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.

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:

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.

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.

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

A Messed-Up Focus

One of the pitfalls that I keep finding myself in is the focus I give on the church as a meeting place, building, service while forgetting that the church is more about going and living than it is about a building. When I look at the early church, we do see them gather and fellowship, break bread and pray. However, when you read Acts, there is more emphasis on going and living among the people than there is on getting together.

Somehow we have shifted the attention to our gathering. We do everything possible to make sure people have a great time on Sunday morning. We demand perfection from our worship team, childcare for our kids, entertainment from our pastor and the ability to leave and go back to our private lives as soon as service is over. I’m not saying that any of this is bad. We want great worship, relevant teaching and our kids to be taken care of. However, this mindset has created a generation of me-centered people that are only interested in the church to make them feel good or entertained. It is not producing disciples that are going and living. Unfortunately, because we went into a building and sang some songs and heard a message, we think we just “had church.”

[pl_blockquote]Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles. (Acts 5:12)[/pl_blockquote]

The church is not just a group of people that come together every Sunday morning and sing songs and listen to a pastor and then go and live our individual lives. The church is so much more than that. We are a group of people, filled with the Holy Spirit, who have been given the power to take the message of God’s transforming power and love everywhere we go because Jesus is with us and in us. The church is disciples of Jesus, empowered by the Holy Spirit, sons and daughters of our Heavenly Father who both corporately and individually take the presence of Jesus to the places where God calls us. We recognize that it is “Christ in us, the hope of glory.”

[pl_blockquote]And Stephen, full of grace and power, was doing great wonders and signs among the people. (Acts 6:8)[/pl_blockquote]

As a pastor that has dreams of being “successful”, I need to constantly remind myself that the church is not about how big the building is, how many people attend the service, how great the sermon is, how amazing the kids ministry is.” The church is a movement of people, in love with Jesus who are going and being sent out, knowing that the Holy Spirit is with them, into a world that needs hope.

[pl_blockquote]Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word. Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ. (Acts 8:4-5)[/pl_blockquote]

This means that there is a shift from trying to engage people in all the activities that the church is doing to encouraging people to live out their faith in the places where God has already placed them. It means that while the service and the building is important, the equipping and empowering and sending of the people into the world takes precedence. It means that instead of “going to church”, we become more interested in “taking the church” to our world.

How does this play out for a disciple of Jesus?

[pl_blockquote]Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” This is a desert place. And he rose and went. (Acts 8:26-27)[/pl_blockquote]

Stop focusing on the meeting

It’s very easy to come to a church service and find everything good/bad about the service. Don’t be self-centered. It’s sad when people complain that they are not getting anything out of the church, but in reality they never put anything in to building relationships and living their faith together with other people.

Over the last several years at LOFT City, I’ve been watching God take some people out and bring new people into the church. The majority of the people that He has weaned out are people that were more interested in what the church was doing for them. They could very easily find faults in so many different aspects of the church. Sadly, because they were self-centered, they missed the individuals God was bringing and how they could have impacted their lives. Over the last several months, God has been bringing people from various ethnic and faith backgrounds with incredible stories and because we tend to be me-centered we miss out on what God is doing.

Focus on people

Our church building will not be in heaven, but the people we building relationships with and invest in have eternal significance. Invest into people. Figure out who God is bringing into your life and invest in them, invite them into your lives/homes. Go celebrate and weep with them. Be interested in their lives. Don’t make them a project, but genuinely care about them.

Pray for the people that God brings into your life.

Live God-centered lives everywhere you go.

Build relationships, love people, pray for God-appointments, live among the people

Use the gifts that God has blessed you with and use them outside of church.

You aren’t gifted so that you can bless the local church. You have been gifted by God so that you can point people to Jesus.

[pl_blockquote]Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except Jews. But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who on coming to Antioch spoke to the Hellenists also, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord. (Acts 11:19-21)[/pl_blockquote]

[pl_blockquote]While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off. (Acts 13:2-3)[/pl_blockquote]

Photo courtesy of ©Greg Hirson under the Creative Commons License 3.0

Will I Trust God?

It’s one thing to believe that God can be trusted, it’s another thing to actually choose to trust Him. There was a time when David was running for his life because King Saul had ordered him killed. Till this point in his life, everything was going well for him. He was anointed the next king by Samuel. He defeated the giant Goliath. The people of Israel were singing songs about him on the streets of the city. Life couldn’t be any better. Until Saul gets jealous and won’t rest till David is dead. For about 8-10 years of David’s life, David spends running and hiding from Saul.

Reread that last paragraph. You are anointed king. You defeat your nations greatest enemy single-handedly. You are a national hero. But it takes almost a decade before God puts you on the throne. And that entire decade you are hiding because you don’t want to be killed.

Think David ever had to trust God? Do you think David ever had to wrestle with the circumstances of his life and wonder what is going to happen to him? You can bet that he did and Psalm 56 gives us a small glimpse into his life and struggles.

In this psalm, David gives us four observations as it relates to whether or not we will trust God.

Everyone of us will encounter circumstances in our life that will require of us to choose to trust God.

All of us will. David, the man after God’s own heart, was no exception and neither are we. Chances are that none of will ever experience the type of hardships that David faced. But without a doubt, everyone of us will encounter our own.

Maybe you are in the midst of a major challenge in your life that demands that you trust God. You have no choice You are in the middle of a challenge, just like David was.

Maybe life is good for you. Marriage is good. You have a roof over your heads. You aren’t starving for food. There is money in the bank account. Things couldn’t get better. By the way, if that is you, praise God for that. However, understand that there will come a time where your circumstances will challenge, stretch, move and compel you to either trust God or turn from God.

We need to recognize that there are times that God will allow trouble in our lives to grow us and to make us into the people that He has called us to be. It doesn’t mean that God doesn’t care. It just means that God has a greater purpose. Because the lessons that David learned while he was running and hiding, God used them to prepare him for the day that he would be leading. The same is true of us. If God allows it, we got to trust that He is going to use it to prepare us for something greater.

God has this pattern that He uses with the people that He loves and calls. It’s pretty simple: God works in us before He works through us. God wants to work in you before He will fully work through you.

God was preparing David. He was using the circumstances in David’s life to teach him something. The most important thing that God wants to do in our lives is to teach us to trust Him. There is no better place for us to learn that than in the midst of circumstances that require that we trust Him.

[pl_blockquote]Our circumstances will either be an obstacle to our faith or an opportunity to demonstrate our faith. The determining factor of whether it will be an obstacle or an opportunity is our choice. It is whether we will choose to demonstrate our faith by trusting God.[/pl_blockquote]

That’s what David did, He chose to trust God. He chose to turn his circumstances into opportunities to demonstrate his faith by trusting God. He is incredibly transparent in the psalm and says, “God I have no idea what is going to happen to me, but I am choosing to run and cling to you.”

You will not trust someone we do not know.

One of the reasons that David could trust God in the midst of all that he was going through was because He knew God. This entire psalm screams intimacy with God. Not only because David pours out his heart to God, but also because of what David says in the midst of his struggle. “In God I trust, I shall not be afraid. What can flesh do to me? (vs 4). He affirms God’s protection and power.

I love verse 8, “You God, you kept count of my tossings. You put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book?” David is saying is that, every cave I have hid in, every place I have gone, all my wrestling’s, all my struggles, all my doubts, every tear I have shed, God you know them and God you got them. So God, I am going to trust you.

Can I encourage you to hold on to that verse, especially in times of trouble? In times of trouble when we are struggling to trust God, we don’t always feel that God knows us. And if He does know us, we don’t always feel like God cares about us. But he does. This is why regular time in God’s word and regular time praying or regular time being with God – these spiritual habits – are so important for us as followers of Christ. Because without them, we are not going to grow deeper in our relationship with God.

Reading our Bibles and praying and going to church, we don’t do those things to get a relationship with God. And we don’t do those things to keep a relationship with God. We do those things to grow in our relationship with God. We need them. Those are the spiritual habits that we need to develop in our lives. Because the outcome is trust. It is trust. And we won’t truly trust someone we don’t know.

Trusting God requires the grace of God

David begins this psalm by asking God to be gracious to him. We hear the word all the time, but the word grace means to bend or stoop. The imagery is of a father bending down to talk to a child at the child’s level. So picture God bending or stooping. In Scripture, grace is used two ways. It is used of God bending or stooping to save us from our sins or it is used of God bending or stooping to sustain us in times of trouble.

Let me give you an example. When God sent Jesus to live and die for our place for our sin, God was bending and stooping to save us. But when God sent the Holy Spirit to empower us as believers, God was bending and stooping to sustain us. It implies divine assistance. This is why the Holy Spirit in John 14 is called our Helper. We need help.

What David does is ask God for grace so that he could trust God. He’s saying, “God, help me to trust.”

It sounds counter-intuitive. We are supposed to ask God to help us trust God? Yes. Because without His help, we never will. Trusting God requires God’s grace and God’s help. Trusting God is the hardest thing we will ever do in life because our natural desire isn’t to run to God when things are rough. It is to run to ourselves.

But this is where the Holy Spirit comes into play. The Holy Spirit is God inside of us whispering to us, “Run to God. Go to God. He cares. He’s good. He’s sovereign. He knows what is best.”

[pl_blockquote]Please don’t assume that we just need God’s grace to save us, because we also need God’s grace to sustain us.[/pl_blockquote]

Trusting God is not a one-time decision, but an ongoing choice.

Over and over in the psalm David repeats and restates his resolve to trust God. He’s not forgetful, but he is being intentional. When David begins to be fearful, he trusts. Every time he thinks about his circumstances, he trusts. Every time he turns around and he sees the enemy on his heels, he chooses to trust. Every time he grows discouraged or every time he wonders what is going to happen to me, he chooses to trust. Trusting God is not a one-time decision. Instead it is an ongoing, everyday, sometimes moment by moment choice to run to God and to hold on tight. That’s what it means to trust.

This is why I love these kinds of psalms. They remind us that God can handle our wrestling. God can handle our struggles. God can even handle our doubts. In fact, I think that God invites that kind of transparency from us. Because when, like David, we go to God and we pour our heart out to Him, what we are really doing is we are demonstrating that our dependence is on God. It is one way that we choose to trust.

Can we trust God? Absolutely. Will we trust God? That’s a choice we have to make.

Can we trust God?

Can I trust God? How we answer this question impacts how we respond to everything in life. If God can be trusted, it changes everything for us. If He can’t be trusted, then we might as well give up on Christianity and figure life out for ourselves.

To be honest, trusting God is one of the hardest things we will ever do. It is incredibly difficult. I been in ministry now for over ten years and a student of God’s Word for much longer than that. I grew up in the house of a pastor, so the Bible was drilled into hour heads. I can quote chapter and verse that teaches us that God is good, that God is in control and that God cares for us. However, I am smart enough to know that there is a major difference between preaching about trust and actually trusting. It’s one thing to counsel someone to trust God, it’s a totally different thing to trust God myself.

[pl_blockquote]Therefore, the issue of trusting God is critical to our lives. And let me cut to the chase by saying the following very important statement: If there is a single event that occurs in our lives outside of God’s sovereign control, then we CANNOT trust God. If there is anything that surprises God, if there is anything that catches God off guard, if something shocks God, then we can’t trust Him.[/pl_blockquote]

So when we ask the question, Can I trust God, the question we are really asking is whether or not God is in control of our lives.

In Scripture, an unknown author wrote a beautiful song that emphatically emphasizes that not only can God be trusted, but He gives three reasons why God is worthy of our trust. The song is found in Psalm 121.

He describes a journey that he is taking to Jerusalem to worship. This journey was filled with anticipation, but also a sense of trepidation. There was anticipation because they were going to worship God. However, there was also trepidation because they didn’t know what was going to happen on their journey to Jerusalem. They could be attacked, robbed or killed.  And so he begins his journey with a prayer to God and acknowledges that He is dependent on God to reach his destination.

Then he begins to list three important truths about God of why we can trust Him.

God is the creator; therefore, nothing is too big for him.

The first thing that the author acknowledges is that “my help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth” (vs 2). He declares that God is both personal and He is powerful.

There is a common view of God today that acknowledges that God created us, but then He took a step back and left us on our own. He doesn’t care about us unless it is to judge or punish us. This is an unbiblical view of God. The word for God that the psalmist uses is Yahweh, the most personal name of God. It points to the fact that God loves His people, God wants a relationship with His people and God wants to be involved in His people’s lives.

God is also powerful. He made the heavens and the earth out of nothing. Don’t miss this! The God who created EVERYTHING out of nothing is the same God who wants to be our help.

This one verse points not only to God’s willingness to help us (because He is personal), but His ability to help us (because He is powerful).

God never sleeps; therefore, nothing surprises Him.

The psalmist then makes the statement that God “will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep” (vs 3-4).

The imagery there is of a God who is watching over us, caring for us and protecting us. That’s why the psalmist can say that God will not let our foot be moved.

Please don’t read this and think that this means that you will never experience heartache, hardship or difficulty in life. The reality is that you will. What it does mean is that no matter what we encounter, God never takes His eyes off of us. He never lets go of our hands. He is always sustaining us.

[pl_blockquote]How do we know? Because God never sleeps. He never doses off. He never needs to rest. You and I would never be able to make it without rest. We also couldn’t make it if God rested. In fact, the reason we can rest and sleep is because God never does.[/pl_blockquote]

What this means is that we will never hear God say, “I missed that” or “can’t believe I let that slip by me.” We won’t hear that because nothing catches Him off guard and nothing surprises Him.

Reality check: Could it be that the reason we are a restless people is in reality a trust issue between God and us?

God is always at our side; therefore, nothing will touch us unless God allows it.

The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade on your right hand. The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life (vs 5-7).

This is my favorite part of this psalm. I love this because it reminds me that I can endure anything life throws at me, because God is in it and God is with me.

God is a shade at our right hand. What a beautiful imagery. In order for something to provide shade it has to be both big and close. And the idea of right hand means a place of strength and favor. The writer says that God is big, God is close, God is our Savior, but also that God is on the one who fights for us. He fights our battles for us.

Reality Check: God’s presence in our lives is a game changer. Because it tells us that not only are we never alone, but also that nothing can happen to us unless God allows it.

This is where we have got to settle in our mind that God is sovereign over EVERYTHING, or he isn’t sovereign over ANYTHING.

[pl_blockquote]Either things happen to us apart from God knowing or God knows it and allows it because He has a greater purpose behind it.  Does this include the loss of a job? Yes. Does it include being hurt by a friend? Absolutely. Does it even encompass a bad report about your health? Yes. The death of a loved one? Yes. Nothing can happen to us, unless God allows it.[/pl_blockquote]

Back in the beginning of the blog I made the statement that if there is a single event (just one) that occurs in my life that God doesn’t know about, then we can’t trust Him. However, after reading through this psalm, I am confident that there is not a single event (not one) that will occur outside of God’s sovereign control; therefore, we can trust Him.