Good Reads – May 5, 2018

Blog Image

Every month, we’ll be sharing a collection of blogs or articles on topics that are relevant for our church body. We hope it edifies you, makes you think, or teaches you something that you can apply in your life. Here’s to learning and Good Reads! 

Discipleship

When My Anger Collided with the Goodness of God:

Shortly after my second miscarriage, my heart filled with doubt about the goodness of God. Though I had initially experienced a sense of peace, as I moved forward, I had no desire to be with God.  I tried to read the Word, pray; and spend time with God, but the thought of Him just made my heart sick. I didn’t want Him. Every time I read the Bible, I saw how God had control of fertility, and it made me angry. Though some of these stories ended well, I didn’t know the end of our story. How can I trust God and go to him when he totally uprooted my dream? He seemed distant and unkind in this particular season of my life.

Leadership

The Importance of Integrity in the Small Things:

A lack of integrity in small things rarely ends with the small things. Please note: I am not suggesting that lying and deceiving others about a race is a small matter, but surely embezzlement and involvement with cocaine are more devastating. And a lack of integrity in so-called minor areas of one’s life typically grows and multiplies to other areas. Here are three common ways a lack of integrity multiplies in someone’s life….

The Humble Leader:

So how can leaders recognize our drift from humility to pride?  Look for entitlement. Entitlement always rises as pride rises. It is impossible to be filled with humility and a sense of entitlement at the same time. Whenever we feel we are owed something, it is because we have forgotten that God is the One who gives all good things.

Practical Ministry

Engaging Culture Well: How to Share Your Faith Critically and Contextually Today:

The message of Christ’s redemptive love and free gift of forgiveness for all has been the force behind centuries of social change. Christians who understand the implications of this gospel can’t help but find ways to apply its principles as they live and work in secular society.  For obvious reasons, however, cultural engagement brings with it unique challenges and complications. Many find themselves wanting to charge in, speak prophetically, criticize openly, and then expect to wait and watch for meaningful change to occur. But as Christians work to identify issues of concern in communities—either our own or those elsewhere—a posture of respect becomes critical.

Trust God With The Spiritual Gifts He Gives:

In our sinful state, our hearts wander into covetousness, comparison, and criticism when it comes to the gifts God gives his people. Instead of seeing what God has graciously given—our spiritual gifts, opportunities, and influence—we often fixate on what he hasn’t given us.

Relationships

3 Disastrous Dating Mistakes:

One way of learning how to do something is by watching someone else do it poorly.  Consider how Samson went about finding a wife. I once heard a dating talk entitled, “The dos and don’ts of dating.” Unfortunately, in chapters 14–16 of the book of Judges, we find only the don’ts of dating. There are no dos in Samson’s story. He did everything wrongly.

The Power of Saying Sorry:

Apologizing is hard because it goes against our grain. Our natural bent is to think we have it all together and to let our pride insulate us from our faults. But when you say “I am sorry” and you acknowledge that you have done something less than stellar, you have to come face to face with the fact that you don’t have everything down perfectly. It can take it out of you emotionally to have to say “sorry.” It can bring disappointment, not just with how you view yourself, but also in how you think others view you. It can bring friends along with it, so that past failures and mistakes are remembered and cause added torment.

Make It Easy for Your Kids to Love God:

Your children need something more than to be fortified against sin. They need to be inspired toward God. Tell them, with all the confidence that Proverbs 8 warrants of his joyous wisdom across the whole of life. Prove to them, by the very ethos of your home, that the Lord is good. Let them see that faith in you, and the glory of the Lord will be hard for them to resist.

Recommended Reading

The Gospel Comes with a House Key: Practicing Radically Ordinary Hospitality in Our Post-Christian World by Rosaria Butterfield:

What did God use to draw a radical, committed unbeliever to himself? Did God take her to an evangelistic rally? Or, since she had her doctorate in literature, did he use something in print? No, God used an invitation to dinner in a modest home, from a humble couple who lived out the gospel daily, simply, and authentically. With this story of her conversion as a backdrop, Rosaria Butterfield invites us into her home to show us how God can use this same “radical, ordinary hospitality” to bring the gospel to our lost friends and neighbors. Such hospitality sees our homes as not our own, but as God’s tools for the furtherance of his kingdom as we welcome those who look, think, believe, and act differently from us into our everyday, sometimes messy lives—helping them see what true Christian faith really looks like.

Good Reads – April 5, 2018

Blog Image

Every month, we’ll be sharing a collection of blogs or articles on topics that are relevant for our church body. We hope it edifies you, makes you think, or teaches you something that you can apply in your life. Here’s to learning and Good Reads! 

Discipleship

How the Resurrection Reshapes Success and Regret
If you had definitive proof of an afterlife, how would you respond? If you knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, you’d enter another life after you die, what would you do? Would you pull the trigger?

Leadership

8 Ways To Find Greater Focus
The truth is that while many of us pride ourselves on our ability to multitask, it actually works against us. When it comes to attention and productivity, our brains have a finite amount of mental energy.  While we’re constantly switching rapidly from task to task, every time we switch tasks, it consumes mental energy. As mental energy reduces, so does creativity and productivity.

Practical Ministry

4 Ways Christians Should Share Their Faith That Are Actually Effective

What does evangelism, what does making disciples, look like in our post-Christian, post-modern, post-truth, post-everything world? Put simply, how do we share the Gospel in the age of unbelief?

All About Relationships

6 Reasons Why Raising Generous Kids Will Change the World
Generosity isn’t just about giving money. It’s about sharing what we’ve been given. When we raise kids in this vein, we are raising kids who leave more than they take, give more than they receive, share their faith and meet the needs of others.
Christ-Centered Friendship
Friendship is vital to our growth and endurance as Christians, but friendship is the type of relationship we do not often learn about in the church.

Just for Laughs

How To Argue On The Internet: A Step-By-Step Guide
Satire:As the nation continues to grow more and more polarized, we find ourselves encountering worldviews diametrically opposed to our own day in and day out, especially on the internet. How do we effectively engage with those viewpoints?

Recommended Reading

The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in Its Proper Place. ($2.24 on Kindle)
Making conscientious choices about technology in our families is more than just using internet filters and determining screen time limits for our children. It’s about developing wisdom, character, and courage in the way we use digital media rather than accepting technology’s promises of ease, instant gratification, and the world’s knowledge at our fingertips. And it’s definitely not just about the kids. – A Must Read for Every Family

Our Vision: Living Our Faith Together (Part 4)

loft vision

vision of loft city church

This is the final part of our four part series on our vision as a church.  What is God calling our church to be? What is God calling those of you who call LOFT City your home church to be?  We believe that God is calling us to be a community that is “Living Our Faith Together.”  At first glance that seems quite simple, but as we been unpacking each of these words, it’s actually  a God-sized vision and we will need the help of God’s Spirit to accomplish.

As we been fleshing out this vision, I pray you been seeing that we aren’t simply interested in having people simply fill our pews, but we are calling for a radical transformation as disciples of Jesus.  If you haven’t read the previous posts, you can check them out here:  Part 1 (Living), Part 2 (Our)Part 3 (Faith).  In this final post, we look at that final word, “Together.”

TOGETHER:
The dictionary defines “together” as “In harmony and accord. In contact with one another.”

At LOFT City, it is our firm belief that you are called to live in a sense of community. The early church did everything together. The church is more than just people that worship God together, but because of the finished work of Christ, we have been adopted as sons and daughters of God, Christ has become our elder brother, and we are surrounded by family members. It is God’s desire that as a family, we would be willing to give of our lives for each other.

It means relationships. We get this from God. When He created humanity, he designed us for relationship – with Him and one another. It is in the fabric of our being. That is why God calls us to essentially love Him and people. Our challenge is to love like God loved us. The church was never meant to be a bunch of people who sit in chairs, put on masks, and go through the motions. Instead, we are called to be a family where no one stands alone. Because relationships are so important, we seek less “churchy” activities and more friendships with people despite where they are on their spiritual journey.

It means we share. We will seek to share our time, talent, and treasure with others. Generosity will flow out of the grace God gave us. We are to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share. We will be an authentic community who takes on one another’s burdens with a battle cry that “no one stands alone.” This is pleasing to God and a fingerprint of a true disciple.

It means we are transparent. A community that holds each other accountable, encourages each other, and forgives one another. A community that is not isolated and grows stronger when they see authenticity and transparency. A place where we can be honest, without fear of rejection.

It means accountability. We will hold each other accountable in living lives for God’s glory. We will not be satisfied with mediocre faith, but will encourage each other to pursue God in complete surrender.

Together is a hard word.  It means being in situations that might sometimes be uncomfortable.  It means giving of your time, energy and finances because of your love for the church family.    It means that we serve together and share the burden together because that is what families do.  You find places in and outside of the church where you can serve.

I truly believe that as we continue to strive to be a community and individuals that are living our faith together many things will happen.  God will be glorified, we will be united and maturing, and our city will notice.

Living Our Faith Together.  I’m grateful that I get to live out this vision with each of you week in and week out.

Our Vision: Living Our Faith Together (Part 3)

loft vision

vision of loft city church

We been examining why we exist as a church and what God has called us to be.  This blog series has been about examining our vision statement – Living Our Faith Together.

We have been unpacking each of these words and why each word in our vision matters.  If you haven’t read the previous posts in this series, you can check them out here: Part 1 (Living) and Part 2 (Our).  In this post, we are going to look at the third word, “faith.”

FAITH:  One dictionary defines faith as loyalty and allegiance to a person or thing. At LOFT, we are all about Jesus. In him, God became a man, entered our messed-up stories, and completely altered them. He died for us, so that we might live for Him.

As a result of what Jesus did (and is doing), our hope is to be the church that Jesus had in mind. Not some religious institution of self-righteous, judgmental hypocrites, but a movement of love, of messed up, yet growing people who are exploring and following Jesus.

Who are taking our first steps and next steps in living the lives we are meant to live. Who are an authentic community of grace, truth, mission, and meaning. Our style and methods may not be typical, but LOFT is all about, all for, and all because of Jesus. To him, we give our full loyalty and allegiance. Because of that, we strive to be a church that embraces a biblical worldview wherever God places us in life.

We believe in the timeless truths of the ancient Scriptures. We aren’t looking for new teachings or doctrines or a new religion. We aren’t looking to simply memorize and get puffed up in Scripture. We absolutely believe that the Bible is relevant to our lives. And since Jesus said that it was all about him, we recalibrate our lives according to the Scriptures. It is our supreme court and ultimate authority, and no person, teaching, or philosophy is above it.

We figure that if God says that this is His very words to us, it should be a big deal to us. It is in the Bible we discover the truth of the Gospel. It is there that we discover that in Christ, we get what we don’t deserve – we get Jesus and his ever-flowing and overflowing love and forgiveness. And because we get what we don’t deserve, we are free to give that grace to others.

Faith means we follow. Above all, we seek to know, love and follow Jesus in our thoughts, words and actions and every moment we look to Jesus as our Great King and example. Following Jesus is a series of next steps, each resulting in us becoming more like Him.

Faith means we explore. To love God with all our minds means we are to be curious and filled with wonder at what God has revealed, especially in scripture. By regularly reading the Bible, we learn what it means to live the lives we’re meant to live and we are shaped by the very words of God. We also discover more about our Creator and his creation in all realms of learning through story, wisdom, song, nature, imagination, and more. However, our highest authority is our divine conversation with Jesus through the reading of scripture.

Faith means we grow. Growth is a natural by-product of every healthy living thing. This includes people. Since growth comes from God, we will continually fix our eyes on Christ, search our hearts for any cheap substitutes to him, and repent of our sin and place them at the feet of our King. We will seek to live lives of health and wholeness remembering there’s one throne and one source of genuine growth.

Faith means we pray. We will be a people of constant conversation and communion with God. As we live our lives, we will pray without ceasing according to God’s will. We will thank God, worship God, be honest to God, confess our sins to God, listen to God, and always seek opportunities to pray for others. Our hope is to be the go-to people for prayer in our relational networks without making a big show of it.

Faith means we will fight. We will stand up for those who can’t stand up for themselves and offer hope to the hopeless. We will fight against injustice and stand with those who are being oppressed. It means that we will fight guilt-based religion by our actions and the Gospel. We agree with scripture and believe for justice to roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. In serving others, we serve Christ. We will never forget that our ultimate mission is to bring good news and be good news to those around us.

Faith.  It is way more than something we do or something we believe.  It’s who we are.

Our Vision: Living Our Faith Together (Part 2)

loft vision

vision of loft city church

We’re continuing to look at the vision of LOFT City Church.  Our vision is pretty simple and consists of only four words:  Living Our Faith Together.  But when we unpack these four words we discover that in order to fulfill this vision, we need Jesus.  This is not something that is easily done by mere human will-power or motivation. It’s a God-sized vision that only can be accomplished by the power of His Spirit.

In our last post, we looked at the word “Living” and discovered that to live this out, we have to be a community of faith that is sent into our world, eats with intentionality, becomes a presence in our society, listens to those around us, parties well, and blesses others.

The second word in our vision is the word, Our.

That word OUR is very simple, yet complex. It would be very easy for us to define “our” as people that look like us, behave like us, and belong in the same socio-economic class as us. Yet God defines “our” as the entire world. The Gospel is not exclusive to one person or group. As a local church, we can be specific about what “our” looks like to us.

It is our firm belief that God has placed LOFT in Richardson for a bigger purpose than to simply be a church that meets in Richardson. There is a reason why God has placed us in this city, in this season.

When we say “our” – this means that we see all people as created in the image of God and long to see them worship God in spirit and in truth.

This means we have compassion. Matthew 9 states that when Jesus saw the crowd, he had compassion on them. Jesus saw the crowd, stepped into their story and spoke directly to them. He didn’t simply speak at them.

Who are these faces that we are called to see? Some are faces that we already know their stories. Some are faces that we care about. Some are exploring Jesus for the first time and looking for answers. Some are prodigals. Some have suffered great heartache and pain due to broken relationships. Some are giving love one last shot. Some have no clue how they are going to pay their bills this week. Some will blow their excess on a shopping spree on things they don’t need. Some are drowning in confusion about their future. Some know full well what they are supposed to do, but do not have the courage to do it. Some have been neglected by those they love. Some are neglecting the ones they love. Some are oblivious to their own self-righteousness. Some can only see their own depravity. Some are theological snobs who think they know it all. Some have never studied Scripture at all. Some are recovering from their addictions. Some are denying that they have an addiction. Some feel overwhelmed by life. Some feel that their life is empty. Some desperately need the Gospel. Some desperately need to be reminded of the Gospel. To these we are called to be compassionate.

That means we include. The arm of God is big enough to wrap around the whole world. The least we can do is wrap our arms around our neighbor; the people we come in contact with every day. We will not play favorites based on social status but view all people as equally valuable under an Almighty God. Our community is one where people can belong before they believe and find grace overflowing. All are welcome to the table. This includes the college student community at UTD and Richland College. This includes the local apartment communities. This includes the young college graduate seeking the pursuit of happiness. This includes families – where both parents are there and where a single parent is working multiple jobs to provide for his/her children. It includes the elderly that are living in retirement centers, feeling lonely and hopeless.

It includes Richardson. A city that will have a population of over 110,000 people by 2020. A city where almost 20% of its population are foreign-born. A city where almost 30% of the population do not speak English in their homes. A city where 18% of the population is with the age bracket of 18-34 years old. A city that is considered the second best place to raise kids in Texas by Business Week, yet about 10% of the population live in poverty. A city that has a college campus of over 15,500 students, of which 15% are international students, living far away from home. A city where there is only one church for every 1200 people. This is where we are called to.

It includes having a global vision and sending people to serve Jesus on the mission field. This means we are engaging in hard places of the world like the Red Light District of Mumbai, India because we believe if Jesus was walking the earth today, that is probably where you will find him.

This is what OUR consists of. It is not segregated by race, gender, or social economics. It something that needs to happen from top-down, including leadership. Those of you who are married, it includes investing in the college students of our community. To those of you who are in college, this means that you reach out to those are who working and building relationships with them. We need to be intentional about getting out of our comfort zones and truly live OUR faith together by being a community that is compassionate and welcoming.

Our Vision: Living Our Faith Together (Part 1)

loft vision

vision of loft city churchOver the course of the next several blog posts, we will be revisiting what our vision is at LOFT City Church. At LOFT City Church, our vision is simply, “Living Our Faith Together.” Four simple words but as we unpack each of these words, you will that our vision is a God-sized dream of what we desire to see happen in our church and community through the faithful ministry of the church. This is our hope and dream of the kind of church we want to be. Four words – let’s unpack them.

LIVING: Defined as something that has life, active or thriving, growing, strong, flowing freely. A particular manner, state or status of life.

We believe that being a follower of Jesus or a Christian is much more than a mere label of identification. It is a way of life. A pattern that is integrated into everyday life, not because we have to, but because we get to. It’s also not so much out of religious compulsion, but compelled by a love for God and people. Our lives are lived in such a way that brings glory to God and draws people to God. It’s a life that grasps that we are part of God’s bigger story in redemptive history  and are willing to give oneself to be the best that we can be in that story. We are called to live on mission.

What does this mean for us?

It means that we are sent. Jesus sends us out on mission and into culture to be salt and light everywhere we go. In this sense, we are all missionaries wherever we are.

It means we eat. We choose not to hate our meals. We seek to commune with others when possible and view each meal as a blessing from God. We realize some sacred moments happen over the sharing of a meal together. As lives are shared, ministry happens.

It means we are a presence in society. We do not believe that we are to create a subculture. Instead, we are called to dwell within culture in order to influence, shape, and redeem it for God. We believe that this whole world and everything and everyone in it belongs to God. Like Jesus, we choose to enter the story in order to change the story.

It means we listen. We are charged to love God and our neighbors as ourselves. One tangible expression of love is listening. We will take opportunities to hear the stories of others. To rejoice with those who rejoice. Weep with those who weep. Not only do we listen to each other, but we will listen for God and create deliberate moments of silence and quiet our hearts before our Creator.

That means we party. Barbecues, inviting friends to our home for meals, being involved in sports and activities that are fun and “non-religious.” These are just a few explain of what it means to party. We choose to celebrate and enjoy life with people inside and outside of our community.

Finally, it means we bless. We are blessed by God to be a blessing to others: an encouraging email, a note of appreciation, a kind word, an unselfish act, a helping hand. Wherever your imagination takes you, being a blessing means making deposits into the lives of people. Showing grace is to do so whether someone deserves it or not. We will look to tangibly bless others.

When we are truly living out our vision, we will be a community of faith that is sent into our world, eating with intentionality, being a presence in our society, listening to those around us, partying well and blessing others. That’s just the beginning of what it means to be living our faith together.

SaveSaveSaveSave

SaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSave

I AM WHO I AM

Wanderlust
Names are powerful.  Often a name proclaims the character of the person who bears it.  Or, more than likely, a name proclaims the character we – who give the name – want the name bearer to have.  In Exodus 3, we read the story of Moses and the burning bush.  Moses encounters God and he wants to know the name of this mysterious deity who meets him in the middle of nowhere and calls him to deliver God’s people from slavery in Egypt.  Yet, Moses has no street credibility with the slaves.  Why would they listen to him?  He needed to know the name of this God who was sending him.  He needed to be able to share this God’s characteristics with the people in bondage if they were ever going to trust him to lead them into freedom.  So Moses asks for a name.

“I AM” God answers.  “Tell them I AM has sent me to you.”  You can imagine the look on Moses’ face.  “I am what? I am who?”

I AM.  That name might have served the purpose Moses wanted it to serve if Moses could have added a characteristic to it:

  • I AM – a dreaded warrior.
  • I AM – a shield and protector
  • I AM – the one who always takes your side
  • I AM – your deliverer

But God cuts that option off from Moses.  “I AM – who I AM”.  You, Moses, don’t get the power to characterize me, to hold me to being a certain way, to control me so that I fit your notions of what my character should be.

Let’s be honest for a second.  We all have an agenda for God, don’t we?

  • God’s job, we are sure, is to protect our family, our children, the way we want them protected.
  • God’s job is to heal us the way we long to be healed.
  • God’s job is to bless our finances, marriages, jobs, _________ (fill in the blank) the way we want them blessed.

When we call on God we expect Him  to be on our  leash – to come and do our bidding.

Yet, by this strange name God reveals to Moses, God will not allow anyone to attach him to a leash .  I am who I am.  I will be who I will be.  I will be who I am and I am who I will be.  Tell them I AM sent  you.”

Yet, as strange and mysterious as this name is, it proclaims powerfully good news to those slaves and to us.  It proclaims that this God, whom we can never control, is the God of Abraham, Isaac and of Jacob.  That may not seem to mean much to you and me, but look back at the stories of these heroes of our faith and their encounters with this God.  This is the God who is faithful to promises made.

The God who goes with and guards fugitives like Jacob. The God who keeps hold of outsiders – migrants – like Joseph.  The God who births babies to barren mothers like Sarah. “I am the God of Abraham, of Isaac, of Jacob.”  The ways God has been with his people in the past is truth about the way this God is in the present and will be in the future.

This name also proclaims that “God is not God of the dead, but of the living” (Mark 12:27).  God is not locked away in the past. No, this God is here in the present and will be in the future.  “I AM.  I will be.”

[pl_blockquote]There is no way Moses (nor you, I, the church or anyone else)  can control this God we serve.  There is no way we can  define this God’s characteristics in a manner to serve our agenda. There is no way we can  ever capture this God and put Him  on a leash to do our bidding.[/pl_blockquote]

But because this God IS and WILL BE forever, the future is never is not closed.  The future is always in God’s hands.  The future was not closed for those slaves in Egypt.  The future wasn’t closed for those women who came to the tomb on Easter morning.  The future is not closed regardless of what is happening in our lives right now, in this world right now, and even within the Church right now – as dim as it all seems sometimes.  For God continues to declare – “Tell them I AM- I WILL BE has sent me to you.”

This is God’s name forever!

Count it all joy

Guest Post by Brice Johnson:
“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.” James 1:2-3

The stoning of Stephen inaugurated a great persecution of the church in Jerusalem, spearheaded by Saul, that caused them to scatter abroad. (Acts 8) James is writing to these displaced Jewish Christians who are experiencing, among other things, poverty and persecution. Daily life is rough for these believers, and how does James encourage them? What’s the first thing he says to these dejected Christians?

[pl_blockquote]Count it all joy when you meet trials of various kinds.[/pl_blockquote]

This seems strange, but James isn’t encouraging his audience to feel pleasure or happiness in their pain, or to go out looking for it. He’s not telling them to be masochists! And he doesn’t tell them to ignore it. He’s exhorting them to view their suffering in light of what God is accomplishing through it: steadfastness. The word “testing” has a connotation of smelting in the Greek. Ore is put in the furnace to produce valuable metal as impurities are sloughed off. That’s what trials are, these testings of our faith; suffering is a furnace that refines us.

The trial you’re going through with your spouse, child, coworker, friend. The health problems or financial struggles. The thorn in your flesh that will not go away.

As believers, we can rejoice as we go through trials because we know that our suffering is not without purpose in the hands of a sovereign God. He is building a greater faith and endurance in us.

Indeed, He is the one persevering us.

Process Question: How does this shape the way you view a recent trial you’ve walked through, or are currently walking through?

——————————————————–

6fd61491ce7a7ef1e4984ce7d8156c73Originally from Queens, NY, the Lord brought Brice’s family to Texas, where he eventually went to the University of Texas. There, God opened his ears to hear and really understand the gospel, and that lead him to pursue vocational ministry. An avid Longhorn, Brice lives in Austin and works at The Austin Stone Community Church. He enjoys writing, reading, and spending time outdoors. You can read his blog at www.briceajohnson.com and follow him on Twitter/Instagram: @bricej87.

I’m struggling…Why God?

This is a guest post from Calvin Sham.  Calvin’s bio:  I’ve attended the Loft City Church for about a year now. I was raised in Dallas, Texas—so I love everything Texan!! I graduated from Baylor University with my Bachelors in Psychology, attended Graduate School at the University of Texas at Dallas where I earned my Masters in Education, and am a High School English teacher. I love rap, hip-hop, working out, sports, and sharing the Gospel with the youth. God has given me a passion for the youth and I love spending time with them.
First thing I need to confess: I am just as broken as you are. But the wisdom I’m about to impart upon this blog DOES NOT COME FROM my brokenness but my WILLINGNESS to PERSEVERE through THE brokenness ULTIMATELY through JESUS. None of us can deny that we have struggled with a sin or that we are currently struggling with a particular sin right now—be it lust, money, pride, etc.
1

The question I always ask myself is: “Why God? Why? (that’s a classic Joey Tribbiani phrase from “Friends” in case you didn’t catch that). Why am I dealing with this sin so much right now? Why is it a stronghold in my life? Why is it when I pray to you, you don’t seem to be doing anything about it? Why! Why! Why!

And then eventually those “Why’s” become:

  • “Where” (Where you are you, God?)
  • “Are” (Are you even there, God?)
  • “Do” (Do you even hear me, God?)

So let’s go back to “Why”…

Why am I struggling with a particular struggle? Let me be transparent for a second. The day this is posted is the day I battled the temptation of lust for 2 ½ weeks straight. I persevered only with God’s help. But it definitely was not easy…and will not be easy.  So I prayed constantly, repented, read scripture, over and over again, but it was still such a stronghold. I thought to myself why is this happening? Why is this sin so strong?

And then God reminded me (something I’ve already known) that the sin is just a product of the root→that the root has taken a hold of my heart and therefore the battles become stronger. So as I searched deeper and deeper, the root was revealed: loneliness, insecurity, wanting comfort. And as I searched deeper beyond this, it led me to the fact that ultimately, the prioritization was wrong.

SIN STRONG → ROOT STRONG → PRIORITIZATION WRONG

Let’s take a step back into the Old Testament for a second. What was commandment #1 again? “I am the Lord your God, you shall have no other gods before me.” Jesus goes on to confirm (Matthew 22) when he says “Love the lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind. Bam!! At this point, we already know why we struggle. Because we are NOT loving God with all ourselves! Because we ARE allowing other gods to be a first priority! Prioritization is wrong. We have allowed other idols to step forward in our lives to sit on his throne-THE CREATOR’S throne. Our minds are now focused on the things of this world and not of HIM.

So how do we remedy this? Two things:

  1. GAZE UPON THE THRONE  (“Set your sights on things above and not earthly things – Colossians 3:2)
  2. REJOICE THROUGH SUFFERING (“We rejoice in sufferings because we know that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame –Romans 5:3) 

Well, what does this look like practicality wise? Restructure your mind and refocus yourself. Your sin does not suddenly appear out of nowhere. Your sin appears because God told you to go straight and you decided to make a right on “pleasureville”. And when the pleasure becomes numb and you no longer want it, you’ve already lost your sights on God. God is no longer #1

Brothers and sisters, let us remember that you are here today because of the ultimate love that was sacrificed for us.

“This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” -1 John 4:10

[pl_blockquote]Don’t make God a priority. Make him THE priority.[/pl_blockquote]

Where’s the delete key?

I’m going to be honest with you.  My favorite button in my email account is the “Delete” button.  I love to hit that button because it means I am done with whatever it was I deleted.  Either I did not want to read it or I responded to it.  Either way, it’s finished, over and gone.  (Well, it is not actually gone.  It is over there in the “Deleted Items” folder but I eventually get over there and delete all that too!)  It is my favorite thing to do.  Wipe it out.  Get rid of it.   Move on.  I wish there were a “delete button” on a lot of things in life.
delete-button-f[1]

If only we had a delete button for all of our past sins and mistakes.  Just hit a computer button and they are all gone.  How wonderful would that be?  Empty.   Deleted.  Erased.  Wouldn’t that be great?  But we all know that it’s not that easy in the world of pain and suffering.  It is painstaking work in the human heart.  We wound each other and even if those wounds eventually heal, there will be a scar that stays in the memory bank.  We can recall that pain at any time we choose.

I am convinced that the only way a human being can give forgiveness is to have first received forgiveness.  If you have never sinned, never messed up, never been caught, broken the rules, stepped across the line, hurt somebody with your actions or attitude – if you’ve never had any of those experiences and received forgiveness for the pain you’ve caused, then it will likely be impossible for you to forgive somebody else.  There are limits to the human capacity to forgive, to heal that which has been ripped apart, broken and severely damaged.  That is not something we can pull off intellectually.  It is those who have been forgiven much who can in turn forgive.

King David knew about forgiveness.  In the 51st Psalm he is begging God not to cast him aside.  The greatest king that Israel ever knew had an affair with Bathsheba, but that was not the worst of it.  They conceived a son out of wedlock and David had her husband brought in from battle so that he might think the child was his.  It reads like a soap opera and it gets worse.

When Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband, refuses to be with her, David sends him back to the front lines with the guarantee that he will be killed.  This is the great king of Israel.  This is the person everyone cherished and admired.  When the angel Gabriel later came to Mary, he connected Jesus to David.

‘He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David.’  (Luke 1:32)

Jesus and David should not even be mentioned together in the same sentence!

In his remorse, David writes the 51st Psalm:

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. (Psalm 51:1)

Can you imagine even asking for that?  And can you imagine God granting such a request?  But God did.  God restored David.  Not only did God blot out his foul transgressions but David and Bathsheba were married and became the parents of King Solomon.  How can that possibly be?  How can you overlook such tragedy?   Apparently, when God forgives somebody, God does not mess around!  It is forgiven.  It is deleted.  It is over.  It is gone.

That does not mean that God accepts or minimizes the consequences of the sin.  It is not to endorse sin or to dismiss it in any way.  Forgiveness of such magnitude does not provide a license to sin again.  On the contrary, forgiveness redeems the one who is lost.  It changes them.  It is a second chance.  It provides a new future.

Long after David, Jeremiah was called to warn Judah of their unfaithfulness to God.  They had broken the covenant.  They had forsaken the ways of the Lord.  They had chased after other gods.  They had become arrogant and independent.   In their sinfulness, they fell.  The Babylonian Empire overtook them and exiled their leaders and many of their citizens to Babylon.  The temple was destroyed and their king was dethroned.  All was lost.

The people of Israel  had such a long history with God:

    • the covenant with Abraham and Sarah – waiting for the birth of Issac,  Jacob and Esau
    • Joseph and the period of slavery
    • Moses and the exodus, the journey through the wilderness
    • Joshua and the battles of conquest
    • the period of the Judges
    • the kings; Saul, David and Solomon

All that history behind them and now they have lost it.  There are a lot of people who feel like that today.  The land God promised in the covenant with Abraham is gone, as is the temple and the king.  There is nothing left.  There is no hope.  This is no small mistake.  This is a huge failure and they cannot hide it.  They are exposed.   What do you do when it is that bad?

It’s not like they didn’t know better.  Jeremiah had been warning them for a long time.  He talked to them this way;

(Thus says the Lord) ‘If a man divorces his wife and she goes from him and becomes another man’s wife, will he return to her?  Would not such a land be greatly polluted?  You have played the whore with many lovers; and would you return to me?’  (Jeremiah 3:1)

Or, he talks this way;

Your wealth and your treasures I will give as plunder, without price, for all your sins, throughout all your territory.   I will make you serve your enemies in a land that you do not know, for in my anger a fire is kindled that shall burn forever.’ says the Lord. (Jeremiah 15:13‐14)

Those were just some of the warning shots fired over the bow long before the destruction came.  But, after it came in the midst of the crisis, the Word of the Lord changed.  There came words of hope.

‘For surely I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Lord, ‘plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.  Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you.  When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart.  I will let you find me, says the Lord and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations, and all the places where I have driven you,’ says the Lord,  ‘and I will bring you back into the place from which I sent you into exile.’ (Jeremiah 29:11‐14)

And then there’s this incredible passage,

‘The days are surely coming,’ says the Lord, ‘when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah…I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.  No longer shall they teach one another … for they shall all  know me…for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.’   (Jeremiah 31:31‐34)

[pl_blockquote] There is that delete button! At the very point we should be crushed, we are restored.  At the very moment we should be cast out, we are welcomed home.  At the place we are most wounded we are healed.  God does not remove the consequences.  God gives us a second chance.[/pl_blockquote]

It’s not hard to love somebody when they are successful.  It’s not difficult to love somebody when they do everything right.  But divine love, divine love will not let us go.  It is a tenacious love that cannot stay in the tomb, even after crucifixion.  It is a love that penetrates our brokenness, our wounded-ness, and our pain.  It is a love that restores us when we have no right to be restored.

Is such a love available for the world today?  Is there such a love that deletes the most painful of all sin?  Is there a love so illogical, almost irrational, that is not gauged by human standards?  Is there such a love that is beyond us, and yet touches us in the place where we are most broken, most alienated, most lost?  Is there still a love that reaches into our Babylons and brings us home; a love that comes even to a king who has failed God, his own people, and himself?  Is there such a love that comes into your darkest place and brings the light and hope for a future again?  Indeed there is.  And when you receive that kind of love, you are compelled to give it.  It makes you more gracious.

God was not willing to let go of David, in spite of how lost he had become.  God was not willing to let go of Israel, in spite of how unfaithful they had become.  God is not willing to let go of any of us or anyone else in this world today who is lost or broken in sin and shame.  We belong to the God of the second chance.