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?

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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.
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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.

Christmas Conspiracy

We want to invite you to join us in a conspiracy during this Christmas season. It’s a conspiracy to take what the devil has meant for harm and to bring glory and honor to Jesus in the midst of it.

Every Christmas season we are faced with the temptation to become consumers and hoard more and more stuff for our loved ones and ourselves. And by the time the season is over, “the most wonderful time of the year” has become “the most stressful time of the year.” Why stressful? The stress of money to buy what everyone wants, or what we think they want; the stress of time to go to every party, every event, decorate, shop, cook, plan, make sure everything is perfect so that we can “enjoy” these holy days. It’s no wonder people feel empty or stressed out when they focus on external things rather than the most important person – Jesus.

At LOFT City this year, we are challenging our people to fight against this consumerist mentality and instead make a difference in the life of a family this Christmas season. We’ve introduced to our community what we have called “Christmas Conspiracy.

[pl_blockquote]The Christmas Conspiracy is all about spending less on Christmas gifts in order to give more to those that are in need, thereby loving them the way God intended us to. This allows us to worship fully the One that sent His only Son to be born in a manager for the salvation of mankind. Worship Fully. Spend Less. Give More. Love All.[/pl_blockquote]

Through one of teachers who attend our church, we were recently introduced to a nine year old young lady that has been diagnosed with leukemia and also is dealing with diabetes. Her pancreas is enflamed and she has trouble eating. It’s a very delicate situation for her. She is a former student of this teacher. I had the opportunity to go spend an hour with this young lady in the hospital.

She is one of four kids (ages 13,9, 7 and 1). Her dad does yard work but hasn’t been working since the daughter has been in the hospital. Mom is at home taking care of the one year old. They are going through an incredibly hard season full of stress, worry and questions.

We want to conspire to bless this family in a tangible way this season so that they are reminded that there is a good God whose eyes are on them and cares for them. Because of your faithful giving, we had funds available to help cover the balance of their rent for this month.

We want to go even further with this family. For the next eight weeks we will be collecting funds so that we can love this family the way Jesus would love them. Our prayer is that as this family takes care of their precious daughter and other children, the last thing they have to worry about are their finances.

What do we HOPE to do? If we are able to raise enough funds, we want to:

  • Buy all the children Christmas presents this year.
  • Take care of diapers and baby needs for a few months.
  • Cover their rent through the winter season when work is slow for the dad.
  • Provide some extra money for food and expenses.

We want to invite you to join us in on this conspiracy of spending less and giving more, so that this family will be pointed toward a good God this season. I’m reminded of the words of the Apostle John, “But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth” (I John 3:17-18).

You can choose to mail in your donations to LOFT City Church, 525 West Arapaho Road, Suite 30, Richardson, TX 75080.

How Long, Oh LORD?

We are in the middle of our Advent Series at LOFT City Church.  This past weekend we happened to be in the book of Habakkuk and listened to the cry of a man who was angry at God and wondering when God would show up and take care of His business.  Listen to how he begins the letter:

[pl_blockquote]O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save? Why do you make me see iniquity, and why do you idly look at wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. So the law is paralyzed, and justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous; so justice goes forth perverted.[/pl_blockquote]

The cry of Habakkuk almost 2600 years ago is one that has been ringing in the streets of our nations these past several weeks.  How long, Oh Lord?  In the past two weeks there were two similar verdicts in two different cities grand juries decided not to indict police officers involved in the deaths if unarmed African American men.  As a result of these decisions we have seen protests and riots happen throughout our nation.  While most of the protests (contrary to media reports) have been peaceful.  Many of those protesting have cried the lament of Habakkuk, “O LORD, how long… how long shall we cry… how long will injustice prevail?”

Before Michael Brown in Ferguson, there was Eric Garner in Staten Island, NYC.  Footage filmed by a bystander shows Eric Garner being wrestled to the ground in a chokehold by an NYPD officer before turning limp. The father, 43, can be heard gasping ‘I can’t breathe’. He was later pronounced dead at a hospital. Protests have erupted in New York after a grand jury failed to indict the officer responsible even though his death was ruled a homicide.

Before Garner, there was Jordan Davis.  Before Davis, there was Renisha McBride, before her, it was Rekia Boyd.  Before Rekia, there was Trayvon Martin.  Before all of them there was Tarika Wilson and her infant.  Before them, there was Emmett Till.

After Eric Garner and Michael Brown, there was 12 year old Tamir Rice who was gunned down by the Cleveland Police Department, after they had mistaken his pellet gun for a real gun.  Just last week there was the shooting of Rumain Brisbon in Phoenix.  Police officers thought that his bottle of pills in his pocket was a gun.  From Ferguson to Staten Island to Phoenix we can hear the lament of Habakkuk, “O LORD, how long … how long shall we cry…how long will injustice prevail?”

Meanwhile, many in non-African American communities wonder how long must we endure such protests, with people shutting down interstates, and with riots and looting every time people disagree with a verdict determined by the justice system? “How long do we have to listen to this?” some wonder, perhaps even wondering why a preacher, and a non-white and a non-black preacher at that, is even talking about this. According to the Pew Research Center, the majority of white people in America trust our justice system to arrive at just verdicts. They don’t understand why people can’t accept that the evidence presented did not justify an indictment. The majority of white Americans trust police to do their jobs, acknowledging the incredible challenges facing police officers these days. “How long will people keep playing the race card?” some wonder.

Here lies the divide and the problem.  According to that same Pew Survey, while the majority of white people expressed confidence in the integrity of the Ferguson investigation, 76% of African Americans expressed little or no confidence in the process. That survey happened in August, long before the grand jury’s decision was announced. When it comes to expectations about police, Pew reports 46% of African Americans have very little confidence in police, compared to just 12% of Anglo’s. This is nothing new; it has been true for generations in this country. This disparity shocks many people. In fact, the realities defining the lives of African Americans in our country are virtually unknown by the vast majority of not just whites, but all non-African American people.

I have an African American friend who attended seminary with me and has been one of our greatest supporters when we planted our church.  He graduated with me and since then had numerous opportunities to use his gifts and talents to advance God’s kingdom.  Calvin was just recently asked to be president of Meals on Wheels of Metro Tulsa.  I love Calvin and have always appreciated his friendship and kindness to me.  He’s worked hard and God has opened great doors for him.  The reality is that Calvin beat the odds.  Statistics show that he is three times more likely to live in poverty, ten times more likely to be incarcerated, and twenty-one times more likely to be killed by the police.  I’m sure Calvin’s family probably taught him how to beat the odds – not just by working hard and doing well in school, but also how to live as a young black man in this nation.

In a recent Washington Post article, Lawrence Otis Graham, an African American Ivy League educated attorney in New York City shared the rules he gave to his teenage sons. Rule number 1: “Never run while in the view of a police officer or security person unless it is apparent that you are jogging for exercise, because a cynical observer might think you are fleeing a crime or about to assault someone.” Other rules included carrying a small tape recorder in their car, and if ever stopped by the police, make sure it is recording… Never leave a shop without a receipt, no matter how small the purchase, so that you can’t be accused unfairly of theft… Do not go for pleasure walks in any residential neighborhood after sundown…If you must wear a T-shirt to an outdoor [public event,] it should have the name of a respected and recognizable school emblazoned on its front. I never had to teach those rules to my children.

Leonard Pitts of the Miami Herald put it this way in an opinion piece last week: “Too many — not all, but too many — white people still live in air castles of denial, still think abiding injustice and ongoing oppression are just some fairytale, lie or scheme African Americans concocted to defraud others. Or else that these things are far away and have no impact on their lives.” His words convicted me. How long, O Lord? That was Habakkuk’s question. It’s the question on the mouths of many this day.

How does God respond? God responds with a challenge: “Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so that a runner may read it.” That’s what we’re told in Habakkuk 2. The English translation is weak. The Hebrew is better translated, “Write the vision, make it plain, so that one who reads it will run!” The vision offered by the Hebrew prophets was the vision of Zion, the city of God, the vision that the prophet Isaiah speaks about , where swords are beaten into farming tools and spears into pruning hooks; where nation shall not lift up sword against nation and where we will study war no more; a vision where the wolf lives alongside the lamb, the calf and the lion and the grazing together, where they will not hurt or destroy or gun down or mistake toy guns for real guns.

[pl_blockquote]This vision informs Jesus’ vision for the world, the kingdom of God Jesus brings, the beloved community that draws near in him; a kingdom of justice and mercy and love, a community where the hungry are fed, the sick healed, the homeless housed, the demons exorcised, the sinful forgiven, the sad comforted, the lonely welcomed, the outcast included, the hopeless inspired, the dead raised to new life; a community no longer defined by Jew or Greek or free or slave or male or female, or black or white or brown or some other human construct of race that divides us, but a community united in love where all are one in the one who embodied such love for all. That is God’s vision for the world. In a world so divided along racial lines, lines carved into our nation’s soul by generations of institutional injustice, and systemic racism, this is the vision we the church are called to hang from the ramparts, to make plain, so that one who reads it will be inspired to run the race of faith with perseverance.[/pl_blockquote]

What does it look like to present the world that vision? This past week we got a glimpse of it in Portland, Oregon. Twelve year old Devonte Hart was born into poverty with drugs pumping through his body. According to one account, “by the time he was 4 years old he had smoked, consumed alcohol, handled guns, been shot at, and suffered severe abuse and neglect.” When he was seven, he and his two siblings were adopted by Jennifer Hart and her spouse. Reflecting on that experience, Jennifer says, “People always tell us how lucky he is that we adopted him. I tell you, we most certainly are the lucky ones. …He inspires me every single day. He has proven doctors, psychologists and teachers wrong. His future is most definitely not bleak, he is a shining star in this world. His light shines bright on everyone on his path.”

Last Tuesday, Devonte and his parents went to a Ferguson rally in Portland, Oregon. There was a police barricade set up for crowd control. Facing the police in riot gear, Devonte was afraid. He stood trembling and weeping in front of the barricade holding a sign that read, “Free Hugs.” After a while one of those helmeted police officers, Sergeant Bret Barnum approached Devonte with an extended hand. He posed some basic starter questions, “What’s your favorite subject in school? What do you like to do in the summer?” Then he asked, “Why are you crying?” Devonte shared his fears about police brutality toward young black kids, and Sgt. Barnum responded, “Yes. I know. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.” Then pointing at Devonte’s sign, Sgt. Barnum asked, “Do I get one of those?” And they embraced. Unknowing to them, their embrace was captured by a freelance photographer.

Devonte-Hart_TINIMA20141130_0400_5

In a world where we too often wonder, “How long?” write the vision; better yet, embody it. Make it plain; so that all who witness it will be inspired to run, to work for a different world. In a world too often defined by division and violence and injustice, a world where fig trees seldom blossom, and fruit is hard to find and people are too often cut off from one another, may we join Habakkuk, rejoicing in the Lord; exulting in the God of our salvation, who makes our feet like deer, to run with perseverance the race set before us, keeping our eyes fixed on the vision, God’s vision perfected in Christ Jesus, our coming King. Wait for it. It will not tarry. Such a vision is worth the wait! Such a God is worth our worship.

** Unfortunately we had some technical difficulties with the recording of this video so there are some parts missing, but you can watch the rest of the sermon here.

Seeing the Invisible One

In an earlier blog post, I wrote extensively about how ministers of the Gospel shouldn’t act as though they gave up “something big” to pursue the call of God in their lives.  However, there is a person who probably could or should talk about what they gave up: Moses.  Moses didn’t just sacrifice a nice six figure job and the comforts of a home with a backyard to follow Jesus.  He turned his back on being the son of Pharaoh’s daughter.

What exactly does it mean to reject being the son of Pharaoh’s daughter?  For 40 years, Moses was educated in reading and writing the Egyptian language, he was taught the language of Cain, trained in mathematics, astronomy, architecture, music, medicine, law, diplomacy and geography.  He was also trained in archery, swimming, and horseback riding.  He had the world at his fingertips and wealth beyond measure.  He could have had any woman he ever wanted and anything he ever desired.  Some believed that he was in line to one day be the next Pharaoh due to his adoption into the family.    And he willingly gave up all of that to pursue Jesus.  He had a right to brag about what he gave up to follow the call of God.

Clay Werner begins his book, “On the Brink” by looking at the life and ministry of Moses after he follows God and gives us the right to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter.  His life was not glamorous nor one that we would envy or want.  Think about the life Moses had after he gave everything up for God.  He tried to deliver the people of Israel on his own, but that backfired and they didn’t even understand him.  He then spends the next forty years of his life in a wilderness taking care of sheep.

After all that, he encounters God and God tells him that Moses will be used to deliver the people from bondage.  But then God says something interesting, “Moses, you are going to go and demand that Pharaoh release my people.  But when you tell him that, I am actually going to harden his heart and he will refuse you.”  That’s what Moses gets for leaving everything to follow God!

God tells Moses that the people will listen to him, but then Scriptures reveal to us that they actually wouldn’t listen and Moses ends up complaining to God about the very thing God said they would do.  What Moses experienced from his own people could be summarized as animosity.  If Moses didn’t provide what they wanted, when they wanted it, they would complain and perhaps even consider stoning him.  He would be called a proud man, one that was interested in seeking his own glory in their deaths.  The people that he was over had spiritual Alzheimer’s – constantly forgetting what God did for them while grumbling and complaining about what they didn’t have.  This was the “reward” for giving up everything to pursue God.

Moses was constantly listening to their grumbling.  The people thought Egypt was like paradise and wanted to return there.  They complained that the food God provided for them wasn’t lavish enough for their tastes.  He was also constantly dealing with betrayal.  His own brother, Aaron, formed a false god for the people to worship.  He then joined forces with Miriam (Moses’ sister) and sought to oust Moses from leadership.  There were the 250 people that joined forces with Korah and opposed Moses.  On top of that, he had to deal with the day-to-day caring of the people and their needs.

This was the life Moses lived for sacrificing everything to pursue God.  Ministry wasn’t as grand as he expected it to be.  The life of Moses is a reminder that we will all face various and uncountable circumstances and individuals that will test and try our patience and endurance on a repeated basis.

How does Moses respond?  When he was provoked, he never sought revenge but remained calm and grieved that the sins of the people were against God and not against him.  His disposition was never one of hatred, but of love.  He was willing to suffer the loss of his own peace and comfort rather than defend himself or respond in the same manner that they treated him.

If you endured anything that is painful because of the actions of other people, you know that it is impossible to respond like Moses did apart from God’s renewing grace in our lives.  We are to be forgiving because Christ forgave us and we should seek to imitate it in our relationships with others.  We are to endure much from others because we love them.  We are to pray for them because we seek their welfare and long for them to be restored to God and others.  We are to imitate Christ in all things.

Moses never gave up or quit.  We never see him walking out on the people.  We never see him exploding on the people after years of pent up frustration and anger.  It’s amazing what we do see.  We see Moses falling on his face and pleading with God to save His people and not destroy them.  We see him standing in the gap when the justice of God is being poured out on the people.  We see him praying for the restoration of his back-stabbing sister after she sought to overtake his authority.  No wonder the Bible says that he was one of the most meek and humblest person on the face of the earth.

How was Moses able to do this?  Was he more holy than the rest of us?  Of course not.  The Bible is brutally honest about Moses’ shortcomings as well. He didn’t want to obey God and actually suggested that God messed up in choosing Moses as a leader.  He even had the audacity to recommend someone else to God as a possible leader.  There were times he was self-centered.  You see situations where his anger comes out.  Ultimately, he doesn’t obey God and loses the opportunity to enter the Promised Land because of his disobedience.

How did Moses endure and how do we endure when life gets hard?  Hebrews 11:27 gives us a small glimpse of what enabled Moses to keep going in the midst of so much disappointment, opposition and persecution.  The writer of Hebrews tells us that Moses “endured as seeing him who is invisible.”  Even though this sounds simple, this verse is deeper and more profound than we realize.

[pl_blockquote]The reason our frustrations run deep, the reason our anger gains control, the reason our endurance fades away is because we take our eyes of God and His Word and we focus on the dirt, junk, hardness, stubbornness, and challenges of the situation and the people around us.  Even though we believe the Word of God and can intellectually say that God is with us, we live our lives as functional atheists with God nowhere to be seen in the way we look at things, feel about things, and talk about things.[/pl_blockquote]

We need the Holy Spirit to constantly remind us that God is working behind the scenes – Someone who is infinitely powerful, wise, loving and sovereign has a plan that will be brought about in His perfect time and in His perfect way.

Knowing this doesn’t take away the difficult situation or magically make people disappear from our lives.  It doesn’t take away the pain and hurts that people cause in our lives.  However, it does place everything in the context of a world and life that God reigns over in mercy.

In Colossians, the Apostle Paul prayed that we “would be strengthened all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience” (1:11).  Why do we need power?  Why does God need to strengthen us?  Not so that we can have great lives and successful ministries, but because Paul understands that as messengers of the gospel we live in a broken world with broken people.  He knows that we will be tempted not to fight the fight, tempted to walk away from the race, tempted to quit.  Therefore, he prays that we get power so that we can endure and have patience.

What Moses endured and what we endure in life, even though it is painful, shouldn’t surprise us.  Our prayer should be “God help me to see, through eyes of faith, him who is invisible.”

Whoever started Christmas should be found, strung up, and shot!

A woman was out Christmas shopping with her two children. After hours of scanning the shelves for toys and gifts, and after hearing her children begging for all the things they wanted, she finally made it to the elevator. The doors opened and the elevator was packed with people. She managed to squeeze in with her bags and children. When the doors closed she let out an exhausted sigh and said, “Whoever started this whole Christmas thing should be found, strung up and shot!” From the back of the elevator a voice responded, “Don’t worry, we already crucified him!”

In the busyness of the season we call Christmas, it is easy to forget who started this whole season. Cards have to be written and mailed out, parties need to be attended, the children have their programs, shopping bags filled, lights hung, trees decorated, snow shoveled, house cleaned, relatives entertained and more! It’s exhausting just typing all of this.

[pl_blockquote]On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. (2 Corinthians 1:10b)[/pl_blockquote]

Why is why we need to keep a clear focus: Christmas isn’t about us! It is about Jesus. It is about God who became flesh. It is about the One who left the perfect home for a smelly manger. It’s about Him who exchanged the worship of angels to hang around with thieves, liars and murderers. It’s about the One traded the robe of majesty to be clothed in swaddling clothes. It’s about the One who can hold the universe in the palm of His hand, but gave that up to be conceived in the womb of a teenage girl. Its about the sinless, perfect, Son of God who came to die for sinners like me.

So let’s not forget who started Christmas or why He started it. This busy season, remember Him no matter what you are doing. Whether it is wrapping a gift or cooking a meal. Think about Him at your children’s programs or while shopping in the mall.

At the end of the day, this season is about putting Jesus first. Because He put His life on the line for us. He humbled Himself and became a man – a man who lived and died a once-and-for-all death for our sins. The salvation of our lives was more important than the saving of His life.

[pl_blockquote]Question: As things get busy, is your focus on the stuff of Christmas or the One who started Christmas?[/pl_blockquote]

Photo courtesy of ©Christopher Vu under the Creative Commons License 3.0

The Firstborn Of All Creation

This Christmas season is special in the Chacko household because on May 30 of this year our third son, Micah, blessed us with his presence into our world and lives. His existence began nine months earlier in his mother’s womb. Before that he didn’t exist at all – even though the Bible says that the days ordained for him were written in God’s book before even one of them came to be (Psalm 139:16). His story is pretty straightforward. He was conceived and entered the world on a certain date.

The birth of Jesus is kind of similar, yet dissimilar to our births. He was born two thousand years ago to a mother in a city called Bethlehem. Yet, his existence pre-dated His conception. When the eternal, immortal God became mortal, it presents a difficulty of where and how we start telling His story?

[pl_blockquote]He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. (Colossians 1:15)[/pl_blockquote]

Maybe that is why none of the stories of Jesus’ birth in the Bible start in the same place. Matthew starts his story with a long genealogy; tracing the history of Jesus all the way back to Abraham. Mark begins his story of Jesus with a prophecy from Isaiah about a messenger who prepares the way for the One who will come. Luke takes a very historical perspective and talks about the days when Herod was king. John goes back to a time before there was time when He says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” And then just a few sentences later he talks about how “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” The Apostle Paul starts the story by saying that Jesus is the “firstborn over all creation.”

See the story of Jesus is completely different from ours. God doesn’t fit into our boxes, not in any way, especially in respect to the birth of Jesus. He was there before He was born. Think about that. That’s fascinating. The wonder surrounding the birth of Jesus, the fact that it is something bigger and more complex than my birth and your birth, makes it extra special. It points to the fact that there nothing regular about the birth of Jesus. It’s extraordinary and supernatural. And because it is, because its both like ours and unlike our stories – because it’s God’s Story – this Christmas season, we can rejoice.

[pl_blockquote]Question: How does your story intersect with the story of Jesus?[/pl_blockquote]

Photo courtesy of ©Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery under the Creative Commons License 3.0

Prayer walking and why we want you to join us?

One of the ways that we can intentionally pray for the city that God placed us in is by doing prayer walks.  Last month, we walked through the neighborhoods around LOFT City and prayed that God would bless our city.  We walked by a couple schools and prayed that God would bless and protect the teachers and the students that assemble there during the week.  As we passed by city hall, we prayed that God would give our city leaders the wisdom to lead the city.  As we walked through the neighborhoods and the apartment communities, our prayer was that God would restore, protect and provide for the families/individuals that lived there.  We believe that prayer is so important to reaching the city that we want to continue doing prayer walks on a monthly basis.

We spent most of this past year studying the book of Hebrews.  One of the things that the writer emphasized is that because of Jesus we can approach the throne of grace anytime and from anywhere.

So what is so great about prayer walks and why do we want you to join us?

– It’s actually good for your body.  It’s good to get out and walk, even if it is a little chilly.

– It gives you a new viewpoint.  It’s very easy to drive straight from home to church and then go back home.  However, walking the streets of Richardson opens your eyes to so much more that is happening in the city.

– It gives you a desire to see God change the city.  When you see the people in the city, and you walk by where the leaders make decisions that affect the future of the city, and you are in front of the school that educates the future generation of the city, your prayer becomes that God becomes actively involved in the community.

– You are engaged in spiritual warfare.  You see the good and the bad of the city.  You see some of the devastation that sin has caused – broken homes, poverty, drugs, etc.

– It builds unity in the church as we join hearts and words in praying for God to use LOFT City to make a difference in our city.

– It teaches us to pray for things that only God can change.  We realize that unless God works, no event or activity that our church does will make a difference in this community.

– It helps us confess of our fears and lack of love for the city and people that are different from us.  It’s easy to talk about how much we love the city within the confines of the four walls of the church.  It’s easy to say that we are a church that welcomes all people to worship with us.  However, when we are walking through the city, we realize that we really don’t love the city and the people (and their baggage) that live in the city.  This helps us to go to God to repent and confess of our lack of love.

– It stirs your heart for compassion and justice in the neighborhood.

– It allows us to meet our neighbors and possibly build relationships with them and hear how we can be praying for them.

– We follow the example of Jesus.  “And when He (Jesus) drew near and saw the city, he wept over it (Luke 19:41).

Photo courtesy of ©lindejesus under the Creative Commons License 3.0