I AM WHO I AM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is God’s name forever!

Count it all joy

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

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

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

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

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

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

Indeed, He is the one persevering us.

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

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

I’m struggling…Why God?

This is a guest post from Calvin Sham.  Calvin’s bio:  I’ve attended the Loft City Church for about a year now. I was raised in Dallas, Texas—so I love everything Texan!! I graduated from Baylor University with my Bachelors in Psychology, attended Graduate School at the University of Texas at Dallas where I earned my Masters in Education, and am a High School English teacher. I love rap, hip-hop, working out, sports, and sharing the Gospel with the youth. God has given me a passion for the youth and I love spending time with them.
First thing I need to confess: I am just as broken as you are. But the wisdom I’m about to impart upon this blog DOES NOT COME FROM my brokenness but my WILLINGNESS to PERSEVERE through THE brokenness ULTIMATELY through JESUS. None of us can deny that we have struggled with a sin or that we are currently struggling with a particular sin right now—be it lust, money, pride, etc.
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The question I always ask myself is: “Why God? Why? (that’s a classic Joey Tribbiani phrase from “Friends” in case you didn’t catch that). Why am I dealing with this sin so much right now? Why is it a stronghold in my life? Why is it when I pray to you, you don’t seem to be doing anything about it? Why! Why! Why!

And then eventually those “Why’s” become:

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

So let’s go back to “Why”…

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

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

SIN STRONG → ROOT STRONG → PRIORITIZATION WRONG

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

So how do we remedy this? Two things:

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

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

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

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

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

Where’s the delete key?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In his remorse, David writes the 51st Psalm:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or, he talks this way;

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

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

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

And then there’s this incredible passage,

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

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

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

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

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

Sloth: A little sleep here, a little sleep there

Writer’s block, I definitely had it while writing out this post. It’s a trip alongside the theme park of your own choice with the mortal sin that can end out producing it. Named a capital sin due to its ability to give rise to other sins, Sloth is the kind of inactivity that can lead to sleeplessness and depression.  In retrospect, it can be seen as the opposite of spiritual happiness, by succumbing to the deadly sin of Sloth we lay ourselves more open to the crippling effects of depression. Depression is both a spiritual matter and mental one.

[pl_blockquote]“Slothfulness casts into a deep sleep and an idle person will suffer hunger” Pr. 19:15[/pl_blockquote]

What is a sign of falling to the sin of Sloth?

Well, you who are college kiddos, definitely pay attention here. In research, the closest and most definitive factor you are falling prey to Sloth is procrastination. The key indicator, procrastination makes us put-off what needs to be done today, the chances are high that we’re putting up an idle life. A great strategy to combat this and be effective in your life is to do the most unpleasant task of the day first. The worst task done first makes the day seem far easier.

Of course, any discussion of Sloth in the present day is unsatisfactory lacking in view of television; with its donations of brain paralysis, along with its collaborator in crime, the infamous Couch Potato.  As well as taking into account committing six other deadly sins at the same time; eating too much while watching, getting angry at the news, jealous of the celebrities, lusting for certain people,  coveting certain items, and being perversely proud at the safe distance you are from whatever natural disaster occurred FAR away from you.

Sloth though, is not merely a matter of the material life we have, but obviously of the spiritual as well. Spiritual fatigue can cause us to retreat into a shell of ourselves, and this is exactly why Paul urges the Galatians not to “not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” (Gal. 6:9) Meaning, we shall keep our reward that shall be our in Christ. Like every of the Seven Deadly Sins, Sloth must be battled against, even if our society makes it possibly one of the hardest to combat.

The biggest problem combating Slothfulness is the fact that you might be too lazy already to engage the beast in battle. You think you should put it off until tomorrow, oh yes, a wonderful idea; but it shall only lead you down the path of lazy destruction.

Modern man has become the Sloth, sorrow about God. The technology and advancements nowadays have perhaps influenced this, or perhaps cults, whatever it may be; there’s a belief that God is dead to the modern man. This very belief produces destruction within our own soul and does nothing to help us in the long run, much like procrastination itself, a tangent and assistant to Sloth.

“Through laziness, the rafters sag; because of idle hands, the house leaks.” Eccl. 10:16

That house will become dirty, dear friends, if you cannot find yourself to tend shop and take care of business… The honor of the house will be desecrated, it’s weakened; and all this through the slothfulness of self-seeking of those that should be…  Search for God, “you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.” (Isaiah 58:12)

Lust: An Undesired Sin

Lust is a deadly sin, of that we are sure. A powerful sentiment, lust governs over that which is strong desire; a feeling that grips your heart and holds tight. Lust has its origins in both the heart and within the mind, and it comes in countless forms and fashions. The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil beheld a fruit that Eve lusted for; she took that fruit and committed the original sin, alongside Adam. Lust is written as a great desire or powerful want for a certain object; whether it be another person or down to a wondrous fruit.

Which is why a clear focus is what is truly needed:

[pl_blockquote]Galatians 5:16-18 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever[ you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.[/pl_blockquote]

Self-Control, holding yourself back from those strong desires and powerful pulls toward something you lust over; whether it be money, power, or even sexual advances, as it’s generally described in today’s society. Those very materialistic qualities that exist on our dear Earth have an alluring nature, and can become something bigger than at first thought.

Colossians 3:5 Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.

For those are your idols, those that you have created through the lustful desires; objects or people that have been placed upon a pedestal above, and held in higher regard than God. Go, run and flee from the darkness of idolatry and return to the wonderful light. What form of friendship can the light have with the darkness?

We are transparent beings, that much can easily be noticed. Our society nowadays has given into the material desires far more than it did back then. With all the television shows, the electronic devices, and technical gadgets that fly about our heads, it’s not really surprising that we’ve been so preoccupied to pay such little attention on focusing on God.

Self-Control and a strong will to focus on the spiritual more than the physical will push through when reading the Word. That much is assured, you shall indefinitely find your enlightenment within the texts of the Bible, as God will to help you along the way.

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.

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

Honesty and Contentment

Honesty and Contentment
Two things I ask of you; deny them not to me before I die: Remove far from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny you and say, “Who is the Lord?”or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God. Proverbs 30:7-9

Honesty and Contentment

What an incredible prayer. It’s a prayer asking God to make you honest and content in life. Do you realize that you can destroy your life by being dishonest?  You can destroy your family by your dishonesty?  We have seen individuals who are not able to be honest about their struggles, and eventually sin destroys them. The biggest hindrance to people coming to church and faith is not theological issues, but the fact that they have been burned by hypocrites in the church. People that claim to believe one thing, but then lives their lives completely antithetical to what they profess. Let’s be honest. We are all hypocrites, myself included.

How does one become honest? There is only one solution. It’s the Gospel. Only when you apply the Gospel to your life can you actually begin to change in this. If you truly believe that Jesus took all of your punishment and there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ, then only can you live an honest life. When you grasp that Jesus took it all, forgave you, and the only thing that matters now is what He thinks of you. It doesn’t matter what other people think, because Jesus has approved you. You can then be honest.  You can then be transparent.  You can then be open to sharing your struggles and get help. Jesus loves you. He died for you. He received you.  You don’t have to hide your sin. You don’t have to impress people. You don’t have to put on a show. You can be yourself and trust that Jesus will use others to change you.

The same is true for contentment. Most of us never live our lives satisfied. We are never content with what God has given us. We want the latest gadgets and technology before it is released to the public. We want more than what we have now. We will wait in line for days, pre-order at ridiculous prices, and drown ourselves in debt doing so  – all because we are not content with what God has given us.

Again, the only solution for being discontent is the Gospel. Only when you fully grasp that Jesus died for you and brought you into His family, that you are now a son or daughter of God, will you ever be content. You get all the benefits of being a child of God now. Your heavenly Father is looking out for you and providing for you. Only then can you be content in whatever circumstance you are in, knowing that God is for you and not against you.

Most of us live our lives thinking that we have to earn something from God. We might not profess that, but that is how we live our lives. God has to bless me because I go to church, pay my tithes, read the Bible, pray, __________ (fill in the blanks). We think that if we fail Him in life or sin, God will punish or withhold his blessings from us.  We live our lives thinking that God is sitting in heaven waiting for us to fail, so that he can stop blessing us. Everything we do is not done out of genuine love for Jesus, but it’s because we fear failing Him.

However, have you ever wrestled with the verse that God is for you and not against you? The creator of the universe is for you. He is in love with you, supports you, provides for you, protects you, goes out of his way to make you a part of his family. What more do you need in life? You can be content in your circumstances. If you need it, God will provide for it.  If you don’t need it, you can be content knowing that God knows what is best for your life. Whatever He gives you is for your good. Whatever He doesn’t give you is also for your good.

Only when you begin to apply the Gospel to your life can you be honest and content no matter what you are going through in life.