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.

How Do I Live Missionaly?

The question that is often asked is how do we practically live our life on mission? How do we live on mission in our schools, jobs & with family members? That’s the hard part, isn’t it? We all know we are supposed to do this, but how do we take the theoretical & make it practical?

We talk a lot about living our lives on mission for Jesus at LOFT. We connect our time in communion directly to our call to live our life on mission. Brice reminded in his sermon that being missional means joining the mission of God as His image bearers.

Here are some very practical points to help us begin living on mission.

Be Available

If we want to live missionaly, we have to be available. This means we have to get to know the people around us. If we don’t know someone that doesn’t know Jesus, we need to repent & find ways to meet people.

How do we do that? Meet neighbors. Take a walk in the neighborhood. Go to the same store & meet the people at the register. Visit the same Starbucks & talk to people. Invite people over for dinner. Play sports at the park. Get kids involved in sports. Join the PTA or the local gym. Be available.

[pl_blockquote]We are busy doing church programs. We attend five services a week, at three different churches. We aren’t obeying Jesus if all we do is go to church & never share the Gospel. We aren’t going to get a bigger crown because we went to church so much. Do less church stuff & more “worldly stuff”.[/pl_blockquote]

Be Talkative

We can be available, but if we never initiate conversations with people it will not make any difference. Ask people questions about their lives & find out what is going on with them. Hear their struggles, their pains, their joys & their accomplishments. Listen.

Be Bold

If we are followers of Jesus, God is living inside of us. We can go to any person with the Gospel because we know that God will speak despite of us & minister. We don’t have to be afraid at all. God is with us.

Be Compassionate

When we hear a need or concern, offer to pray & pray with them right away. If we can help them, offer a helping hand. Care about the whole person – physically, emotionally & spiritually. All of that matters to God.

Be Prayerful

Don’t just become friends with people, but actually begin to pray for them by name. Pray that God will soften their hearts. Pray that God will create opportunities for Gospel conversations to happen. Pray that the Gospel will transform them. Pray for God to bring people into our lives that don’t know Jesus.

Be Transparent

Be real about ourselves. People don’t need to see that we have our act together, but they want to see if we are genuine or not. Don’t be a fake. Don’t be the “holier-than thou, bless God” people who think that they are better than everyone else. It’s ok to say that we are a screw up, because it’s reality & they know it & we know it. Be genuine.

Be Patient

It is not our job to change people’s lives. In fact, we can’t change anyone. God has to do it. This means that we never give up on a person. We keep loving them & loving them because we will never know when God will transform them. People aren’t projects, they are people. They will know when we treat them like a project. Love them till death. Maybe there are some people in our lives today that might come to Jesus at our funeral. Don’t quit.

Be Trusting

It is only God’s grace that is going to transform people. No eloquent words, no formula, no right tract is going to do it. Ultimately, it is in God’s hands. We can be faithful, trust God & rest knowing that God is at work.

Pray for Oklahoma

On Monday, May 20, powerful tornadoes destroyed the city of Moore, Oklahoma. Many in this suburb of Oklahoma have lost homes & loved ones. It is heartbreaking to see the devastation that this tornado has caused. There are no words to describe these scenes. No words at all.

Rodney Heltcel, left, salvages the wreckage of his home for photos and irreplaceable items, such as the print of his grandchildren he placed at right, a day after a tornado moved through Moore, Okla., Tuesday, May 21, 2013. The huge tornado roared through the Oklahoma City suburb, flattening entire neighborhoods and destroying an elementary school with a direct blow as children and teachers huddled against winds. (Brennan Linsley / AP)

We know that God is good. He is holding all things together, & we are asking for His Presence & His loving arms to surround this community. As a church, there are a few things that we can do right now.

Get Involved

We are partnering up with Collin Creek Community Church, which will be sending a truck of supplies this weekend to Moore. We are asking that you would bring supplies to LOFT by Friday night. Here are the essentials that they are needing right now:

Rescue operations
– Shovels
– Boots
– Work gloves
– Safety Glasses
– Dust masks
– Sunscreen
– First aid supplies

Household Items
– Socks
– New packaged underwear (men, women, children)
– Bottled Water (water supply is limited in some places)
– Toiletries (shampoo, bar soap, deodorant)
– Paper goods for the shelters (plates, paper towels, etc.)
– Trash bags
– Cleaning products
– Small travel packs with toothbrush & toothpaste
– Diapers in all sizes
– Formula & bottles
– Sleeping bags, pillows, & blankets
– Gift cards (Walmart, Target, Fast Food, Grocery)

[pl_alertbox type=”warning”]

Important Information

Everything needs to be in a truck on Saturday morning. Supplies need to be dropped off by Friday night. If you would like to donate, email us at info@loftcitychurch.com to arrange the drop off.
[/pl_alertbox]

Donate

The deadline for supplies is Friday night, but you can still continue to support the efforts financially. If you want to make a donation to the relief funds, you can give online using our secure giving platform. 100% of all donations will be given to the relief work that is being done.

Pray

– Pray for the emergency workers & relief efforts
– Pray for survivors as they are recovering
– Pray for those who have lost their homes & valuables
– Pray for those who have lost loved ones, especially those families who have lost their children
– Pray for the leaders who have to respond & take leadership in the midst of this crisis
– Pray for opportunities to share hope with people, in the midst of tragedy
– Pray for churches & pastors in the Moore/OKC area who are called upon for hope & help

Share

Invite your friends to help in the rescue effort. Share this on your social networks and help us get the word out. Our response needs to be quick & efficient because of the extensive help needed in OKC. Thank you in advance.

#PrayForOklahoma
#Moore

Living for Jesus

We will be spending the majority of this year studying this incredibly challenging, yet rich, letter in Hebrews. We don’t know who the author of this letter was. It’s not mentioned anywhere in the letter. However, we do know quite a bit about who the recipients are. Knowing about them helps us see why this letter is relevant for our times and our lives. Here’s just a few things that we know about the group of believers in Rome that this letter was written to.

©JD Hancock

These believers Had Never Met Jesus Before.  The letter was written in about 65 AD. About 30 years have passed since Jesus died and resurrected. By this time, most of the Apostles who had seen Jesus face-to-face had died, but they had spread the Gospel wherever they went. The letter was written to “second-generation” believers. Many of them grew up in the church their entire lives. Most had never met the Apostles. They believed because they had heard the message, and the Gospel began working in their lives.

Often times, I read the Bible and see the faith of individuals, and a part of me feels like that it was easy for them. They saw Jesus. They heard the voice of God. They saw miracles happen. No wonder they could have such great faith. But I am 2000 years separated from that time. Knowing that this group of people were trying to live for Jesus, even though they had never seen Him, is a source of encouragement for me.

They were part of a small church in a huge urban city.  The Church in Rome was a very small church. However, Rome was the largest city in the entire world at that time. The book of Hebrews is filled with references to the city. Consider:

  • For he was looking forward to that city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. (Hebrews 11:10)
  • But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city. (Hebrews 11:16)
  • But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, (Hebrews 12:22)
  • For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. (Hebrews 13:14)

The writer is writing to the believers to remind them to keep looking forward to another city. They lived in the middle of an urban city that was broken and full of injustice and poverty – a city that was difficult for believers to live in. They were longing for the day when Jesus would return and create a new city for them to live in.

They were part of a pluralistic culture that accepted everything but Christianity. The city of Rome was an incredibly diverse city. It was diverse in many ways – ethnically, culturally, and in terms of language and religion. The society accepted everything but Christianity.

The believers in Rome were first rejected by the Jews. Judaism was one of the accepted religions of the state. Initially the believers would gather in the synagogues to worship Jesus. However, when the Jews rejected them, they were no longer welcome to come back into the synagogues. Then there was a fire in the Jewish section of the city. The Jews blamed the Christians for the fire. This caused the Emperor Claudius to banish the Christians from Rome. To be identified as a Christian meant ridicule, prosecution, and even imprisonment. After Claudius, there came an emperor by the name of Nero. He hated Christianity. He would find Christians and burn them at the stake, throw them to the wild animals, and use them in the games. Christianity was tough for these group of believers.

I don’t think we are at the point of dying for our faith in our nation. However, I think the Christian voice is slowly being pushed aside and rejected in our nation. Just last week CNN had a poll that basically asked the question, “Should evangelical pastors who don’t support same-sex marriage be allowed in the public square?” Regardless of what your opinion is on the same-sex marriage topic, the fact that this very question is brought up means that evangelical questions are slowly being pushed out of the public square and we will be faced with ridicule, opposition, and eventually persecution. There is a reason why it will get even tougher for us as believers. “The basis of authority definitely differs.  An evangelical’s ultimate authority to truth isn’t the President, public opinion, or any other person – it is the Bible, and what it says” (Bob Roberts).

The Believers in Rome were tempted to give up and quit.   The author is writing to two groups of people. The first group is comprised of people that have grown up in the church, heard the message of the Gospel, and been a part of the community; but they haven’t fully devoted their lives to Jesus. You couldn’t blame them. It’s hard living for Jesus. It’s so much more “fun” out there. There’s more freedom out there. But the church is being rejected, isolated, and persecuted. Their family members are in jail. They have heard of people losing their lives. Why would they want to commit to Jesus?

So they have one foot in the door of the church but another foot out. Isn’t that true even in our day and time? The process of backsliding or leaving isn’t something that just happens overnight. I don’t think I have ever met someone that just plainly rejected Jesus outright. The process starts slow. You slowly start drifting away and getting more involved in what the world offers. What the world offers is so much more enticing, appealing, and easier than the command of Jesus to take up your cross and die. To this group, the author is writing and showing them that Jesus is worth it. He’s so much better than anything the world has to offer. He’s better than the life that you used to live. He’s better than what is being shown out there as the “good life.”

There is another group that the author is writing to. These are the people that have committed their lives to Jesus no matter what. They have counted the cost. They have realized that Jesus is so much better than anything else. The author writes to encourage them. He tells them to keep going and not to give up.

He closes the book by reminding them of an incredible promise. “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” What an incredible promise.

Is life hard? Is it hard being a Christian? Is it going to get harder as we try to live out our faith? Is it hard fighting sin? Is it hard being a witness for Jesus? Yes, it is hard and difficult. However, He will never leave us nor forsake us. He will never let you go. He will never abandon you. You are in His arms, and He isn’t dropping you or letting you slip through His fingers.

I’m excited to begin this book and I pray that you will be challenged to see Jesus as so much better than anything else that the world has. I pray that you will be encouraged by the promise that He will never leave you and never forsake you.

Photo courtesy of ©JD Hancock under the Creative Commons License 3.0

Alex, the General Contractor

Back in August, I signed up for a Groupon deal to have a handyman come to the house to do various house projects for an hour.  The day before he was supposed to come, “Alex” called to discuss the details of the projects.When he arrived, Alex mentioned that I needed to get some materials from Home Depot. We jumped in his car, and on the drive there, I got to learn about his story.

©Erich Ferdinand

Alex’s real name is Ali, and he is a Muslim from the Middle East.  He came to the United States in 2000 to study architecture at a university in Oklahoma.  While there, he met his future wife, also a devout Muslim. They got married a few years later, and now have two little kids.  His wife stays at home to take care of the children, while he works for a family friend to provide food on the table.

Ali had a brother in Florida, who had been brutally murdered.  Ali’s eyes were full of pain as he explained what had happened. Despite all this, Ali can’t imagine living anywhere other than the United States.  He loves American football, boating, fishing, and being with his family.

Ali spoke of his devotion to his faith. He faithfully prayed at the times that he was supposed to pray. During Ramadan, Ali would faithfully fast during daylight hours although it was difficult to do so as a handyman. Sometimes this meant that he would be in the heat outside all day without any food or water.

After a while, he began asking about what I did.  When I mentioned that I pastor a church, he wanted to know my thoughts about relationships between Muslims and Christians.  I began telling him of my friendship with the Imam of the Plano mosque.  I told him about how I have been to both the Plano and Irving mosques and have met both Imams.  Ali attends the Irving mosque, and was amazed when I mentioned Imam Zia by name.

We ended our long conversation with him wanting me to meet his family and pray for his business.

Why am I blogging about this?

Too often, we Christians tend to talk about other faiths, but we don’t dialogue with people of other faiths. If all we do is attack people of other nations, other religions or other races, we aren’t being representatives of Jesus to the world we live in. The only thing this does is close the door for relationships to be built.  Yet when I study the life of Jesus, I don’t see him doing that at all.

Jesus was interested in conversations with the “enemy.”  He spoke with the Samaritan woman, when no one else would have talked to her. He healed the daughter of a Gentile woman – another enemy of the people of God.  Although Jesus knew he would be crucified by Romans, he never attacked or talked about them. Instead, he healed the servant of a Roman Centurion.  These were enemies.  These were people opposed to the Gospel.  They were the terrorists.  Yet, Jesus didn’t see them that way.  He loved them enough to talk to them – not about them.  Loved them enough to heal them – not let them die.  Loved them enough to build relationships with them – not close the door on them.

I had previously posted about how the world is coming to Dallas.  It’s an incredible time to be living in.  God is giving us opportunities to interact with various people, learn from them, love them, and point them to Jesus. However, it won’t matter at all if the world is coming to our city if we aren’t willing to love and reach out to them.  If we stay closed and boxed in our little comfort zones, nations will come and go, and we will miss the incredible opportunities that God opens for us.

I love my Muslim friends.  I recently had a great lunch with an Imam, whom I genuinely care about.  I would love to see him become a follower of Jesus, and I pray for that often.  I’m sure he would love to see me become a Muslim and prays for that, as well.  We have incredible conversations about life, faith, and theology.  We disagree on many things.  However, our religious differences have not stopped us from being friends and from living in peace and harmony with each other.

My friend, Ali, left my house that day saying that he wishes he had met more Christians like me.  That was humbling to hear.  He even mentioned that he wanted to visit our church one day.  He figured if an Imam was welcome, he would be welcome as well.  Has he come?  No.  Will he come?  I don’t know.  I do know that because God led me to see him as a person and genuinely care about him, he had a better impression of Christians and the Church.

Photo courtesy of ©Erich Ferdinand under the Creative Commons License 3.0

Why another church in Richardson?

Dallas Richardson Map
A question that I am often asked is why are we starting another church in the Richardson area. Richardson is a city that is saturated with churches, we have more ministries & churches in our metroplex than most countries have in their entire country. It’s a great question.

Churches in Richardson TX

To answer that question, I want to quote a book from a pastor that has invested heavily into my life over the last three years. Pastor Bob Roberts is the pastor of Northwood Church in Keller, a church that helped plant LOFT. I will write another blog soon about the influence that Pastor Bob has had on LOFT and how we are the church we are because of his influence.

Bob has written a new book called, “Bold as Love.” It will be released in a few months, but I received an advance reader’s copy this week. In the first chapter, Bob talks about how our society has changed and he specifically addresses the changes in the Dallas area.
[pl_blockquote]There was a day when faith was tribal and defined by geography. Not anymore. Every religion is everywhere. Even in Dallas. Today, 44 percent of the population was not born in an English-speaking nation; 238 languages are spoken in the DFW area; 28% of the population doesn’t speak English in their homes! We have Little Pakistan, Koreatown, Little Iran, Little India, Little Arabia, Chinatown, three Little Vietnams, four Little Mexicos, Little Nepal, Ethiopia/Eritrea.

Hispanics make up a large portion of the metroplex with roughly a million people. But there are also 40,000 Arabs, 90,000 Chinese, 25,000 Columbians, 5,000 Egyptians, 80,000 El Salvadorians, 7,500 Cambodians, 8,000 Bangladeshis, 15,000 Ethiopians, 90,000 Indians, 40,000 Iranians, 20,000 Ismailis, 50,000 Koreans, 25,000 Nepalese, 10,000 North Africans, 50,000 Pakistani’s, 30,000 Filipinos, 40,000 Polish, 22,000 Puerto Ricans, 80,000 Vietnamese, and dozens of other ethnicities.

In 1975 there was one mosque in the entire DFW area. Today, there are forty three. The closest mosque to me is about two miles away, the closest Buddhist temple is four miles, and the closest synagogue is five miles. The whole world is around me – and it’s around you.[/pl_blockquote]

What an opportunity for us to share to love for Jesus. What an incredible time for us to be alive. What a great reason to start a church that will reach the nations of the earth. What a great time for us as believers to move out of the comforts of what is safe, normal and constant and take risks for the sake of the Gospel.

God has allowed us to be born and be alive at a time when we will run into all sorts of people who need to know the love of Jesus. Whether you’re hungry or hurt, lonely or lost, full of questions or looking for a home, there’s a place for you at our church. We want to help you find a place where you can connect with others in your stage of life. Our desire is to disciple you to think & live missionally. As we continue to invest resources into reaching people in Richardson, the Dallas area & beyond, we pray that we can make a Kingdom impact at a global & local level.

Heather Mercer

This weekend we are blessed to have Heather Mercer minister to us at LOFT.  Heather is the founder and president of Global Hope.  A native of Virgina, Heather is a graduate from Baylor University with a degree in German.  In 2001, after her graduation, Heather traveled to Kabul, Afghanistan to work and spread the Gospel.

Missions Emphasis Week Missions Week

On August 3, 2001, Mercer, along with five other women and two men, was arrested by the Taliban for spreading the Gospel, a capital crime in Afghanistan. After September 11, 2001, she and the others were put on trial. Some were sentenced to death.  She was held captive by the Taliban for 105 days until the Northern Alliance Force came to her rescue on November 15, 2011.

Heather is passionate about the Muslim community.  Through projects that tangibly express the love and hope of Jesus Christ, Global Hope hopes to build bridges for meaningful relationships with the Muslim community.  Currently Global Hope is involved in two such projects in the nation of Iraq.

Hagar House is the only aftercare program in Iraq for abused women.  They are focused on a multi-phase restoration process that includes:  counseling, spiritual development, life skills, education and job training, employment and independence.

Freedom Center is a community center that includes coffee house and internet cafes, English language school, Leadership Institute and Library, Business and Copy Center, Women’s Training Class, Park and Playground, and Recreational and Sports Facility.   The Freedom Center will serve about 500 people a day who will experience the love of Jesus Christ.

We are excited to have Heather come and share her testimony and vision with us at LOFT.  We invite you to join us and invite your friends and family to hear this incredible testimony who has given her life to reach the Muslim community with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
[pl_blockquote]“The Great Commission is not just a commission to be for self. It is a command to be obeyed. God has called us to go; there is no other option.  What would your life look like if you had nothing to lose? What would your life look like if you had nothing to prove? That’s the call of God on your life.”[/pl_blockquote]

What children should say about their parents

John Paton was a Scottish missionary to the island of New Hebrides in 1851.  This was an island full of cannibals.  In fact the only other missionaries that had ever attempted to evangelize this island were murdered and their corpses were eaten by these cannibals.  John and his wife, Mary, went to be missionaries to this island in 1858.  Three months after arriving there, his wife gave birth to their son Peter.  However, nineteen days later, Mary passed away from a tropical fever, followed by the death of his son Peter.  Despite these challenges, John served faithfully among this people group and as a result of his faithful service and God’s divine intervention, the entire island professed faith in Jesus before John died.

john-paton

John began a journal which later became published.  The first 100 pages of the auto-biography is where he talks about the influence of his parents on his life.  I wanted to give you a few quotes of what John would say about his parents:
[pl_blockquote]The very discipline through which our father passed us was a kind of religion in itself. If anything really serious required to be punished, he retired first to his closet for prayer, and we boys got to understand that he was laying the whole matter before God; and that was the severest part of the punishment for me to bear! I could have defied any amount of mere penalty, but this spoke to my conscience as a message from God. We loved him all the more, when we saw how much it cost him to punish us; and, in truth, he had never very much of that kind of work to do upon any one of all the eleven—we were ruled by love far more than by fear.[/pl_blockquote]
Another excerpt that stood out to me was the day that John describes leaving his home to attend missionary school.  He had to walk 40 miles just to get to the train station.  His godly father walked with him the first portion of the journey, knowing that accepting the missionary calling was accepting the call to leave family and probably never see them again.  Here is what happened:
[pl_blockquote]My dear father walked with me the first six miles of the way. His counsel and tears and heavenly conversation on that parting journey are fresh in my heart as if it had been but yesterday; and tears are on my cheeks as freely now as then, whenever memory steals me away to the scene. His tears fell fast when our eyes met each other in looks for which all speech was vain! He grasped my hand firmly for a minute in silence, and then solemnly said: “God bless you, my son! Your father’s God prosper you, and keep you from all evil!” Unable to say more, his lips kept moving in silent prayer; in tears we embraced, and parted. I ran off as fast as I could; and, when about to turn a corner in the road where he would lose sight of me, I looked back and saw him still standing with head uncovered where I had left him gazing after me. Waving my hat in adieu, I was round the corner and out of sight in an instant. But my heart was too full and sore to carry me further, so I darted into the side of the road and wept for a time. Rising up cautiously, I climbed the dyke to see if he yet stood where I had left him; and just at that moment I caught a glimpse of him climbing the dyke and looking out for me! He did not see me, and after he had gazed eagerly in my direction for a while he got down, set his face towards home, and began to return, his head still uncovered, and his heart, I felt sure, still rising in prayers for me.

I watched through blinding tears, till his form faded from my gaze; and then, hastening on my way, vowed deeply and oft, by the help of God, to live and act so as never to grieve or dishonour such a father and mother as He had given me. The appearance of my father when we parted has often through life risen vividly before my mind, and does so now as if it had been but an hour ago. In my earlier years particularly, when exposed to many temptations, his parting form rose before me as that of a guardian Angel. It is no pharisaism, but deep gratitude, which makes me here testify that the memory of that scene not only helped to keep me pure from the prevailing sins, but also stimulated me in all my studies, that I might not fall short of his hopes, and in all my Christian duties, that I might faithfully follow his shining example.
[/pl_blockquote]