(Ordinary)Gospel.(Automatic)Family.(Latent)Mission.

Last night, our college ministry had the semester’s first large-scale gathering of students and others in the college-age range at what we call The Brook. I had the opportunity to co-host the event with a dear friend of mine, and we’d spent the past weeks planning, creating and losing sleep. [Pause] Think about the arrangement of that sentence. I said I had the opportunity to co-host. But what about the planning, creating and losing sleep? Were those opportunities too? Considering that when we think about an opportunity, we usually follow it up with some noteworthy action, a platform, some dream come true or some profitable endeavor, I’d say no. The fact that God would let me stand on a stage was the opportunity. Isn’t that what we all want in some arena or another? To be seen and heard.

 Ordinary Gospel

Over the course of the night, I shared God’s story of redemption manifested in my life, as did the other host, and our student pastor had an open dialogue with those in attendance to probe into their hearts and minds.  One student made a confession that was met with many agreeing nods: the Christian life can become predictable and ordinary, mundane even. He was right. We’ve read this, heard that and already told everyone about it via social media. We talk about Jesus and scripture with bullet points and breakdowns to the point that actually falling on our knees, God forbid our face, in awe of Him is beneath us. My friend admitted yesterday that she couldn’t remember the last time the majesty of God moved her to the point of tears, so heavy she couldn’t stand, until just recently. Personally, I didn’t have to go before God to prepare to share my testimony last night. I’ve already been coached on how to communicate it quick enough to someone who I might not have an opportunity to speak with at-length. No, this is not an attack on doctrine, methods and models; we must be students of the one we worship.  But if all our learning and planning makes us forget who we were when God exchanged our death for life and somehow overshadows the filthy-ragged Christians we still are, then I’d agree with the wise woman who told me, “I never want to know that much.”

Salvation is a miracle.  The fact that God sent His son to take my place in death and now I get to walk free is no point made in passing.  We’d be outraged if the prisons just started releasing criminals to roam free, with the hope that they’d make different choices with their newfound freedom.  What have they done to earn such a pardon? They don’t deserve to live freely! They (we) sure don’t.  But it’s been quite a few mornings since “the morning on which death and sin lay prostrate in defeat and new life and salvation were given to mankind.” So, that thought doesn’t wake us up or provide fuel for our days.

Automatic Family.Latent Mission.

 As if the supernatural exchange of redemption isn’t enough, the fact that we are not left wandering this planet alone in our freedom should give us pause. Not only do we have the spirit of our emancipator living inside us, but we also get to journey through this life with other freed souls.  “It is not simply to be taken for granted that the Christian has the privilege of living among other Christians. Jesus Christ lived in the midst of his enemies.” There are countless Christians who don’t know this common unity customary to some of us today. There are people struggling to stay on the narrow road, because there is no one around to remind them of whose they are.  Not to mention those brave souls risking their lives in hostile environments only finding fellowship in the Holy Spirit.  Yet, for those of us who have a contact list full of other believers, the Body is no monumental piece of art. The idea that God arranged for us to “randomly” encounter one another or choose to live in the same state or end up at the same church when we come from totally different worlds is not a phenomenon to ponder. Oh but it is. And if we did, we’d be brought to our knees. God is sovereign. Don’t just say it, sit with it; better yet, go with it.

 He hasn’t privileged us with family merely for comfort in common hues or delight in shared preferences. “Only because the message concerning Christ Jesus must still go forth and find believers, and because our task is not yet perfected, does God in His patience continue to sustain us with His good gifts.” We are united by Him and for Him alone. Growing in the Gospel alongside family while on mission should mean we’re around other people whose lives have been transformed by the Gospel, which compels us to share with those lost souls whose present lives remind us where God stepped in and changed our own. Being on mission not only takes what’s in you and pours it out to others, but it should serve as a constant reminder of how and why you even have anything in you worth sharing.

 That God would let me…

 As I came across an old friend’s profile this morning, the reality of last night showed itself.  Who my friend is now versus who I am by the grace of God struck me. I could still be like them! Living “free” yet so bound. But the power of God unto salvation changed the course of my life; actually, it introduced me to life.  How could that reality not leave me ravished every day? With that in mind, God letting me do ANYTHING should produce gratefulness. For my life to be seen or my voice heard by anyone for His namesake should be humbling, because I know where I was and where I still am—not tall enough to reach His glory. It’s not about being on a stage or leading a group or discipling some person.  Often times, that’s just us wanting to be seen or feel important for our pride’s sake. It is an opportunity just to get to offer my gifts, my time, my thoughts, and myself to the God who gave them to me and redeemed them all from my own tainting. To get to pray for strength and energy for the day that followed a long night of planning and preparation is in fact an opportunity. To get to do anything with and for God is an opportunity I do not deserve.

May I never forget that. May the thought of it be what wakes me up time and time again.

 *All quotes taken from Life Together by Deitrich Bonhoeffer

A Shared Meal

She did not arrive as I had prepared myself for; [she isthe woman the world tells me to hate and my sisters in Christ warn to love only from a distance. I imagined her arriving airy, fresh, and bright; the face I’d clicked on thousands of times the last year and a half of my knowing. She arrived fearful, unsure, and shaken. We’d spoken on the phone a few times, sent Facebook messages, comments, likes and texts, but this would be the first time our eyes would meet.

We sat on Whiskey Cakes outdoor patio. Texas sun bearing down on us. I wore dark sunglasses and a new-to-me outfit from Goodwill. I didn’t feel the need to show up as “Tony’s beautiful wife” donning manicured exterior. For the first time in my life, I was comfortable in my own skin. I didn’t have to act like something, but rather be who I am—Jennifer, lavishly loved by my Heavenly Father and Tony’s Covenant Love.

Physically shaken, she kindly asked if I minded her ordering a glass of wine to help calm her. With hand extended across to her arm I tried reassuring her that there was no need to be nervous and wine would not offend me.

We chit chatted just as one would expect to meeting someone for the first time. Neither of us sure as to where our conversation would travel. For me, I had no burning questions; no intention on bringing up what connected us (my husband's affair with her). I had from day one seen it as my husband’s responsibility to answer any and all questions formed within me. I thank God daily for his telling.

What brought me to share a meal with her was to truly know if I’d forgiven as proclaimed. I also came having prayed to God that he’d show me so deeply into her that the visions haunting me would be replaced by who she is and not what she had done. To do this would take my offering her the gift of telling her story as only she could, through her lens. I would have to listen.

Face quickly becoming washed in tears of brokenness- a shattering. A life lived knowing loss: father, grandmother, grandfather and in many ways mother. Mother whose first choice was never the one birthed from within her womb, but instead choosing man. A mother whom regularly takes without the asking, never replacing or sowing into the woman-child whose blood is that of her own.

Her words pierce me and I draw closer taking her hand into mine. It would stay this way the rest of time together. Never before have I sat this close to broken, the desire to know and be known. The desire to be seen naked and unashamed; a desire I too am familiar with. Her only knowing of love has been manufactured becoming defective causing confusion.

She shares that all she has ever done has been pure of heart. I believe her yet realize this formed definition of pure isn’t drawn from Love Himself, The Creator. She cannot walk in what has not been shown, not been taught. “Lord, in this moment reveal to her a love that cannot be created; create within her a new definition.”

“You said once that he showed me a bad example of marriage. It was the only example I'd known marriage to be.”

My mind knew she spoke of my husband, the one I now with honor call “Covenant Love” yet there was separation of whom she spoke of then and who he has become. She shared affections for him, even today having not seen him in eight years. His words “You are so deep” captured her mind and heart causing her to feel seen, heard, and gotten for the first time in her life. I believe her. I believe this story told across trembling lips.

I listened hearing her heart’s desire for truthful response, and truth was all I could offer. Truth that would cause heavy tears, but I had to be honest whereas the man who stole her self-worth wasn’t. It was time to take her trembling hand and escort her from the surface out into the deep. The place I'd been shown my own healing. 

“You weren’t special to him. You could have been anyone, but not because you aren’t special. You could never have done or been enough. You could never have been to him what only I was designed to be.” Truth spoken boldly in love from my lips with hope of healing.

The sting on her face could not be hidden even by the cloth napkin brought upwards in drying motion. I knew in that moment all she could hear was that it could have been anyone, that she wasn’t special.

When dealing with the weight of sin and weight of Gods glory ones perception cannot be off. It must be altered and diseased parts cut away. We must be shown what love isn’t in order to truly know love as it was created to be. Not some generic word written upon metal dangling from our necks or nailed upon walls. But rather a treasure that frees. Love does not trap or enslave. There are no grey areas in love.

Truth has a way of taking what was once masked making it exposed, and this moment was no exception. As she cried color melted away from covered face. Manicured hair now ran between fingers, pulled to one side. I wished I have had a pony tail holder to offer, but I had none to give. Finally I could see her, what I couldn’t see when we greeted one another an hour before- shattered yet hopeful.

“I thought it was me he saw as deep, but I was just a manifestation of you. He was hearing you, not me.  His words “You are so deep” caused me believe I was seen by someone for the first time but it was really you who he saw.”

 Her statement stirred me. I didn’t desire to make this about me if it wasn’t, but was this more about me than I imagined? Was it about sex at all or was sex just the offspring of something greater within the heart. A desire to relive that in which can never be made new of again, especially with a stranger. Had I, the love of his youth become invisible?  I needed Tony to walk through this one with me. That would come later, for now I continued listening.

“You have offered me grace and forgiveness that my own mother has never offered or shown me.”

With pointed finger placed upwards I assured her that what she saw was not merely me, Jennifer Upton, because I could not have sat there. I told her that what she saw was Christ whom I live my life to be a reflection of. Such forgiveness could only flow from Love Himself.

“That reflection shows. You give me hope for what I can become.”

 She is well aware of the grace that lay cloaked over me. I extended this grace freely given to me, forgiveness I’d been given without merit after spending time exploring in my own tale of adultery almost one year to the day of Tony’s. We each carried our secrets for years without the other knowing; he for eight and me for seven. I didn’t have the power to transform the heart beating rapidly within her, but I gave what offering I could.

We hugged a long tight hug saying our goodbyes. This embrace seen from a distance by my Covenant Love, the one whom could not imagine such an embrace all those years ago filled with darkness. I’d not hidden him this day, but asked for this to be my process in the midst of my healing ultimately leading to fullness of our own and prayerfully this “Child of God” who’d sat before me.

She asked that in my telling that I share with you the loss of self-worth that manifests itself in the act of adultery. The giving of what you believe is desired, the person of you, only to realize that they never saw you at all. Internal scars formed not easily healed.  I think it is only fair to share with you this truth from the lens of one that carries such hurt. Yes, it takes two and two are responsible, but hurt is hurt whether self-inflicted or not.

This journey into deep dark waters has taught us that sexual relations outside of marriage are merely a shell of God designed Covenant offering only brokenness, when meant to offer glory to the one whom creates. It is only within your marriage bed where glory and fulfillment of desires are found. Giving of sexual relations any other way is merely one that takes rather than giving. It is conditional at best. Christ gave without condition and we are to do the same.

I am unsure where the story of the one whose hand I held and I go from here, where travels will take us nor what this landscape may look like. I do know that I forgive and love her because of whose I am. My and Tony’s prayer is that you see God’s hand in our story and that you don’t forgive only those whom you deem worthy, but forgive all. It truly will set you free.

You can read more about our journey, the layers of who we are at www.spiritualglasses.me

 

 

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

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?

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.