Life Verses, Volume 1

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

1 Peter 5:5-11:

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

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

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

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

Jillian Marsh, Director of Hello World!

Psalm 73:25-28:

Whom have I in heaven but you?

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

My flesh and my heart may fail,

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

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

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

But for me it is good to be near God;

I have made the Lord God my refuge,

that I may tell of all your works.

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

Evan Moon, Intern

Luke 21:15:

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

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

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

 

A Different Kind of Hero

I am a nerd about The Hunger Games. Like I read the series in four days nerdy. So, of course, I recently saw the second movie, Catching Fire. And, yes, of course, the book is better. I might add that I will not pretend I have not lived vicariously through this Katniss (that’s one reason we read and watch fiction, right?).  I mean, you have to picture this woman catching fire, literally adorned in flames, emblazoned with determination, laser-like focus on her mission. But, even better, she comes from nothing, a soot-covered mining town filled with oppression. She rises to the call to be free of this hopeless tyranny, and like a phoenix (or perhaps more like a  mockingjay-- add geekiness), she rises from the ashes.  People like this inspire. Coming from nothing and rising up against all odds... is this not who our heroes are? My favorite fairy tales embrace this concept, this nothing-to-something remarkable kind of metamorphosis. And I want too, to be the big dreamer that sees her plan work out. I want to be “Girl on Fire,” “with her head in the clouds…. and her feet on the ground.” (Thank you, Alicia Keys.) Mainly, I’m saying the idea of becoming more and rising-up resonates with me, and I don’t think I speak so boldly when I say it probably resonates with most of humanity.

But I’m kind of being wrapped up in another story, an ancient story, right about now, at Christmas time. Not about rising up, but about the hero of heroes coming down. And my imagination totally fails me to this day, when I think about Emmanuel... God with us. THE CREATOR OF ALL comes down as a baby boy, growing in his mother’s womb, and enters the world the same way most of us did (only most of us not in a barn).

Will you allow your mind to take a seat with me here for a moment? The Creator of all. Pause. See, when I slow down my limited brain and close my eyes and think about what that means, I am still at a loss. I can’t imagine God. Have you ever tried? Sometimes I think of the smallest details of the world and go out from there to the Milky Way, and think about how He created all of it, just to get a grasp of what He is like, but my imagination fails again. He’s too high for me. And He came as an infant? There are no metaphors that give this any justice.

But that’s just it. We can’t get God. We couldn’t behold Him or make our way to Him. That’s why He came down. I can never understand the hugeness, the otherness, the holiness of God. But there is a way (rather The Way) to know Him, to finally behold Him.  This is why Jesus says, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.” Jesus is The Way.

Come, let us adore Him. Behold Him, the Lamb that takes away the sin of the world. What a wonderful Savior. What a wonderful King. The Creator, He came down to His creation.

Courage in Calling

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

hearts of men. The very angels themselves cannot persuade

the wretched and blundering children on earth as can one

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

only the wounded soldiers can serve.”

-Thorton Wilder

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

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

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

Courage…

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

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

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

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

Joshua 1:9

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

Isaiah 41:10

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

Matthew 28:19-20

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Cage of Calling

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

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

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

Clarity…..

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

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

-Nehemiah 9:6

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

-Psalm 75:3

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

-John 1:3-4

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

-Colossians 1:15-17

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

-Romans 11:36

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

My Broken Plate

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Balancing Act

Caught in the balance of a balancing act:

An act where it seems nothing is based on fact

But rather on feeling.

Feeling based on a heart that is sporadic and inconsistent—ever-changing

And the only consistency is that of the burden that’s been placed on me.

The burden to fix, to control, to heal.

But I have to wonder: How am I to fix, if I’m broken? How am I to control, if I’m helpless? How am I to heal, if I’m still hurting?

Who am I to think that I can fix any of this? Do I consider myself that powerful? So powerful that I can bear not only the burdens that I, myself have, but also the burdens of those close to me?

Lord, I’ve asked you to break my heart from what breaks yours, but I never considered my pride asking to take on everything that’s being poured. Every. Single. Drop.

All weighing heavier and heavier on my shoulders until I collapse under the pressure and weight, leaving a wake of chaos and confusion. I did all of this in the name of peace and glory to You, God, but only left strife and tension in relationships that point to a God who can hardly manage the day-to-day lives of His creation.

Lord, give me the faith to cast ALL of my burdens on you—both the personal and relational ones. Give me the trust to cast them on you, and KNOW that you will provide and ease the stress, pain, frustration, and heartache that I feel because of the burdens that I have.

God, give me the focus to keep my eyes on the Cross and always aim to glorify You, not myself. Give me the drive to cultivate relationships that thrive in maturity and Godliness. Help my actions be rooted in Scripture, not in preference or resistance.

I need to toss balance out the window and fall completely into Your embrace, God. Why do I try and play Gapetto when the strings I’m pulling only lead back to…me. Lord, just melt my heart and increase my raw desire to be used by You, Lord.

Just use me.

-Your son

Broken but Beloved

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

How did I get here?

Who am I?

Now what?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All is Vanity.

Glory and Love

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

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

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

God created us for His glory.

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

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

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

 

Our sin and the glory of Christ's sacrifice

I have been a church kid all my life. I am never sure whether that is an  advantage or a handicap when it comes to actually being a Christian. By Christian, I mean a follower of Jesus Christ. What I don’t mean by Christian is a member of a church or a very religious person. My church experience (pre-Blueprint that is), while giving me some solid foundational truths from the pulpit, was most often an odd mix of a little doctrine, some moral pleas, and a lot of outright legalism. At times in my Christian walk, this made it difficult to find Jesus among the religious “stuff.” Like most Americans who grow up in church, I pretty easily gravitated to trying my best and hoping God was pleased with me. Of course I was always frustrated, because I never could “effort” my way out of sin or feel good enough to be loved by God.  I will leave it to others to say why so many of us fall into that trap. For now, I would like to talk about my journey to escape it.

When I read Caresse’s most recent blog, I was reminded of how much author Brennan Manning’s books have helped me in this area. For those who are unfamiliar with him, Manning was an ordained Franciscan Priest who became an alcoholic after his ordination. Due to his struggles with alcohol and other demons (he was a recovering alcoholic once he began writing), he had a unique perspective on the depravity and utter helplessness of all human beings. I first read his book Ragamuffin Gospel around 10 years ago, and I was floored by it. I had never heard anyone be so open about their struggles with sin and yet so in love with Jesus. I began to see my own sin in a new light. And I now see myself as more and more sinful the older I get. This is not because I believe that I sin more every year necessarily, but because I can now see my sin as who I am apart from God’s grace, i.e. the proof that I am as lost without Jesus as scripture says I am.

Being married for 28 years has also helped me recognize my own sinfulness. As Chad pointed out this past Sunday, marriage and fatherhood has brought my true nature out all too many times and convinced me beyond a shadow of a doubt that if God removes his hand from me I am capable of the worst sins man has ever imagined. But a strange thing has happened as I have begun to see myself as progressively more sinful. I have begun to see God’s grace and Christ’s sacrifice as infinitely more valuable and glorious. To help illustrate my point, here is an excerpt from a book entitled Mortal Lessons, as quoted by Brennan Manning in Ragamuffin Gospel. A facial surgeon is recounting how he witnessed true sacrificial love after a surgery he performed left the patient damaged for life.

"I stand by the bed where a young woman lies, her face postoperative, her mouth twisted in palsy, clownish. A tiny twinge of facial nerve, the one to the muscles of her mouth, has been severed. She will be thus from now on. . . . to remove a tumor in her check, I had to cut the little nerve. Her young husband is in the room. He stands on the opposite side of the bed and together they seem to dwell in the evening lamplight, isolated from me, private. Who are they, I ask myself, he and this wry mouth I have made, who gaze at and touch each other so generously, greedily? The young woman speaks. "Will my mouth always be like this?" she asks. "Yes," I say, "it will because the nerve was cut." She nods and is silent. but the young man smiles.

"I like it," he says, "It’s kind of cute." All at once I know who he is. I understand and lower my gaze. One is not bold in an encounter with a god. Unmindful, he bends to kiss her crooked mouth and I am so close I can see how he twists his own lips to accommodate hers, to show that their kiss still works.

This story perfectly illustrates Christ’s sacrifice for us. Of course, we are the young lady. Our sin has left us broken and scarred and unable to help ourselves. Jesus, like the husband, has willingly chosen to sacrifice His perfection to cover for our imperfections.

That illustration had an incredible, lasting impact on me. Suddenly, my brokenness was so clear to me. While I am by no means glad when I sin, I am definitely not surprised by it. I have given up on the illusion that I ever had any goodness in me. Realizing this has freed me from the struggle of trying to be good enough to earn God’s love. Like the young lady, I can only be grateful for a Savior that is willing to come to me, because I can’t go to Him. I spent twenty years trying to measure up. I am hopeful that by reading this you may give up your own struggle and rest in what Christ has already done for you.

Hide No More

A few weeks ago, at Church in the Park, Muche delivered a powerfully compassionate message using Jesus' dealings with the woman at the well to point us towards Christ in our quests for satisfaction. At one point, as he continually repeated Jesus' words—"Go get your husband!"— to this Samaritan, I held back tears. I've never been married, or had a boyfriend for that matter, but I could imagine the emotions stirring within her. Earlier, Muche had captured the essence of the shame she must have carried with her by drawing attention to the time of day she'd come to the well and noting that she'd made that trip alone. She'd seemingly avoided all the disapproving stares of those who were aware of her five failed marriages and her current relationship, just to end up face-to-face with the son of God. Great. It's one thing for people to kinda know your business; it's another thing for someone to know every single one of your thoughts. Hiding no longer makes sense. But that's what we do. I know I have. Just like Adam and Eve in the Garden. Not that our attempts are ever really thought out—I mean can you really win a game of a hide and seek with Someone that has the ability to be everywhere at once? (It's like in scary movies when someone runs frantically to a room, locks themselves in, slowly backs away from the door and then gets a tap on the shoulder from the person they were running from. Busted.) Nevertheless, we run. We run away from people, run away from church, and even worse, we run away from God. But why? Fact: People—Christian or not—cannot always be trusted with knowledge of others' sin. We can be judgmental gossipers that show no grace or compassion. So, we run from people. Besides people, if you've read the Old Testament and all the specifications of the tabernacle and the veils, and the priests, etc., you may have developed this 'touch the steps of the church and you'll die' mentality. Then again, it's also where the judgmental gossipers are, so running from the church makes sense too. (Let's not forget perfectionists like myself who aren't running from gossipers, but just want to look perfect for self righteous reasons.) But why run from God?

"The spiritual life begins with the acceptance of our wounded self." -Brennan Manning

I recently read that line in a book I'm hoping will give me a much-needed, fresh perspective of God's love and desire to be in relationship with me. It struck me pretty majorly considering that I've told plenty of people that they don't need to get themselves together before they come to church, because God wants to change them from the inside-out. But obviously, I've just been passing along great song lyrics. I too run from God. I don't think of it that way, but I know for sure that up until recently, I didn't bring all my thoughts, fears, failures, weaknesses, etc. to God and cry out for his help to heal my brokenness. For one, I didn't realize just how wounded and in need of help I was (am), I'm prideful, and even in my weakest moments, just like the woman at the well, I am too embarrassed. Too much shame. But you wouldn't know it. Instead, I have "manufacture[d] a false self which is mostly admirable, mildly prepossessing, and superficially happy." But it seems I'm not alone. "We hide what we know or feel ourselves to be (which we assume to be unacceptable and unlovable) behind some kind of appearance which we hope will be more pleasing. We hide behind pretty faces which we put on for the benefit of our public. And in time we may even come to forget that we are hiding, and think that our assumed pretty face is what we really look like." (Simon Tugwell, The Beatitudes)

That is until you encounter Jesus and admit that you are thirsty. Desperate. Addicted. Needy. Lost without Him. Recently, I jotted down all my sinful thought patterns (topically, not trying to recall every single sin), actions I've been ashamed to confess, and the thoughts that I'd want no one to know have actually crossed my mind. I listed them in a letter to God that I concluded with "Help Me. Heal Me." I realized that, over time, the reality of all these flaws and failures, while not previously acknowledged to this magnitude, has made me not too happy about who I am. That means a deficit in the self-love department. I'd been taking a microscope to everything that's wrong with me and subconsciously, and at times consciously, hiding as much as I could from others. Thinking that everything always needs to look good—never let them see you sweat.

"But we cannot assume that [God] feels about us the way we feel about ourselves—unless we love ourselves compassionately, intensely and freely...It takes a profound conversion to accept that God is relentlessly tender and compassionate towards us just as we are—not in spite of our sins and faults (that would not be total acceptance), but with them. Though God does not condone or sanction evil, He does not withhold His love because there is evil in us" (Manning, p. 16).

I might have just accepted how much of a wretch I am, but He already knew it. And He still decided to love me and never stop loving me. There's no reason to run from that kind of God. And if we, as the Church, become those kind of compassionate people, there's no reason for people to run from us either.

Like the woman at the well, I don't want to thirst anymore. And I don't want to bring my broken cistern to another person for filling only to realize they too carry a cracked jar. But that means I must believe Jesus has living water. And not only does He have it, but that He only wants to expose my thirst so that I will ask Him for his endless supply. He doesn't want to embarrass me; He wants to satisfy me forever and ever. And amazingly, while there will be natural consequences to our sin and times we need to be restored, because we are in Christ, those sins don't ultimately disqualify us from being used by Him. Instead, I have found hope in realizing that Jesus came to heal the sick and to turn the sick into His healing aids in the lives of others. Or as Manning puts it, "In Love's service, only wounded soldiers can serve" (p. 25).

*Quotes taken from Abba's Child: The Cry of the Heart for Intimate Belonging by Brennan Manning

Between Slavery and Freedom

20 For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. 21 But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. 22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:20-23) Titles are usually helpful, but sometimes titles can be misleading. For example, Iceland is really quite green and Greenland is really quite icy.  The titles of these places mess with our expectations. Sometimes holiday titles can have the same effect, like “Independence Day.”  I’m as much a patriot as the next guy; however, on this Independence Day, I don’t want to reflect on our independence—at least in the way that we typically think of independence.  Independence Day is really meant to celebrate something more than our “liberty," because none of us have or will ever experience true independence. Instead, we live in the tension between slavery and freedom.

Understand, we all live in the tension of slavery and freedom.  What I mean is that regardless of the “freedoms” we enjoy, there is always someone in charge.  We always have a leader.  None of us are sovereign.  On July 4, 1776, the United States established its freedom from British rule, not its freedom from any rule. There’s another title that’s used to describe when people have absolute freedom or autonomy—anarchy!  Citizens of the US still have to answer to somebody.  The reason why we can celebrate this day is that now we get to answer to the authority that we feel like is looking after our best interests.  We get to answer to the powers that we want to—the authority that we know will take care of us.  If we have to answer to someone, at least let it be those who will work things out for our good.

We all had the same leader

The apostle Paul makes the same point about sin and righteousness.  At one point, it is clear that we were slaves to sin, and by virtue of being slaves of sin we were free from righteousness (Romans 6:20).  All that means was that we all marched to the beat of a different drum (as far as righteousness was concerned).  It had no power over us.  And what do we have to show for all the time of our slavery and “freedom?”  Guilt.  Shame.  Frustration.  Wishing we could go back and change the past.  Really take some time today and look back on the “freedoms” you used to enjoy.  Through the eyes of someone on this side of faith in Jesus, all I can do is cringe as I think about the things that I did.  The reality is, one day you’re going to outgrow the things that you were once proud of and you’ll have nothing left but regret.

More than that, those things bring death.  I talked with a good friend this past week that had gone through rehab for alcohol and drug abuse a few years back.  He shared with me how he attended the funeral of a friend that relapsed.  He had a firsthand encounter with the inevitable end of what our slavery to sin brings us.  Indulging in a “freedom” led his friend to the grave.

Russell Brand put it best when he reflected on the death of his good friend Amy Winehouse:

When you love someone who suffers from the disease of addiction, you await the phone call.  There will be a phone call.  The sincere hope is that the call will be from the addict themselves telling you they’ve had enough—that they’re ready to stop, ready to try something new.  Of course though, you fear the other call, the sad nocturnal chime from a friend or a relative telling you it’s too late, she’s gone. Frustratingly, it’s not a call you can ever make, it must be received.  It is impossible to intervene. 

This is the state that we all were in.  In following our “freedoms”, there was one inevitable end—death.

Independence day isn’t about our liberty; it’s about our new leader

The answer isn’t freedom as much it is ensuring that we are following the right person.  Paul doesn't celebrate liberty as much as he celebrates the fact that, as believers, we now have a new leader that's worthy of following.  We have been set free, but at the heart of our liberty isn’t autonomy (freedom from having a leader). At the heart of our freedom is freedom from the wrong leader to the right One.  We are free from sin.  However, this freedom is only a good thing so long as we use that freedom to link ourselves to another leader.  While our past “freedoms” earned us death (6:21), our new “slavery to God” provides us life (6:22).  No regret, but hope for a better future.

At the end of the day, we all want a leader who is more concerned with giving to us than taking from us.  Sin requires my life, but God gives me new life (6:23).  This is a no-brainer.  In celebrating my freedom, I’m forced to celebrate my new leader—the Lord Jesus. In doing so, I’m constantly reminded and overwhelmed by the fact that I serve a leader who has said, “It is better to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).  He’s a leader who came, “not to be served, but to serve and give His life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).

Who doesn't want to celebrate a leader with this worldview?  Who wouldn’t want to follow someone like that?

As you reflect on the ideal of independence today, remind yourself that liberty means nothing if you’re following the wrong leader.  If you’re enjoying “freedoms” at the hand of the wrong leader, there are two choices: follow that path to death or embrace a new leader that’s ready and willing to lead you towards life.

If you are a follower of Jesus, the best way to celebrate this freedom is to imitate the way He led.  Spend your time today reflecting on your responsibility and invite someone else to experience a life led by someone who was willing to give His life for us.

Accidental Pharisee

That's me. Well, a pharisee is what I've been acting like for quite some time now. No sooner than me throwing in the towel, quitting my performance of Christianity, did this reality hit me. One day, visibly frustrated, my friend expressed her displeasure with our constant debates. Of course I defended myself, but I realized in doing so I was only digging a deeper hole. So, for a moment, I stopped thinking of how unfair her sentiments seemed to be, and considered the worst. What if I am prideful? What if I do always think I'm right, so my opinions are really facts I believe other people just haven't been exposed to yet? What if I've come up with my own rules of what holiness looks like? What if I really do look at people who don't have my "convictions" as less righteous than me? What if what I've thought was a pure desire to be holy and honor God has really been a drive to gain righteousness, because I didn't believe righteousness could truly be given to me without my works earning it for me? What if my view of God has been pretty low, especially in the unconditional love department? What if...I'm a pharisee?

As I began thinking through the implications of that discovery and shared it with a wise young woman at our church, who's helping me not go completely crazy lately, she directed me to Galatians 3: 2-3

Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by[a] the flesh?

She basically used Scripture to call me a fool! (Yes, I caught that.) But first, I had to answer the initial question. Had my works or faith earned me the Spirit of God, which is evidence of my salvation? Well, of course I'd say I didn't earn salvation. I can't. But, would I say faith granted me salvation? I was suppose to say, "Yes!" Or "Duuuh." But since I'm on a no-pretending fast, I couldn't answer that confidently. Instead, I asked a question that opened up a world of discovery. "Well, I know believing in Jesus is my only hope for salvation, but what about all the commandments? God gave those for a reason, right?" To which my friend replied, "Well, what about before the commandments were given? How were Abram, Noah, Enoch and Job righteous in the eyes of God?" (Come on Caresse, you oughta know this, I thought. I realized in that moment how often I much rather appear knowledgeable than admit I'm not sure or don't understand something if it seems like I should understand it.) "Uhh...God must have given them a special pass as the children of Isr-wait...no...that's wrong because you're saying before Abram had offspring and before Moses was given the commandments. Well...I don't know," I reluctantly mumbled.

Oh the inadequacy to disciple others and be in a position to share Him over the past years I instantly felt. Yet, simultaneously, three words had freed me. I...don't....know. See, when you're performing, you gotta know everything. When you read or hear something, you have to instantly affirm belief in it. The show must go on. When you're pretending, you gotta fake it 'til you make it. But with God, as long as we pretend, we won't make it. He'll never actually know us. So, I admitted that I didn't know the answer.

 Genesis to Galatians and the love in between

Genesis 15:6 -"And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness," she read aloud.

Wait...what? What exactly did Abram believe to be counted as righteous? The previous verses in chapter 15 tell of a covenant God made with Abram to bless him and his offspring. And guess what? What Abram believed was what God said. He believed in God's promise, which stamped his righteousness. And here's what I'd somehow missed the weight of—it was an unconditional covenant. The blessing (which turns out to be ultimately fulfilled in salvation through Christ centuries later) was given to Abram by faith. He had no rules to keep in order to impress God; all He had was God's promise to believe, and that's what he did.

"Well then, why were all those commandments given?" I wondered.

"To govern, but it wasn't about looking at 600+ commandments and trying to figure out how to keep each one in order to be righteous. They were commandments to govern them. What they were and you are supposed to focus on is what God said to the Israelites before He gave the ten commandments," my friend responded.

"I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery." -Exodus 20:2

"Focus on God being your God," she followed. Realize He has graciously, of no merit of my own, brought me from being a stranger to Him and a slave to sin and now calls me His own. Out of that recognition, let Him therefore be Lord over my life.

"Ok. But knowing just how perfect God is, by virtue of all the commandments, makes you feel like you have to obey a bunch of rules," I replied.

"And then you start adding rules on top of those rules to keep you from breaking the original ones," she joked.

"Exactly!" I confessed. "Because I read about Jesus, and He makes it even harder. I realize that I'm still a sinner even if I don't fornicate, because I lust in my heart. So, then, I have to come up with rules to keep me from lusting. And then, of course, I put those rules on other people," I admitted. "But wait- Jesus came to fulfill the law. As in, He came to live out all 600+ to perfection and within His heart remain completely pure as well. So, He was basically telling the Pharisees to keep calm and sit down, because they weren't as righteous as they presumed. He was exposing their hearts. He is exposing my heart. Not for me to go get a heart monitor that I constantly check, but to show me it's impossible to please God...without faith. Oh shoot."

"23Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. 24So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. 25But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, 26for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. 27For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slaveg nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise." Galatians 3:23-29

Oh. my. world.

So, I don't have to work for my righteousness? I don't have to think through every possible thing that could be sinful about everything and think through for other people too? Seems too easy, if God is as holy as His commandments make Him out to be.

And that's when it clicked.

Yes, God is holy, and His standard is perfection. We ought to tremble at His holiness and flee from sin. But why? Why should we look at the teachings of Jesus and the apostles and pray for the Spirit to empower us to reflect Christ? Why should we keep the commandments in our hearts and minds? For one, to have an accurate picture of God. And secondly, to have an accurate picture of ourselves. The law reveals a need for Jesus. Its goal was to govern an otherwise ungovernable people, but also to make them see just how jacked up they are and how holy God is. But not for us to wallow in our helplessness, and not for us (especially me) to overestimate my righteousness. It was to stir within us—within the children of Israel even—a hope, a craving, for a Savior. As Ray comfort wrote, "Nothing reveals calvary like Mount Sanai." And the Good News for us is that we got that Savior. We have the blessing Abraham believed God for.

But what did we really do to get it? That's what I don't get.

Simple. In case you missed it like I have been, or thought you already had it, or my words were not clear because I tend to ramble, this blog is "for all of us who have a hard time getting it through our brains that all we did was nothing, BUT the love still came," as the song says.

All you and I actually did, as in earned, was NOTHING.

Thank God for giving us faith to believe and receive unearned promise.

Sometimes, we don't have to understand.

"Life becomes utterly free and daring when [you realize] the strongest being is for you."

Just accept His crazy love.

Show's Over

As John spoke Sunday and encouraged us to stop pretending we have a real, life-giving relationship with God, I smiled. And not because I had invited someone to church that I knew needed to hear that--how often I've missed an opportunity to be challenged myself because of the familiarity of a message. But it was because last week, Iactually stopped pretending. I finally admitted that I often spend more time looking right and saying the right things than actually being transformed. While I may not be living a completely different, secret life, the life I do live is not always truly lived in faith.  I live it because it’s what I know to be right. But there is quite a distance between my brain and my heart. Some would call it discipline and applaud me for doing what I should (reading, praying, sharing). But what good is there in doing the right things for the wrong reasons? And even if my motivation is sometimes obedience to Scripture and not necessarily my heart's desire, that means my reasoning is still not the best.

"God is MOST glorified in us when we are MOST satisfied in Him."

He gets glory from a number of things and people whose heart's intent is not on glorifying Him. Is that all I want to strive for? Default, inadvertent glory? Certainly not.

But what do you do when you are discipling people, working at a church, and doing other things for God, yet realize you haven't truly been delighting in Him? Well, you just keep saying the right things and convince yourself that you are happy in God. Until one day, your tears tell a story you can't wipe away. And you realize all that you do for God comes from a theological reckoning, but if asked, "Do you believe God loves you?" your heart skips a beat. Something so simple to affirm based on Scripture, but a truth that hasn't quite overwhelmed and satisfied your soul. And as a result, has left your love tank in need of constant filling--making people big and God small.

I've tried months of prayer, reading scripture, meditating, social media breaks, etc. but nothing has produced lasting change. So, I decided to stop. In my mind, I decided to quit trying to be a Christian. I gave up. I started asking myself why I did certain things in relation to God, and if I couldn't say it was out of love, faith or delight, then I would no longer do them. (Not advising you to do that, but I was running out of options. And I can be dramatic at times.) I said goodbye to willpower and my perfectionist/athletic mentality that was bent on performing well regardless. And I erased 'I' out of the equation of my "faith" walk, which left me with only the founder of my faith to show Himself strong.

And He did, He has and still is.

He's showing He has me. And all I have is need. Apart from Him I can do nothing. I can do a bunch of nothing!

Did I cry every single day because I felt helpless? Yes. Did I doubt my salvation a few times? Yes. Did I feel numb for a few days with a neutral view of sin? Yes. Did I listen to some spiritual songs and hope that my inner groanings counted as prayer? Yes. Did I have the strength to say more to God than, "Help me," each day? No.

Lessons Learned

I confessed all this to others along the way and asked them to pray for me. And after several days, guess what I found out? God never left me, and He won't. Sure, scripture says that so I could just say it, but I've seen it for myself now.  I didn't lose my salvation last week, because I hadn't won it years ago. I couldn't extract the Spirit from within me, because I wasn't the One who sealed me with it. I realized that so many of my works were being done for me and others but not God. I saw that giving up is hard to do when you really love your self-image. Not only have I thought of God seeing me more impressive because of my works, but I've also wanted to feel more impressive within so that I'd feel more valuable. We all want to be great at something, but salvation and sanctification instead reveal our suckiness and God's greatness. We want to be able to say we did this and that to please God, when God is saying I want you to see that your righteousness is like filthy rags. As I sat in a courtroom the other day and listened to a guy try to plead his case despite the prosecutor already deciding to drop the charges, I couldn't help but get frustrated. Sir, you didn't know something was against the law, it has just been shown to you and you have been extended grace and mercy. Why not just receive it, thankfully? Why are you standing here trying to prove your rightness? Take the gift! It's free! (I screamed within.)

And that's what I too have to swallow. That's what's backwards about the Gospel. I can't do enough right to get a free pass, but I feel like I have to do something. I want to feel right in my own ability to do good. I don't want to feel desperate, helpless and needy. I want to feel deserving. I want to do what God says do and be what He says be and not miss a beat. Yet, as John O. shared, "God's primary concern for man is not compliance, it's conversation." And as John Piper adds, "God doesn't just want decisions made for Him, He wants delight in Him."

No, God doesn't want us to not read His word, pray and share our faith with others. But He wants us to do those things out of a true love for Him and others. Being committed to God is not enough. As Piper so brilliantly and terrifyingly puts it, "Satan has more theological knowledge about God than we ever will. His issue isn't doctrine, it's delight." God wants our affections. He wants a personal relationship with us, and He can handle our ups and downs and days off that come along with that. And He won't take His love back when we mess up. He doesn't want rule-keeping; He wants relationship. The most loving, unconditional one we could ever experience.

Why would we settle for less?

 

Careless Disregard

A week ago I read an article called My Virginity Mistake by Jessica Ciencin Henriquez. I was saddened by her description of the night she decided to wear a purity ring at an emotionally-charged youth rally, where the leaders worked several hundred kids up into a wholesome frenzy and where she drew a moral line in the sand of her young life. And lived to regret it. Conversations about right and wrong make me break out in hives. Even so, I’ve been wanting to write my own rebuttal to this article for days, imagining how I could delicately explain the wonders of waiting as they have unfolded in our own marriage and in our marriage bed. How waiting is right. How the trust and the freedom and the downright pleasure we’ve experienced for thirty-five years made the waiting worth it. And I’ve held back only because I can’t figure out how to say all this without embarrassing our children.

My friend, honorary niece, and honest-to-goodness writer, Caresse Spencer, who is braver than I will ever be, had an actual conversation with Ms. Henriquez on Huffpost Live. Live, as in an unscripted discussion with four other people, none of whom agreed with her, who stopped just short of ridicule. Live, as in a comment reel scrolling to the right of the screen, with comments by people who didn’t stop short. Throughout, Caresse was gracious. That niece of mine, I love her.

The raw, righteous courage of it all aside, this conversation left me unsettled. I chalked that up to the hives thing until today. Today, although I applaud Caresse’s rebuttal, I felt I still needed to write my own.

Today I read John 4.

Jesus’ conversation with the woman at the well made me seriously question if most of our discussions about right and wrong miss the point. Is the point really making sure everyone knows what is right and what is wrong? Is the point really debating until everyone agrees with us?

Jesus walks up to this woman who, by every cultural and religious norm, is a bad woman. Sometimes I get frustrated with the gospel writers for the way they whittle down the action to the bare minimum, offering no emotional clues to help me see it, you know, cinematically. But I can safely assume that what emerges in these spare scenarios, given my view of what this book actually is, is true. Sometimes the bare bones of a story speak loud and clear.

So Jesus walks up to this woman and asks her for water. She is stunned because Jewish men do not talk to women like her, and she says so. He counters with this statement:

“If you knew the gift of God and who it is who is saying to you ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”

If you knew what God has in his heart for you, to pour over and into you, and if you knew who I am, we would have a different conversation altogether. You’d ask a different question.

Jesus describes the reason he came, the reason he would die and rise again. To satisfy our thirst for heaven, to fill us from within so that heaven flows out from us. It’s an unprecedented, almost unbelievable proposition.

Not until the woman asks him for a drink of this water does Jesus make any reference at all to her moral behavior. And even then he simply coaxes her into admitting it. It’s beautiful, the way Jesus elicits raw honesty and drains the shame from her life all at once. Beautiful and, seemingly, ancillary.

Today I noticed a phrase in the story that—I think—gets closer to the main point of this conversation. A little detail I’d never seen before:

“So the woman left her water jar…”

When Jesus said “if you knew the gift of God,” he wasn’t kidding. This gift makes you forget everything else. It is more precious than the air you breathe. More valuable than sex or intimacy or security or friendship or whatever it is that drove you to choose one partner after another. It is a gift more satisfying than a drink of clear, cool water at high noon in the desert.

I want to tell Jessica Henriquez: This is the point.

Somewhere in all the moral haranguing and emotionalism of your experience with Christians, you missed the point. I grieve that you missed it, and I want to apologize for the misguided leaders who pointed you just enough askance from it that you didn’t see. I want to tell you that sometimes Christians can be like parents, saying almost anything in our fear that you’ll go and do something you shouldn’t. (Is life really about avoiding STDs? And what value is purity apart from pure water within?)

But I wonder if I miss the point, too. Am I so enthralled with Jesus that I become forgetful of everything else? Do I leave behind what others might deem essential, not in a deliberate disavowal, but in a careless disregard for anything but him? Do I understand that he can fill—over the top—my needs for intimacy and security and friendship? Am I ever so taken with him that I leave my own agenda and run into town to shout the news that he is here, he has brought us a gift? That it’s ours for the taking.

Do I ever leave my water jar?

Restless Leg Syndrome

In Matthew 12, Jesus said something that has always mystified me. After healing a whole bunch of people he “ordered them not to make him known.” (12:13) This wasn’t the first time he told people to keep his ministry on the down-low, and every time I read this particular instruction (which almost no one ever obeyed, by the way) I wonder why on earth Jesus gave it. But in this instance, Matthew explained:

“This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah.” (Verse 17)

Jesus, it seems, was God’s chosen method in his mission to “proclaim justice to the Gentiles” (Verse 18). What’s implied is that if the mission advanced too quickly, it would jeopardize his intent of getting the gospel to the outsiders, the Gentiles. And so, in order to keep from upsetting the Jewish leaders and thus getting to the crucifixion too early, Jesus proclaimed justice stealthily… for now.

What I get from all of this is not necessarily Jesus’ patience; it’s the singularity of his intention. Jesus’ intent is to get the gospel from where it is to where it isn’t. He is restless until it happens. It’s as if the gospel itself—by its very nature—is restless. The gospel has restless leg syndrome.

And so I have to ask myself: Do I have restless leg syndrome? Am I restless until the gospel gets out? Does the gospel animate my life outward? Am I anxious to tell others about the most important and life-giving and life-changing encounter that has ever happened to me? Do I share in Jesus' intent to get the gospel from where it is to where it isn't?

Not enough. I'm finally admitting to myself that my calendar is a good gauge of my intentionality. If I must do a thing, or if I don't want forget to do a thing, I write it on my calendar.  I have several people with whom I desire to share the gospel, but their names are not on my calendar. Hmmm. Maybe I don't really intend to share the gospel with them at all.  Maybe I'm not serious about sharing the gospel until I block off a chunk of time with their name on it and call or email (or message or tweet) and invite them to get together. Everything else is pure chance.

Lord, give me restless legs for the gospel.  Grant me the privilege of taking the gospel from where it is to where, for now, it is not.

Why not?

The harvest is plentiful. I get it. But I got it last summer when I was a kounselor at KAA and encountered teenagers in need of the hope of the Gospel. (Yes, we spell kounselor with a 'k' there, among other things.) It gripped me. There's a world full of people who don't know Jesus. They do not have a relationship with the greatest love of all. They are existing, but they are far from living. I even came back home after that epiphany, which followed a trip to Guatemala where the global need for Christ and the vanities of my life in this country were realized, motivated to live an intentionally missional life. I wanted to share with everyone I could, because I'd realized how many people are in need of the Good News.

But then reality sunk in—the kamp experience is not the real world experience. Kids came to a Christian camp, so they knew what they were getting into. Whether they wanted it or not, they knew what we were going to be giving out. But outside those gates, being missional could and would likely mean sharing truth with people who didn't sign up to hear it. Uhh awkward. So, I decided that sharing with strangers was a kamp thing, not something to be emulated in real life. Right? I should just focus on the three or four people in my life who already have some desire for God but need help growing in their relationship with Him. And that may have been exactly where my focus should have been the past couple of months and exactly where yours should be now. I think too often we apply our personal convictions that the Spirit has placed within us onto others and end up creating a culture of performance where people either think they're doing well or performing poorly. (I know I do it to others, unfortunately, quite often.) I'm discipling people, so I'm representing team Jesus well, or I'm condemning myself for being a lazy Christian. Either way the focus is on us.

What if, instead, we looked at Jesus and those in the scripture who identified as His followers not prescribe what fulfilling the Great Commission should look like for every person, but to be challenged, encouraged and inspired by their lives? Sunday, Dhati revealed that for the next 90 days he was going to share his testimony and/or the Gospel at least once a day. That was an act of discipline he chose to enforce in response to going through Acts and seeing that time after time the apostles were out sharing their faith. But his commitment could have landed on your heart as though if you don't do that too, then you're not a devoted Christian. It could have elevated him to some level of piety in your mind that you don't have. But it shouldn't have done that. Man's endeavors are not what we should compare ourselves to in order to determine what Christ thinks of us. So, let's take that weight off and instead ask ourselves what I did when I decided to travel with others to Guatemala last year to build a well and share about the living water. Why not? That's why I went. Why not? Going or staying would not make me more or less righteous in the eyes of God. But if there is a need, why not volunteer to be a part of the crew going to meet that need? Often times if we hear a message repeatedly, it becomes fear mongering and our guilt for not responding to the message leads everywhere but into action.

But what if you didn't have to think you were not doing enough as a Christian in order to start doing something? (That is of course if you are dedicated to loving God and loving people, and love is already an action to you.) What if, instead, you read the words of Jesus and examined His life not to tell yourself to start doing more stuff to look like Him, but to see Him for being all that you never could be and worship Him for that? And as you look at how His life was and is the epitome of loving God and loving people, the Good News of the Gospel just might fill you up to go out and share that with others.  As a staff, we accepted the week-long challenge from Dhati of going out and sharing our faith. And yesterday, after having a three-hour long conversation with two universalists (one who identified as an angel) and an hour-long conversation with a Muslim Monday in Little 5, all I can think is why not?

If there are people right down the street from me who don't know my Lord and Savior or need hope or need prayer, why not take time to talk to some of them every day? What is more important? Maybe I can't do 1pm-4pm every day, but if I encounter at least one person, why not tell them about Jesus or ask them can I pray for them or tell them my testimony? Really, why not? The apostles had seen something they couldn't shut up about. Don't I have the Holy Spirit, a witness to all they saw and heard, living on the inside of me? Should I go out and share my faith every other day this week, the next week, the weeks after? Why not go out and share like the apostles did in Acts?

Well, I know why I changed my mind about doing that last August when I returned home. I lacked the solo initiative to talk to strangers. I was surrounded by kounselors and staff last summer who planned to share Jesus all day, every day and did right beside me. But that wasn't waiting for me when I returned. If my missional community would have said they wanted to go out regularly, I would have gladly joined in. It would have become my way of life. Am I blaming my MC? Absolutely not. While going out with someone else is wise, if I'm honest, I didn't press the issue enough to anyone. It all came down to fear and comfort. And those are two very real struggles, with the latter being something that I believe comes with being an American. (Regardless of how intense our struggles feel, they're still mainly first-world problems.) And fear, well, I couldn't imagine talking to the same people a group of us spoke to these last two days by myself. I just wouldn't have done it. I probably would not have even made it to those difficult conversations. After the first person rejected a request to pray for them (that happened a couple times), I probably would have talked myself out of the whole thing. But I was with two other people who experienced the same rejection on Monday. And yesterday, I wasn't the only one being told that I was not as enlightened as these universalists. I shared those experiences with my brothers and sister and knew that even in the face of opposing beliefs, we were unified in the truth. So, we persisted.

I'm not saying I don't need to pray for courage and boldness to act when it's just me (I do, and I will), but I am saying there is strength in numbers. Think about how many other people walked by us today as we were sharing with just two guys for three hours? If 10 of us were able to talk to a handful of people, imagine how many people could hear the Good News if 20 of us went out. Or 50. Or 100. If you've never shared your faith with anyone, yes, you should examine why you haven't. You might even need to feel convicted about that. But conviction should never lead to condemnation; it should always lead to the cross. And if you don't go out regularly and talk to strangers about Jesus, I'm not proposing the same conviction. I'm also not saying you are any less Christian. I'm just asking you to ask yourself the same question that I will continue asking myself—why not?

Forgive me for asking

For the past few weeks, hmm maybe months, I’ve been wrestling with something inside. My friends can attest to it, because just about once every week I’m venting to one of them about it. I even read some articles that communicated much of what I was dealing with (Anthony Bradley and Jasmine Baucham), but not exactly.  I do feel like an emphasis on discipleship and exposing our comfortable Christianity were necessary books and speeches written and given by David Platt and others, but I don't think we've heard enough of the perhaps less radical messages to give us a healthy tension. So, I feel trapped in the thinking that I have to share Jesus everywhere in everything. I wanted to come to some amazing, John Piper-inspired conclusion about it, but I can’t. I didn’t want to keep questioning God or other people, but I know that God (at least) can handle my questions—even if it means He’ll just respond with even better ones like he did to Job (was that not the finest sarcasm ever?). So, please God, forgive me for asking… But can I just live a normal life?

I love you, I do, but that’s not enough it seems.

Do I have to tell everyone I meet about You, otherwise I’m failing at the mission?

I used to share the truth of Your word freely, but now it feels like a responsibility.

I used to spend time with other believers regularly, because I wanted to and knew I experienced You more fully around them than by myself. But now I feel like I have to.

I can't even genuinely talk and listen to an unbeliever without thinking that I've got to share my faith with them. Soon and very soon. But I can't even remember where they said they were from. Is that okay? Is that loving them?

If I don’t knock on my neighbors’ doors and tell them about Your love, do I not love them either?

If I don’t tell the girl I just met not too long ago that she’s not actually a Christian, am I avoiding conflict?

If I write a blog for a secular site and don’t find a way to mention You in it, am I selling out?

But then again, if nothing is more important than people having a relationship with You, should that be my focus all the time?

Or does that require a calling to ministry?

Is it possible that I could actually be doing what You want me to do despite hearing message after message and reading blog after blog about people not being missional enough?

Where is the encouragement?

But, hmm, is there a way to encourage the congregation and still prevent us from getting comfortable?

Can I read the book of Acts and applaud those brave men, but not think I have to go to Little Five Points and stage a Day of Pentecost?

Then again, why won’t I go? Why don’t we plan to do that one Sunday instead of gathering in a building? (Minus the flaming tongues part.)

Why don’t we just take a day to go evangelize?

Oh, yeah. That’s not discipleship. We have to build relationships first, right?

Have we dissected Your word too much?

What did the disciples daily lives, post-ascension, look like?

Were they always sharing with everybody?

Were you honored the same by the early Christians going to work and working hard?

They didn’t have tv, so did they have less distractions?

Do you give us grace for all the distractions around us?

Then again, where does eat, drink, and be merry fall into the call to make disciples?

Am I the only one that’s only been eating and drinking (peach tea), but not experiencing the merry in the mission?

Sometimes, I wish I could just do what I love and talk about who I love the most as I go and know that I’m on the right path without having to think about it so much. Is that possible?

I know that’s what some of my friends do, but why don’t I feel the freedom to do that?

Why do I even question whether they’re doing enough?

Am I trying to earn a few missionary patches on my heavenly robe that’s up there waiting on me?

Am I confusing Christianity with competition?

Do you actually want more from me, and I can't tell if it's conviction from the Spirit or from man?

Do I love you the way Scripture says I should?

Yes. Some days more than others.

Is Jesus my treasure?

Yes.

Do I love people?

Yes, but sometimes I do love myself more.

Does your Spirit live in me?

Yes. Sorry for acting like it didn’t last week. (And a billion other times.)

Am I surrounded by other people who love Jesus and are wiser than me and can challenge me?

Yes.

Do I talk about You and want to make disciples?

Yes.

Is the spreading of the Gospel solely dependent on me?

No.

Do You expect me to be Paul?

No. You expect me to be me and do what You want me to do. I think.

Does that mean that two believers’ missional lives can look different and one isn’t wrong or better?

Can I just rest in knowing that?

I think You’re screaming, “Yes!”

Will you finish the work you started in me regardless of my confusion?

Yep.

If I'm supposed to go to Nineveh, will you make sure I end up there?

Ha. I bet.

Have I been trying to be the perfect Christian and earn your grace?

Yes.

Does that sound noble but actually dumb since grace is something I don’t deserve?

I think you just laughed.

So, you’re telling me that I’ve been overthinking all of this?

Have I read too many books, articles, and sermon transcripts and not lived enough years to process them all?

Did you just smirk?

Ok, last question.

Did You see that Warriors’ game last night?

Woo! Wait- but you knew they would lose, so could you even enjoy it?

Oh snap! What’s it like to know…

Just kidding.

“Love God. Love people. And do whatever else you want.”- Dhati Lewis

I’m going to try that approach...again.

So, help me God.

Sacrificing God

“Covetousness puts God on the altar as the sacrifice for what we want more.”

As those words exited my mouth this past Sunday, they cut me to the core. Earlier in the sermon, I'd shared how God has been showing me my own covetousness. My wife and I have two kids already, Serenity & Joelle, and she was ready to hang up childbearing. It wasn’t that I wasn’t with her on that, but selfishly I would contend that decision was contingent on what we were having this time. I wanted a boy. Badly. When things would get tense, I would joke with her saying, "Look, God is the one who’s in control so if you got beef, pray and eat more chicken!"

She never thought that was funny.

With two girls already, I also joked around by saying that if the Lord gives me another girl, that’s Him telling me to either move to Tibet or some other foreign land full of monks and eunuchs, He wants me to get a cross bow like Darryl from The Walking dead, or He wants me to plant churches in prison because that’s probably where I would end up in their teens! The funny thing is, no amount of joking could cover the fact that in my heart the desire for a son was so strong that I would view God as less than and even punishing me if He withheld one from me. Even though we have two beautiful and amazing girls, and I know some of my very best friends are still waiting for one child. In spite of that, I wanted Noah. I wanted to give him my deceased little brother’s first name as his middle. I wanted him to rewrite the narrative of our family name so that it becomes synonymous with a relentless pursuit for Christ. I wanted to look him in the eyes and tell him to stand firm as a man of God in an age where biblical manhood is like "Where's Waldo?". And that’s a very good desire, but it's a terrible god. So, as I described what covetousness does, I realized in that illustration what my own heart was saying, "I would sacrifice God for a son."

Needless to say, I was ready to get off the stage.

After I finsihed preaching, I sat down and shed a couple of tears while other people sung. After service, I went to my office, repented and prayed for forgiveness. That moment pushed me over the line and in my heart I said, “God you're more gracious than I deserve. If I never see a son, Your beauty and glory isn’t diminished. And I’m not going to selfishly dig my feet in the ground if we don’t get a boy, if my wife really feels she’s done having children." Just so happens, later on in the day, we were having a gender reveal for our new child, and I was going to find out what we were having along with our community.

5:15 pm we’re about to open up the box full of balloons that will reveal what we are having. It was either full of pink or blue ones. Before we proceed, John pulls me aside and says, “Make sure you react with joy no matter what.” I thought to myself—seeing as he and his wife were two of only four people who knew the gender—that he was obviously trying to prepare me for “disappointment”. Good thing God did that for me earlier!  But, we open the box and blue balloons ascend into the air, as I start the victory lap around the house!

Victory! Right?

Well, covetousness isn’t dealt with by us getting or not getting what we want. Covetousness is dealt with as God gets a hold of our heart. My covetousness didn’t go away when I saw those blue balloons; it was dealt a deadly blow when God exposed the weight of my sin and how I shelved Him for it. And how I didn't have my hope, energy, and worship anchored where it should’ve  been the whole time—in the hands of a holy, beautiful, and gracious God. I don’t think me getting a son was a lesson in perseverance (because God heard my prayer and responded favorably) as much as it was me, through prayer, having my heart exposed and God wrestling my heart into submission and faith.

Before these thoughts continue and become a novel, let me close with a few things I’ve thought about since:

  1. Covetousness is rooted in the heart, so while it manifested itself as a desire for a son recently, in a few days it could be something else.

  2. The prayer games we play with God reflect the condition of our heart, not His capacity to hear or answer our prayers.

  3. The question we need to ask ourselves regularly is, "Does God get your sacrifice or do you lay your life and His on the altar of covetousness?"

By the grace of God, these are thoughts I hope to share with Serenity, Joelle, and Noah one day.

Clear the stage

As Pastor Muche confessed his own covetousness with us this past Sunday—how badly he desired to have a son—all I could think was, “I know what that feels like.” There was a time where I wanted to play D1 basketball so bad that my family drove 16 hours to drop me off at the University of Connecticut. And there was that time, maybe a time or ten, where I wanted some shoes so bad that I visited the same website every day just to see them—until I could convince myself I was suppose to have them regardless of the price and my uhh insufficient funds. Nothing else mattered as much. But what ran through my mind most vividly was the time all my years of idolatry reached a point that threatened to destroy my soul and kidnap my identity…

GRIPPED

All my life I’d felt different. Whether it was being the only girl playing outside with the boys in my neighborhood, being the black girl that “talked white” to my black friends, not wanting to party in high school, and not to mention becoming a believer at a liberal college. While people knew of me, I felt like no one understood me. I didn’t feel like I belonged anywhere. And once I could no longer hide behind year-round basketball, I found myself desperate. I needed something to make me feel like I belonged. I needed approval. I needed love. I needed God. But I’d already boxed him in to only meeting my spiritual needs. Me not having a (female) best friend like all the “normal” girls did growing up couldn’t be assuaged by knowing God now. I needed what I’d never had. So, that’s what my heart set itself on. Meanwhile, I thought I was just sensitive, emotional, or maybe even clingy. But after years of emotional roller coasters that doubled as friendships, ridiculous expectations for people to make up for my years of loneliness, mediations, and more tears than smiles, someone dropped a harsh truth on me. I was codependent. My very existence had been inextricably bound to someone else’s. Alright, let me put that into perspective. Think about how much you need God. Ok. Got it? That’s how much I’d determined I needed this friend, and the next, and the next. Now, that should explain why my emotions were so unstable; unlike God, people change, they disappoint, and they (we) fall short time and time again.

Yet, I was stuck. I felt trapped and approaching Romans 1:21-25 with no way out. I found myself sitting on a couch telling a therapist, in between tears, that I was losing my mind. And then she said some things that gave me the edge in the spiritual battle I’d began fighting. She told me not to ignore those feelings of loneliness and desperation. They come from a real place. I was sad as a kid despite all the happiness that seemed to surround me, and I'd tried to go on like this for years. But I can’t just cover that up by saying Jesus loves me now, nor can I get those years back. But, what I can do (and should) is allow God to heal those wounds and be all I’m looking for now.

Whew.

Along the way to that end, I read books like When People Are Big and God is Small, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, and Life Together. I found lasting encouragement as well in Psalm 139 and The Father’s Love Letter piece. But there was a defining moment along the path to allowing God to be my everything. I came face-to-face with this question: How do you really get God where He belongs in your heart, when something or someone is already positioned there? Yes, part of the solution is to stare at Him in scriptures, in prayer, in psalms, in hymns, and in spiritual songs—to be needy for Him. But there's more.  You also have to be willing to mimic Abraham and put your idol on the altar and let God decide its fate.

CLEARING THE STAGE

While it pulled against every fiber of my being, I had to walk away from what I always wanted and felt like I currently had. I’d finally grasped the reality that sin wants to kill us. For some, it literally puts our physical bodies in jeopardy, but for all of us, sin seeks to murder us spiritually. Our idols want to paint us so beautiful a picture of satisfaction that we are willing to ignore the voice of the one who’s loved us from the beginning. The one who didn’t withhold His son for us as proof that He loves us immeasurably and gives us His best. They want us to chase for what is freely given to us by God. And so often they win, because we forfeit in advance of the fight—giving in so easily—or we bow out too soon. Or, as I found myself doing, we downplay how entangled our hearts truly are. But we must resist denial before it becomes destruction. We have to fight for our lives.

This is something we must actively participate in daily, understanding we will have to (to some degree) for the rest of our lives. We have to fight to keep God on the throne of our hearts. And there are extreme times that will call for extreme measures. Walking away from my life-consuming hoop dreams in college meant walking towards Jesus to find my true purpose. And I had to set aside hours of time daily to pray, fast, read, meditate and the like to loosen my grip on self and my heart’s desires for friendship before I could truly hold tight to Christ. I had to get serious about my sin.

I had to let the truths of these words (by Jimmy Needham) sink in…

Anything I put before my God is an idol Anything I want with all my heart is an idol Anything I can't stop thinking of is an idol Anything that I give all my love is an idol

In order for God to take His proper place on the platform of my heart, I had to clear the stage.