66 books in 30 days (part 3)

8.   Solomon’s life illustrates our real problem (lavish whoredom not lack of wisdom)

[list_square] [li]This was by far the one that was most pivotal for me.  If you don't pay attention to any other point, please follow this one.[/li]

[li]I Kings Chapters 10 and 11 lay out this point beautifully.  In 1 Kings 10, we see a chapter that focuses on Solomon’s wisdom.  The Queen of Sheba is impressed with him because he’s so smart.  The chapter goes on and talks about all the money and possessions he had as a result of his wisdom.  It looks like an upward swing.[/li]

[li]1 Kings 11:1 starts off with a sad verse, however, “Now Solomon loved many foreign women...”  Solomon’s heart went after things that God told Him to stay away from.  His head was in the right place, and he was the wisest man to ever live, but that didn’t stop His heart from wandering.  Solomon’s real problem wasn't a lack of wisdom, it was lavish whoredom.[/li]

[li]Throughout the whole Bible, this point is reaffirmed over and over.  People don’t disobey God because they misunderstand Him, they disobey God because they don’t trust Him.  Rarely is it a cognitive issue.  It’s ALWAYS a heart issue.[/li]

[li]Wisdom is a great benefit, but it is a terrible savior.  Our heads aren’t the problem; our hearts are the problem.[/li]

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9.   I can’t be concerned about getting “done”.  I have to find enjoyment in it—and I did.

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[li]Early on in this process, it would take me about 2 ½ to 3 hours each day to finish...especially, when I was reading larger portions of Scripture.  The way that I would approach each section of Scripture was flipping to the end of the amount I had to read and counting down the pages until I was finished.  I just wanted to get done.[/li]

[li]Then it hit me…I’m going to be here for a few hours whether I count the pages or not.  Rather than just trying to get done, I have to find enjoyment in what I’m currently doing (which is the message of Ecclesiastes).  Somewhere in that process, it clicked for me, and I once again enjoyed reading my Bible.  It became a place of rest and comfort for me and it was then that I started to gain the most out of my time.[/li]

[li]Since then, this has been the case for me, and I enjoy getting away and reading and hearing from my Father.  He’s so good to me, and I love communicating with Him.[/li]

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10.   There is great relief in not putting our stock in earthly leadership

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[li]Throughout the duration of the Bible (especially reading through 1Samuel-2 Chronicles) one thing that I noticed was that even God’s chosen people had terrible ungodly leadership.  What that means is that for most of history the highest level of earthly leadership has been godless and wicked.  And you know what? God has still invaded the world with the gospel and lives are being transformed![/li]

[li]Don’t get me wrong, godly leadership in government is a blessing, but it by no means is a necessity for God’s will to thrive in this world.  So pray for your leaders, put your hope in God and lead the life that God has given you to lead.[/li]

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11.   I HAVE TIME!!!

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[li]Do you know how I found out that I had the time to read the Bible in a month?  Because I did it.  I saw just how worthless my past excuses were and how lazy I was.  Do you know what?  A lot of the excuses you give for not being able to spend time reading the Bible are pretty pathetic as well.  You have time to read (maybe not the whole Bible in a month, but you have time.)[/li]

[li]For the month of August, I was pretty much absent from Twitter and Facebook because every time I picked up my phone in my spare time it was either to read from the You Version app (which was a huge help) or to play Words With Friends (come on...give me that one).  You have the Bible on the device that you’re reading this blog post.  So read it![/li]

[li]You have the time.[/li]

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12.   God is not an introvert

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[li]God is not self-conscious.  No one in the Bible has to guess God’s plan or wonder if He’s pleased or not.  He’s a masterful communicator that readily expresses Himself.[/li]

[li]Where He’s pleased, He says it.  Where He’s displeased, He says it.  When He wants someone to do something, He lets them know.  God isn’t introverted.[/li]

[li]You want to hear God speak more.  Read the Bible more.  He speaks through His Word.[/li]

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13.   Revelation is a full display of the true colors of everyone in this story

[list_square] [li]Revelation – the one book of the Bible that confuses everyone, finally made sense to me! To be honest, at the end of this 30 day journey, I can honestly say that this was the first fruitful reading of Revelation that I’ve ever had.  Primarily, because I stumbled upon the above truth.[/li]

[li]Revelation is a book of the Bible, just like the rest of the books of the Bible, which means the PRIMARY point of the book is to reveal the character of God.  We get so lost in all the sequences and events and bowls and trumpets and four-headed monsters with bear claws and ostrich necks that we miss the fact that this a book about God.  [/li]

[li]At the end of the story (the Bible), everyone’s character is revealed for what it is.[/li]

[list_ordered] [li]God is holy, and He’s setting everything in order.  His anger and wrath against sin are brutally unleashed, and by the end of the book He makes everything right.  Creation is restored and there is paradise thanks to Him.  What an amazing and gracious God.[/li] [li]God’s people thank HIM.  The craziest thing that I realized is that Revelation is a book of thanksgiving.  In almost every chapter, God’s people are praising Him for what He’s doing.  (Rev. 4:8-11; 5:9-10; 6:10; 7:9-12; 11:16-18; 12:10-12; 15:3-4; 16:5-7; 19:1-8). No one is apologizing for God’s wrath.  While there is a lot that I don’t understand right now, it’s comforting to know that one day I won’t be trying to work through in my head how to apologize for God’s wrath, but I’ll be thanking Him that He’s restoring everything.  When God reveals Himself, His people praise.[/li] [li]God’s enemies curse him.  Did you know in the entire book of Revelation no one on the receiving end of God’s wrath repents or asks Him for help?  Nobody asks for God's help. "They were scorched by the fierce heat, and they cursed the name of God who had power over these plagues," according to Revelation 16:9.  They did not repent and give Him glory. Verse 11 makes the same point again.  Throughout Revelation, people that are God’s enemies prove that they are his enemies by cursing Him instead of pleading to Him—showing that God’s judgment is just.[/li][li]God makes everything right.  His people thank Him.  His enemies curse Him. He destroys evil once and for all and brings us back into perfect relationship with Him.  What an amazing God.  Thankful I get to know Him.[/li] [/list_ordered]

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Joy in the mundane

The more I looked at my life, the more I began to notice that I was truly discontent with it. I found it to be pretty mundane and thus void of any joy. I wanted a change. I needed a change. Everywhere l looked and everyone I talked to seemed to be in one of two camps. On one end, I heard if I wanted to be happy I needed to do something about my life. With all the self-help books and resources out there talking about how to make a “better life now” it only made sense. On the other end, I heard it’s just a phase. It’ll pass. My situation would “get better in time.” I just had to hold on and wait it out. No matter which one of these camps I leaned toward, the same problem arose. No joy in the now. Anyway it went, my joy would be found in what could be. But what could be for me just happened to never be what was. Then it hit me, what if life would always be this way? What if my situation would never change? What if life for me would forever be mundane at best? [pull_quote_left]What if you found out that there is just as much joy to be found in the day-to-day, same old same old as there is in the most exciting times?[/pull_quote_left]Does this mean a life full of discontentment, a life void of any true meaning, a life void of any happiness or true joy? I couldn’t be the only person dealing with this, I thought. The majority of people in life will never be a movie star, millionaire, or celebrity. The majority of people will never have what society deems an extraordinary life. The majority of people live pretty ordinary lives hoping for extra-ordinary lives because they think “if only I... I would be happy.” This is easy to believe considering we live in a day and age where this is what is hammered into our brains. Everywhere you turn, society is telling us there is more for us to chase to make ourselves happier…to dream bigger dreams that will bring us joy.

But what if I told you that wasn’t true? What would your life be like if you knew there was joy to be found right where you were? What if you found out that there is just as much joy to be found in the day-to-day, same old same old as there is in the most exciting times? What if you didn’t have to wait for tomorrow? What if joy was right where you are at this moment? What would life be like if you could find joy in the mundane? In a day and age when everyone is saying chase your dreams, who is challenging us to find joy where we are? To stop chasing “what could be” and just enjoy “what is”. (If that sounds like a great plug for a book, good! I’m writing one!)

In no way am I saying that you should "settle" for life just the way it is, but we need to reshape the way we view those things in life that we have become discontent with and we now see as "mundane." I wholeheartedly believe the mundane is a gift of God's grace that is often overlooked seeking out the next "big event".

What’s stopping us from finding joy in the mundane?

Do we not believe that God has us where we are for His glory, which is in turn for our joy? At times, this is tough simply because our will does not align with His will. Many of us, if we are honest, don’t want it to. This is because we can’t seem to figure out how His glory brings us joy. We want to be at the center of our own universe and everyone else’s for that matter.

I believe that God has called some to have much some to have little and some to be in the middle, but all to find joy where they have been placed with what they have been given. You can find joy knowing that when it’s all said and done God will look over your life and say, “Well done my good and faithful servant.” What could possibly give you more joy or make you feel like more of a success than those words from the God of the universe?

Joy is found in God. God finds joy in Himself. Christ is the exact imprint of God; the very nature of God. All things were created by Him, for Him and for His pleasure or joy. That means all things “good” “bad” or “mundane” play a part in our joy if our joy is found in Christ.

Christ is sufficient. He's not just enough, He's all!

If someone were to pour water into a cup until it ran over, that would prove that the water was sufficient to fill the cup. Yet, just because it was sufficient to fill the cup doesn’t mean it stopped when it hit the brim. It clearly was more than enough, but in order to be more than enough it had to first be enough. Don’t get confused when scripture says that Christ’s “grace is sufficient”. This doesn’t mean that it is “just” enough to get us by. It means that as long as we have his grace we’ll never be in lack. It will never be less than enough to fill us, and because He is and has so much more than we can even begin to imagine, it can also overflow us.  We no longer have to make the present an enemy of the future joy that awaits dreams fulfilled.  Truth is, if you’re always living life for tomorrow and don’t enjoy today, when tomorrow comes you won’t enjoy it either because tomorrow will always become today.

So why not put an end to that loathing cycle and begin experiencing joy right where we are?

A life well spent with Christ can be anything but mundane.

Different but Equal

I am a mom of six, and I take this parenting thing very seriously. When I am asked to share about marriage and women’s roles in marriage, I ask myself, “If I could have had only two concepts shared with me or two concepts I could share with my daughters, what would they be?” The other night, I was reading the story of Bathsheba with my girls before going to bed, and I made the comment that Bathsheba’s role as wife to David was one of value, but it was very different from David’s—he was leader.  Trinity’s face soured, “Mom, I don’t like that.  I think I am a pretty good leader,” she told me.  There is something innate in a woman that wants to lead, wants to take over.  In many ways, we can be more competent and better at certain things than men (I’m sure there are statistics to prove it). And the funny thing is that Trinity is right; she is a good leader, and she will probably continue to prove to herself that she is smarter than the boys around her. I didn't have to teach her that; it is real in a woman even at a young age.

Society has dealt with this very issue in a couple of different ways: egalitarianism, chauvinism, and complementarianism.

The Egalitarian view is the idea that men and women are the same and equals.

The Chauvinistic view says that men are more valuable than women.

The Complementarian view describes men and women as equal but distinct. Equal in value but holding different roles and responsibilities.

I ascribe to the last view.

To some women, this view brings comfort, but to some, it brings fear.  Honestly, early in my walk with the Lord, having a different role did not comfort me. Submission = bad word.  You see, I had goals.  I was valedictorian of my high school, and I had scholarships upon scholarships (I even had money left over after I paid for school, books, room and board, etc.). I had my heart set on becoming a pilot, and I scored high on my aptitude tests, so I was on the path to being just that.  I didn't need a man to lead me!  Besides that, my parents and the models I saw made the idea of following someone look gross, belittling.   Being married and submissive meant cooking dinner for a man that just watched tv all day, putting up with someone calling me names because they had the right to do so, and feeling threatened because they were bigger than me.  This idea was not comforting, and I am sure a lot of you have the same discomfort.  But I want to show you the dignity we have with our roles as wives.  Let’s look at the wife, by looking at who the Holy Spirit is.

WHO IS THE HOLY SPIRIT?

The Holy Spirit is a person of the triune Godhead. The Trinity is Father, Son, Holy Spirit.  Each of those is a person within a triune Godhead.  All three are God. The father is God. The son is God. The Spirit is God.  All three are perfect and holy. All three are equally God.  And the Holy Spirit, just like the others, is alive today and lives in the hearts of every believer.

We find in the scriptures that the Holy Spirit is called 'Helper.'  The Greek word Parakletos is used for ‘helper’, which means: advocate, defender, helper, comforter, counselor, representative of Christ, teacher, and one who reminds us of truth.  That is the Holy Spirit.

Now, what does this have to do with being a wife?

If you read Genesis 2:18-19, you will see that God says he will give Adam a helper (parakleto)—someone suitable (or fit) for him.  He created a union between man and wife and He says He wants to give Adam someone that can help him and be suitable for him.

1:  The role of the wife, like the spirit, has tremendous dignity. We are given the same job description as that of the Spirit!

THIS LEADS US TO AN IMPORTANT QUESTION:  Is the Holy Spirit less of a person in the Trinity than the Father or Christ?  And in regard to wives, is our role less than that of our husbands?

Looking at chapters 14-16 in the book of John, we see the importance of the Holy Spirit’s role; He is God-given (14:16), He will bear witness (15:26), and He will teach (16:12).

The role of the wife, therefore, like the Spirit’s role, is not lesser but plays a part of ONENESS.

The Holy Spirit is a part of a Godhead where three persons exist with equal importance but different roles, yet united as ONE.

The husband and wife are also called one.  Genesis 3:24 says, “Therefore, a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife and they shall become ONE flesh.”  A marriage is supposed to be a team designed to accomplish God’s glory.

Application: Ladies, shift your mindset of what it means to be a HELPER. God graciously put us in this position and in this role.  We have to accept it, and I pray that we would be satisfied and energized in it as well.  Seriously ladies, this is where the enemy has kept us in a trap.  We are paralyzed and unable to enjoy our roles in marriage, because many of us have bought into the lie that it is not dignified. Or, we are unwilling to even marry because we have bought into the same lie.  Who wants to ‘just help’ someone else?  But, if we can really own the fact that God gave us our role, and He gave us dignity in it, then, and only then, can we really make a difference!

Let’s transition.

My second point

What I wish was shared with me before marriage, and what I am definitely teaching my daughters now is that our role in marriage is to be respectful.  I had no idea what this meant.  I thought ‘respect me’ meant, “You gonna respect me!” But I’ve since realized that we have the ability to breathe life or death into our husbands...

*Part 2 will be featured on Wednesday.

Why Did I get Married?

I have thought about this often over the past few months as my wife and I have endured extreme highs and lows.  The following list is in no particular order, I just categorized these things as they came to my mind and wanted to answer as honestly as I know how.

1. I had a God-given desire to be married and God providentially bamboozled someone else into thinking it was a good idea.

Desire

Marriage isn’t something that only crossed my mind after I became a believer.  I have wanted to be a husband for as long as I can remember.  While all of the guys back in first grade were punching girls and pulling  their hair saying they never wanted to get married, I hung out with the girls that were already planning weddings.  I thought this would be a cake walk since my friends were no competition.  I would surely be married by fifth grade, easy.

I can remember reading Genesis 2 shortly after becoming a believer, and longing for what I saw: a relationship in which two people could be “naked and unashamed.” I longed for a companion with whom I could be completely open and vulnerable, without any fear that she would exploit me.  I wanted this good thing that the Bible talked about and held in such high regard.  This desire only increased when I saw brothers in the faith get married and talk about experiences that I could only dream of.  I wanted a best friend who would know everything about me.

Providence

God providentially fulfilled this desire by allowing me to marry my wife, Shawndra.  How did I know Shawndra was the one?  In some sense, I didn’t know she was the one until she said “yes” to my proposal, and “I do” at the altar.  I realized then that my speculations were warranted, and she was the woman that God blessed me with.  I’m grateful that God blinded her to enough of my deficiencies to convince her that I was marriage material.

In Genesis 24, as Abraham is giving instructions to his servant on how to choose a wife for Issac, the servant asks Abraham, “What if she says no and doesn't want to come back here?” Abraham, with amazing profundity, replies, “If she says no, then she’s not the one.”  I knew Shawndra was the one and decided to marry her, partly because she said yes.  If she turned me down 15 times, it would be safe to assume that providence wasn’t on my side.

2. I felt like marriage would be a springboard to honoring God further (Eph. 5)

It wasn't until I saw the ultimate purpose of marriage that I was really convinced to pursue marrying Shawndra.  In Ephesians 5, after Paul gives his most extensive discourse on marriage (to both husbands and wives), he ends by saying, “This mystery is profound, but I am referring to Christ and the church.”  What Paul was saying is this, “I know that I’ve been talking about marriage and have spent almost an entire chapter giving you the keys to have a successful one, but here’s what I want you to know—the purpose of marriage goes beyond you, this is really about Christ and the church.”  It was at that point that I realized the nature of marriage.

Marriage is  like a camera in its purpose. A camera takes pictures. The pictures offer a first hand experience of whatever lies captured in the image. That’s why wedding photography is such a huge industry.  The better the camera, the better the picture; the better the picture, the easier it is for people who haven’t had a first-hand encounter with the event to experience it.

This is the purpose of marriage.  To present a lifelike picture of God’s love, grace, forgiveness, endurance, friendship, and pleasure to a hurting and a fractured world that desperately seeks after all of those things.  The better the marriage, the better the picture.  The better the picture, the easier it is for onlookers to see God’s love made real to us through His Son.

My wife and I were blessed to have built a friendship almost entirely on serving the needs of others.  I don’t say that as a precursor for finding “the one,” I say it to show that it really helped me understand the purpose of marriage.  As a result of our relationship, I saw just how much she spurred me on to love others and good deeds (Hebrews 10). I also saw just how much she complemented me and my weaknesses.  Being with her made me more of an effective witness of the truth of Jesus .  So, marriage became a no-brainer when I saw that as a result of being together I could more effectively do the very thing that had been driving my life thus far.

3. Selfish motives – thinking marriage would be my savior

[pull_quote_left]But, I quickly discovered that marriage makes a terrible savior, and a horrible god.[/pull_quote_left]I wanted to fulfill and experience the God ordained purpose for marriage, but I got married for a lot of selfish reasons as well.  (That dispels the myth that God only blesses you with marriage once you have effectively conquered all of your selfish desires. Not encouraging selfishness, just showing God’s grace.)  To be honest, I hated being lonely growing up.  I always wanted to be around people, and I needed people around me constantly to feel loved and valued.  What better way to guarantee that I would never be lonely again than to be married to someone?  Right?  And, yes, I also wanted to have sex without fear of guilt or shame.

But, I quickly discovered that marriage makes a terrible savior, and a horrible god.  What marriage did do, however, was expose the sin that was in my heart.  I saw (and continue to see) that the majority of the unmet expectations and frustrations in my marriage had nothing to do with my spouse and her failures.  They have everything to do with me and my sinful desires to have someone who would feed me grapes and fan me with oversized palm branches every time I had a rough day on the basketball court.

Truth be told, I think there are a lot of people out there who have a better understanding of what marriage is “supposed to be” than I had when I first got married.  God allowing me to get married certainly wasn’t a reward for my faithfulness to him.  Marriage was a gift to me to expose the sin and idolatry in my heart that keeps me from really experiencing intimacy with Him.

In this life, EVERY ONE of us will possess God-given desires that are unmet.

Please read this carefully: Just because a desire is “God-given” doesn’t mean that it’s guaranteed to happen.  Having desires that go unmet is a part of life.  No one has ever received everything he wanted.  If all of our desires were given to us, then this wouldn’t be earth, it would be heaven.

More often than not, we do not get what we deem as important or vital.  I’ll never forget our struggle with infertility. My wife and I have been trying for four years and three months to have kids, with no luck.   My thought had always been, “It is a good desire, of course it will happen for me one day.”  God gives good gifts to his children, he would NEVER keep this from me.  He would never hear my cry to impregnate my wife and say, no.” And I prayed and prayed and prayed and prayed.  It never happened.  And everyone I talked to said, “Don’t worry, it’ll happen one day.”

I remember being in my room one day, reading Let The Nations Be Glad by John Piper.  While reading this book, a thought came to my mind unrelated to the actual content.  EVERYONE IS WRONG! What if it NEVER happened?  What if I NEVER have kids of my own?  What if I never go into a mall and have someone stop me to tell me that my daughter looks just like me? What if I never have a son to compare my baby pictures with?  What if?

This is a God-given desire that I had before many of my friends, and that I prayed for longer and harder than any of my friends.  I wanted to know God as Father by being a father.  I’ve heard so many people talk about how much they’ve grown in their walk and learned about love because of fatherhood, and I want to learn that.  I want to know God like that.

What I heard the Lord say to me was, “John, what if I don’t want you to know me that way?  What if there is a unique way that I want to reveal myself to you and through you?  Some people will know me that way, but other people will know me through another way.  What if I want you to grow in your relationships, your fatherhood, your submission, and companionship, not through natural children of your own, but adopted children?”  Here’s the question that provided the most comfort to me in my struggle and changed my heart.  Lord, what would you have me to do with the time, money, energy and love that you’ve given me NOW, that I would like to use to parent the kids that I desire?  Who in my life have you called me to extend these things to?

It was in this that I realized that EVERY ONE of us will have to learn this same lesson in life one way or another.  If you’re single and you’ve been at Blueprint for the past few weeks, or heard the sermon, then you’re probably thinking about this lesson as it relates to your relationship status.  When we come to the realization that all  of our God-given desires in this life will not be met  we can really begin to live.  This is where life really takes off regardless of your circumstances.  Life takes off when you leverage the life you already have, rather than lamenting the life you wish you had.

Sex and the Lies It Sold Me, Part 2

When sexual intimacy is ultimate in our mind, every other intimacy feels superficial. Friendships won’t suffice; we feel we need a husband or wife, or a girlfriend or boyfriend. But, as William Struthers states in his book Wired for Intimacy, “[Our] need for intimacy is like the need for a complete diet. It has many dimensions that are best satisfied through multiple means, not just the sugar of sexual relations.”

If there’s one thing we can do without, it’s sweets. We won’t die if we don’t taste “the sugar of sexual relations”. We all have a desire to know and be known, but this doesn’t happen through sexual intercourse alone. Intimacy is not essentially sexual. But, again, our culture has done its best to convince us that we can’t go without sexual intimacy.

Sex Was Still Ultimate

And I was convinced. Sex was still (subconsciously) ultimate in my mind, so my wait for sexual intimacy began. As a Christian, I would have to wait until I was married to experience “true” intimacy. I would have to wait for a wife.

Maybe you can relate. Some of you reading this might not share my experience with porn and acting out sexually (see previous post). But I’m sure many of you know what it feels like to wait. Waiting for a husband. Waiting for a wife. Waiting for the “right one”.

Marriage is Good…So Singleness is Bad?

But I’ve slowly realized God’s grace in giving me this gift called singleness. It is never punishment. The goodness of marriage does not make singleness bad. Yes, God did say, “It is not good that man should be alone.” But this was at a time when God’s goal was building a nation that would be His people, which required Adam to have a partner with whom He could procreate. And, Jesus and Paul remained single (not bad company).

Singleness is good, sex is good, and marriage is good. But neither singleness, sex, or marriage is ultimate. But, as a Christian, as long as sex remains an idol in our mind, it’s likely that an idolatry of marriage will saturate our thoughts and desires. Because, again we are making a good thing into God. Sex was never meant to be ultimate, and it’s not ultimate. God is ultimate; satisfaction and fulfillment can only be found in Him.

A Warning on Waiting

But I want to end with a warning to simply say that we should watch our hearts closely. While I want to make it clear that it is not wrong to desire to be married, what we call “waiting” on a husband or wife can be dangerous. I realized this one day as I read Titus 2:11-14:

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ…

Paul uses the phrase “waiting for our blessed hope”. Have you ever considered the connection between hoping and waiting? The connection is this: If you want to know what your hope is, ask yourself what you’re waiting for. So it could be said that, if you’re waiting on a husband or a wife, your hope is finding a husband or wife.

This might not sound that bad at first, but consider what it means to make something your hope. Your hope is what stands out in your mind as the best possible thing that could happen to you. It makes sense when we hear Paul say, “…our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.” So, to Paul, the best thing that could happen to him was the return of Christ. Christ’s return was Paul’s hope; it was what he was waiting for.

What Are We Waiting For?

And this should be our hope. This is what every Christian should be waiting for—Christ’s return. We should be waiting to see him face to face.

Lying side by side, face to face with your spouse is undoubtedly a gift. But standing face to face with your Creator and Savior is the unmatched reward of everyone belonging to Christ.

So my burden of singleness was lifted with the realization that my hope should always and only be Christ himself. My hope is His embrace, not the embrace of a woman. I also realized that I wasn’t looking for a woman that would hope in me, but a woman that would hope with me. Not a woman whose heart is set on finding a husband but a woman whose heart is set on seeing the glory of Christ.

Remember, sex is not ultimate; God is ultimate. Intimacy is not essentially sexual. There is a void in your heart that only God can fill; neither a spouse nor sex will ever do it. And if you desire to be married, what you’re longing for is only the shadow of a greater reality—the gospel. May our hope always rest in that reality.

Sex and the lies it sold me

I was exposed to pornography at a young age—somewhere around 11 years old. I remember being at a friend’s house and finding a Playboy in his parents’ bathroom. It was then that I discovered that I was wired to find enjoyment and pleasure in a woman, or, in other words, the opposite sex. I was captivated by a woman’s form, covered or bare. At the time, I didn’t understand why. I didn’t understand the science behind all of it. I didn’t understand God’s purpose for my sexuality. But I didn’t care; I just knew it felt good. I knew there was pleasure in the fulfillment of my sexual desires.

My Exposure to a Lie

But with my exposure to pornography came my exposure to an enormous lie. This is a lie that our culture has bought into and continues to buy. We spend our life, our time, our money, our marriages, and even the lives of our children on this lie. The lie is this: SEX IS ULTIMATE. We’ve been led to believe that the ultimate satisfaction of our body and soul is found in sexual intimacy.

This is the lie that ruled, and almost ruined, my life. Within two years, what started with a peek into a Playboy magazine would become an addiction to pornography. Pornography hijacked my brain and distorted my view of women to the point that they became objects. My first girlfriend wasn’t someone I confided in. Though I cared for her, I subconsciously viewed her as something to be consumed.

Sex is good—We’ve made it God

I don’t doubt that this lie has tainted your mind. Some people have tried to convince you that sex is bad. Some people have taught you that sex is good. But many of us believe that sex is ultimate. We’ve taken something that God calls good and made it God. In other words, we’ve made sex an idol.

Freedom from an Addiction

Sex was my idol. And lust was my master. I was a slave to my passions. But in my first year of college, God began to give me new passions, new desires. I began to understand the gospel. I began to see the glory of a God who took on human flesh to die for a people who had no love for Him, in order that they might know Him. This told me something—God is not like anyone else I know. God is good. God is worthy of my trust and my worship. I quickly understood what God said about my sin. He hated it, so I began to hate it. I wanted to be free from my addiction to porn.

God delivered me from my addiction. I didn’t enter counseling (not that there is anything wrong with doing that). I did put accountability software on my laptop and phone. But the fight for freedom started in my heart. It started with my realization that God is for me. My fight with sin (in this case an addiction to porn—to lust and self-indulgence) was one I would fight with God’s help. He was fighting with me, not against me. In this fight, God’s help was clear. He had given me His Spirit (Jn. 14:16-17), His word (2 Tim. 3:16-17), and a community of confession and prayer (1 Jn. 1:9).

And in the midst of my failures, I found great comfort in Romans 6:14. It was a promise that because I was living under God’s grace, not God’s law, that this sin would not rule me. I was safe in His grace, He was fighting with me, and He had promised me freedom from the reign of lust, adultery, and self-indulgence in my life.

I began to see that God’s design for sex is good; it is to be enjoyed in the context of marriage (the science supporting this idea is amazing by the way). I began to submit to the Bible’s decree that any sex practiced outside of marriage is sin.

From One Idol to Another

But even as a Christian, I wasn’t free from the lie that once controlled my passions. In the back of my mind, sex was still ultimate. I wouldn’t act out sexually as I had before. I knew if I were going to have sex, it would have to be in the context of marriage. So, because sex was ultimate, and sex belonged in the context of marriage, guess what happened? Marriage became ultimate! I would be looked down upon if I confessed my continued idolatry of sex. On the other hand, an idolatry of sex confessed as a desire to be married was much safer.

But suddenly singleness became a burden...

*Part 2 coming on Monday.

"That should have been me on that cross!"

[blockquote] This week features posts from Angie Lewis.  She is the wife of our lead pastor, Dhati, and proud mother of six. Angie's unique voice and perspective promises to encourage and strengthen those who read. We hope you enjoy and are blessed.[/blockquote] KAA is one of our favorite summer activities.  Kids Across America is a Christian sports camp in the woods of Missouri.  It is great for us because it allows us to unplug, focus on our family, share our lives with the 16-18 year old campers and the counselors that come...and we get to do it as a family!  The kids LOVE it.  It is endless chats and yelling and high energy.   One of the nights is called CrossTalk, in which the counselors reenact the crucifixion.  A man plays the role of Jesus--he is beaten, mocked, spit on and hung on the cross to die.  It is dramatic and always well done—painting the picture of what Christ did in dying for His people.  We always consider which children to take to this part of the schedule.  This year, Trinity got to go to camp as a camper in one of the younger groups.  So, Jade and Briaiah were my only girls.  Dhati and I thought about who was mature enough and ready to see CrossTalk.  We decided I would take Jade and Briaiah, but that he would stay behind with the boys.  Jade is 8 and Briaiah is 6.  The boys: 5,4, and 3.  So, Jade and Briaiah and I all walked down to the lake to watch CrossTalk.

The skit began with modern-day typical struggles of young people being portrayed and pointing the audience to their need for Christ.  It ended with Jesus being mocked, drug, beat and then hung on a cross.  The mood was somber, quiet.  The skit went really well and the leaders dismissed us to go and reflect.  The girls and I began walking back, and I asked, "What were your thoughts about the skit?"  I didn't expect too much in response.  I assumed I would hear something about how well the actors did.  Briaiah blew me away though.  She grabbed my hand and stopped me in mid stride.

"Mom, it breaks my heart that Jesus had to die like that."

I stopped.

Me: Mine too.

Briaiah: "That should have been me on that cross!"

Me: "What do you mean Briaiah?"  I knew God was working on her little heart.

Briaiah: "I am not perfect, and I have to be to go to heaven.  Because I am not perfect, I was supposed to die.  Instead, Jesus died for me.  That should have been me."

Me: "That is so true Briaiah.  I am proud that you understand that."

I then walked through the gospel--you are a sinner...true, because of that you have to die, you will be judged, and you will be judged against a perfect standard. BUT Christ paid that debt for you.  He died so you didn't have to.  That is a gift—it's free.  You cannot earn it, work for it and you will never deserve it.  The only thing you can do is believe that Jesus defeated death (he got off the cross and came back to life defeating the one thing that scares all of us) and confess with your mouth that He is Lord--meaning He is your master, your boss, the one you listen to, the one who guides your decisions, the one you try to be like.  You can ask Him in your heart and ask for a relationship with Him.

Briaiah: "Ok, I want to do that."

Me: Let's go home and talk with Daddy.  (Dhati and I are both weary about having people pray a prayer in the moment. We don't want to give them assurance of salvation, if it is not real.)

When we got home, Dhati talked with Bri some more and in the end we told her that we would like her to think about it, sleep on it, and we would talk more the next day.  The next morning we got up and headed off to breakfast.  Afterward, I asked Briaiah, "Did you put any more thought into what we talked about last night?"

Briaiah: "Yep." She just smiled.

Me: "Ok, what did you think?"

Briaiah: "Jesus is in my heart.  I have a relationship with Him now.  I couldn't wait til the morning, so I went ahead and asked Him last night."

There is something about watching your child--one you brought into the world, one that has the ability to trust or deny her creator--choose to trust the one that created her.  It is one of the best feelings in the world!

Monkey See

[blockquote] This week features posts from Angie Lewis.  She is the wife of our lead pastor, Dhati, and proud mother of six. Angie's unique voice and perspective promises to encourage and strengthen those who read. We hope you enjoy and are blessed.[/blockquote] Everyone in our family has memorized the verse about not doing evil for evil or insult for insult—1 Peter 3:9,“Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.” One night, we put the kids to bed by 7:30 pm. Note: they are in their room—not because they are tired—but because we are. The boys are allowed to play in their own beds and talk, but not to get up. Nathaniel, on this night, disobeyed. He got up and threw a toy at Brayden's head. Who knows if he was being mean or not? But we do know he likes to throw everything! So, I can assume that he didn't actually mean to hurt him, but he did. Brayden starts crying. I head upstairs to shut down all of the commotion. As I walked up the stairs, I hear another big thud, and then Nathaniel begins to cry. "What happened?" I asked. Dhati Jr. (DJ) proudly answers, "I took care of it, Mom. I just did evil for evil. Nathaniel threw a toy at Brayden, so I threw a toy at Nathaniel." The huge smile across his face told me that he thought he did the right thing. I held back my laughter. I explained that 'evil for evil' was actually a bad thing, not a good thing. I had discussed this very thing with all of the children while we memorized the scripture. I thought that everyone had a solid understanding of the text that we worked so hard to hide in our hearts by committing it to our memory. DJ was so disappointed by his misunderstanding. Hmm...I guess memorizing doesn't necessarily give you an appropriate view of its explanation.

I Have a Job

[blockquote] This week features posts from Angie Lewis.  She is the wife of our lead pastor, Dhati, and proud mother of six. Angie's unique voice and perspective promises to encourage and strengthen those who read. We hope you enjoy and are blessed.[/blockquote] "What do I do?" you ask. Well, I am a part time chef, I own my own cleaning business, and I’m a teacher, accountant, and secretary. I am a babysitter, a maintenance person, part-time cake decorator, event planner, manager, photographer, nurse, fashion coordinator, counselor, grounds keeper, crisis specialist, chauffeur, and coach. I am a mom of 6 children. But, my full-time (also unpaid) position is being a helpmate to my wonderful husband, a church planter.

I get asked this question all the time, do you just stay at home? Well, yes I do, but the 'just' part is not so true.  I have six children, all born in a 6 1/2 year time frame.  And, I have a visionary, integrity-filled husband who believes we can start a movement, and transform this world with the gospel.

[pull_quote_right]I get asked this question all the time, do you just stay at home? Well, yes I do, but the 'just' part is not so true. [/pull_quote_right]When my children were younger, I saw them as a herd.  Feed them, dress them, play with them, and teach them, everything could be done at the same time, in the same way. But, as they get older I am realizing that I cannot raise them as if they are all the same person.  The girls are turning into little ladies with incredibly different personalities, strengths, weaknesses, fears, etc. And, the boys are transforming into little men with their own personalities, their own desires, and their own designs. My oldest daughter is confident, intellectual, logical, truthful, a great dancer and pianist, integrity-filled, and will fight for the gospel to go forth. My second oldest daughter is compassionate, the most amazing helper I have ever encountered, athletic, strong, a nurturer, fluent in sign language (just because she made a friend at school that is deaf), timid, and so sensitive.  My youngest daughter is artsy, fun, thinks outside the box, mature, outgoing, social, and a follower. My oldest boy and fourth child is smart, strong, bossy, definitely a king-type, leader, struggles with speech, super athletic, and my shadow. My second oldest son and fifth child is compassionate, sneaky, a hard worker, desires to please, funny, growing, an overcomer, super fast, and also a follower. My baby boy and sixth child is persistent, compassionate, a lover of all, loud, loves food, loud, persistent, and oh so silly. None are the same. They require so much intentionality, so much of my prayer life, so much wisdom, so much time, energy, effort, love, and patience. They are the joy of my life, my arrows.

And then there is my husband. He is a man who LOVES the Lord, and LOVES His people.  My husband sees the best in people. He will give his last for anyone.  He takes the Word seriously, and allows it to guide us. He is a leader, and a visionary. He is the guy that moves his family 13 hours from home to start a church where we were told needed a healthy church. He is the guy that is planting a church, starting a network of urban church planters, working on his doctorate, raising 6 kids with me and is devoted to our marriage—all simultaneously. He is an easy man to follow in that he leads well and leads by example. He is a hard man to follow in that he is always challenging us out of our comfort zone, and encouraging us to trust the Lord.

So...what do I do? I identify and encourage all of the amazing attributes that God has given my family.  I see the good, the bad, and the ugly that lives in my family; I love them through it all, and receive love from them by God’s grace.  I am a mom and a church planters wife. I don't get paid a dime for anything I do, but I work tirelessly. As I type this, I have about 30 minutes until I put on the hat of event coordinator for my daughter's ninth birthday party. And, I haven't even touched on my roles as a friend, daughter, discipler, mentor; or my roles as a church lay person (cleaning bathrooms, helping with the children ministry, leading women); nor have I touched on what my roles are in my community, with my neighbors, at my kids’ school, with our missional community, with the new moms in our midst, with marriages that need encouragement, and with the people that need help with their finances.

My world is different from most, but I know if you are a church planter's wife, you can completely relate to many of the things that I am saying. I have found that I have a full-time job without holding any titles. Sometimes I lack encouragement, and I don't get any raises or promotions. But my role is important, and it’s exactly where God wants me. He is my strength, my portion, my encourager, and my Boss. Much is required of me, many are watching, many are depending on me. "So, what do I do?" you ask. I'm a wife of a church planter, a helpmate. Gen 2:18 "Then the Lord God said, "It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him."

The Secret Struggle Everyone Knows

THE $14 BILLION DOLLAR SECRET 

You watched the Superbowl right?.  Maybe not, but there is a good chance you watched a football game last year at some point.  How do I know?  Football rakes in 9.3 billion dollars a year.  Everyone is watching it.  You've at least seen the fans right?  Shouting for their team, wearing the jersey of their favorite player.  It's everywhere.  Same thing for basketball.  The arguments rage for days on who the best player is: Lebron, Kobe, or  Durant.  NBA All-Star weekend is a gala event, the finals are heavily watched, players are making millions.  Basketball rakes in 4.3 billion dollars a year (this is why they were arguing so much about money earlier this year.)  Everyone is watching it.  How about that other big industry being watched?  The one that secretly has your attention more than basketball or football.  You know.  The 14 billion dollar secret.  Your secret.  Pornography.  Everyone is watching it.  Men are watching it in droves.  You may not have a t-shirt with your favorite porn star, but there is a good chance that you have a tough time maintaining a serious relationship with an actual woman because the 2-D image on the screen doesn't argue with you.  Oh my bad.  Am I only talking to men?  Women are watching it too.  The combination of seedy websites and a personal computer has invited both men and women into a very addictive hobby.  The porn industry is a clear indication that our culture is awash in sex.  Strip clubs, adultery, homosexuality, and all other forms of sexual stimulation outside of marriage have become the norm.

HOW DID WE GET HERE? 

"As long as it feels good do it."  My mom never told me this growing up.  When I was growing up,  media, music and friends all promoted this notion that each urge I had from within was actually a command.  "Feel = Do."  When it came to sexual urges, the principle remained the same.  If I felt an urge, fulfill it.  I wish I could say that this was a unique experience to myself. Today young men are failing to connect with the real world more than ever before because many are slaves to what they crave.

[pull_quote_left] Media, music and friends all promoted this notion that each urge I had from within was actually a command.  "Feel = Do."[/pull_quote_left]These thoughts, though, of reacting immediately to our sexual urges is not new at all.  There was a group of people who felt the same way thousands of years ago.  They felt like their bodies were subject to their impulses.  As far as they were concerned, sex was like eating.  When you get hungry you eat right?  That's why God have you a stomach.  When when you have a sexual impulse you ought to fulfill it right?  Would you starve yourself if you were hungry? NO!  So why starve your sexual cravings.  That's why God gave you sexual organs in the first place.  This is exactly what the church at Corinth was saying in 1 Cor 6:13.  At least this is what they thought was right.  Is sex like eating though?  Not exactly.

YOU'RE UNITED WITH SOMEONE 

Sex is much different.  I love the cold cut combo sandwich at subway.  Add a little oregano, mayonnaise, and black pepper.  Amazing.  Though I crave a sandwich, I've never stared at it thinking, "when are we going to get serious about this relationship?"  The sandwich is in me, but not apart of me.  Sex is different because it creates a connection with the other person.  Mentally you think about the person.  You feel deep emotions within your soul about them.  Physically you allow them to touch the intimate parts of your body. And though pornography only takes in 2/3's of the powerful combination of the mind, the body, and the soul, the images that linger in the mind can become addictive like a drug.  And when all three come together in a relationship, the Bible says you not only are connected, you are one with that person (1 Cor 6:16).  This is why God created sex for marriage.  It was meant to be the completion of two people becoming one. Buildings are built with a combination of materials.  Once its built its not meant to come apart.  Not so for my daughters crib.  We've moved several times and I've had to take it down and put it back together several times.  A sexual relationship is not a temporary structure being put together and taken apart.  It is intended to be built to last.  God made sex to be within a relationship that will last.  Sex means you are one with that person forever and you were to never be apart from one another (Matt 19:4-6).

If you aren't married, you still are one with someone.  You are one with the Lord (1 Cor 6:17).  If you are reading this and you have trusted Jesus as your savior then the third person of the trinity, the Holy Spirit lives inside of you (Eph 1:14).  Instantly you became one with the Lord.  If you don't have the Spirit of God inside of you, burdening you to live out Christ ways, then you should take a second to examine the authenticity of your relationship with God (Rom 8:9-10).  Your union with Christ means that God not only lives inside of you, but he wants to use you for his glory.  You are his dwelling place on earth (1 Cor 6:19-20).  He intends to let the world know about himself through you. This is God's plan.  Its amazing that he would use us right?

CAN WE HAVE VICTORY OVER SEXUAL URGES? 

If you want to be who God has intended for you to be, there are some things to consider.  First and foremost you have to come to the place in your life where you are willing to surrender all of your life to Jesus.  Totally surrendering your will to Him.  Sexual purity is not about you being stronger then your sexual urges.  You maintain sexual purity by constantly running to Jesus, as you run away from the temptation that can easily destroy you.   Jesus is your only hope to fight sexual temptation.  Jesus does save you from the penalty of our sins, yet he also preserves us by leading and empowering us into a righteous lifestyle (Matt 6:13).  Paul told the Corinthian church their only hope was to run away from sexual sin (1 Cor 6:18).  The word he uses for flee is the same word used of a fugitive on the run.  The fugitive runs away for fear of incarceration.  The believer runs away from sexual sin, because it has the potential to master us (1 Cor 6:12).

[pull_quote_right]The fugitive runs away for fear of incarceration.  The believer runs away from sexual sin, because it has the potential to master us.[/pull_quote_right]Running away from sin and running to God means you begin to live a lifestyle of worship (Proverbs 18:10).  Here is a thought.  Do you believe that God's presence is more satisfying than the touch of a woman/man, or the images on a screen?  Now answering that is hard, because you know the right answer is always Jesus.  Yet based upon the many times some of us have failed regardless of our intense resolve we know the spirit is willing and the flesh is so weak (Mat 26:41).

The fact of the matter is that Bruce Marshall gets it right when he says, "The young man who rings the bell at the brothel is unconsciously looking for God."  What Marshall is saying is that sex at its root is a desire for intimacy, and intimacy at its root is fully accomplished in Christ.  Every time we click on a image, every time we touch a woman or man outside of marriage we are seeking oneness outside of a marriage.  A oneness that was fully accomplished already on the Cross.

God will satisfy your heart far more than the instant rush of porn filled images in the mind, or the electric touch of a boyfriend or girlfriend.  Run to him and you will find what you are truly looking for.  Blaise Pascal says it better than I ever could:

"What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace?

This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself..."

On Mission In India

Dr. Sam (We are concealing his name for the protection of his family) is a native of India who became a member of Blueprint in 2011. Feeling the call to return to his home and help spread the hope of the Gospel there, he and his family moved to India. He recently sent us a letter to update us on the status of his ministry. The following is his letter, and we hope that it encourages you as you are doing ministry where life exists![divider_line] Greetings to all, in the name of our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ.

I am writing this letter to update my spiritual involvement in India. We are now residing in the Southern tip of India, which is called God’s own country. Even though its name is God’s own country, true God is not there in the heart of people living in this state. The majority are Hindus, worshiping idols and doing poojas.

After arriving here, God led me and my family to a solid church. This church is focused on spreading the Gospel among Hindhus and Muslims and also among tribals in the forest. It has five Bible schools for training poor brothers and sisters who are really committed for God's ministry.

Here are some of the ministries that I get to be a part of:

1.  Deaf and Mute Ministry

There are lots of deaf and dumb people living in our area. Most of these people are dependent on sign languages for their communication and there is no Bible in their sign language. Recently, a group of people have started making CDs and DVDs with Bible stories in sign languages for these people. By God’s grace, many deaf people (mainly Hindus and Muslims) have responded to that video communication program. In our church also, we have started worship for them. Every Sunday, I am worshiping with them and my role is to learn the sign language and help them in better understanding of the Bible and help them in their daily activities when ever they need help.

2.  Bible Training Centers

One of the main activities of our Church is to train students thoroughly in Bible for 3-4 years, at no cost to them.  The students (believers) will be selected from villages with poor backgrounds. The idea is to send these students back with leadership qualities, giving them Bible knowledge and cultivating a heart for their native villagers, so that they pass the Gospel to their respective remote areas. By God’s grace, up to now, our church could take care of these students, including their food, clothing, travel expenses, day to day needs etc.  On Saturdays, I lead them for the Gospel sharing among north Indians who came to Kochi to make their daily earnings. So, as part of this we have started Sunday evening Hindi worship.

3.  Village Ministry

Many people in India live in tribal villages, lacking education and healthy hygiene. Many of these tribal people are under the control of oppressive groups and do not have freedom to communicate with others. These groups are against gospel work and will kill people who are involved. In this situation, everybody is afraid of going to these villagers to share the gospel.

However, by God’s grace, our pastor has been able to go to a village recently and share about Christ. Those people don’t have a good place to worship. They are sitting under the trees to worship our God. We would be ashamed by seeing their faith. They are not afraid of persecution, nor bothered about sunlight, rain etc, but enjoying the love of Christ.

God helped the church to start some activities in another remote area. Most of the people in this area are very poor and don't have proper housing. Men and women work in Tea-estates the whole day and at night they gather together for the worship.

Our church is planning to build a worship centre for the people. Also, God has helped us to build homes for some poor people.

 4.      Tract distribution

 My wife has started writing some thoughts from the Bible (tracts which target Hindu as well as other denominational Christians) and we are involved in distributing this to people. Other than this, on every Sunday, we go to several camps (people from other Indian states involved in construction or building work) and share Christ’s love with them by giving tracts and Bibles, talking person to person and praying with them. Some respond positively and with respect to that, a few people have accepted Christ and been baptized recently. By God’ grace, everything is going fine.

Recently we are facing financial crisis, especially to run Bible training centers. Since we have to meet every student’s day to day expenses, it becomes a huge amount every month. So please pray for that. Also, if anyone is willing to sponsor these activities, it would be wonderful in Christ’s name.

My wife and my son are doing well. Please pray for me and my family.

 

In Christ,

Dr. Sam

Marriage Retreat- Recap

A few weeks ago, we held our very first Blueprint Marriage Retreat! It was a great turnout at the Wyndham Peachtree Conference Center, where we laughed, cried, got deep, and danced the night away. Everyone really enjoyed themselves and said they were really impacted by the weekend. Straying from the traditional structure of retreats where we pay a speaker to come in and give us knowledge, we focused the weekend around couple's fellowship and dialogue. Guided by an awesome curriculum called The Art of Marriage, we were challenged to examine our marriages openly and honestly, in community, so that our relationships would continue to flourish.

I can't wait until next year, when we can do it all again. Planning will begin in August/September of this year, so if you're interested in helping out feel free to email me at counseling@blueprintchurch.org.

Until then, enjoy and share some of the pictures from our Saturday Date Night @ Wyndham.

[divider_line]

My Life in Boxes...

I just finished packing my life into a 5x10 storage unit so that I can move to Kenya for 6 months. While not the first time that I've packed up my life, it felt different this time. I usually pride myself at how little I own... living most of the last 5 years in nooks and crannies...  one year in a teeny apartment, 18 months touring on a bus (with the Daraja Children's Choir of Africa) with little more than a duffle bag-- staying in over 300 homes as we traveled; a few years living in a friend's basement; oh, and then there's my favorite: living in my sister's unfinished laundry room for a year.

I don't mind living on little or IN little. However, it IS quite surreal to see your life fit into such a small space. All the memories, pictures, unique belongings taking up so very little room.

At the age of 33, it is humbling to realize how little I own and how insignificant my possessions are. I have no collateral. No equity. I barely have any money in savings--- or my checking account for that matter. I have friends younger than me who have multiple properties, large families and nice retirement plans already in place and growing.

It can be scary thinking about how little I have set aside for my future and how little I have to show for my past investments (none of which have been financial).

But there are other feelings, too. There is great gratitude that I am not owned by the things I possess. There is JOY in the fact that I require very little to live other than friends and God and there is FREEDOM and EXCITEMENT in knowing that I "pack light" enough to go anywhere at anytime to do anything that God leads me to do.

I'm not a "free spirit" or  "scared of commitment". I'm not adverse to putting down roots or being wealthy and generous. Rather, God has challenged me to learn the value and freedom of LIVING LIGHT... and here is how :

1) LIVE OPENHANDED:

Don't ever own something that you can't imagine giving away. Not that you MUST give it away. Not that you NEED to give it away... but do an annual heart check to make sure that nothing you own is owning you.

If you DO find something like that in your life, you have two choices: Give it up or Give it over. Give it over means telling God that if He asks you to give it away, you will (a lot of times just this act of heart surrender will free you from the power that item has on you)... if you do this and it doesn't work-- meaning you still can't imagine giving it away, then Give it Up (as in, give it away to someone).  This may sound crazy to you, but I promise that it works.

2) PURGE REGULARLY, HONESTLY and OPENLY:

Regularly: I move about every 9-12 months, so this is not hard for me. Every time I move, I make sure that if I haven't used something in the last 12-18 months, I get rid of it or give it away. However... if you don't move often you're going to need to set up a routine to evaluate your belongings for their usefulness and sentimental value. And you need to evaluate EVERYTHING: clothing, decor, sentimental items, etc. * I even do this with notes (I keep most letters and cards given to me.) Sometimes a letter will make the cut year after year only to be discarded 8 or 9 years after I received it.

Honestly: If you find yourself needing to justify why you want to keep something, you may want to also take a second and ask yourself why it matters so much. This doesn't mean condemning yourself for wanting to keep something! It doesn't mean guiltily giving away all items of luxury or comfort... it just means being honest about your "why's" ... Sometimes, even if you keep "the item", this can lead to a healthy conversation starter for you and God (or your counselor).

Openly: Don't be the only opinion you listen to as you sift. Invite God in on the conversation. Give Him the freedom to pipe in and let you know if something is holding you back.

3) LIMIT YOUR SPACE:

Remember the rich man in the Bible who had more harvest than his grain-houses could hold? Instead of giving away (or even selling) his excess, he tore down his storehouses and built even bigger ones. Consequently, God saw the man's foolish greed and he died soon after.

I'm not saying that you're going to be struck dead if you have more clothing than can fit in your closet and dresser... but as a rule of thumb, it is good to limit yourself to the space you have.

Whenever I buy new clothes, I typically get rid of a few things at the same time. If my closet ever starts getting too full to move the clothing in, then I examine to see if there are pieces I haven't worn in a year or more. When my bookshelves are getting too full, I give a few books away.  I have friends who give away a few of their children's toys whenever they get new ones.

These are just a few of my thoughts... what are yours?

Praying for Emptiness

I do this on a consistent basis, and I think that you do too.  Think about it   -what happens when you experience a disappointment or a series of disappointments? Maybe you’ve been trying for three of the four years of your marriage to get pregnant with no luck. Perhaps you’re getting out of a relationship with someone that you’ve loved, lost a family member, or you fill in the blank with whatever is causing you the most pain, frustration or restlessness.  When we experience this sense of loss or this longing for peace what do we do (or better yet…what should we do)?

We pray.

[pull_quote_left]If I just didn’t have to deal with this disappointment, then all would be well.  In and of myself, I have all the tools that I need to be happy.[/pull_quote_left]Here’s where things go south and why I think that prayer proves to be a dead end for many of us.  We end up doing the heart work, pinpointing what we believe the source of our discontentment is and we pray for God to take that away from us.  “God take away this feeling of anger….rid me of these strong emotions that I have for this individual…take away the pain that I’m feeling on the inside.”  Now there is nothing unnatural about prayers like these.  Prayers like these are very human.  But, prayers like these expose how futile our thought process is.  Basically, these kinds of prayers expose that our deepest desire is for God to rid us of the things that bother us and stand in the way of our peace.  Whenever our sole prayer is for God to rid us of things, what we’re praying for--and putting our hope in--is the absence of pain.  We’re praying and asking God to EMPTY US; rid me of what’s really bothering me.  The underlying assumption is this, “If I just didn’t have to deal with this disappointment, then all would be well.  In and of myself, I have all the tools that I need to be happy; the problem is there is a negative circumstance that’s standing in my way. Once I get rid of this, then all will be right in the world.”  This mindset is faulty at its core.

I believe the lie.

I believe the lie that if this one frustration I feel is gone, then all will be well.  However, the truth is that there are a lot of things that are going wrong with my life.  The thing right in front of me that I pray for the most is the most prevalent.  But if that was removed, then I’d see and feel something else that’s going wrong that would affect me just as deeply.  I believe the lie that I have everything in myself to be happy; I just need for God to get the bad things out of the way so that I can enjoy all the good. But the Bible never describes a hope for a peaceful life being found in the absence of pain.  We live in a fractured world where death, pain, disappointment and frustration are all around us.  (I’m only 27 and I smell like Ben-Gay every time I go to the gym, because my knees aren’t what they used to be! On a more serious note, I’ve been married since I was 23 and have wanted to have kids of my own since that time, and I’m still waiting. Meanwhile, the rest of my friends here in Atlanta and back in Texas are having quadruplets every 6 weeks—or at least it feels like it.)  A peaceful life, then, has nothing do with the absence of pain. A peaceful life, however, has everything to do with the presence of God.

In Psalm 23, David writes, “even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.”  Why David?  Why wouldn’t you fear evil in the valley of the shadow of death?  [pull_quote_right]Pain is an indispensible part of life. We shouldn’t think that God is going to provide a freedom from it. [/pull_quote_right]Is it because you are confident that God is a protector and he’s going to get you out of the valley of the shadow of death soon?  Is it because there’s no real danger in the valley of the shadow of death?  No.  The passage goes on to say that David won’t fear evil, because THE LORD is with him.  David thanks God (and finds peace) not in the absence of pain but in the presence of God.  He’s filled with a very real sense that God is there and being assured of God’s presence provides peace.  Pain is an indispensible part of life. We shouldn’t think that God is going to provide a freedom from it. On the contrary, He’s assured us that we’ll experience pain (2 Timothy 3:12).  And there is reason to believe that there are times He’ll see us experiencing pain and although He has the power to remove it and deliver us from what ails us with one flick of the wrist.  He won’t.  Regardless of how hard we pray (2 Corinthians 12:7-9).  God knows the frustration (and the void) that we feel from not being able to have kids.  He has the power to change it, but He refuses. (I know refuses may sound like a strong word, but what other word would you insert that captures someone who has denied the request of something that is in their control to provide?)

Praying for fullness, not emptiness.

Scripture points us in a different direction as to what we should pray for.  We don’t merely pray for God to empty us of pain (as if true peace is found in the absence of pain).  Scripture encourages us to pray for “the God of hope to fill us with all joy and peace as we trust in Him, so that [we] may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13).  For the past few days, my prayers have completely changed. I’ve realized satisfaction can never be found in emptiness.  Satisfaction can only be found in fullness.  If I’m hungry, my stomach pains exist because I’m empty; additional emptiness won’t help this problem.  It will only make it worse.  The only way to get rid of my hunger pains is to crowd them out by filling my stomach with food.  Our lives are no different. We really get a chance to enjoy and experience God when we ask Him to fill our lives.  My wife and I plead with God to fill the void we have from not being able to have children—with Himself.  The frustration many of us experience when we feel underappreciated or when we compare ourselves to others--we plead with Him to fill that void for achievement or recognition.  And we don’t stop pleading until He comes through.

I wonder what our lives would look like if we prayed for fullness rather than emptiness.

The New Urban and An Old Problem

We are in a new day. With growing urbanization in the United States, we need to prepare leaders for the next generation. It will look like something we have yet to see. America is changing, and it is changing fast. Urban is no longer limited to the inner city. Urban defines any area that is dense with population and diverse because of the density. It is in this day that living in a city means having neighbors who don't look like you and are not even in the same socio economic status as you. Statistics show that by the year 2042, minorities will be the new majority in America. By 2023 - only about a decade away - it is said that more minority babies will be born in America than Caucasian babies. These stats are showing that America is certainly changing, and it's going to look very different, very soon.

Currently, more than 50 percent of the world's population lives in urban areas. In 2030, 60 percent will live in urban areas. With gentrification, urban is no longer defined as just "black." It is now defined by density, as all the cultures collide in the cities.

We even see a shift in music. Hip-Hop music used to be the genre of music for minorities; today, CNN states that it is the leading genre of music used by major companies as the marketing medium their products. These facts were not true in the past.

So what am I saying? Historically, when minorities have used the term "city" or "urban," it has been taken to mean "inner city." Although the inner city is encompassed in the urban context, it no longer defines it holistically. When I refer to urban, I am speaking about density--and with this density, you will have diversity. Today, America is the most diverse country in the world. However, Sunday morning is still the most segregated day of the week--our churches are not following the transition that America is taking. If the church doesn't begin to make the shift, we will be irrelevant in the decades to come.

So what's the problem? Leadership- or rather, the lack thereof. Thus far, this conversation, in regards to the church in America, has been dominated by one voice--the voice of the majority. The response of minorities has been to create something "for us by us." You can see this manifested in environments like Asian ministry and African American ministry. What's more, we have just become "tokens" in the majority conversation, but with no real input. Minorities are repeating the mistakes of the majority culture, because they are operating out of the homogenous framework--not taking other cultures into serious consideration in their contextualization of the gospel. We are where we are because of the leadership. Minorities need to help create a new framework, and it is important that the new voice is one of diversity. We need a generation of minorities raised up to lead the church--a generation that doesn't just speak to pockets of our "new urban," but one that embraces the city holistically. The Rebuild Initiative seeks to be an answer to this leadership problem.

The Rebuild Initiative

The Rebuild Initiative is a minority led, multiethnic, leadership network that seeks to multiply urban leaders with the gospel. Rebuild seeks to empower indigenous leadership that leads gospel communities in the city for the city that looks like the city. To learn more about The Rebuild Initiative, visit us on the web at www.therebuildinitiative.org.

Missing God

So over the course of the past few weeks, I’ve been on this journey of sorts to get to the bottom of a lot of what’s going on inside of me.  For those of you that aren’t in my immediate circle, or haven’t had the chance to talk to me (or frankly we’ve never had a conversation in real life), you would know that I’ve been on a kick where I’ve been referring to myself as the “tin man” (you know, the guy from the wizard of Oz that didn’t have a “heart”). Anyways, lately, I’ve come to the realization that I don’t really experience a lot of emotions in life (or better yet, I don’t experience them in their fullness).  I don’t ever really get too excited or too high about anything, and on the flip side I don’t necessarily get sad, disappointed or too low about anything either.  I feel like I go through a lot of life just “thinking” my way through it.  Up until recently, I thought that was natural and didn’t see anything wrong with it. This Sunday was an epiphany for me as to just how bad things have gotten and how in times like these, I can miss a prime opportunity to grow in a deeper relationship with God through experiencing the fullness of what’s going inside of me.

So here’s the story.  These past few weeks have been incredibly long and busy and I find myself being really tired all the time (hence my new-found love/addiction to coffee).  This past Sunday I feel like everything came to a head.  As I was leaving from church I got into a few conversations that frustrated me (to say the least).  No big deal!  These thoughts come often and I know just how to handle them.  I realize I’m frustrated.  I tell myself, “John, it’s not that big of a deal…don’t be frustrated.”  I’m no longer frustrated. Simple as that.  I’ve been really good at the thinking and then doing paradigm. (i.e. I’m angry.  You shouldn’t be angry.  I’m no longer angry.  I know this sounds simplistic but if I can be brutally honest, this is really what goes on in my head).

As I got to my car, ready to escape from a hectic Sunday, I realized that two people had parked their cars right behind me (in a coldesac of all places) and blocked me in.  What’s worse is that I knew them both personally and they were both in a meeting.  So I had to walk all the way back into the building and ask one of them to move their cars and I physically had to move the other one.  It may not seem like a big deal to you (and in reality it wasn’t)…the point is that in light of everything else that was already weighing on me, I quickly found out that I couldn’t shake this frustration with my mind games.  I kept telling myself that it wasn’t that big of a deal, but it didn’t help.  I couldn’t just “think” my way through this one.  Stay with me here.

As I pulled off in my car, I feel like everything I’ve been wrestling with the way that I feel internally hit me like a bag of nickels.  The truth was I was FRUSTRATED.  I couldn’t suppress it…couldn’t hide it…couldn’t shake it.  And at this moment (as clear as day) I thought to myself this is a prime opprotunity for me to get to the bottom of this.  What is it that’s going on in my heart that’s causing me to be frustrated?  Where have I just suppressed what I’m feeling and denied the fact that I feel taken advantage of, undervalued, slept on?  I really need to go to the Lord with this.  This is an amazing opportunity to take what’s going on inside of me to Jesus….I can get to know Him better and He can help me (1) get to know myself and (2) process through what’s going on inside of me.

Before I could even finish my thought process, the very next thought that came into my head was…Honestly, doing all of that is hard work.  I’m tired and frustrated and don’t feel like working hard.  I’d much rather go home, lay on the couch (by myself), watch football and forget about this frustration until it all goes away.

So…I went home, laid on the couch and watched football until it all went away and I wasn’t frustrated anymore.  While the frustration passed….I realized that in that moment…I missed it.  I missed an opportunity to allow Christ to be my savior from frustration and bitterness and anger (by denying those feelings and suppressing them).  In that moment, Christ wasn’t my Savior.  Football was.  My ability to “think my way out of feeling” was.  I missed God.

What was really going on inside of my heart was one of two things.  (1) Either I didn’t trust that God was really able to handle my emotions and provide a true sense of relief or (2) I didn’t believe the “work” I had to put in was worth it.  I believed that whatever peace He claimed to provide, I could get from watching the Philadelphia Eagles.  At any rate, I failed in that moment to trust Him and run to Him…I merely found it difficult and didn’t try it at all.

G.K. Chestersen puts it the best when he says, “Christianity hasn’t been tried and found wanting.  It has been found difficult and not tried.”

That was me…guilty as charged. I had a prime opportunity to get with God (in a very real and true sense) and I missed it.  The more I reflected on this, the more I recounted countless times (in the past week) where I trusted in something else as a Savior from frustration, disappointment, rejection, anger, bitterness, you name it.

How about you?  Do you find this to be the case for you as well?  It’s amazing how we really don’t give a lot of time to reflect on the small and seemingly insignificant things that go on in our lives.  At the end of the day, these things are a lot bigger (and tell us more about the states of our hearts) that we would admit.

Take some time today and STOP!  Process what’s going on internally and put in the “work” to allow Jesus to be your Savior from frustration, bitterness, anger, apprehension, anxiety.  It may be easier to allow something else to fill that gap, but it’s not worth it.  Trust me.