Protected or Prepared

Blueprint's lead pastor Dhati Lewis and his family recently moved to the Old Fourth Ward of Atlanta, a diverse area in need of a strong gospel presence, where Blueprint's church building is located. Today on the blog, Dhati's wife, Angie, shares about why they have elected to raise their children in the O4W. Our faith has been tested here in the Old Fourth Ward. While Dhati and I have both either lived or gone to school in areas where crime and violence happen regularly, we have never had to navigate our family through anything like it.

Since we have moved to the O4W, people question if we are sacrificing our kids for the mission. Why do you send your kids to that school? Will they be educated? Won’t other negative influences affect them? Or, why would you build a house there? Are you not afraid it’s not a safe place for your children? But I challenge parents to consider their views— should the perspective to parenting be protecting our children from the world or preparing them for battle?

Psalm 127:3-5 says,

"Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward.

Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one's youth.

Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them!

He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate."

There was a shooting a few days ago; in fact, this shooting took place in a park across the street from where we are building our house in the O4W. That was sobering enough, but later I was sitting at my children’s school working on some things for the principal. My oldest son’s teacher walked through and told me this heart-wrenching story:

A boy walked up to a girl in class and said, “Your daddy died and you are going to die like him.” What a horrific thing to say, but even more so when your daddy is the one who was shot last night! The girl began weeping and collapsed in the teacher’s arms, sobbing. In turn, the teacher began crying— lost, she wasn’t sure if the boy completely fabricated a story or if there was any validity to it. The little girl— only a 2nd grader— kept saying, “He was alive when I left.”

The boy was sent out, the principal came down, the class was collectively sad— and the teacher looked up and saw Dhati Jr with his head bowed, praying. The teacher asked Dhati to continue to pray, to pray for the girl, the dad, for the kids in class, and for her.

If my job as a parent is to raise up my kids in the way they should go, to view them as arrows that will be shot out into battle— this battle in which we as Christians are actively attacking the gates of hell-- if that is my job, then I have to realize an important truth:

Arrows are not meant to be protected; they are meant to be shaped and prepared. 

Have we missed our call as Christian parents? Is our call to give them the best we can with what we have, the best education, best experiences, best opportunities, best set of friends, best clothes to help them fit in, gadgets that will best prepare them for this technological world?

Or is our call still the same one from back in Deuteronomy 6? Is it to teach them about God, inform them of His faithfulness, call them to seek Him in every scenario and to make His name known? Is it to train their hearts to seek the Lord, to depend on Him, is it to shift their dependence from me as parent to Him as Father? Is it to prepare them for battle?

I am incredibly proud of my son for turning to the Lord in a dark moment. I am grateful to the Lord for giving us, as a family, the opportunity to live in an area that requires faith daily. There are days that this call is harder than I ever imagined, and there are more days that I see His incredible grace and I feel His endless presence and I walk in His hope.

Please continue to pray for us as we prepare our Arrows in the Old Fourth Ward.

Tough Questions: The Resurrection

This is the second question/answer post in our Tough Questions series. Question (from Loretta Hazel): "Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24 all tell us about the Resurrection, but they all have some key differences in the accounts. Differences that I personally struggle to piece together to form one story. How do we explain how all 3 accounts are accurate?"

Great question. It's one that people have written entire chapters and sections of books on.  With that being said, I don’t think that a single blog post is gong to be the silver bullet that completely resolves this dilemma.  Most answers that I’ve seen and heard are basically timelines that have been constructed (which are often pretty accurate and very well put together).  The only problem that I have is that timelines don’t really help us to read the Bible with any more confidence.  I don’t just need an answer, I need to understand the process of how someone came to that answer.  I need to understand the principles behind the process.

Just to restate, your question is basically how can the resurrection accounts all be different, but all be true at the same time? Common sense tells us that there needs to be a certain amount of congruence or someone is lying.  I remember when I was younger and I knew that me and my boys were about to get into trouble, we would all get into a room and make sure the details of our story lined up so that it would be “believable."  If someone’s story doesn’t line up then it can mess it up for all of us.  Before an interrogation, get your story together.  Why didn’t the disciples have the foresight to do this?  They were all friends.  Surely they could have all gotten together and made sure everything lined up so that the truth wouldn’t be questioned.  Maybe if they all had the same copy editor we wouldn’t be struggling with this.

As I said before, there’s a host of resources that help to line up how all of the events fit together (I’ll reference some of those resources at the bottom of this page).  However, there are two quick principles that make this dilemma a little less intimidating.  I’m grateful to Robin Schumacher for clarifying these two points and making them so plain.

A Partial Report isn’t necessarily a False Report.

One thing about history is that every account of history is a partial report.  It’s impossible for a historian to record to every event that happens.  No one writes a history book and recounts the temperature outside, the color and texture of the grass, the exact amount of people in a crowd, etc.  Every historian edits.  They remove what they deem to be unnecessary events in order to highlight the other events that lend themselves to what they’re trying to communicate.

The Bible is no different.  Some authors record one trip to the tomb, others record multiple trips back and forth to the tomb.  This isn’t a sign that’s meant to move us to to discount their records and disbelieve what they say.  It’s simply a historian seeking to remove the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak.  Much like a sculptor creates a statue by removing what he deems to be excess pieces of stone, a historian always tells a partial story.

A Differing Account isn’t necessarily a False Report.

This is really just an implication of the previous point.  Just because two stories highlight different events doesn’t make one of the accounts any less true that the other.  For example, the gospel of Matthew (28:1-10) mentions that one angel speaks to the women, but in the gospel of Luke (23:56-24:12)  it states that two angels appear to the woman and speak to them.  These accounts may seem different, but it doesn’t mean that someone is lying.  It could just mean that Matthew only decided to make mention of the angel that spoke.  It doesn’t negate the fact that there may have been other angels.

Differences can either be contradictions or complements.

Really it comes down to understanding that differences aren’t always contradictions… sometimes they are complements.  Sometimes (as in the case of the resurrection accounts) they all come together to form a series of accounts that complement one another to give us a well rounded picture of all that took place.

Authors, like Luke, who were very familiar with the other gospels that had been written and decided to write another account weren’t trying to contradict the other writers… his intent in recounting the resurrection (as well as the life) of Jesus was to provide a complete picture of this amazing event.

Conclusion

The differing accounts of the resurrection are merely differing perspectives of the same accounts.  It’s the same event seen from various vantage points and relational connections.  Which at the end of the day, makes for a more believable account of the resurrection.

For instance, if every one had the exact same story, with the exact same words and the exact same vocabulary, the same people that already doubt the resurrection would still claim that this was a hoax (and their evidence would be that the story is “too tight”).  Really, at the end of the day, there is no “ideal” way to say that someone who was murdered is now alive and isn’t a zombie.

Once we get past the secondary details, we can remember that everyone was consistent with this one fact… JESUS ROSE FROM THE DEAD.  These people went to their deaths and many of them experienced death as a result of holding on to this truth.  And if you ask me, the fact that their convictions about the resurrection were written in blood should carry more weight than the myriad of convictions that are merely written on blogs.

Resources

1. A Harmony of the Gospels  (for $0.01 on Amazon)

2. Craig Blomberg – The Historical Reliability of the Gospels (You can preview much of the book on Google books.  His section on the resurrection begins on page 136 and is also on Google books in its entirety.)

3. John Wenham – The Easter Enigma (an entire book dedicated to this very question)

Which Way Should I Go?

Romans 12:1-2 is a passage most often discussed with an emphasis on being a living sacrifice. But what does that look like? The fact that we are living means that there is a day to day aspect to this sacrifice. I want to bring to your attention the little four letter word that comes up far more often in the daily lives of believers: will. How often do we ask "What is God's will for my life?" or "What does He want me to do in this situation?" Far too often we think of God's will for our lives as some kind of decision-making assistant or crisis removal service.

So where can we look for examples of people truly following God's will? We should look to the Bible. From the beginning to the end we find accounts of God's interaction with humanity and creation.

The Book of Acts is a record of the acts of the Holy Spirit at work with the beginning of the church and the passionate followers of Christ including Paul and Timothy. In Acts 15 we read that there are false teachers already distorting the gospel and telling the non-Jews that they must first live like Jews in order to be followers of Christ. This includes the painful obedience of circumcision. So the church leaders get together and produce a letter to tell the believers this is not necessary to follow Jesus. Paul and Timothy are taking this news to believers, yet Paul chooses to have Timothy circumcised. Why? Let's read on.

Acts 16:6-7 is even more perplexing, for it tells us that God forbids them to share the gospel in Asia and then even specific cities. Why would God tell them to not share the gospel there?

The end result of this advancement onward is Paul and Timothy arriving in Philippi. This city is a big deal in the region as well as a Roman colony. What happens here is confusing. They share the gospel and in the process a demon-possessed girl is heckling them for days. Paul finally casts the demon out but instead of receiving praise they are beaten and thrown in prison. At this point surely Paul and Timothy could be thinking that they should have spent more time in one of the places the Holy Spirit led them away from. Timothy could be upset that he left to follow Paul, was even circumcised, just to end up in jail.

Then God shows up. He shakes the ground and all the prison gates are opened. God even removed all their shackles. The jailer wakes up and realizes he will be executed for letting the prisoners free so he goes to kill himself. Paul and Timothy alert him to see that no prisoner has left. This is obviously an even more miraculous thing than the gates and shackles being opened, because what prisoner is going to stay put in a chance like that?

The jailer takes Paul and Timothy to his house and not only does he accept Christ, but so does his whole family.

Our lives will most definitely not match this story exactly, but what I want to point out is that so very little of it makes sense to our minds. There is only one good explanation: Paul and Timothy had a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit was leading them day by day along a path that only God can see.

Now back to you and me. If you are going to buy a big price item or even just to out to eat at a restaurant, you seek out three types of data. You look up people's reviews and you read what the company says themselves. Finally, you go and experience it for yourself. This is exactly how we are to know God and know His will for our lives. Read His Word, seek healthy Christian community, and seek His face.

God's will for your life is summed up in the greatest commandments: love God and love Others. Seek The Lord wildly and live actively on mission with Him. Don't live for God, live with God. He desires to know you and be known intimately.

Tough Questions: Violence in the Old Testament

This is the first question/answer post in our Tough Questions series. A few months ago, we preached through the book of Judges at Blueprint.  If you’ve ever read through the book you know that there are some tough things to grapple with.  In my opinion, there’s nothing more difficult to wrestle with than reconciling God’s goodness with His apparent command of mass genocide of entire nations.  How could a loving God do something like this?  How could He not only kill innocent people that haven’t done anything wrong, but also enlist other people (namely the Israelities) to be accomplices in this act?  Is it a contradiction for Him to command His people not to murder but then order them to kill people?  How could God’s people be holy while they carry out a decree like this?

See what I mean?  Lots of questions (difficult questions) come to mind and most of those questions appear from reading the first two pages.  My goal isn’t to answer all of these questions exhaustively (because it would take more than an 1000 word blog post to do that).  My goal, however, is to help you understand a few truths that should help you connect the dots (or at least move some roadblocks that exist) between God’s goodness and His command for His people at this specific juncture.  By asking and answering three questions I hope to get to the underlying assumptions that keep us from reconciling these two truths.

Who has the right to decide to end a human life?

I think that before we begin making judgments on what’s good or evil, the first question that we have to ask is who has the right to end a human life?  We immediately look to ourselves and other humans and recognize that we don’t have that right.  That’s why murder is something that is so appalling.  We look at murderers as people who “stole” someone else’s right to live.  Many times you’ll hear people say things like, “you had no right to take his life.”

Which leads me to my point: if we as humans don’t have the right to determine who lives and who dies, then who does?  Really, the only person with the right to determine who lives is the Author of Life Himself.  Hebrews 1:3 says that God sustains all things by His powerful word.  Psalms 104:10-14 talks about how God nurtures the earth and provides the rain and water that brings the vegetation in the earth.  So we see that God both directly (by sustaining our every breath) and indirectly (by providing the earth with everything we need to survive) keeps each and every one of alive daily.  If He were to stop producing oxygen for an hour, the whole world would die.  God doesn’t just wind the clock and let all of us carry on in our life, He actively gives us every breath, He is actively engaged in every heartbeat.  God decides second to second, minute to minute, and hour to hour who lives and who dies.

In a nutshell, God Himself has the right to determine who lives and who dies because He is both the creator and sustainer of life.  If you’re discontent with this, then the question becomes, if God doesn’t have that right... then who should?

Who sets the standard for what is worthy of life and death?

Since God created and sustains our life, then He is the one who determines the standard by which life and death are “earned”.  This is something that you and I praise and are grateful for in every judge.  It’s a concept of justice.  Someone who has power and authority and uses this authority to uphold a standard of good.

God’s command to Israel to wipe out a nation wasn’t something that God determined would be done by His “favorite” nation to a nation that He liked less.  In Deuteronomy 9:4-6 God tells Israel that He is going to drive out the nation because of their unrighteousness (not because of Israel’s righteousness).  God is not practicing favoritism.  God is not a colonialist that is wiping out the Native Americans so that “His people” can possess the best land.  God is a just judge who is (in His infinite wisdom) using sinful people to judge a nation that’s rebelled against Him.

Before we start to cry out that this is unfair, and that the Israelities have it good, let’s remember that God (because He is just) does the exact same thing to the Israelities as they progress in their unrighteousness.  In the book of Judges, time and time again God turns them over to another wicked nation because of their sinfulness.  The book of Habbakuk is a conversation between God and an Israelite.  The Israelite begins the book and is appalled that God is using a wicked nation to enact justice on the Israelites, but by the end He begins to understand that God is just and has the right to govern His creation how He chooses.

Does God have an obligation to keep us alive?

If anything both of these truths should cause us to reflect on the fact that because of our sin, we have earned death (Romans 3:23, 6:23).  God has no obligation to keep any of us alive.  Every breath that we take is a gift from God, and we shouldn’t assume that just because God’s justice doesn’t take place immediately that it’s not deserved (Romans 2:4; 2 Peter 3:8-10).  God’s continuous patience with us is meant to lead us to repentance.  Every breath that we take is a gift of grace.  If he were to judge us for our sin we all would have been gone a long time ago.

On that day when God decides that our life will end (regardless of the means that our death comes about), one thing that we’ll all be forced to remember is that God was extremely gracious for all of the days that He granted us.  Understanding this truth should give us a new perspective on how we spend our days (especially how we acknowledge God each morning).

A brief word to the two types of people who may be reading this blog:

Like I said before, you’ll be hard pressed to find a comprehensive answer on this blog or any blog.  For the person that is doubting and a skeptic this may not be sufficient proof because the underlying assumption that we haven’t dealt with is “is God good?”.  If you come to the table with the assumption that God is wicked, then there are much more extensive works that could help you reconcile some of the apparent paradoxes that you find.  My encouragement, however, would be to start reading the Bible and look at the patience with which God deals with His people.  Look at the gross ways they sin against Him and how much self-control He has.  Ask yourself, if you had no limits on your power and there was no one to judge you or restrain you from retaliation, how would you exercise that power towards people that offended you?  Compare your response to God’s and let me know who is more gracious, more patient.

For the person who begins with a devotion to God and has the underlying assumption that God is good and just has trouble connecting the dots, I hope this helped.  This is a good starting point, but it may not answer all of your questions either.  My hope and prayer that this will help to ease a little of the tension and cringing that comes as you read and try to explain these portions of Scripture.

The Color of Gratitude

If you wouldn’t mind actually, can you pray for my friend Leland? Last week Leland was fly fishing. As he drew back his fishing rod the wind suddenly caught the fishing line and his fish hook whipped towards him and sunk straight into the centre of his pupil. And as if that wasn’t bad enough the fish hook was barbed. A barbed fish hook sunk bulls-eye into a human eye . . . let’s just say I don’t need to see you cringing to know you’re cringing. Leland is currently out of the hospital but now that the high from the pain killers and well-wishes from family and friends have worn off, he’s dealing with the stark reality that he might not regain sight in his right eye. If the eye doesn’t heal properly he may never be allowed to drive again. At the end of a recent email updating us on how he was doing, Leland wrote: “Hope this message finds you grateful for who you are and what you have.” Grateful.

I’m coming to believe gratitude is a true life-changer. My gratitude began to really take off when I moved to Saudi Arabia two years ago to work as a teacher. For starters, I’m from Canada where there is a lot of green. Now I live in Saudi Arabia where there is a lot of … not green. When you live in the middle of the desert, beige isn’t just the new green, it’s the new everything. You can’t imagine how grateful I now am to come from a country where green things grow. When I lived in Canada green was a given, now it’s a gift.

My gratitude for my Canadian citizenship and education grew when I saw the many expatriate workers who come from other countries such as Pakistan, Afghanistan, India or Nepal to earn more money in Saudi Arabia. And yet they still earn so much less than I do. When I lived in Canada my job and salary was a given, now it’s a gift.

And I have to say, it feels different when I read about another bomb killing fifty-three people in Iraq now that I am living in a country that borders that chaos rather than living in a country across the Atlantic Ocean. Let me be clear: I’m not suffering at all because of what is happening in Iraq (or Syria). But there is something to be said about proximity; to a smaller degree you more easily understand “that could be me” the closer you are to the violence. And that small degree will change you. When I lived in Canada peace was a given, now it’s a gift.

Can I be honest with you? I don’t really enjoy living in Saudi Arabia, but there is one undeniable benefit that has taken place within me as a result of living here: my gratitude has skyrocketed through the roof compared to what it was before.

I’m fascinated with colors because the way we see colors is a complete paradox. A quick explanation: white light contains all the colors of the color spectrum (which, incidentally, makes Jesus’ statement “I am the light of the world” pretty darn cool!) When light comes in contact with an object, all of the colors within the light are absorbed by the object—all of the colors expect one. The color that isn’t absorbed reflects off the object and shoots into our eye and that’s the color we see. So in truth, that “red apple” you ate for lunch today wasn’t red at all, in fact, it was every color except red. Basically, you ate an anti-red apple. Do you see the paradox of how we see color? The colors we see aren’t the colors an object is holding onto, but the colors an object is letting go of and reflecting out into the world.

All of this color science makes me think of gratitude. I’m going to venture a guess and say one of the reasons we aren’t more grateful than we should be is because we, consciously or subconsciously, believe we are in control (or worse, the source) of the gifts God has given us.

And so in our self-deception we mistakenly label something as a “given” of life when it is actually an amazing gift we receive each day that, for all we know, might not be around tomorrow. As Leland has recently discovered, our eyesight is a gift, not a given. And sometimes it takes a barbed fish hook to sink through the middle of our pupil for us to see the truth: that we aren’t in control of the many gifts God gives us.

The irony of those things we often call “givens” is that we so easily forget they are exactly that: given. When I say thank you to God, or someone else, in essence I am saying, “This thing didn’t come from me. It came from someone else and it’s now being given to me.” Gratitude is a reminder that we don’t control the gifts God has given us. We are stewards, not owners.

I don’t think God wants us to beat ourselves up because we aren’t as grateful as we should be. I don’t believe he wants us to paw the ground with our feet in bashful silence for being wealthier than ninety-eight percent of the world’s population (and if you are able to read this, you most likely are). And I don’t imagine God wants us to feel guilty because we don’t live within a war-torn country. I think he wants us to be grateful, and then act on that gratitude. We won’t all respond in the same way, but he has taught us and will teach us how to color this world with the beauty and supremacy of his love.

I have a feeling that coloring begins with gratitude, and gratitude begins with restored sight. Jesus has a habit of first blinding people (with mud or barbed fish hooks) before their vision is restored. The restoration isn’t always a physical vision, but a vision that sees the truth about our relationship with the gifts of God and the God of gifts: that we control neither. Because the colors we see aren’t the colors an object is holding onto, but the colors an object is letting go of and reflecting out into the world. May the same be true for how we respond to all the gifts God has given us.

Why I Serve

There are so many reasons why a person might choose to serve. Starting off, it’s Biblical. The Bible challenges, encourages, and commands us to various types of service, and it is central to the Gospel message. Jesus perfectly sets the example of service in His death on the cross. As we strive to look more like Jesus, it is only natural that we would become servants as well. "And whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”-- Mark 10:44-45

Serving as a host and greeter for Blueprint Church for the past two years has been great. It began as something I signed up for because of the truth above. I knew that God had challenged me to serve in all areas of life, and specifically to contribute to my local church. The host team just seemed like a natural fit. It wasn’t that hard to me-- just smile, welcome people, and guide them to their seats, right? I learned that it wasn’t that easy; I have to say that it is actually pretty awkward and unnatural to go up to people you don’t know, to start up a random conversation, just as it is kind of strange to have a muted battle with people (both members and non-members) who clearly do not want to sit where you’ve asked them to. I also didn’t guess that it would be so frustrating to see first time visitors leave because there are no available seats or that serving as a host would help me to start to understand the way that the Lord has wired me.

Throughout my time as a host, Blueprint has transformed from the church I attend, to being the church I am a part of and where I contribute. Blueprint is my church. I care about what is going on, I care that people sometimes cannot find seats to sit in, I care that people visit at times and don’t feel welcome, and honestly, I feel responsible. No, I don’t feel responsible in the same way that the lead pastor is, but in the sense that I want to do something about the needs or problems that I see.

In a sense, serving once a month as a greeter has challenged me to serve regularly. When the church became my church, I began to care more about church initiatives and efforts, and it wasn’t what they’re doing anymore, but it became what WE are doing. Gradually, my missional community wasn’t something I passively participated in or another small group that wasn’t “my cup of tea” anymore, but I fought to genuinely plug in to the family the Lord placed me around. I began to view the elders and leaders of Blueprint as people who weren’t in their positions solely to give (their time, energy, focus) to others, but, in fact, as people who desperately needed and need to be served and encouraged as well. I realized my contribution was needed frequently, not just when I was on the schedule to greet.

Thanks to being plugged in, things have changed for me. Though I am encouraged greatly by the leadership and members of Blueprint, that really is not the main focus. I just want to be a faithful servant to and with the family the Lord has graciously given me in Blueprint Church.

To all the family and friends of Blueprint: How does Mark 10:44-45 challenge you as it relates to our church?

God, You're Late

“Don’t let sin dim out God’s beauty, let God’s beauty dim out sin.”

~John Martyn

My heart was pierced with conviction when I heard Pastor John M. utter these words last week. I could not help but reflect on the many times I’ve carved out a space for sin to dwell comfortably. My ears were burning and my eyes watered. I wanted him to stop preaching to me because I knew I was responsible for the truth God had already been speaking to my heart. Nevertheless,  he continued, “If there are areas in your life where you place conditions on God’s rule, it’s probably an idol.”

Ouch, I thought, I knew that prayer all too well. For me it sounded like this:

Lord, you can do whatever you want with my life, just please bring me a husband.

This unfulfilled longing has led me to build barriers between myself and God, leading to sin, leading to idolatry. Just a few weeks ago I spoke with a group of women here at Blueprint about my journey to a life where desire and contentment coexist . Here’s a snippet of the inner monologue I shared with them:

I hate being late for things. Most who know me would likely laugh at that statement because strangely enough, I have always struggled to be on time. It is literally an effort I have to invite others into in order to accomplish. Of all the things to be late for, the worst was undoubtedly my very own life. Two years ago I was turning 27 and that was my self- induced deadline for life as I thought it should be to begin. I was raised by married people. My parents have been married for 30 years and both sets of grandparents have persevered one another’s quirks and irks well beyond 55 years.  I had never considered singleness as a part of my life after my deadline of 27.

Why 27? By 27, my mother had moved up the corporate escalator enough to have an article in the local newspaper featuring her professional and personal triumphs: “27- year old Burton has taken the company's marketing to the next level while juggling the demands of being a full- time wife and mother.”

The article is guarded by a plastic cover in a book of memoirs exuding my grandparents' pride in my mom. And I of course always wanted to make them all just as proud with my own accomplishments and by starting my own family.

Two years later, I’m realizing how incredibly angry I have been with the Lord. I decided, I can serve you and others, but we do not need to communicate. In my heart, I’ve been waving my fist at God, “You’re late!"

Perhaps truly succumbing to God’s beauty would subside the anger and disappointment that only pushed me farther away from the God I love. Can you imagine what David must of known and believed about God to say in Psalm 27:4, “One thing that I have asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon his the beauty of the Lord and inquire in his temple”?

Just one thing David, really? David actually asked the Lord for many things. He went to God with all of his desires, but there was only one thing that captured his heart enough for him to ‘pursue’ it, God’s beauty. As hard as it may be to live day by day with a longing unfulfilled, I am convinced that there is no greater thing than to rest in all that I have been given in Christ Jesus.

According to Ephesians 1 I am wealthy beyond measure. In Christ, I have: redemption through his blood, forgiveness of sin, adoption into His family, knowledge of the mystery of his will, his grace lavished on me with wisdom, His Holy Spirit, and most significantly a promise of eternity with this beautiful God. His beauty is worth seeking!

I know others may not share my exact discontentment but as sure as blood pumps through your veins there is guarantee of a longing unfulfilled. In those moments, run only to God, for his beauty is the only thing that dims the illusional bright lights of sin and idolatry. The hymnist said it best,

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,

Look full in His wonderful face,

And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,

In the light of His glory and grace.

Fair-Weather Friend

Blueprint family member Melody Gardner shares how the Circles series has affected her. As I sat Sunday after Sunday listening to the story of Gideon, I confess I would think, “I relate to that point, but not most of what is being preached.” It was not until the last sermon in the series that the veil over my eyes fell and I saw myself clearly—I am an Israelite at heart!

When I think about my relationship with the Lord today, I don’t see where I am blatantly, intentionally sinning against Him. But when I take a closer look, I must conclude that I don’t treat Him very well. I am a fair-weather friend at best.

While I know that spending quality time with God is of the utmost importance, the reason I forsake some of those times is I think our relationship has to do mostly with me; that I am somehow ok if I skip this time, but that is where I err. Yes, spending time with Jesus will help me know what is true, which hopefully shapes the way I think about God and see my life. But if I was to lose my Bible today and not gain access to another one for the rest of my life, I think I would know enough about the Lord to live a life pleasing to Him; one lived by faith.

Spending time with God can’t be solely for the reason above. We can't know everything, but we can know enough to get by under our own standards. So why do we spend time with the God of the universe? Because He deserves our devotion! When you think about your salvation story, if you are honest you will conclude that you were not looking for God. You either grew up in a family that introduced you to Him or you encountered someone along the way who told you about Him. None of use initially sought after God; God sought after us!

What then does the Bible say for us to do once He has found us and we are His?

"But from there you will seek the Lord your God and you will find him, if you search after him with all your heart and with all your soul." - Deuteronomy 4:29

"If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land." - 2 Chronicles 7:14

“Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon." - Isaiah 55:6-7 

"I love those who love me, and those who seek me diligently find me." - Proverbs 8:17

"Seek the Lord and his strength; seek his presence continually!" - 1 Chronicles 16:11

"And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him." - Hebrews 11:6

"And those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek you." - Psalm 9:10

"Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded." - James 4:8

The only reason we seek the Lord is because He first sought us. The only reason we can love God is because He first loved us (1 John 4:19). The only response anyone could have after sitting through four powerful sermons on “the condition of the heart of the believer” is repentance. After sermon four I hugged my friend beside me and cried and confessed that I treat God like crap! He deserves my complete devotion and I give Him my scraps at best. What hope do I have that this pattern will change?—Jesus! Jesus is my hope and He is your hope.

Let’s hope in Christ, the author and perfecter of faith. Consider what Jesus endured for those of us who reject Him and let His loving, selfless actions give us hope and strength to finish strong (Hebrews 12:1-3).

"What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!" - Romans 7:24-25

Amen.

Tough Questions: Intro

For most people, the Bible is intimidating.  When I think about how to justify that statement, two truths come to mind.  One truth is pretty objective and the second is more subjective. Truth 1) The Bible is the best-selling and most distributed book of all time.  With estimates of over 6 billion Bibles sold (not counting all of the free digital copies available), the distribution of the Bible dwarfs any other book that has ever existed.  Simply put, people have access to the Bible.  Everyone reading this blog can get to a Bible with just a few keystrokes.  We have the Bible.

Truth 2) While there’s no hard data to substantiate this claim, I would bet that there’s no other book that readers have failed to read in its entirety.  People partially and half-read a lot of books, but I would guess that this happens more frequently with the Bible than any other book.

Simply put, the Bible is intimidating.  This intimidation often leads to insecurity when it comes to approaching to the Bible.  And unfortunately, insecurity eventually leads to inactivity.

Through the course of this summer, however, our desire is that we would use this blog to reverse that trend.  We want to increase your activity in Bible reading by removing the insecurities that comes with approaching the Bible.  If we can remove the insecurity then maybe it will be less intimidating and we’ll see more involvement.

Most of the Bible is Pretty Clear

Most of the Bible is straightforward and clear cut. The Bible isn’t a book full of riddles.  The Bible is God’s revelation to the world.  It’s a book that was written in common language by 40 different men over the course of about 1500 years.  There’s one story line, one thread, and one hero that helps us fit the whole Bible together.  This book is a story about mankind being estranged from their Father (the God of the Universe) because we’ve willingly turned our back on Him in pursuit of other things.  This God has pursued us relentlessly, showing us in one act— the crucifixion of His Son Jesus— both (1) His hatred for sin and (2) His love for His people.  The Bible is a book about Jesus’ work to save sinners and restore them back to an intimate and fulfilling relationship with God.  Every book of the Bible points to this end (c.f. Luke 24, John 5:39).  Seems pretty simple, right?

Hard to Understand

However, while most of the Bible is simple, straightforward, and easy to understand, there are certain things that are confusing.  You have the whole concept of the Trinity (somehow God is one person yet three at the same time?).  Not to mention the apparent double talk that exists.  There are certain verses of the Bible talk about salvation as completely an act of God (God draws men to Himself), yet somehow God is just in holding people responsible for their rejection of Him.  Also, there’s a story of a guy who sacrifices His child to God (Judges 10-11), laws in Leviticus that tell us not wear polyester (Leviticus 19:19), and that eating clam chowder is an abomination (Leviticus 11:9-12).  In the New Testament it even seems like the apostle Paul (the greatest missionary other than Jesus) tells men that they can’t grow their hair long and that women shouldn’t get buzz cuts.  In a nutshell, while most of the Bible is simple, straightforward, and clear, all of it isn’t so.

Easy to Understand, Hard to Accept

There are other things in the Bible that are pretty straightforward and easy to understand, but they’re just hard to accept.  For example, how can a loving God send people to hell for eternity?  How can a loving God order an apparent genocide of tens of thousands of people?  How can this God seemingly condone slavery, but condemn homosexuality?  (Doesn’t that seem backwards from the world that we live in?  I mean, modern society has “evolved” to the point of condemning slavery and condoning sexual “freedom”… didn’t God get the memo?)  That’s just the tip of the iceberg.  There are a lot of things that are clear in the Bible, but leave us feeling like God is anything but loving.  There are things we read that make it seem as if God is cold and apathetic.  It’s bad enough that there are things that aren’t clear, but even the things that are clear are hard to accept.

There Are Answers, But There Aren't Always Easy Ones

If the Bible isn’t confusing enough, we’ve come to know that life itself rarely pans out the way that we hoped that it would.  God does things that puzzle us.  People who don’t want to have kids have them all the time, while people that want kids struggle for years to conceive or adopt.  The wicked in this world prosper while it seems like the good guys finish list.  It’s not just the Bible that’s a mystery— life itself is a mystery. God is a mystery.  The Bible is written to help us to know this great God.  Where else can we go to understand God?  Where else can we go to make sense of why God allows hard times to come to people that love Him?  The only way that we can make sense of this is if God Himself tells us why He does these things.  In the Bible, He does.  He’s not trying to hide Himself.  He’s eager to make Himself available to us.

While the Bible does answer some of the tensions, the Bible won’t answer every tension.  There are certain things that are reserved for God and God alone.  While there are certain things that He won’t ever let us in on, there are other things that He has revealed clearly and we’re to spend our time trying to obey.

Some of the answers don’t close the loop as tight as we would like it.  God is incomprehensible— it’s impossible to grasp Him fully.  His ways are higher than ours.  Oftentimes God’s work makes much more sense in hindsight than it does in foresight.  In this, we learn that success is not a total and complete knowledge of God’s will, but total and complete trust in it.

Over the course of the next few months, we’ll use the blog to seek to answer a few “tough” questions.  I use the quotes around tough because with each one that we answer, my hope is that you see that things aren’t as inconsistent and intimidating at first glance.

We don’t want to dream up these questions or answer questions that you aren’t asking.  We want this to be extremely practical.  We want this to be a place where you can get answers to the questions you come across as you are trying to explain God to people who don’t know Him or misunderstand Him, or even questions you have yourself.

So let’s begin… who’s got the first question? Leave a comment below!

How To Make An Unlikely Hero

As we're making our way through the book of Judges during our Circles series, one of the heroes we come across is Gideon. Well, he's sort-of a hero. Gideon wasn’t perfect, by any means. One of the last things the Bible tells us about him was that while he refused the Israelites’ offer to make him king and told them God alone was their king, he then made a golden ephod– which was perhaps not meant to be an idol, but became one that the Israelites, including Gideon’s family, worshipped. That always left a sour taste in mouth about ol’ Gideon. But that’s not the last time we read about him in Scripture. He shows up, hundreds of years and pages later, in Hebrews 11, where the writer commends him for his faith. So if God’s not holding that against him (and he knows Gideon way better than I do), I think I should let it go, too– still keeping in mind how one turn away from God can taint a legacy of faithfulness.

But, as I said, Gideon doesn’t strike me as a happy-go-lucky guy. His heroics and faithfulness were not results of his character or qualifications; they were the results of God choosing an ornery character and qualifying a cowardly skeptic. God didn’t use Gideon because he was a hero. God made Gideon a hero. In Judges 6-8, we see how.

1. God expected more of Gideon than he expected of himself. When God called him to be a deliverer, Gideon– like Moses before him– made excuses. I imagine his tone as whiny and his shoulders drooping as he tells God, “I’m the weakest of the weak. You don’t want me.” Thankfully, God doesn’t fall for our excuses. He made Gideon to take a stand on the battlefield, not to hide in a winepress. So He came to Gideon where he was and told him how He was going to use him: not to protect just his family’s harvest, but to protect and avenge the entire nation of Israel.

I’m so glad God hasn’t accepted my excuses– that He’s called me, on several occasions, to be so much more than I thought I could be. He does it for all of us. Whether our excuses make Him laugh or smile or bring tears to His eyes, He loves us enough to use us in spite of what we perceive our limitations to be. We’re the only ones who believe our excuses.

2.  God injected Gideon with confidence. I love how the Angel of the Lord greets Gideon as “Mighty Warrior,” when the best name I would’ve probably come up with for him would be “Cowardly Farmer.” From the beginning, God sees Gideon as the person he’s going to become with God’s help, not the person he is on his own– and He wants Gideon to see that man, too. Despite Gideon’s excuses, questions, and requests for signs, God keeps feeding his confidence. He tells Gideon He is with him, that Gideon is strong, that he will beat the oppressive Midianites, and not to be afraid. God even humors Gideon’s whole fleece-test-thing to reassure him.

But before He sends Gideon off to stand against the Midianites, He gives Gideon a test of his own: take down his family’s idols. Whaddayaknow, Gideon does it! He displayed a bit of cowardice by doing it at night when no one would see, but he did it successfully. He tore down the altar of Baal and the Asherah pole, then built a different altar out of those ruins and offered a sacrifice to the true God. When the Baal worshippers found out, they wanted to kill him, but Gideon’s dad, to whom the altar belonged, was like, “Pshaw! If Baal’s a real god, let him stick up for himself.” And obviously, that didn’t happen. Gideon got the job done, and survived!

Even after Gideon’s army was assembled and they were preparing for battle, God was still all about giving His chosen leader the confidence he needed. He sent Gideon to the edge of the enemy camp to listen to the conversations of the Midianite soldiers. Guess what? The very conversation Gideon overheard was one where two enemy soldiers believed God was going to give him– Gideon– victory over the whole camp.

Have you ever looked back to think about how God has reassured you and given you confidence for the things you were about to accomplish or the trials you were about to face? He knows our fears, weaknesses, and insecurities. He doesn’t accept our excuses, but he is sensitive to what we need. He can make unlikely heroes out of any of us.

 

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

God's Work Outlives His Workers

The book of Judges opens with the five most powerful and chilling words of any other book in the Bible: After the death of Joshua… I love it because for many of us, death is a conclusion; however, in this case, death was merely an introduction to God’s continued work. God’s work always outlives His workers. The Bible is full of great little tidbits like this (that we often gloss over) in order to remind us that this book is a story about God, not us. One of the greatest military commanders in the history of Israel has five words written about his death. It’s not even a complete sentence. It’s a transition phrase that merely serves as the backdrop to move us along in the story.

A Sobering Reality

This is the way it’s been (for Adam, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, etc.) and one day the same will be true of you. One day, your name will be preceded by the words “after the death of…” When this happens, there will be people that mourn for you; however, one day (and a lot sooner than you think) the mourning will end, life will go on, but more importantly God will still be hard at work in this world… without you. People will still seek God. If you’re a preacher, people will still be able to hear a “word from God” regardless if you (their favorite preacher) are gone.

A Sobering Relief

While this may sound morbid, it’s really a good thing for at least two reasons. First, there’s great comfort in knowing that God’s work will continue. Regardless of how much people are dependent on you right now, one day they will learn that God’s work is so much bigger than the part that you play in it. If they take God’s work for granted now because they’re enamored with you, we take relief in that one day they’ll see God a little clearer.

Second, this truth enables us to breathe a little freer today, knowing that as sure as God’s work will continue without you one day; even today, success isn’t dependent on your labor. Jesus has already guaranteed that God’s work in the world will be successful (see John 17:1-5). You and I merely get to play a part in it. A part. None of us are Atlas, tasked with the burden of carrying the world on our shoulders. We are free to fail, free to make mistakes, free to play our part in God’s story. Exhale and enjoy your day.

A Sobering Responsibility

If all of this is true, that God’s work will in fact outlive His workers, then our task is to live in light of this truth even today. The one thing that will be common for all of us is that when death knocks on our front door, it’ll feel like the friend that came to pick you up and you just got out of the shower. Very few of us will feel like we’re dressed, ready, and have accomplished everything that was on our plates.

Knowing that this will come soon and our lives will feel like they’re cut short, our responsibility is to prepare those that come behind us for life in this world without us. One day we will go, but people will have the same responsibility to God that we had while living: spending our lives to increase His fame in the world among those who don’t know Him or don’t care to know Him (which is often one in the same). Our lives are best spent preparing those who come behind us for life in the world without us.

In the opening of Judges, the rest of the first sentence is just as powerful as the introduction.

After the death of Joshua… the people of Israel inquired of the Lord.

Joshua was gone, but the people that lived on knew exactly what to do next. How are you doing that today?

Would your kids know how to navigate their relationship with God if today was the last day they had you to show them? How about your roommates? Your friends? Your spouse?

One day, they are going to have to navigate life in this world without you. Will God’s work continue in their lives? I hope that you’ll use today to ensure that it does.

What Does "Circles" Mean?

It was just another day in my Old Testament Historical Literature class. I was taking notes and keeping a literal tally of how many times my professor said "interesting dynamics," his pet phrase. At some point during the class, my professor turned to the dry-erase board behind him and drew a large spiral. "This," he said. "is the book of Judges."

Judges is a book of cycles (hence why we're calling our current sermon series Circles). We shouldn't think of these cycles as individual seasons that directly correlate to seasons in our own lives, but more like a spiral: a series of interconnected circles that move in a direction. As Dhati pointed out in Sunday's sermon, we can specifically see the cycles in the book of Judges.

Judges is a historical narrative; it tells a story. It's not just a metaphor from which we can draw simple applications to our lives. The author of Judges recorded real accounts of real people during this time. So when we read Judges, it's essential to consider what was going on in the nation of Israel at this time. This is where we see the spiral come in, the circles-- the pattern of Israel's state as God's people is circular. There are 7 cycles in Judges, and during each cycle, we can see the nation of Israel going through 5 stages in how they relate to God. These stages are: Sin, Servitude, Supplication, Salvation, and Silence.

Sin. We know that the period of the Judges was a time when "everyone did what was right in his own eyes." (Judges 17:6) After wandering in the wilderness and then fighting to claim their promised land, the Israelites were now settled in their own land, in a time of relative peace. And with this rest came complacency and a lack of staying committed to God. Idolatry became rampant, as many of the Israelites traded in worshipping the God who had delivered them from Egypt for the fake gods of their Canaanite neighbors. There was also vast injustice. People were not treating one another as valuable, but were exploiting one another for selfish gain. Plainly and simply, they were being disobedient to God.

Servitude. God isn't passive towards sin. He takes the disobedience of His children seriously. Throughout Judges, when the culture of the nation of Israel becomes one of unrepentant sin, we see God allowing them to be at the mercy of some other nation that wants to subdue or conquer them. They are harassed, attacked, violated, indentured. God uses the Midianites, the Amalekites, and all the other "-ites" to remind the people of Him, their Rescuer.

Supplication. The people, in their desperation, cry out to God. He has rescued, restored, and redeemed them before, so their circumstances remind them of the faith in Him they were supposed to have in the first place. They repent of their sin and ask God to save them from their servitude.

Salvation. Thankfully, even "if we are faithless, He remains faithful—for He cannot deny Himself." (2 Timothy 2:13). Over and over again, we see God providing a judge to help deliver the people from their oppressors. God is attentive to the cries of Israel, and He rescues them. This is a beautiful picture of God's grace and mercy. The people didn't deserve salvation, but out of His love for His people and His passion for His name, God does what He doesn't have to. He is faithful and mighty to save.

Silence. Once God saves His people, peace reigns again. There is rest. Everything looks good-- people are happy and obedient. But over time, they grow complacent again. Sin creeps in. And the cycle begins again.

These are the stages of each cycle. Each cycle is a similar process, but as time progresses, we see that the cycles form not just a spiral, but a downward spiral. Each judge seems to be a little worse than the one before, each cycle a little more infused with sin and chaos. Israel is not headed in a good direction.

Thankfully, God once again shows Himself faithful when He raises up Samuel as a prophet, ushering in a much better (but far from perfect) time in Israel's history.

Judges has a lot to teach us, but like any book of the Bible, we must study it for what it says, not for what we imagine it says to fit our lives. We encourage you to read the book through for yourself during this series and to learn more about Judges by listening to this previous sermon from Pastor John O.

Breaking Free

The Cycle The moment I turned the keys in the ignition of my first car, I felt free. It was a blue ‘97 Ford Contour, a hand-me-down from my mom. I was 16, a junior in high school, and my license had been burning a hole in my billfold for several months. I adjusted the mirrors, the seat, and the volume (Mom never let the music be loud enough to actually hear the words). I put it in drive. This was the freedom that I’d been anticipating for years. I could go where I wanted, when I wanted (to a certain extent, of course), and I didn’t have to depend on my parents to take me there.

But I wasn’t really free. When you get a license, a vehicle, and gas money, you are free from staying put, but you now have to abide by the rules of the road: signs, traffic lights, etc.

That’s the pattern of human freedom. Whenever you become free from something, you become enslaved to something else.

When I graduated from high school, I thought I’d be free— free from the drama, the monotonous schedule, the busy work. Then I went to college. And there was more independence, but also more responsibility. When I graduated from college, I really thought this time I’d finally be free— free from homework and having people tell me what to read; finally free to do what I wanted with my life.

Wrong again. You have to work to gain experience, money, and time to build up to what you actually want to do with your life. And even then, there will always be something or someone that determines how you live. There's no escaping the cycle.

Breaking Free

Freedom is tricky. What we perceive as freedom in this life is really just moving from one enslavement— one master— to another. Some are better than others, that’s for sure. But the only way we can experience true freedom is in Christ. John 8:31-36 says:

“So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, ’If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’ They answered him, ’We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?’

Jesus answered them, ’Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.’ 

Like the disciples, sometimes we don't realize we're enslaved to something-- our sin, our culture, our idols. Yet Jesus says if we sin-- which we all do-- we are slaves to sin. BUT He can set us from from sin and our slavery to it.

Romans 6:20-23 goes on to say that if we are freed from sin, we become slaves of God. So how is being a slave being free indeed?

There is no one more free than a slave of God. Freedom, at its core, is the opportunity to be who you want to be. There is a longing in every person's soul, whether or not they ever realize or acknowledge it, to be who they were created to be. When we become slaves of God, He pours out into us, by His Son and through His Spirit, the ability to be who we were created to be and to live forever as that person, in His presence. We were all created to be genuine worshippers of the Most High God.

True freedom is realized when my desire for who I want to be becomes the desire to be who I was created to be. That is when the freedom on the horizon becomes a reality instead of a mirage. After all the fake outs, we know that one day we will finally be free.

God Called Me To Cut My Hair

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

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

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

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

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

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

Before.

After.

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

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

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

Passion: God Risen For Us

Hope. It echoed through the morning air as the women reached Peter and John and the rest, stammering with breathless excitement. "I have seen the Lord!"

"He's alive! Jesus is alive!"

The darkness, sorrow, fear, heartbreak, confusion, and doubt were suddenly shattered. Hope. A few bolted for the tomb, terrified and desperate for what they might find or not find. They found the stone rolled away, the tomb empty. And they believed.

Later, most of the disciples were together when their eyes beheld a sight none of them would ever forget. They saw Him with their own eyes. They saw, and other followers here and there saw, and over time great gatherings of people saw. Him. Their hope. Their risen victory.

The scars on His skin. The smile on His face. They could reach out and touch Him. The death they thought had destroyed their world was not a lingering reality. It was past. It did not last. It was finished. The reality that endured was standing in front of them. Life. The life that destroyed their world and made it new.

Jesus was alive. Jesus is alive. When we stake our lives on Him, our enduring reality is true life. Death cannot hold us because it could not hold Him.

Every morning, not just once a year, we are reminded of this reality. The rising sun. Fog ascending from the creek or the pond or the lake. The bustle of life-- whether birds chirping or cars starting. Every day, life begins anew. The night does not have the last word. There is victory.

There is hope.

There is Jesus.

Passion: God Slain By Us

Join us this week as we look toward the cross and the empty tomb– Jesus’ death and resurrection. Our posts this week will follow some of the events leading up to Good Friday and Easter Sunday, as well as explore what these events and their implications mean to us. It all points to Jesus. He knew it was coming. He felt the unmatched anxiety as the time drew near, asking His Father for the cup to pass from Him, sweating drops of blood. He was betrayed by a close friend, arrested in darkness, abandoned by his followers, put on trial with false witnesses, brought before officials, questioned, mocked, stripped, spat upon, jeered at, beaten almost to the point of death. Through His wrists they drove the nails, through His feet. Thorns pressed into his scalp. Open wounds and bruises seared and ached over every part of His body. The cross was raised upright, and there He hung. With searingly painful breaths and the utmost humiliation, there He died. Creator. King, Savior. Taking on the rejection of man and the wrath of God.

When we look to the cross, we cannot look with pity or anger or even shame. We look and think, "That is my cross. That is where I should be hanging. That is my place. And He is there." He was there. Once for all. Once and for all.

As the O.C. Supertones used to sing, "My sin yelled, 'Crucify' louder than the mob that day."

“He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.” - 1 Peter 2:24

We look to the cross and see our guilt, but when we cling to the cross, it's blasted away by forgiveness, redemption, grace, mercy, and love. Jesus-- God with us-- died for us. That is the best new the world has ever heard. And it changes everything.

Passion: God With Us (Part IV)

Join us this week as we look toward the cross and the empty tomb– Jesus’ death and resurrection. Our posts this week will follow some of the events leading up to Good Friday and Easter Sunday, as well as explore what these events and their implications mean to us. It all points to Jesus. In the midst of a week of loud praises, table tossing, healings, boisterous discussions, and the upcoming tumultuous events of Jesus' arrest, trial, flogging, and execution, we get a glimpse of some quiet moments Jesus has with his disciples in an upper room of a Jerusalem home.

John 13 tells the story of the Last Supper, Jesus' final Passover meal with his closest followers and friends. During this Jewish ritual meal that symbolized deliverance, redemption, and sacrifice, the true Passover Lamb-- Jesus-- prepared for the deliverance and redemption He would usher in with His own sacrifice. A day seeped in tradition was turned upside-down when Jesus gave the disciples one of the greatest shocks of their time together: He wrapped a towel around His waist, took the water basin in hand, and began washing the grime-covered feet of His followers.

It was the job of the lowest servants-- scrubbing stinking, dirty feet in a day before ankle socks or tennis shoes or concrete sidewalks. And OUR GOD did it. The king of the universe knelt before fishermen and tax collectors and gently washed their feet while they squirmed in humiliation.

What did this mean?

Jesus said, "A servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them." He was giving them an example for how they were to serve others (with His help of course) once He was no longer physically with them to show them every move.

This was probably a hard pill for the disciples to swallow, as they had just been arguing about who was the greatest among them. If Jesus-- clearly the greatest-- served in the lowliest position, they must do the same.

But that was not all Jesus said in these precious moments. When Peter objected to Jesus washing his feet, Jesus told him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” This statement and its context speaks to our response to a Servant-God. A God who is with us.

You see, the key to following Jesus’ example of service in this passage is accepting His act of service in the first place. He served us all in His death on the cross. This is how we are washed, cleansed, served, and allowed to be part of God’s kingdom. If we do not accept Jesus’ humanity, divinity. death, and resurrection, we are not His own.

The disciples likely didn't understand this yet, but they would. And all except Judas would go on to accept that sacrifice and let it wash over them and change their lives.

We face the same decision: do we accept Jesus' servitude and His authority, His sacrifice and His victory? Do we accept Jesus as God with us?

Passion: God With Us (Part III)

Join us this week as we look toward the cross and the empty tomb– Jesus’ death and resurrection. Our posts this week will follow some of the events leading up to Good Friday and Easter Sunday, as well as explore what these events and their implications mean to us. It all points to Jesus. In the Gospel of Matthew, we read a long series of discourses Jesus gives after his triumphal entry into Jerusalem (Matthew 21:23-25:46). In this concentration of red letters, we find Jesus telling parables, teaching lessons, answering the questions of skeptics, speaking about the end times, and even identifying the greatest commandments. He also spends a lot of words on those pesky Pharisees, part of the group that continues to try to undermine his authority and ultimately succeeds in getting him arrested and executed.

The Pharisees and their counterparts were the religious leaders of the day, but they didn't seem to lead as much as oppress and intimidate with their superiority. They went to extremes to follow God's law... and the manmade laws that had been tacked onto God's law over time. They followed the rules to the letter, but Jesus told them they missed the meaning entirely. To this day, to label someone a "Pharisee" is to call them a hypocrite, arrogant, and self-righteous.

Jesus said, "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people's bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness."

My favorite band just released a new album, and one of the new songs is called "Difference Maker." But this song isn't as plainly inspirational as it may sound at face value. Its writers have said that it is sarcasm, a sorrowful satire that shows how arrogant and foolish it is to think that we are able to be difference makers, leaders, perfect Christians on our own. The chorus goes, "'Cause I am the difference maker/ Oh, I am the only one that speaks to Him/ And I am the friendliest of friends of God."

The Pharisees were on the same track. They worked to create their righteousness, their lives, their religions, their positions before God, with their own two hands. They didn't use the law as something to point to God. In their arrogance, they used the law to point to themselves.

They didn't want Jesus around-- they were good with doing everything on their own. Jesus wasn't puffing them up or patting them on the back; He was asking them to change everything about how they thought and lived. He was preaching faith, not works. He was claiming the authority of God, not accepting their authority. He was showing them what it was for God to be with people. Jesus was God with us, but they wanted God for themselves. They wanted to be gods themselves.

Some say the Pharisees get too hard a time. Perhaps. But Jesus scolded them more than anyone else. And we know there were some who followed Jesus, so these generalizations aren't without exception. But I think the reason we down the Pharisees so much is that we see the same "difference maker" complex in ourselves. We have a tendency toward hypocrisy and arrogance, toward working for our righteousness apart from God's grace. A question we must ask is, "Do we really want Jesus to be God with us? Or do we want Jesus to be a God removed from us, a god we can shape in our image instead of being shaped in His?"

Jesus is God with us, but like the Pharisees, we choose whether or not we accept who He is in our lives.

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