I love driving down Waco Drive and seeing the Antioch arch on the horizon. I remember when we first bought the building there was talk of taking the arch down, or putting a Jesus Loves You sign up there, or something -- anything but actually keeping it. After deciding to keep the arch as is, it's become part of our church culture. It's now an indelible sign -- a sign that many in our community readily recognize. A sign that reminds us of God's banner over us, and His love for us.
How many times over the past 10 years has the arch been featured in media photographs, reports, magazine articles, etc.? Quite a few. People remember the arch and are drawn to its visual appeal. And hopefully when people think of the arch they think about the believers who gather every week under the arch in order to hear their Rabbi's heartbeat.
I love the arch. It makes me feel at home.
It reminds me of JESUS.
With many Lifegroupers still out for summer activities, Lifegroup was an intimate affair tonight. We spent most of the evening talking about grace and what exactly that word means. When I think of grace, I usually think of Titus 2:11-13:
For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.
I know some translations say that grace teaches us to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts (e.g. the ESV says, "training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions ..."). Webster defines grace as "unmerited divine assistance given humans for their regeneration and sanctification." So it seems grace -- God's unmerited favor -- is the vehicle God uses to allow us to walk in holiness, as we deny ungodliness and worldly lusts. The truth is, we can't deny jack squat without His minute-by-minute grace.
Some of the LG discussion tonight centered on Paul's salutation of "grace to you" to the Corinthian Christians. My thoughts were that Paul is not flippant, and if he tells someone "grace to you," then he really means it. And, as we know, 1 Corinthians was addressed to the Corinthian believers but also to "all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours" (1 Corinthians 1:3).
I'm thankful for that little word that's loaded with significance, and I'm thankful that our Lord was full of grace (John 1:14). Grace changed the world.
I became a Christian when I was very young, something like seven years old. As I mentioned previously, despite my loving home and Christian upbringing I soon developed deep, dark sin patterns that would haunt me for years upon years. I struggled under the weight of sin, knowing that JESUS had freedom for me, but not quite knowing how to grasp it (the reality is, He grasped me).
When I was still in high school, circa 1993 or 1994, I decided to visit my brother David at Baylor. I had heard about this wacky church he was involved with (Highland Baptist) and I was curious. Back in the day David was chummy with Jeff Bianchi and he was able to get us into a morning worship time at Master's Commission. I had never experienced anything like that before: People on their faces before God, praying fervently, repenting, giving words of encouragement, and submitting fully to the Spirit of JESUS. My spirit was drawn to the fire, but my flesh was repulsed. I remember Jeff shared something with the group to this effect: "The Spirit of God is upon everyone in this room." I thought, Does that mean me? I had gotten so used to doubting my salvation, that I thought there was no way the Spirit of God was upon me in any way whatsoever.
Fast-forward to the fall of 1995. I'm finally living in Waco as a sophomore transfer to Baylor. I'm at Highland's then-famous Back to School Retreat, still trying to figure out my place with the Lord among a sea of believers who are further along in the Book than I am, and obviously more in love with JESUS than me. During a morning worship session at the retreat, I was sitting down, weeping, asking God to reveal Himself to me. I was feeling lost, confused, and once again doubting my position as a child of God -- my soul felt dark. Suddenly a man put his hand on my shoulder and said, "Can I pray for you?" I said, "Sure." The man came up from behind me, so I wasn't sure who it was until he started to pray: It was Jeff Bianchi. I don't even think I officially met him back in 1994 (or whenever it was) when I visited Master's Commission. So I'm certain he had no idea who I was, and I'm sure he didn't know about what I was struggling with at the time. I remember, though, he prayed softly and simply said, "God wants you to know that His Spirit is upon you." WHAT!? I couldn't believe it. Those words were exactly what I was longing to hear, and they echoed the same sentiment from that morning at Master's Commission a year or so earlier. What's more, the words came from the same source -- Jeff Bianchi.
In many ways, that morning in the fall of 1995 was the catalyst for incredible spiritual growth over the next several years. Yes, I was still torn apart inside. I still struggled with hidden sins and I still, in many ways, lived a life of selfishness and rebellion. But I believe God marked me as His own, and He wasn't going to let me go. I didn't have a choice in the matter. As Ephesians 1:4 says, He chose me in Him "before the foundation of the world." So the decision was made long ago, that I would be conformed to the image of His Son . . .
For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover, whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified. - Romans 8:29 & 30
So the Elevator Version of my testimony would be what I tell someone while riding in an elevator about my walk with JESUS. The point is, there isn't much time, so the details have got to come out pretty quickly.
The button is pushed.
I was raised in a Christian home. I was deeply loved growing up, but, despite that, I developed sin patterns that haunted me for all of my childhood and most of my adult life. As a result of my sin, I was in constant turmoil. I often felt unloved and incapable of anything good in my life. At times, I had contemplated suicide. I lived in constant fear, and I was a slave to sin. Finally, I repented of my sins (Mark 1:15), confessed JESUS as Lord of my life (Romans 10:9), and finally felt the washing of regeneration and the renewing of the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5). Since that day of repentance, God has set me completely free from my besetting sins, and He's freed me to receive his grace, mercy, and love. I'm now a slave to righteousness and my greatest desire is to be with Him and to know Him.
Ding. The elevator door opens. Time's up.
This morning Jimmy began a new series. I can't quite recall the series title, but I think it's something like "True North: Being Like Jesus In A Corinthian World." (I hope the two of you who may be reading this blog will forgive me if I've butchered the title.)
The crux of the message was grace. Jimmy said, "Grace has a name, and it's Jesus Christ." Amen. The Gospel of Grace is the defining characteristic of Christianity, and it's what sets our faith apart from every other religion under the sun. As John said, "For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ." For me personally, I know I've been marked by God's grace: He pulled me out of a pit, granted me repentance (2 Tim. 2:25), and set me free to be conformed to His image.
I'm thankful for that. And I'm thankful for the brothers and sisters at Antioch who have walked with my family and me through all of the years and through all of the pain. I'm 34 years old and I'm finally learning that life is painful, but JESUS Christ, our great God and Savior, is all I need. He's good, and at His right hand are pleasures forevermore.
I'm looking forward to learning more about being like JESUS in a Corinthian world.
My name is Eric Guel. I've been involved with Antioch since the fall of 1995 (in the Highland Baptist Church days). Back in those days most people called me Bird, a childhood nickname. I still answer to that name, and many of my close friends still default to that name when talking to me.
As far as my history with Antioch goes, I cut my teeth at Baylor Landing Lifegroups in the mid-90s, married a beautiful Highland/Antioch woman in 1997, and to this day my wife and four children all enjoy fellowship with the imperfect community of believers under the arch at 20th and Waco Drive.
The purpose of this blog is to chronicle my week-to-week life at Antioch. Truth be told, I don't have much of an agenda here. I didn't create this space in order to criticize my church (though some things I write may be construed that way), and I didn't make this blog in order to be obsequious to anyone or anything associated with Antioch. In all things, I hope this blog honors the Lord, and I hope anyone who identifies with Antioch will find it interesting, informative, and encouraging.
Welcome to Under the Arch.