Goats, Grace, and Glory: A Reflection on My First International Mission Trip

Goats grace glory

Goats…small-ish, but powerful animals with bulging eyes. Not the ideal cuddly animal, but a beloved creation of God nonetheless. In Los Ciles, Honduras their purpose is simple but very much so needed. A staple of sustenance for many Catracho (Honduran) families. In Dallas, Texas, their purpose seems more convoluted. I say this as I sip my $5 artisan coffee and watch a group of smiling Americans participate in an atypical Sunday afternoon activity. Goat Yoga. Yep, that’s right. Goat Yoga.

From what I gather, the goats are put on people’s backs as they do certain yoga poses. For what purpose, I am not really sure, but a part of me longed for the simplicity of a goat’s purpose to wander the green hills of Pastor Laudolino’s backyard, to wander and commune with fellow goats (and chickens) alike, and to perk its ears when its called so that it can give what it has to the forever grateful Honduran family. Brothers and sisters, I long for a simple purpose like the goats of Honduras.

Brothers and sisters, I long for a simple purpose like the goats of Honduras.

(Note: If you’re still with me, I applaud you because I reckon this will not be a three paragraph summary of the Honduras Mission Trip. Sorry, Pastor Sam. 😛 )

Let’s backpedal for a second. My prayer for this mission trip was to be humbled and return back to the States grateful for all that I have. I knew that I struggled with pride in many areas of my life, most notably with ministry and work, so I very much so desired for God to grant me freedom from that struggle. A bold prayer, you may think, but I did not know that at the time. I thought it was a ‘right’ prayer to pray, not a powerful one. But friends, God answered this prayer faithfully and at the right time.

One of the great things about God is that He is good, and with His goodness there is grace upon grace. And I needed grace during those five long and stretching days in Honduras. Like the goats of Goat Yoga, my life’s purpose seemed to be dictated by other people’s demands. In my case, it was more so other people’s “perceived” demands. I had believed the lie that in order to truly have purpose, I needed to be a good servant leader, serve others with a sacrificial love…always disregarding my personal needs. I did not have a choice, it’s what I (mistakenly) thought I was supposed to do.

Like the goats of Goat Yoga, my life’s purpose seemed to be dictated by other people’s demands. I had believe the lie than in order to truly have purpose, I needed to be a good servant leader…always disregarding my personal needs.

That’s why serving in Honduras was so hard. I was there in this foreign country and my purpose was to just be there. To be present in activities that seemed to be frivolous. To be present in sitting with others and nothing else. To be present in conversing with others and nothing else. I just had to be all there, and I felt extremely awkward and inept. Didn’t I have great interpersonal skills? Why did I feel so off? My American purpose ceased to exist, and I felt like I was a pampered Yoga goat trying to understand the purpose of wandering the simple Honduran landscape with my fellow goats. I seemed to forget the purpose of being a part of a family. Of just being a part of the Body of Christ.

Before I left for Honduras, a wise sister in Christ told me, “Things always seem to become clearer during mission trips,” and I will say God’s grace in His great love for us became that much clearer to me. I can just be me, and He would still love me. I can serve Him by just simply recognizing the importance of being just a member of the Body of Christ, and He would still be glorified. No strings attached. I had truly believed the lie that I had been serving solely for His glory, but in reality, I was serving to fulfill my purpose to be needed and give glory to my many accolades.

But by God’s grace, he lovingly humbled me and opened my eyes to see that my purpose was shallow in comparison to His purpose for my life. To simply live my life for His glory. It is all for His glory.

In the World, Not Of It

lovingourcity

Through the twists and turns of life, God has brought me to work in a clinic for people who have limited access to healthcare in Collin County. Hundreds of families come through every month because life has hit them hard at some point or another.

In this rapidly growing metroplex, I see hidden, expansive pockets of poverty on a daily basis. My patients include the single mom working two jobs in the shadows of restaurant kitchens. They are the white collar worker who got laid off and hasn’t been able to land another job in the past year. They are the unseen employee working for 10 hour shifts without breaks or workers’ rights. They are enduring laborers on construction sites in the unforgiving summer Texas heat.

Recently, God kept bringing one story to mind – a patient who had a sore throat for an entire year. It turns out they had strep pharyngitis, which is easily diagnosed and treatable with penicillin. We live in a first-world country and a person in our affluent city had strep for an entire year. AN ENTIRE YEAR.

Over the past three weeks, I have been buzzing with indignant anger when God brings this story to mind, and God kept pushing me to write about it. My mind goes fuzzy when I want to remind myself of some key Bible verses that speak of raising up the poor but I realized God doesn’t work that way. He doesn’t want us cherry picking through the living Word so we can justify our anger. He has already written an arc of a story that resonates and shakes of His unchanging feelings about injustice and oppression. He’s already been sitting with us in our mess since our fall from Paradise.

I’ve dug through all the reasons why my patient had strep throat for a year and found a mountain of seemingly unforgivable trespasses — to blame my patient for not trying harder, for their life choices, and every political/social/religious institution that failed them. Aren’t these our defense mechanisms when we want to pardon ourselves from listening to God in these complicated situations?

If we forget that we have all been a lost sinner in a desert place, shackled to chains of sin, we will all forget that we have been rescued by the grace and mercy that God freely offered us. With this spiritual amnesia, we will feel it appropriate to dangle our righteousness over those who have less than us. We will sit on our air conditioned, middle-to-upper class thrones and point fingers at everyone who has made a mistake, cheated on a test, crossed a border, stolen a candy bar, had a lustful thought, followed through with an abortion, acted in anger, saying that we know best about political rules and religious laws that keep society in check.

However, because God has rescued me from slavery AND the desert place AND death, numerous times over, I am called to a different life marked by grace, at the foot of HIS throne. HIS cross. My soul remembers love.

Then, my mind is jarred back into all that continues to bombard my mind throughout the whole day. News about suffering friends and family, injustice, death, oppression, shootings, wars, poverty here and abroad. 85% of the time my body is tired. My mind is battered. Weekly, my soul numbs out before it realizes it needs living water. I can go through an 8-hour clinic day checking lab results and prescriptions, treadmilling through the schedule of 30-minute clinic appointments without acknowledging God’s heartbeat in the person sitting across from me. How do we process and contain, grieve and feel, amidst the pressures we have to sustain throughout the day?

A mentor recently told me, “If we did what God wanted us to do for the day, we would have enough time. If we try to fit in everything we want to accomplish on our own along with what God wants us to accomplish, we’ll always run out of time.”

In the 15% of days when I actually rest in Jesus and only do what He calls me to, I can more readily engage in our culture with God’s Spirit and Power. I grasp the concept that our decisions, political opinions, theologies, and actions are not the end goal — rather, all of history and nature long to speak for God’s persistent story of love (Romans 8 comes to mind).

So I share the following tangible steps and encouragements as Gospel light amidst our daily struggle of sin in a fallen world.

Remember and confess

Remember that you were redeemed from the filth of sin, and that God continues to do so. Although we do not live in condemnation, we remember we have not earned any of what God has given us. Receive God’s dance of grace and mercy for yourself first, then you’ll have enough to give others.

Practice the Sabbath

Keep taking rest from all that is loud and unrelenting in the world for at least a 24-hour period every week. God might be telling you to pull back from constantly being plugged into the news or social media.

Prayer

However, God might be asking you to keep reading the news, bringing every headline to Him in those moments. When someone intercedes for me or when God reminds me to just BE with Him, it awakes a part of my soul that gives me sustenance for the next minute, the next hour, the next day. Keep that line of communication open with Jesus – even if it might include despair, grief, confusion, doubt. He has suffered it all and in seasons, He gives us new light through prayer.

My exhortation is that prayer doesn’t stop there. I believe God uses these prayers so that grace can spill out to the oppressed in our communities. As much as the world is spinning into an unsalvageable mess, Jesus’ death and resurrection proclaims that He has boundless amounts of love to salvage it. No question. It’s there already; we just have to be listening.

He is calling you out of apathy to serve the poor, the widow, the orphan.

He is asking you to pause and give a listening ear to a coworker who is oppressed in their own lives.

He is beckoning you to stop feeling condemnation for not ‘doing’ enough.

He is giving you the strength to fight apathy and learn compassion.

Every time we speak up for someone who is oppressed, love the unlovable, vote in an election, make the extra effort to pursue our spouses, or teach our children well, the world sees our missionality and an alternative to living in the ways of the world. Because of you, brothers and sisters, unbelievers see that God has an expansive heart for human beings, made in his image, in any given sociopolitical issue. They see that we are not apathetic and isolated just because we have an eternal heaven waiting for us. They see that our faith brings about hope for God’s kingdom here on Earth. They see that Jesus’ love for us begets more love.

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

The next chapter

And so it begins…“A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” Growing up, I had this idea of success that seemed to have been embedded in my mind. It was a formula to what my life should look like. There was nothing wrong with this formula; it was actually a great way to make sure I didn’t waste my life away. I’d graduate high school, focus in college, get into medical school (or an equivalent), find a girl, eventually get married, and raise a family. But, there was a point at which I began to realize there were differences in between what I felt I was “called” to do and what the formula “called” me to do. I was torn. One option would take me down a road of stability and comfort. The other option would take me down a road I was less familiar with.

How do I decide?

Almost six years ago, I embarked on a journey in which I had no clue of what the outcome would be. I left my family, friends, and comfort thousands of miles away and moved to a place I wasn’t familiar with. I was terrified for countless reasons. What was I, this kid barely out of high school, thinking? Pursuing a degree in music? What if I failed? What would happen if I had heard wrong? A whirlwind of thoughts and emotions flooded my mind. In these years, I’ve asked myself countless times, whether I was really where I was supposed to be. It felt like I found myself in the valley 80% of the time. Then I was reminded that it was the strength gained in the valley that brought us to our mountain top experiences.

[pl_blockquote]When we take a step out of our comfort zone and put our lives in surrender to God’s will, something beautiful happens. Yes, there will be fear, doubt, and confusion, but ultimately, there will be peace. The beauty of life is that when we follow after what God wants us to do, we are never promised ease and comfort, but we are promised that He would be there with us.[/pl_blockquote]

This journey of a thousand miles would never have happened without the first step. The first step was the hardest; it required the most faith and strength. It’s difficult to take a step when you can’t see what’s in front of you. I’ve learned a lot in the last six years. I’ve met my closest friends, lost a ton of friends, traveled the country, made a ton of mistakes, and learned a lot about myself.

There has been a familiar Bible story that has been pivotal to this journey I’ve been on. It’s the story of Peter walking on water. When Jesus said, “Come,” Peter stepped out without hesitation. We have a tendency of asking for a call to “come,” but are slow to respond when we receive it. We make excuses and try to convince ourselves otherwise. This is very normal. I wonder sometimes what was going through Peter’s head. Peter knew it was greater to take the risk of responding to the call of Jesus than to allow fear to hold him back. Can you imagine what it would have looked like if Jesus had said, “come,” and if Peter had decided to sit? At the moment Peter’s doubt began to get the best of him, Jesus stretched His arms out and caught Peter. Even after the first step is taken and we see how good things are going, our doubts begin to creep in and will, at times, get the best of us. The beauty is that even in those moments, He isn’t planning on letting us sink and drown, but He is there to make sure we stay afloat.

Now, I am embarking on a new journey – one full of fears, worries, and doubts – but I know it’s where I am supposed to be. I’ve heard the call to “come”, and now it’s time to respond.

[pl_blockquote]In the next few months, I will transition out of Dallas and will be making the move to Hawaii. Yes, Hawaii. I’m not sure what this season has in store or how it will work. But, that’s the beauty in putting my trust in Jesus.[/pl_blockquote]

As Peter didn’t think twice and took a step out into the unknown, I believe it’s time for me to do the same. This transition is going to be long, hard, and difficult. I am saying goodbye to a church I love, friends who have become family, and all things I know to be comfortable.

All this to say, never be afraid to walk in the will of God or follow after what He is calling you to do. Take risks, do things that make you uncomfortable, and challenge yourself daily to rely on Him. You will have fear, doubts, and worries, but it will be well worth it. Comfort and safety can’t be what guides your life, rather, have comfort and peace in knowing that He is guiding your life. What good is it to go through life in black and white, when, all along, He’s called us to live in color?

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

Meet Citlally

Citlally Ramirez
It is amazing how many people we come across on a day-to-day basis. Often times we don’t pause to hear their stories & or get involved in their lives. We forget that the amazing transformation that happens with the Gospel begins with a passing conversation.

This is the first part in a video series, in which we introduce the stories of a few people we have met across our city & our church. It is just a glimpse of how God has used His people to impact the life of one. This isn’t the story of one ministry or church, but the collective impact of many individuals.

[pl_video type=”youtube” id=”FfJorXghvtM?rel=0&showinfo=0″]

TRANSCRIPT

Hi, my name is Citlally Ramirez. I was born in Santa Barbara, California. I was raised in different parts of the country. First raised in California, Georgia, Mexico & Texas. I’m the oldest of three, I’ve a brother & a sister & my parents are originally from Oaxaca, Mexico.

I’m currently a senior studying biology & I help my professor conduct research. I have been doing that for three years now. When I’m not in the lab, I’m usually co-ordinating events for the International Justice Mission campus chapter that I helped cofound. Our focus is to raise awareness about human trafficking & to empower students to become volunteers in the community. For example, becoming volunteers at a shelter for battered women & victims of human trafficking.

In April 2011, I was going through a rough time, & it was during the same time that I came across an Intervarsity booth. They told me about this 24/7 prayer tent, & I thought it was really strange & different. So I decided to check it out one night & I purposely took my bike just because I thought that if I felt uncomfortable getting off I could pass by. But all of the people there were staring at me because I was the only person there so I kinda had to get off. So I got off & we started praying, & that was really different for me because when I heard their prayers, it sounded like they were just talking to God. I thought that was really cool. I also prayed, but I didn’t know how to close or open. I really liked that, so I returned to community engagement with Intervarsity & that is where I met Lisa Jacob. She took interest in me & I thought it was strange, I though I was her project & I had to impress her. But I started seeing that she did really care for me, & she actually wanted to help me in this walk with God. We started talking about deeper things, about Jesus & I knew who Jesus was. I knew he died on the cross, but didn’t know what that meant. Now I know that His death on the cross meant that the veil was torn & that I could speak directly with God. I could use my own words. He wanted to hear me. Just knowing that completely changed my life.

That same year, I started going to LOFT. The church was offering rides from campus to the church. The same person who picked me up that day, I saw him with a microphone on stage & I was waiting for him to get off stage, but then I realized he was the actual pastor, that Sam was the pastor. After service, I saw how everyone was talking to one another, how close they were to one another. Tara Kinra, she offered me to have lunch with her at her place & I though it was really strange & really kind of her because she didn’t know me & she was offering me to go to her place. She made me feel like I could become a member of that community. A community that genuinely cares for one another, that is very welcoming to new members.

In 2012, I asked God to really grow me in Him. He opened up an opportunity to go to Bombay through LOFT. In Bombay, we worked with Bombay Teen Challenge, which is a ministry that works in the red light district to rescue girls out of sex trafficking. It was such an incredible blessing to be there. On the very first day, one of the girls signaled me to stretch out my hand, my arm. So I did, & she placed in my hand a bracelet that said forgiven. That was such a beautiful moment because I had always struggled with guilt & shame, & God was reminding me that I was forgiven, that Jesus had paid it all. Upon returning back from Bombay, I returned with so much new hope just seeing how much the girls loved Jesus despite what they had gone through.

These past two years have been an incredible journey in my walk with Jesus. God has given me an opportunity to travel to Bangkok & as team we will be living in the slums. We will showing the love of Jesus by serving them. So I’m going to need a lot of prayers & support, as I take this leap of faith. I pray that God will use me to minister to people that meet there.

One of my favorite Bible verses is Psalm 94:19, “In the multitude of my anxieties within me,
Your comforts delight my soul.” I don’t know where I will be in the years to come, but I do know that I want to serve Jesus with all that I have. I’m very blessed for the invitation to be part of his works.

[pl_alertbox type=”info”]You can support Citlally on her Bangkok trip at Intervarsity and then type in “Citlally Ramirez, STiM 13” to donate.[/pl_alertbox]

Life on Mission

Camelot Tuesday LOFT City Church
When we first started, one of our deepest desires was to foster a strong relationship with the people in our church neighborhood in Richardson. We did not want to simply invite them to come to us, but we wanted to go to them. Serving at the Camelot apartments was the opportunity God opened for us. Every Tuesday night we have the privilege of hosting kids from the apartment and the neighborhood. With the help of volunteers, we created a place where they can be honest with each other, without fear of rejection, and where we can encourage them to pursue God in complete surrender. A few of months back, we had a chance to sit down and interview some of the kids. Here is what they had say:

[notphone][/notphone]

[phone][/phone]

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]