, and he answered with grace and precision, an entire community of people were enraged.

Homosexuality – a word that needs one definition

Homosexuality, in one sense, can refer exclusively to sexual attraction.  Homosexuality literally means that someone is sexually attracted to the same gender.  That’s how the word was intended to be used.  In another sense, (the sense in which our society uses the word) it is a statement of sexual practice.  In our culture, homosexuality also means someone who actually acts out sexually with a member of the same gender.  Here is where the real problem lies.  It’s not about sexuality; it’s really a problem with someone limiting another person's freedom or telling them what they're doing is wrong.  It’s inconceivable for us to think (in our age of freedom) that restrictions should be placed on our sexuality.  If I have an attraction, I should be free to act on that attraction.  If I’m not free to do this without scrutiny (or if it’s not celebrated), then I feel like I’m wronged.  However, with a term that is as loaded as sexuality, it’s hard for us to ever see definition as our real problem.  I should be free to do what I feel, and anyone that tells me that I can’t (or shouldn’t) do what I feel is wrong.

Adultery & Fornication—words that have one definition

There are other terms that relate to sexuality that aren’t as loaded: adultery and fornication. Those who commit these weren’t as upset at Chris Broussard (even though he spent more time addressing them), because these terms aren't as loaded.  Adultery is a word that’s used exclusively of practice and not as a desire.  If adultery was a sexual orientation (the desire to have sex with people you are not married to), then every married man I know would be guilty of it!  But it’s not, it’s a term specifically used to talk about practice.  Fornication/pre-marital sex is the same way.  It’s not an orientation; it’s not about desires. It’s about how those desires are acted out.

Christianity— another word that needs one definition

Here’s another loaded term that I want to unpack: Christian.  This is probably the most loaded term of all.  Let me explain this as best as I can, using sexuality as the backdrop.

 

  1. A Christian is someone that has sexual desires. (They can be heterosexual desires or homosexual desires. I don’t think sexual desires disqualify anyone.)

  2. A Christian is someone who, at some point in their life ,has acted on those desires (or at least has wanted to act on those desires) in a way that (1) they thought was appropriate but (2) the Bible said otherwise.

  3. A Christian is someone who (for whatever reason) has come to the conclusion that their life is a mess (primarily because they’ve called the shots on how to run their own life).  They’ve lived with the guilt, the shame, and the frustration of trying to find meaning by directing their lives the way they thought best.

  4. A Christian is someone who, at one point during their journey, heard about a man named Jesus who was willing to forgive their sins.  The way that this Jesus was able to forgive sins was by taking the punishment that they earned.  He died a death for those of us that were guilty (according to God’s standard). He took our punishment, and He was free to give us the love that He was entitled from God.

  5. A Christian is someone who, now, is so grateful for the work that God has done in their lives that they have decided to submit how they act out sexually to him.  Being a Christian doesn't necessarily mean that we lose all of our sexual desires (heterosexual or homosexual desires), what it means is that we trust God enough to let Him dictate what is appropriate and what is inappropriate in how we act out sexually.  So, for those of us that are married men, we reserve the acting out of our sexual desires for our wives alone because those are the parameters that God lays out for us.

Conclusion

Please understand, you are free to disagree with the Bible.  That’s your call.  Part of God’s great gift to us is that He has given us the ability to choose. He is not forcing everyone to agree with Him. But understand this is as well, while you’re free to disagree with the Bible, you’re not free to rewrite it. The term Christian is clear, and can’t be debated.  Christian = someone who trusts Jesus enough to let Him set the course for how they act out sexually, financially, morally, etc. regardless of how much they don’t quite understand it or desire to comply.  A Christian is someone who understands that when their desires don’t line up with God’s desires, they ask Him to help change them…not vice versa.

If you disagree and don’t trust God to set the course, you’re free to do that.  However, by disagreeing you now have to really take an assessment of what your definition of Christian is.  If you define Christian as someone that follows Jesus but deviates from the pathway in areas when you feel like Jesus has made a mistake in what He’s commanded, then please understand that isn’t following.  You’re going to end up in a very different place than Jesus.  And if you land in different places, then is that really following?  I don’t think so.  But then again you’re free to disagree.

God In Us

When Dhati kicked off our new series, One, by looking at the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of the church he gave the challenge to study the person of the Spirit as depicted in John 14-16. What follows are my thoughts.

The story depicts the emotionally charged account of Jesus’ last night before he was betrayed and delivered over to be crucified. In John 16, Jesus is trying to warn his disciples of His fastly approaching death. The man who they had come to know and trust as Lord, who they left families and gave up everything to follow, would no longer be there to guide, teach and love them.  I don’t think there is a louder cry in the human heart than the desire to know God. And they had him: tangibly, intimately and very personally.

And he was leaving.

I can’t imagine the sorrow that must have permeated the environment. Right in the thick of this sorrow, Jesus makes an ironic and almost incomprehensible statement, “It is to your advantage that I go away” (John 16:7). Advantage? What could have possibly been more advantageous for the disciples than Jesus staying with them forever? It would seem to me that having God in the flesh with me would be the best way for me to know him, but Jesus says otherwise. “It is to your advantage that I go away. For if I do not go away, the Helper (The Holy Spirit) will not come to you.” Jesus says it’s better for the church to have the Spirit of God living within us than to have the Son of God standing before us! But why?

My thought is this: Jesus being there in the flesh could only do so much to enact the type of heart change that would be needed to love like him. And loving like him is the primary command to us (John 13:34) and the primary task that the Holy Spirit is to help us with. It’s easy for [pull_quote_right]The work of loving one another is a matter of the heart, not the flesh. It is a work that must be accomplished from the inside out.[/pull_quote_right]me to think that if Jesus were physically present it would be so much easier to avoid sin. I’m sure I would never have looked at any pornography if Jesus was actually sitting in the room next to me. I would never yell at my wife, if Jesus was sitting in the room next to me. But the interesting thing is that it doesn’t mean I would never lust in my heart if Jesus was in the room next to me. It doesn’t mean that I would never be angry and bitter and hateful in my heart toward my wife, if Jesus was in the room with me. It doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t want to be selfish with my time and resources when my friends need my help. If anything, it just shows that I value the presence of the Spirit less than I value the presence of Jesus, physically. Maybe that’s why Jesus says the Spirit is a more advantageous helper than himself. The work of loving one another is a matter of the heart, not the flesh. It is a work that must be accomplished from the inside out. My heart is flimsy, and as sad as it is to say, I would probably find reason to doubt God’s goodness even if he stood right in front of me.

In light of that, it makes sense why we would need a different helper. If Jesus is God with us, then the Holy Spirit is God in us! He is in us (John 14:17), empowering us with courage (Acts 4:31), convicting us of sin, teaching us about our Father (John 16:13-15) and giving us gifts to love one another with (1 Corinthians 12:7). If we are to grow together in the gospel, in the context of family while living on mission, we must come to embrace the Holy Spirit as our Helper in knowing the Father and loving one another. He is to us what Jesus was to the first disciples, only more advantageous! I pray that his presence would be very real to us and that we would see that having God in us is even better than having God with us.

Lesson Unlearned

BAD NEWS

It was my freshman year in college.  After a long day, I came home and listened to my answering machine (obviously, this is 1994).  There was a message on it that would soon change my world.  My sister said words I never thought I would hear, "They're getting a divorce."  Unsettling news to say the least.  I walked outside my dorm room and cried for hours.  I couldn't imagine a world with my parents not being together.  I was so confused.  I just remember being angry. A flood of old memories came back to my mind. Wrestling with my dad after breakfast and hearing my mom laugh as I tried to take him to the floor.  Football games, dinners after church, bad jokes my dad would tell, our family laughing together...all gone.

RELATIONSHIPS DON’T LAST

As I arrived at my junior year in college, without realizing it, I had come to a conclusion about relationships: they were temporary and not at all intended to last.  Marriage was a non-negotiable and this new reality guided the decisions I would make with women.  I would get close but not close enough to be known.  I would make sex my only goal, and I was very open about that fact.  One night, I went out on a date and when the waiter asked if there would be two checks, I emphatically said, “Yes!”  Why would I pay for someone that I was NEVER going to commit to?  She was offended, yet I made it clear we would never be more than people who go out and occasionally have sex.  As you could imagine that went over like a lead balloon.

What I didn't realize was that my conclusion was birthed out of one major reality: I never wanted to be hurt again.  The pain of divorce taught me to never let people close.  They will hurt you—especially in a romantic relationship.  I had sat too many hours with my mother wondering where her life had gone. I had seen the anger and confusion from my sisters.  I had seen my dad become very introverted and somewhat depressed.  The shrapnel of divorce was still piercing all of our hearts years later.  No way did I want to be a part of that mess again!

DIVORCE = DESTRUCTION

Magicians often do a trick where they take a woman and saw her in two.  Crazy trick, right?  We all know its magic because there is no way you can saw a person in two and they live.  It’s entertaining, but not realistic.  When a father or mother makes a decision to divorce, they are fooling themselves if they believe that they can cut a singular family unit in two without something being destroyed.  It's not a realistic thought.  As far I can tell, this is what God hates about divorce (Mal 2:16 NIV).  He hates seeing the family separated.  He hates for two people to make a covenant, agreeing that nothing could ever tear them apart, and then go their separate ways.  He hates what divorce does in a young boy or girl’s heart.  He hates seeing families make decisions about which parent they will spend Thanksgiving with, or the awkwardness of graduations.  He hates something that has become very normal in our culture.

I think what God hates the most is that Christian divorce says something about Him that isn't true.  The Gospel tells a story of man committing to sacrifice his own life so that others can live.  His passion for reconciliation drives him to a gory death. Divorce, when done outside of biblical parameters, is a message of self-preservation.  The passion to have a better life drives them to separate. I believe this grieves the Lord more than anything else.

LOVE GOD MORE

The Gospel message is the hope for any couple on the brink of divorce or already separated.  The Gospel message causes a man or woman to fall deeper in love with God daily.  It is embracing the perfect love of Christ that frees you to love others (1 John 4:19).  It is what enabled me to overcome my view of relationships and by God's grace commit to loving a wife.

Loving God is the most important thing in life.  In Matt 22:37-40, Jesus says everything that God has ever said can be whittled down to two statements—even what he has said about divorce.  Love God and love man.  So then, Love God and love your wife or husband.  In this you will find true life.

 

The New www.blueprintchurch.org

Welcome to the new Blueprint Church website. We've been hard at work for the last few months developing this new web space with you in mind. Our goal was simple: to create a website that shows who we are as a church and what we do. Blueprint is a church that is all about the family of God sharing life together. We exist to see the Gospel of Christ change people and to equip and unleash those people to impact others in the same way. So, this website is built around those 2 aims. We wish to feature the personal stories of change that God is writing in the lives of our family. We wish also to give you resources and inspiration to be similar vessels in your own context. So, who is Blueprint Church? We've created the following sections of the site to give you a glimpse into the lives that make up our church family.

Member Spotlight

Each week we hope to share a new story of change and redemption from our members. Some of these stories will be new converts sharing their testimony for Baptism, while others will be experienced believers sharing personal stories of how they have grown while walking in the faith. Feel free to browse the Member Testimonies page and share the stories on Facebook and Twitter.

News and Announcements

Our News & Announcements page will keep you up to date with what's going on around the community. From each event page you will be able to share to Facebook and Twitter, as well as sign up to serve or request more information.

Leadership Profiles

The Leadership Profile pages offer the opportunity to get to know the elders and staff of Blueprint Church. Each leader has their own profile page where you can learn more about their testimony and family. You can also check out their social media pages as well!

What is blueprint about? What do we do? The following resources are some of the ways Blueprint is living out its mission to see healthy people doing ministry where life exists.

Our DNA

This page is an overview of our philosophy, mission and strategy. It demonstrates how we function as a local church and what we offer our members in terms of ministry.

Blueprint Blog

The Blog will be one of the primary resources of the website. We will feature articles from our pastors, some about theological and doctrinal topics and others about devotional and cultural topics. You will also hear from other members of Blueprint and partner ministries, as they share their commentary on social issues from within and outside of the church.

Sermon Resources

In addition to the blog, we have a full catalog of sermon podcasts from Blueprint worship services. You can check out the sermons by series or browse the sermon archive individually. Each Sermon Series has its own page, and you can view any of the videos that we used to support that series.

 

 

The New Logo

If you're familiar with Blueprint, you may have noticed that we have a new logo. We decided to use this opportunity to develop a whole new look for the church. Our original logo was intentionally simple as we wanted to demonstrate that we are more about authenticity, than style. Carrying that same philosophy over, we developed this new logo in an effort to symbolize who we are as a church family.

Our new logo can be seen from 3 distinct vantage points, each giving a unique look into who we are.

One of the first things someone may notice when looking at our logo is the grid of white lines, similar to an actual blueprint. Our goal is not just to build another church. Our heart is to create a movement—a healthy model of an urban church that’s culturally relevant and doctrinally sound. A blueprint represents a detailed outline or a plan of action; it is defined as a process or a plan that is intended as a guide to make something else. Intended as a guide, we desire to be very purposeful in our church as to welcome others to be a part, to train them up and to send them out to recreate what God is designing through us. We desire to be a blueprint for the urban context.

 

Secondly, the logo can be seen as a set of blocks or bricks. You can think of this as the community coming together to make the plan manifest. The sum of the various parts of our community are working together to fulfill the vision of seeing healthy urban church plants built up for the glory of Jesus.

 

 

Finally, the logo can be viewed as a city map. Again showing our heart for the city and urban areas everywhere. Blueprint Church is committed to the city, not just to come in and do service projects, but to take up residence and live, forming authentic relationships with our neighbors and serving them out of the love of Christ. We are in the city because we are the city!