Monday, December 31, 2007

90-Days to read through the Bible...

So, 2008 is upon us - this is the last day of 2007. It was quite a year for us - planting a new church will do that to you. We are very excited as we look forward to 2008, however. I am looking forward to diving deeper in my connection with Christ this year as we continue to pursue the people in our community with the gospel. On that front, I'm taking on the challenge to read through the Bible in 90 days. I'm going to kick it up a notch on the blogging front during these 90 days and write briefly each day about what I've read, how long it took to read it, and what God is teaching me along the way. Blogging will keep me honest and accountable as I move forward. To do this, I've also agreed to take a 90-day fast from reading any other books so that I can focus on Scripture alone for 3 months.

I start tomorrow - you are invited to join with me if you'd like to journey with me. I'll be following this 90-day reading plan so you can read along if you want. As always, you're welcome to comment along the way - I hope it is an encouragement to you as I know it will be a blessing to me.

Happy New Year's to you - 2008, here we come...

Monday, December 10, 2007

Harry Potter, Vol. 1-7

So, I just finished reading last week the seven volumes of the Harry Potter series. Over-all, I really enjoyed them. I enjoyed being able to read all seven volumes at once and not having to wait for each volume to be released over the course of seven years. I almost didn't make it through the Left-Behind series because of having to wait for each book and because of how much material was repeated in each book to get you caught up from the last one. Rowling does a much better job of not killing you with repeated information in each book, and providing plenty of narrative history, dialogue, exciting action, character development, and plot twists to keep the story interesting. Still, with the number of pages, I almost gave up in the middle of book 4, but kept going and the series really picked up toward the end. A couple of summary thoughts related to the series as a whole:

(1) JK Rowling is incredibly creative and inspires me with her literary skill. I have read that she new most of the story from the very beginning. She has done great work increasing the level of intensity with each book and the complexity of the story. Her vocabulary increases with each book as well, pointing toward her desire that kids read the books as they age along with Harry. I don't know if these books will be long-term classics like Lord of the Rings and Narnia, but they are definitely as creative as these previous classics.

(2) I'm reminded of the power of a good story as I look back over the series. Story is one of the most powerful ways to communicate truth and principles, which is probably why God chose story as the main way to communicate with us in Scripture. Rowling's story is detailed and multi-layered, but she manages to grab the reader and take the reader with her the whole way. And throughout the story, Rowling is teaching - she is making statements about our world through Harry's world. You can see more about what she planned to teach by checking out the latest interview with her in Time magazine - she was the 2nd-runner-up for this year's person of the year. Amazing how much her life has been changed by the book and how many books she has sold.

(3) The message of good defeating evil will never grow old. Because we live in the time "in-between" where we see the redemption of Christ at work in our hearts but also recognize the brutality of a world still ravaged by sin, all of us long for the day of complete redemption. When one reads Revelation 21-22 and sees the "new heaven & the new earth" where evil has been destroyed, death is gone, and joy and peace reign with Christ, our hearts can't help but long for that day. Rowling's books parallel this theme - a world-wide struggle between evil and good, between those who love and those who hate, where unjust things happen all the time, and characters long for a day of reckoning. We all can relate, because our world is very much like Harry's world in this. While the wizarding-world may be different, the struggle is our struggle. This is why closure in book 7 is so sweet (the last enemy to be destroyed is death) - Harry's life and death struggle connects with our struggle. And his defeat of death to eliminate evil connects with the truth of the gospel - Christ's death & resurrection to bring an end to evil and the completion of redemption.

(4) The complex nature of the human soul is our point of contact. Rowling wins over so many fans mostly, I believe, because she makes us relate so completely to the characters in her story. Their awkwardness, loneliness, friendship, goofiness, stumbles, victories are really ours. We see ourselves and our lives in their successes and failures. We connect so completely with the fact that those who have it all together externally really have dark secrets and those who are the most goofy have heroic moments. We know that we can't judge a person by their external actions alone because many times our actions are disconnected from our hearts. We are conflicted people - the Bible ascribes this to being image-bearers of God (the stamp of God's goodness still exists on our souls) and yet being broken because of sin and the fall. Whatever you ascribe the cause to, everyone identifies with the struggle.

Overall, I'm so glad that Rowling has had the success that she has - a great work that will surely be read by generations of kids to come. I'm excited to take my boys through them when they are older and are ready, and that I can talk to them about the spiritual themes that Rowling highlights.


Sunday, November 25, 2007

New Ferguson

We announced it to our family this week and our church this morning, so I thought I would pass along the news to everyone who checks the blog: we are pregnant again and expecting our fourth child next summer. We are very early in this pregnancy (about 8 weeks along) and will deliver in late June or early July. We are so excited to be blessed by God with another child. We feel like every child is a huge responsibility before the Lord, and we are overwhelmed that He has given us another life to steward in our home. We feel like this one will be our last and are excited to be completing our family. So, now the wagering can commence: boy #4 or our first girl?

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Josh McDowell's story

Josh McDowell has been influential in the body of Christ over the last 40 years as one of the greatest apologists of our times. His many books on the evidence for Christ and the Bible have helped me through the years to clearly articulate the evidence that our faith is reasonable. Just this week, I downloaded the audio from iTunes of an evening with Josh McDowell at Liberty University. I thought I knew a lot about McDowell, but I had never heard a detailed retelling of his personal journey to faith. Wow! I encourage you all to check out Liberty University's podcast and download the clip of McDowell's story - very compelling. And a reminder of how thankful I am of those who have gone before us and showed us the way.

Friday, November 16, 2007

What Evolution Is

Ernst Mayr was one of the most famous biologists and evolutionists of the last 100 years. He lived to be 100 years old and wrote the book that I'm reviewing in his nineties, his mind still obviously very sharp on the topic that was the passion of his life. I've picked up and put down Mayr's book several times, but ultimately read it to gain perspective on evolution from someone who was at the top of the biological sciences. Mayr helped shaped the Darwinian synthesis in the 1940s that has come to dominate the biological sciences today as the scientific understanding of the development of life. I have struggled with many in my own tribe who dog evolution for two reasons: one, they only ever seem to read people who agree with them on the subject instead of seeing what evolutionary biologist actually write, and two, many who speak against evolution don't spend time studying the science behind the theory. As I have written before on the topic of evolution, the philosophical statements of evolutionary leaders are often easy to defend against and poke holes in. This is because ultimately science is a descriptive field, not a philosophical one. In other words, scientists are best when they are describing what they see at work in the world around them, but move quickly into the field of religion and philosophy when they start speaking about why things in the world work the way they do. All that being said, I thought it was only far to read some of the scientific work done in the area of evolution since I'm always commenting about the philosophical issues. Here's a few of my thoughts on the science from Mayr's book:

1) His book is very well-written and gave me an introduction into many things that I need to think about and wrestle with. It was a good exercise for me to understand the three main parts of Darwinian evolution: one, common descent (all life on earth is descended from common ancestors, ultimately single-cell bacteria), two, random mutation (all populations of species change through hereditary and mutations), and three, natural selection (that those changes that are beneficial to life are passed on because they are beneficial to survival).

2) Mayr is open about the limitations of the fossil record to prove evolutionary theory because he says it is commonly accepted by paleontologists that very few animals are fossilized. While this is refreshing to read, it makes the reader wonder why so much confidence is put into a record with so little evidence. There are some fossils, just not very many - not the overwhelming evidence pool that evolutionists want it to be.

3) Creationists have to deal with the fact in their scientific & theological explanations that the earth appears to be incredibly old, that species have appeared to change over time, and that all living things have a similar genetic code. I'm not saying they have to buy into evolutionary explanations, but just that they need to have other explanations.

4) Mayr has not done a great job convincing me of the following:

  • One, though everyone can understand microevolutionary change (changes within the species), it seems counterintuitive that random small random changes (which most of the time are harmful, not helpful) are powerful enough to give rise the amazing diversity of life that we see around us every day.
  • Two, with so much of evolutionary work being historical work, it seems odd to me that we have not seen natural selection do what scientist say it can do - create macroevolutionary changes over generations.
  • Third, as evolutionary movement in Mayr's timeline seems to accelerate and slow down, the evolutionary explanations for this seems rather weak. Why does the fossil record show periods of rapid special development and then steady-state for long periods of time? It seems like from our observations that species are very stable over time and yet we are supposed to believe that during quick bursts (of creativity) many different species suddenly appeared.
  • Fourth, Mayr's work on altruism is the weakest part of the book in my mind. He openly admits that we need religious leaders to teach us to care for outsiders, but we just don't need the crazy creation myths that religious leaders share. What kind of non-sense is this? Obviously, love and care toward outsiders is the weakest part of evolutionary theory in my mind. The character trait that we would consider the most noble would be the one that would ultimately kill our own kind?
  • Finally, there is still no basis for morality in the evolutionary system. In what has to be the most bizarre part of Mayr's book, he says that we need religious and cultural leaders to teach ethics because evolution has no ethics. Then why does every person have a sense of ethics? This would mean that a system that has no ethical values would create a species of people with a moral compass. This is as ridiculous as saying that a system without purpose created people who are obsessed with purpose. If there truly is not external basis for a moral code because I am ONLY a biological being that is competing for resources with other biological creatures, why should I live a moral life? Yet I know that I should. Why would I even consider being faithful to my spouse and not just follow my biological urges and have sex with as many women as possible in order to continue my line and win in the evolutionary race? Is the greatest goal of a man to make sure that his children carry on his line? Is that what we are?
I'm done ranting, but you get some of the ideas. I was challenged by Mayr's book - his scientific knowledge is obviously superior to mine. I encourage other parents who will have discussions with their kids about evolution to read it. I hope some of these thoughts are helpful. I don't have it all figured out by any stretch of the imagination, but I'm a guy trying to put all the pieces together. God's best to you!


Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Political Craziness

You have to know up front that I'm not always open about my personal politics because I'm a pastor and I don't think people have to agree with my politics to come to my church. However, I am open about being a political junkie. I don't know why I am one, maybe it was playing the part of Bob Dole in a debate in my high school government class that made me cross the line, but I've always been fascinated by it. Then, my bride and I got sucked into watching the West Wing after I finished seminary (it was in its last season at that point), and we watched the whole seven seasons on DVD in one year. The show just reinforced my political obsessions even more. I've been following the '08 race very closely all year even though it has really only gotten really interesting in the last month. I don't watch the debates, they take too much time, and they aren't what really matters anyway - it's the coverage coming out of the debates that matters. All that being said, I do watch all the candidates online and have skimmed through their websites to see where they stand on their issues. I normally don't bring all this on to the blog because of what I said at the top, however, the endorsement by Pat Robertson of Rudy Guiliani brought on a response by Randy Alcorn, a well-known Christian author, that I think everyone should read. Check it out now... Preach it, Randy!

Thursday, November 01, 2007

P&P, B-days, & Hospital Trips

Our church has a cool tradition of giving our staff one day a month to get away from the office for prayer and planning. Today is that day. I'm sitting at my desk at my house, Barie is gone with the boys for a day at the farm at Waco, I staring at a stack of commentaries and my Bible and my notepad and a hot cup of coffee. After a long few weeks, I've never been more prepared for a full day of time alone with God.

I think we had about 50 people over at our house last night for our annual Halloween party / hot-dog cookout. You see, Halloween is Kade's birthday, so we had a big birthday celebration with our small group and neighbors from 5:30-6:30 pm, and then we sent all the kids out with their families to trick-or-treat. Kade was Lightning-McQueen this year (which he absolutely loved), Kamden was Superman (which makes sense to everyone who sees him wearing his cape around ALL the time), and Kale was Tigger. I think I cooked and gave out about 75-80 hot dogs last night in our drive-way. The word was out pretty early that we had food and drinks, and the neighbors came out. Fun-times.

Today is my mother-in-law's 60th birthday. As I mentioned, Barie has taken her out to the farm today for a day of relaxation and conversation with some of our favorite people in the world, Horace & Retta Heathman, at their farm outside of Waco. My mother-in-law is one awesome lady, and has been so much help to us with our boys. You wouldn't know she is 60 by her appearance or her activity. She stays active and fun-loving and paranoid, as always. We love her much - happy 60th Bobbie!

This week we had to take Kale to the hospital for a really high fever. His fever spiked on Tuesday to over 104, and he had a febrile seizure. It scared us and the primary care doctor enough to send us down to Dell Children's Hospital in downtown Austin. After six hours and lots of tests, they ruled out just about everything and told us it was most likely a virus they had seen going around that was causing lots of high fever. They told us the fever would go away and a rash would appear and then he would probably be over it. We've decided the hospital trip is Kale's way of telling us he needs some alone time with mom and dad. ;-)

Monday, October 29, 2007

Economics of the Hybrid

Thought you might enjoy seeing this chart that the Journal posted today about how long it takes to break even financially whenever you buy a Hybrid vehicle. Interesting stuff...


You can read the whole article at http://online.wsj.com/article/SB119335110403372123.html.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

History of Round Rock

Got to hear the history of the city of Round Rock today during the Leadership RR program I'm participating in this year with the RR Chamber of Commerce. I'm enjoying getting to understand more about the city I live and work in, and I'm also really enjoying getting to meet 24 other young leaders who are hoping to plant their roots in the city of Round Rock. Today, as I heard and saw much of the interesting history of the city (only 2700 people lived in RR in 1970 - today it is over 90,000 and over 150,00o within its ETJ), I had the thought: we really should know more about the local histories about the places we live. And since so many of us are transplants into new communities, it would be helpful for more people to hear about the history of their cities. Of course, if all of us continue to move every 2 years, this process would get old quickly. I hope our family can be here a long time - it really is a great place to live.

Also - how sweet that the Cowboys are 5-0 (even though an ugly 5-0 after last night) and the Yankees are gone from the MLB playoffs? The Mavs start preseason tonight against the Spurs - this could turn out to be a great fall for sports...

Monday, October 08, 2007

Using Halo to Draw Teens...

Interesting article here in the NY Times about evangelical churches using Halo tournaments to draw teens to a place where they can hear the gospel. Not the first time we've had discussions about using all kinds of means to attract people to places where they can hear the gospel (read Christian haunted-houses, etc.) I mean, I'm all about using truth we find in culture as we point people to Jesus Christ (we just opened the last two weeks of our church services with a U2 and a Bon Jovi song, respectively), but isn't there a place where becoming "all things to all people" leads us to places we don't really want to go. Any thoughts?

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Indian believers face tough times...

I read this interesting article on the cover page of the WSJ this morning and wanted to pass it on to you. This article reminds us to pray for our brothers and sisters overseas who face difficult times when they become followers of Jesus Christ...

Monday, September 17, 2007

my wife's video blog...

I'm not sure how this happened, but my wife has become more high-tech than me, sporting video of our kids on her blog - check out the craziness of the Ferguson Home. And she has an updated interface with all kinds of family pictures. We probably need to have more children - she's got way to much free time on her hands. ;-)


Bringing it...

So last week was launch Sunday, and maybe I was a little nervous, or maybe I just didn't have that much to say, but long-story short, I went 26 minutes in my sermon. You wouldn't believe the grief I got in the office last week for my "improved" sermon style. Not that there is anything wrong with a short sermon, but I was back in true form this Sunday - 33 minutes, baby! How you like them apples? ha!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The Church Is Launched!

Sunday was a really great day. It was very exciting to see God use everyone on our team. Too many great stories to share in a short blog posting – more later when I'm not running around working on visitor follow-up and trying to prepare next Sunday's sermon. Barie and I sat around Sunday night and told story after story of how we saw God at work in the families that we talked to on Sunday – too much fun. We've received lots of great feedback on everything – people were very excited about our worship team and our children's ministry team and our cool family-worship time called KidzLife FX.

We counted 319 between the two services, so from last week’s worship attendance, we had a jump of right at 200 people in worship. We are figuring that about 40 of those were family and friends who came in for the first service, so my best guess at this point is about 160 first-time local visitors – very exciting.

We had two families that came to my house Sunday night for the desert time, and both of them were very interested in the church and will probably stick around.

We are working now on processing all the names and visitors for our teams - got to run, still working on that…

Please continue to pray over our team – lots of sickness with our staff and elders & our kids. We all very much feel like we’re in an intense spiritual battle right now.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Remembering Our Slavery in Egypt

One of the greatest challenges for those of us who have been believers for a while is to think back on what life was like before we came to faith. The OT law asked the Hebrews to remember regularly all that God had done in their national and personal life so that they would not forget the gracious works of God in their lives. This was God's intent with the whole system of regular festivals - to celebrate and remember God's mighty works on their behalf. The Lord's Supper is built into our Christian faith for the same purpose - to remember God's work in our lives through Christ. Jesus himself tells us to take up the cup and the bread "in remembrance of me." Why would we need a regular way to remember the work of Jesus on our behalf? Because we tend to forget. We are a forgetful people. We quickly begin to think that we deserve the blessings of God on our lives and that we somehow earned our status with the Father. Neither of these assessments of our condition are accurate. We don't deserve what God has given and we couldn't have earned it even if we tried (all by grace).

What's the big deal with remembering this, you might ask? Well, it directly impacts the way we treat those without Christ - either with compassion and grace (because we know what it is like to be without Christ ourselves) or with contempt and judgment (because we forget). So, as God tells the people of Israel in Deuteronomy 24.22 after he tells them to have mercy on the widow, the orphan, and the foreigner in their midst,

"Remember that you were slaves in Egypt. This is why I command you to do this."

Monday, August 27, 2007

Suburban Spirituality

I shared with my congregation yesterday (so weird to be able to say that) about how the missionary of Christ seeks to have a good grasp of his context (the time and place where he does ministry) and a great confidence in his message (for us, the grace of the gospel). The context for our missionary work in Round Rock, TX is suburban America 2007. Over the last year, I have sought to gain a greater understanding of our missionary context, and in a way, not only better understand the people we are trying to reach, but how suburban culture continues to impact my own spiritual journey. Through my own observations from conversations with many people in this community and some reading I've done and the wonderful insights of people on our team, I tried to lay out five over-arching characteristics that shape the people who live in our community. See if you notice any of the following in your context...

1) Relational Isolation: most people who live in the Round Rock area are transplants to this community, meaning they have very few roots in this area - no parents or grandparents or cousins close by, no high school or college friends that live within driving distance. Most people in our context are surrounded by people, but they are known by very few (if any). I love how Randy Frazee describes this - our crowded loneliness. Lines of people at the store, rows of parents at the football game, neighbors at the playground, but no deep friendships.

2) Distrust of Authority & Truth: almost everyone I meet has a story about why they live with a cynical worldview toward people in authority and anyone who claims to have the truth. As John Burke writes so well about in his analysis of our generation, the generation of the 60s & 70s went on a binge on self and now our culture is vomiting up the results. Parents can't be trusted - they just get divorced and leave. Politicians can't be trusted - they just make promises to get elected. Pastors can't be trusted - they'll abuse someone sexually or steal someone's money. All in all, we have produced a generation of cynics (see Jon Stewart as exhibit 1).

3) High View of Tolerance: because we live in a global culture where anyone can flip on the TV or log on their computer and get news from any corner of the world, it seems crazy to most people in our community to say that our worldview is any better than their worldview. In fact, when most people in our culture hear someone say that they believe their dogma to be true, they mostly write it off to that person's ignorance of the rest of the world. With so much cynicism toward truth and authority, it only makes since that our culture's highest value would be acceptance of everyone else's values.

4) Hidden Brokenness: while every generation and people group has brokenness, suburban America tends to hide our brokenness in the cover of materialism and isolation. In our pursuit to keep up appearances with everyone in our relational sphere, we tend to submerge the real us and put on a front that makes us look like we have it all together. The problem with this is simple: we don't. Everyone has stuff they deal with, we only vary in how well we hide it from each other. And suburban dwellers hide it well behind manicured front yards, security gates, and leased happiness.

5) Instability and Uncertainty: just as our global world leads to a high view of tolerance, it also leads to a heightened sense of uncertainty. Will my job be here in three months or will it be shipped overseas? Will another terrorist attack hit our nation in the near future? Financial security, job security, national security, and family security have become buzz-words for our time and place. Everyone wants to know what the future brings because they know it will definitely be different from the present.

While the list could have been longer, I stopped with these five. What are your thoughts as you read through these? Do you notice them in your own life or the lives of those around you? How is this information helpful to us as Christ's missionaries to suburban Texas 2007? Anything you would add?

Love the church, but sometimes discouraged by our mess...

As we plant a new church in our community and talk to many people about their view of Christ and His church, I'm always thinking about the reputation that the church has in our community. I pray two directions related to this: one, that our church would be a place of authentic life-change where people can actually see the difference that Christ has made in our lives, and two, that people would not judge all churches by news they hear in the media. So, a few headlines that have me concerned in the last few weeks...

Megachurch Pastor & Wife Separate (link here)

Megachurch Pastor arrested for beating his wife (link here)

Local well-known Pastor arrested and charged for stealing money from his church (link here)

Ted Haggard sends out email saying he needs more money (link here)

God, by your grace, I hope I'm never a link on somebody's blog (like this guy's) for church leaders who shame Your church.


Sunday, August 19, 2007

New Church is Chartered...

HCBC Round Rock North was officially chartered last night. We had 97 people sign the charter document and had a wonderful service at the YMCA in Round Rock. Our team did a great job of completely reworking the YMCA gym so it really looked like a worship center - it was truly amazing. God has been so great to us in giving us a great team and a great sending-church in Hill Country Bible Church Pflugerville. It was really amazing to be commissioned this morning at Pflugerville. It was really a G0d-moment as Danny was finishing up a series on giving with a message on sacrificial giving the same Sunday that PF was sacrificially giving away so many people to plant a new church in Round Rock. You can listen to this Sunday's message here.

Thanks for all your prayers over the last year - God has definitely answered our prayers in more ways than we can imagine. We have our first pilot service next Sunday, and we'll be off and running. We are continuing to pray about our launch Sunday on 9.9.07 - we are anticipating great things. If you're not on my prayer-email distribution list, here's the latest prayer update that I sent....

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With less than a month to go until our first public service, we especially covet your intercession on our behalf. We have continued to see God move in remarkable ways over the last six months as He has led us to the YMCA, brought us amazing elders and ministry leaders, built a great staff team, and given us a missional core that is so serious about reaching the Round Rock community with the gospel. The work around here is continuing at a frenzied pace, but we are regularly stopping to confess that this is Jesus' church and that our confidence is in Him and not in our plans.

We have continued to be confronted with our own limitations as we desire to accomplish something huge for God. We desperately need your prayer cover these last few weeks of our launch season, so I'm sending on to you several specifics needs that you can be praying for our leadership and our team. Thanks again for partnering with us in such an important way to impact the people of Round Rock, TX.

Charter Service
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This Saturday marks a very significant moment in the life of our church-plant. This Saturday evening, the core team of HCBC Round Rock North meets to become charter members of our new church. We will have a powerful worship service as we celebrate all that God has done in getting us to this day and we will make our commitments to playing our part in the life of the new church. Here's some specific things you can pray for related to our charter service...
First, pray that God would be honored in this service and that the focus would be on Him and what He has done, not on any person or group of people. Pray that the service is a real time of celebration and rejoicing in God's goodness and provision for our team. Please pray that people are moved to make great commitments with their time, their talents, and their money because they are captivated by God and want to be used by Him in powerful ways.

Second, please pray that the Charter Service is a spiritually meaningful moment for each family who participates so that they can look back and remember all that God has done to bring them to this church plant. Pray that God would move in the hearts of our core families and prepare them for the intense season of ministry ahead. Pray for continued protection for our elders, staff, and ministry leaders as they face spiritual attacks in the days and weeks ahead.

External Focus
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Another area that we request prayer for is our efforts to connect with people in our community who are disconnected from Christ and help them connect with Christ and His Church. We are asking God to send us many, many people who are new to the faith during our first few months, so please join us in praying for our team to connect graciously and intentionally with their family, friends, co-workers, and neighbors over the next several months. Please pray that God would help all of our core members passionately pursue the disconnected people God sends their way.

Also, please start praying for our launch service (our first public service) on September 9th. Pray that God would help us as we seek to communicate the truth of the eternal gospel in a culturally-relevant way. Please pray that those who come in our doors during the first few months of the church would feel loved and accepted where they are, and that they would meet Jesus Christ and never be the same. Please pray for our team as we seek to engage people in our target area with the gospel.

Humility
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Finally, I would request that you lift up all of our leadership team and our spiritual health. Please pray that our team would stay close to the Father as we enter a season of intense ministry. Pray that our hearts would stay sensitive to the Holy Spirit and that we would be a team that prays hard and trust in God for big things! We want to be a team that walks by faith and not by sight, so please pray for big faith in the days ahead.

Maybe most importantly, pray that we would stay very humble before the Lord, recognizing that He is the One who is at work in our midst. As we see Him do great and mighty things in our new church, please commit to pray for our team's humility and continued trust in God. If we become proud in anything we are doing, we are sure that the Lord will not bless, so please pray for sincere humility in our work.

We are so close to seeing this new church started - thanks so much for your prayers. You have been a true blessing to us as you have spent time before the Lord for our ministry and our efforts to reach the RR-N area. I will begin sharing some of the amazing life-changing stories we have seen very soon. More to come...

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Awesome...

Barie and I had a great date Monday night (of course any time I'm out with my absolutely gorgeous wife is a great date) as we took in dinner, some strolling at the outlet mall next to our house, and the Bourne Ultimatum. Movie thoughts - home run all the way around. I've enjoyed the other Bourne movies, but this one was the best of the three - which is incredibly hard to do for the third movie in a series. I think all two hours of the movie went by in about 5 minutes - the action is that fast and intense. If you like not breathing for two hours, this flick is a must-see (and really worth seeing on the big-screen).

I just got back today from a quick 24-hour retreat with our staff - what a great time of God working in our hearts as we get ready for launch. I must say - God has given us an unbelievably talented team. I'm blessed to have these kind of quality people around me in leadership. More on what has come out of all this in the days ahead.

And oh ya, our new website is finally working for the church plant - check it out when you get a chance. I like it a lot....http://www.hillcountrybible.org/

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Just over a month to go...

We had a very full day today as we continue to get closer to launch day on September 9th. What a wild ride we've had all along the way. Today was another reminder of God's faithfulness in all that we have prayed for and worked toward. Our CM team held a training event this morning and we had over 50 CM leaders in attendance for a three-hour training meeting. The excitement in the room was awesome - you could feel the intensity of everyone hoping to be used by God in powerful ways in the days ahead. Our family pastor, Nick, did a great job of leading this time and directing our team.

In the afternoon, another team of people spent several hours working on organizing all of our equipment that had come in during the last week. We now have two brand new trailers full of great equipment for us to use. We looked at CM equipment, SM equipment, Worship ministry equipment, and are ready when our chairs come in this week - it was amazing to see everything loaded today as we prepare to use it in a couple weeks for our charter service. After that, a small group of us went over to our new church offices in downtown Round Rock to get some new Ikea desks and other small things put together. We started moving over books and other office equipment that had been building up in my office. We should be moved into our new offices completely by the end of this week - unreal.

In short, I'm really not sure what day of the week it is any more as things are moving so fast. Our leadership team meets tomorrow to give our first fruits offerings toward the plant and we have concert of praise in the evening at NW where we celebrate all that God has done this summer. God has indeed done many wonderful things in our midst. We covet your prayers in the days ahead...

Monday, July 30, 2007

Frustrating Read...

David Sloan Wilson makes some bold claims in the introduction to his book that actually got me excited to read this book on how evolution changes the way we think about everything. Wilson is a well-regarded evolutionist who has written many works on how evolutionary theory works outside its normal academic boundaries of biology, genetics, paleontology, zoology, etc. and really changes the way we see everything in life from relationships to purpose to global issues to life and death. Wilson comments in his heady introduction that this book is actually a summary of the material that he teaches in his introductory class on evolution at his university. With his usual faux-humility, Wilson boasts about the power of the theory of evolution (and mostly his work in the field of evolution) to explain every part of human existence. In the introduction, Wilson says that he can show how evolution and religion need not be enemies, but can actually peacefully coexist in a rational world. Wilson is obviously enthralled (and I would say blinded) by his own reasoning power as he sees the world through evolutionary-stained glasses.

Of course, what Wilson means when he talks about evolution and religion being friends (and this is what really irritated me in this read) is captured in a few chapters in this book where he summarizes his full-length book on the topic, Darwin's Cathedral. When Wilson talks about religion being compatible with evolution, he means religion when understood as a social construct, having evolved throughout time, without any reflection on the content of the religion's teaching. In other words, if you submit your religious belief's to evolutionary naturalistic philosophy, discard everything in your faith that smacks of supernaturalism, and write off your core beliefs as simply social cultural constructs that have evolved over time, then, yes, your religion can fit nicely within evolutionary theory. But what kind of emaciated religion is that? Not something I would want to give my life to.

Wilson's commitment to evolutionary doctrine is similar to my commitment to Christian doctrine. This book is another reminder that evolutionary theory (and scientific naturalism) is NOT just about science, but about what we believe about the universe, the people in it, and our purpose in the world. At a basic level, my reading in science, evolution, and creationism over the past few weeks has reminded me of one very important fact: what we believe really does matter. This may seem simple to you, but it is profound for me. If you follow Wilson's worldview and dismiss the imago dei and special creation and the supernatural and absolute truth all as social constructs built to give people meaning, you have not just changed out your doctrinal statement, you have changed everything about your life. In this one point, Wilson and I agree - what you believe in the origins debate does change the way we see our lives.

Maybe in another email, we'll flesh out what actually changes when our we dismiss the metanarrative of Scripture and adopt Wilson's (and Darwin's) metanarrative. You might be surprised how much changes.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

An Elegant Read

Since completing my undergrad in mechanical engineering at Baylor, I've continued to be interested by what physicists and scientists are discovering about the fabric of our universe. Brian Greene is a professor of math and physics at Columbia University and a leading proponent of superstring theory. Superstring theory is complicated, but basically is an attempt to make two seemingly opposed, but successful physical theories work together. The first of these two theories is general relativity, by which Einstein gave us the means by which gravity actually works in the cosmos. Both special relativity and general relativity showed that time was not stationary as thought before, but actually a dimension just like space, hence the wording space-time to speak about our 4-dimensional reality. The second great physics theory is quantum mechanics, which describes the way particles actually work at a microscopic level - very, very small. Basically, quantum mechanics shows that, as Greene puts it, there are some very strange things happening at a microscopic level, where location and speed cannot be simultaneously known. Both relativity and quantum mechanics have been shown to accurately predict with amazing accuracy what happens in the world around us, but as one works especially well on a large scale (relativity) and the other on a small scale (QM), physics have been working hard on a united theory of everything that could tie the two together. In this book, Greene makes the argument that superstring theory (also called M-theory) just might be the ultimate theory underlying everything else. The physics community has not all come to this conclusion, but Greene's book makes for fascinating reading.

He writes about very complicated mathematical models of the universe without getting in to the math behind them. Rather, he uses excellent analogies to help the reader understand the complicated ideas involved in the theory. His work requires some background in physics so that you're not completely lost, but you don't have to really know any math to get through it. Some of the most fascinating parts of the book are toward the end as Greene begins to unravel what superstring theory might mean for cosmological questions. The theory still proposes that the Big Bang occurred, but now because of the complexity involved with string theory (11-dimensions instead of 4), all kinds of other questions are being asked about pre-Big Bang and post-Big Bang physics.

All in all, I can't help but notice that the Elegant Universe that Greene describes testifies to an Elegant Creator - Greene forcefully makes the case that every nuclear force and principle of quantum mechanics and relativity seemed to be wired just right for life to exist. This just reinforces in my mind the ideas that the Apostle Paul makes in Romans 1 - that certain attributes of God can be seen in the creation - His eternal power and divine nature to be specific. When I read Greene's work, I see these attributes on every page. Is it my presupposition that God exists and that His Word is true that drives me to this conclusion? Possibly, but even if you come to the table with different presuppositions, you are ultimately asking the same questions and dealing with ultimate human issues. Notice Greene's thoughts towards the end of this book as he reflects on his research and cosmology:

However, maybe there is a limit to comprehensibility. Maybe we have to accept that after reaching the deepest possible level of understanding science can offer, there will nevertheless be aspects of the universe that remain unexplained. Maybe we will have to accept that certain features of the universe are the way they are because of happenstance, accident, or divine choice.

and...

We are all, each in our own way, seekers of the truth and we each long for an answer to why we are here.

Fascinating to me that a child prodigy in mathematics with his Ph.D. in physics from Oxford and his own institute for string theory & cosmology research would land on the last pages of his fine work back on the main philosophical questions that we all must wrestle with.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

great worship music

One the new albums I've enjoyed listening to the last month has been the new work by Steve Fee called "Burn For You". You can check out his website here at http://www.stevefee.com/. His best songs on the album have to be "Glorious One" and "Beautiful the Blood" - great stuff that really declares the worth of Jesus. Just thought I'd pass along the tip...

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Dad's B-day

My dad had his 56th birthday yesterday. My wife did a great write-up about dad on her blog yesterday, so you can check it out here. He is a really great papa.

And, wanted to point you toward a cool review of the last Harry Potter book that sees the many Christian themes in Rowling's books. You can read this review here.

I haven't read any of the Potter books, but I know that I will as the boys get older. For any of my readers who have read through them, you agree with this reviewer?

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Darwin's Darkness

Interesting quote in today's mail from a regular letter I receive from Desiring God ministries. In making the point that we become what we behold, they used a fascinating quote from Charles Darwin's autobiography about his inability to enjoy beauty later in life. Check out these chilling words...

Up to the age of 30 or beyond it, poetry of many kids...gave me great pleasure, and even as a schoolboy I took intense delight in Shakespeare...Formerly pictures gave me considerable, and music very great, delight. But now for many years I cannot endure to read a line of poetry: I have tried to read Shakespeare, and found it so intolerably dull that it nauseated me. I have also almost lost any taste for pictures or music...I retain some taste for fine scenery, but it does not cause me the exquisite delight which it formerly did...My mind seems to have become a kind of machine for grinding external laws out of large collections of facts, but why this should have caused the atrophy of that part of the brain alone, on which the higher tastes depend, I cannot conceive...The loss of these tastes is a loss of happiness, and may possibly be injurious to the intellect, and more probably to the moral character, by enfeebling the emotional part of our nature.

Could this be because we were made to dwell on more than just the natural?

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Johnson vs. Pennock

Phillip Johnson has been well known in the ID - evolution debate over the last 16 years since his first major work attacking Darwinism (Darwin on Trial) came out in 1991. He also wrote a book on the philosophy of science (Reason in the Balance) where he spent last time talking about the evidence against Darwinism and more time on a naturalistic philosophy that he sees permeating many fields, from science to law to education. The short book to your left is kind of a Johnson for Dummies book where he summarizes his main philosophical issues with Darwinian science in about 120 pages. The read is good and Johnson is very articulate as always. Johnson's main point in all of his writings is to attack the naturalistic underpinnings of modern science (which have come into being since the mid 19th century). His argument against the circular reasoning of naturalistic philosophy goes something like this: science is defined as the study of naturalistic processes observable and testable in the world, and then anything that points to a super-natural explanation (such as evidence for a Creator) is automatically described as unscientific by definition (because it is not observable in a naturalistic process).

Many books have been written arguing against Johnson's naturalistic circular argument. The best that I've read is probably Robert Pennock's book called The Tower of Babel: The Evidence Against the New Creationism, where Pennock does a fair job of describing the differences inside the Creation camp between young-earth creationists, old-earth creationists, the ID crowd, and theistic evolutionists. His work outlines the holes in many of the tired creationist positions that we continue to use that have been discredited long ago (like the 2nd law of thermodynamics or the dinosaur footprints at Glenrose) by the scientific community. Overall, however, I find his defense of methodological naturalism unconvincing. Pennock's rationale goes something like this (against Johnson's thoughts above): because we can only observe and test naturalistic processes, any claims in science to defend super-natural intervention simply is a cop-out on doing real science. In other words, many scientists throughout time have stopped doing scientific research, thrown up their hands, and simply said, "God must have made it that way." In all of those cases, however, natural laws of physics and biology and chemistry were eventually able to explain the causes behind those events in naturalistic terms. Pennock's argumentation is that science and theology must stay in separate realms because they ask and answer different questions.

This is an extremely hard case to sell today as more and more scientists are using naturalistic Darwinian evolution as the framework to explain away the need for a supernatural Creator - see the recent smash hit by Richard Dawkins called The God Delusion. He (and his many atheistic evangelists) use scientific naturalism as a defense for their atheistic worldviews. (Side-note: you can read a great rebuttal of Christopher Hitchen's book HERE and a great rebuttal of Dawkin's philosophical arguments HERE) All that being said, Pennock's argument that science and theology play on different fields is simply false - they both have many things to say about each other. I'm running out of time here to develop this more fully, but I am convinced that the way we do science does impact our view of theology (such as Kenneth Miller's (evolutionary biologist at Brown University who is also a Catholic) view of a Deistic God who set it all up and got it going but allows it all to happen without Him now), AND our view of theology impacts the way we do science.

More later...

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Larson on Evolution

I just finished a great read on the history of evolutionary thought and science by Edward Larson. Larson won a Pulitzer Prize in history for his book Summer for the Gods which contains a detailed look at the Scopes monkey-trial from the 1920s. He is a fine historian and also an educated student of the history of science. His history of evolution starts pre-Darwin by expounding the main views of scientific creationism before Darwin released Origin of Species in the late 1850s. Larson gives a chapter to Darwin, but actually moves quickly from him to the time in between his original book and the neo-Darwinian synthesis now popular among scientists. Larson spends quite a few pages outlining the social responses to Darwinian evolution, from the eugenics movement (let's be active in promoting evolution by only letting the best reproduce and keeping the worst from reproducing) to the religious anti-evolution movements. These sections of his book are very fair, even though it is clear that Larson is a believer in evolutionary theory. As one inside the Christian movement, I appreciate Larson's fairness and clarity on the creation science response to evolutionary science.

This book is helpful one several fronts and is the major reason I encourage all Christians to pick up a copy. First, it helps to place our current discussions in the correct historical framework. What I mean by that is simply that we tend to repeat arguments from the past that have been discredited or we attack planks of evolutionary theory that are no longer even supported by scientists. In this way, being educated on the 150 years of development in evolutionary science helps us to be much smarter in our discussions about origins issues. Second, this book helps give you a beginning knowledge of evolutionary language, including the big ones that everyone knows - natural selection, random mutation, etc. - but also branching into areas that I knew very little about - genetics, breeding, microbiology, etc. Throughout, the book doesn't get overly bogged down in scientific lingo, but gives the reader the historical view of how the theory of evolution has changed. Finally, this book is helpful because it is recent and shows how evolutionary science is continuing to develop and change. In other words, while the scientific community has consensus that evolution has taken place, the definitions involved and mechanisms at play are always being discussed and reworked as biologists look closer at all the facts.

Overall, I'm not sold on the theory, but I'm also not as n\antagonistic as I was before because I now see that beyond the science, there are major philosophical forces at work. Throughout his book, Larson does a great job of helping the reader see the philosophical underpinnings of the scientists who moved the theory along. And by seeing this snapshot, we again see wide variety - from the atheistic naturalist (who believes there is not god and that everything has happened by random chance) to the deistic scientist (who believes God (or some higher power) set it all up and let it go and now remains hands off to the theistic position (which believes that God created everything from nothing, established natural law, sustains it, and continues to intervene within His system regularly). These are philosophical and theological questions, not scientific questions. Wherever you land on the issue of evolution, you still have to be honest enough to say that the scientific evidence in nature does not explain the ultimate issues related to origins and life after death. We have to either dismiss these issues as unknowable or rely on revelation. And I guess you know where I land on that.

Overall, great read - if you care about soundly intelligent on this issue, pick up a copy and get to work!

Monday, July 09, 2007

Websites on Origin Issues

If you're weird like me and you enjoy reading about science, history, and theology, you can dig in to some of the sites and books I'm exploring as I study on the origins debate. Of course, I am first and foremost a biblicist more than I am a scientist, so this influences the way I read the data. But, I try to be objective in the sense that I don't fear reading people who disagree with my positions. Reading widely only helps me to better understand the varying perspectives that are out there and the science, history, and people who have influenced worldwide thinking and epistemology (how we know what we know).

For starters, here are a few websites from a young-earth creationism perspective:
Answers in Genesis
Institute for Creation Research
The Creation Research Society

Here are a few websites that articulate an old-earth creationism perspective:
Reasons to Believe
God & Science
New Creationism

Here are some sites on Intelligent Design (non-committal on process, but believe evidence points to Intelligent Creator):
The Discovery Institute
Access Research Network
Intelligent Design Network
ID the Future Blog

Here are some sites on naturalistic Evolutionary theory:
Talk Origins
The Panda's Thumb
Understanding Evolution
National Center for Science Education
Talk Reason

This is enough to get a sense of the discussion, but the web is a terrible place to dig in deep on any one topic. I'll post tomorrow some of the books I'm looking through that touch on some of these same topics.



Tuesday, July 03, 2007

A Good Tired

I've been bad about posting lately, mostly because I've been so tired in the evenings when the kids get to bed and I generally like to read and blog in the evenings. This is not a sob story though about being too tired, but about a good tired. I really am having more fun and enjoying life more than I ever have. The church is getting ready to launch shortly, I am married to the greatest wife in the whole world, and my kids are becoming more awesome every day (if that were even possible). So, all in all, I've been good tired. I've still got many more quotes from my study-break reading that I hope to get to, but I've been slow about transferrring them to the blog.

On a personal note, I'm reading an interesting police memoir called Blue Blood and doing some personal study and reflection on creation/evolution and interpretation of Genesis issues. I'm not sure I've got the nerve to unload all that on the blog yet, but maybe some bits here or there as I study and read. I've done some work in this issue before, but trying to clarify my thinking again as I get ready to launch my first sermon series at the plant. We're kicking off the church with an eight-week series based on the Q8 questions that I listed earlier on the blog that we were working on at Pflugerville. And one of the questions that people are asking is, "Is the church opposed to science?" I've had two spiritual conversations in the last two weeks with people who had serious intellectual objections to Christianity because of the scientific issues. I'm working to clarify my thinking, if nothing else, because I want to speak more intelligently to a well-educated audience and lead them to embrace Jesus.

So, as usual, I'm just thinking on small things....;)

Friday, June 22, 2007

Preaching Two Weeks...

I preached last Sunday at our church in Pflugerville for Father's Day - you can catch my rant on how the Father views children and how this clashes so strongly with how our culture views kids. This issue is one of my passions, especially know how many people view children in our culture as burdens to be lifted instead of blessings to be enjoyed and stewarded. The message was called "The Father's Kids" and can be heard here. You should go to the church's new website just to see it - they have done a great job improving their site - the home page is here.

I'm on again this Sunday for James 4:1-10. I just finished up all my slides for the message, and I'm stoked to be in the pulpit again. God has been gracious to me during my study time this week. I'm really looking forward to the church plant starting and getting to preach regularly. Only 79 days until launch. Unreal!

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Peterson on the Jesus Way

Eugene Peterson's note on how the American Way competes with the Jesus Way in our current culture. Penetrating words - read them slowly and chew on them...

"The great American innovation in congregation is to turn it into a consumer enterprise. We Americans have developed a culture of acquisition, an economy that is dependent on wanting more, requiring more. We have a huge advertising industry designed to stir up appetites we didn't even know we had. We are insatiable.

It didn't take long for some of our Christian brothers and sisters to develop consumer congregations. If we have a nation of consumers, obviously the quickest and most effective way to get them into our congregations is to identify what they want and offer it to them, satisfy their fantasies, promise them the moon, recast the gospel in consumer terms: entertainment, satisfaction, excitement, adventure, problem-solving, whatever. This is the language we Americans grow up on, the language we understand. We are the world's champion consumers, so why shouldn't we have state-of-the-art consumer churches?

Given the conditions prevailing in our culture, this is the best and most effective way that has ever been devised for gathering large and prosperous congregations. Americans lead the world in showing how to do it. There is only one thing wrong: this is not the way in which God brings us into conformity with the life of Jesus and sets us on the way of Jesus' salvation. This is not the way in which we become less and Jesus becomes more. This is not the way in which our sacrificed lives become available to others in justice and service. The cultivation of consumer spirituality is the antithesis of a sacrificial, "deny yourself" congregation. A consumer church is an antichrist church.

We can't gather a God-fearing, God-worshipping congregation by cultivating a consumer-pleasing, commodity-oriented congregation. When we do, the wheels start falling off the wagon. And they are falling off the wagon. We can't suppress the Jesus Way in order to sell the Jesus Truth. The Jesus Way and the Jesus Truth must be congruent. Only when the Jesus Way is organically joined with the Jesus Truth do we get the Jesus Life."

I've got thoughts on this, but I'll wait for you to have a chance to respond first.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Back from Study Break

I just finished a week at the farm outside of Waco (stayed with some close family friends) having my first study break as I prayed, read, studied, and planned for the next 16 months of our church plant. Wow - what an amazingly refreshing time I had with the Lord. The time reminded me how little I actually silence my mind before the Lord and listen to Him. The noise of my life sometimes keeps me from truly being still before God.

Over this week, I'll quote some highlights from some of the reading I did and share some observations on what I'm learning on this journey in the Jesus Way.

Friday, June 01, 2007

A Worldwide Read

Last week on vacation, I had some time to read this amazing new book by Ishmael Beah, A Long Way Gone. This work is the personal memoir of a young boy's experience of running from war, being captured by war, and then being rescued from war. This short book is a page turner, well-written, and incredibly powerful. Ishmael's story reminds us that the world is always desperately in need of peace, and that our experience as Americans is not the norm for most people growing up in the world. As I've talked here before about the need for us to be global Christians, I was again reminded of the importance of engaging worldwide humanitarian needs in our attempts to take the gospel to every person on the planet. I would highly encourage you to pick up a copy of this book somewhere and spend some time reflecting on what difference it should make in our comfortable lives as Americans.

One great Christian organization that is involved in international justice issues is called International Justice Mission. IJM's leader, Gary Haugen, is a committed Christ-follower, and a servant of the world's most dejected and abused peoples. His organization is growing every year, and is continuing to impact those who are struggling with injustice in the poorest places in the world. The organization that ultimately helped Ishmael out of his situation was UNICEF, the UN's children's fund. To see Ishmael talk about his experiences and the book on CNN, you can visit the book's website and see the flash video.

God, help this generation of young Christians and pastors get involved with your heart for justice in the world.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Online Church

There has been a lot of discussion over the years about "virtual" church, but up until now, the technology and broadband speeds had basically made this a non-issue. People could download sermons or give online, but not actually participate in church online. Now, however, the technology has advanced to the place where more ministries are attempting to get a foothold in virtual worlds. One of the largest online virtual communities is called Second Life, and as you can tell from the name, is a place where people can escape their first life (real life) and create a new identity.

One of the most technologically savvy churches around is Lifechurch.tv, based out of Oklahoma City, but with satellite campuses all over (I think they have 11 multi-site venues now, and they are rapidly expanding). I completely appreciate the guys at Lifechurch.tv, and I really appreciate their pastor, Craig Groeschel. I read his blog regularly (you can see the link to the right), and I just finished a great book that he wrote about keeping it real as a pastoral leader and not always trying to sound super-spiritual when we aren't. A great lesson for me to learn and process.

However, I think I have some theological issues with doing church virtually. Maybe I shouldn't if the point is to get the gospel to every person, but if a big part of doing church regularly is doing life together, doesn't a virtual world get in the way of doing authentic life together? Watch this quick NBC news clip on Lifechurch's virtual campus and see what you think. I can't believe I'm saying this, but I actually agree with the professor from SMU in the video clip.

You have any thoughts?

Monday, May 28, 2007

Interesting Tribute to Jerry Falwell

Over the years, I've never been a huge Jerry Falwell fan, mainly because I thought he represented a lot that was wrong with the Christian right, getting too political to be a force for the gospel and too wacky to be heard by anyone on biblical issues. However, I think I underestimated the impact that Falwell made through the establishment of Liberty University. Yesterday, I listened to the Catalyst podcast tribute to Jerry Falwell. This was a very interesting place to hear a tribute to Falwell because the Catalyst group is a group of socially-minded, culturally-engaged leaders who want to impact this generation with the gospel. They try to let next-generation leaders know about what is happening in wider evangelicalism. I really have enjoyed listening to their interviews with key Christian leaders. Anyway, long story short, they had a tribute episode to Falwell, who had influenced many of these guys because they attended Liberty University over the last twenty years. Whatever we think about Falwell's mouth running unnecessarily over the years, his legacy will most definitely continue to be the generation of young leaders he impacted at Liberty University.


Saturday, May 26, 2007

Back from Vacation

Sorry for the blogging down-time, but I went with my family over the last week to Bandera, TX, northwest of San Antonio, for a week of vacation. We had a great time. We spent last Sunday at Sea World in San Antonio, and the boys absolutely loved seeing Shamu and all the other water animals. Sea World must really be the most kid-friendly amusement park on the planet - the boys had a blast. I'm sure Barie will have new pictures up on her blog soon for everyone to see. It was a great time.

While I was on vacation, I had the chance to get caught up on some much-needed sleep, spend lots of time with my awesome wife and boys, and read a really captivating read - A Long Way Gone, the child-soldier book by Ishmael Beah of his life growing up in Sierra Leonne. Wow - I'll blog more about this book later, but it's enough to say that we have got to find a way to be more involved in international justice issues - more on that in a later blog as well.

For now, I'm glad to be back and ready for a full summer as we get ready to launch this new church in only 106 days - wow!

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Speaking at Southwest Airlines

I had the cool opportunity yesterday to fly to Dallas and speak to a group of leaders at Southwest Airlines on the topic of leadership. It was quite a trip. One of our friends from our time at First Baptist Ovilla in the Dallas-area is an executive in the reservations department at Southwest and was responsible for hosting a day of training on leadership for the team that reported to her (around 25 leaders). She brought them all to SW headquarters in Dallas to learn and dialogue about how they could improve their leadership of the 3,000 of so reservation agents that they lead every day. I was given about an hour and fifteen minutes to talk about one of my passions - leadership.

I really enjoyed seeing Terri and interacting with her team in Dallas. Southwest Airlines has a very unique corporate culture - lots of fun and strong relational ties between employees. It would really be a great place to work. During the time I was there, I had the chance to hear some of her team talk about their pivotal moments in developing as leaders. I also had the chance to hear the company's president, Colleen Barrett, talk about the company and all that they had shared with the stockholders at the annual meeting held yesterday morning.

God is good and was with me in a very powerful way yesterday. I really enjoyed myself, had a great dinner with my parents afterwards, then was able to have a very cool spiritual conversation with a guy named Zach on the flight back to Austin.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Historicity of the Biblical Jesus

I just finished reading a great little book on the historicity of the biblical Jesus. The Jesus of the New Testament has been under attack for over 100 years in higher-academia, and this critical understanding of the person of Jesus has now carried over into popular culture with Da Vinci Code, the reports from the Jesus Seminar, the Tomb movie, etc. The story is almost getting old: Jesus was a simple religious teacher from Nazareth who was made a god by his followers after his death, then exalted by the early church into a position equal with God. This movement reports that there is no way for us to have any confidence in the New Testament record of Jesus because of all the copying of the biblical texts, because of the influence of the church, and because of the real historical story (stealing from other religions, ignoring the gnostic texts, and making it up as they went along).

This new book, Reinventing Jesus, by three solid biblical scholars, helps answer many of the objections to the biblical Jesus with piercing logic. In the end, these three authors show with devastating arguments that the positions of liberal scholars are simply intellectually impossible to maintain. The authors give plentiful reasons for Christians to have confidence in their Bibles, in the biblical record of Jesus, in the early church's work to carry on the message of the apostles, and in Christianity's uniqueness among all other ancient religious systems. I would highly recommend this book for anyone who questions the reliability of the biblical record or the portrait painted of Jesus in the NT gospels. Once again we have convincing reasons to take the step of faith toward believing in Jesus of Nazareth as the Risen Son of God.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

sold my truck!

I'm thankful to God that I sold my truck on Thursday and that he provided me a great car on Saturday. I go tomorrow to pick up the car from the individual I'm buying it from, but overall, I'm very pleased. I got a good price for my truck, and this car will get almost twice the gas mileage that my truck got. And with gas prices expected to continue to rise (even thought they never really know for sure), I think we made a good move. This has been a packed week making this happen on top of regular responsibilities, but I'm thankful we are almost finished with it.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Interesting Story About Beauty & Culture

A story caught my eye in the Washington Post last week, and I wanted to pass it on to you for your thoughts. One of the writers for the Post thought up an experiment, executed it, and then wrote an article in response to what he found. Basically, he got one the best violinists in the world to play one of the most expensive violins in the world in a busy public place during rush hour. The premise was wondering if people who are busy with intense schedules would recognize the beauty right in front of them or run by without even noticing. You can read what happened in this very well-written article on the web. There is even some video of the guy playing. Amazing - what are your thoughts after checking it out?

Monday, April 16, 2007

A Very Heavy Heart

You all have heard and read and thought about the killings at Virginia Tech by now. I have a very heavy heart tonight as I process the sudden deaths of so many young college students. Why a heavy heart? Well, first, because like everyone else, my breath is stolen by the inexplicable tragedy of 32 college students doing regular life one moment and losing their life the next. The suddenness of the whole story simply captures our emotions and won't let go. We are reminded of how we walk through life daily like we are invincible, all the time being reminded that car accidents and cancer and all other kinds of tragedies take lives every suddenly every day. For whatever reason, we just always assume that those kinds of things will happen to other people and not to us. We are not ready for suffering or death, and most of the time simply try to deny that it exists. We don't like to go through it, so we simply don't talk about it. The headlines today are one of those short moments, like 9/11, when we are forced to confront the suddenness of death.

The other reason I have a heavy heart is because it reminds me again how urgent the task of evangelism really is - life is short, and unless Jesus returns, death is certain. Somehow we tend to lose the urgency of our mission because we fall into the trap of believing that everyone we meet and know will always be around. The killings today at VT remind me that not only is my life fragile, but the lives of people I meet are fragile as well. Young life taken prematurely devastates us emotionally, but eternal life separated from God should shake us even deeper. I have a heavy heart tonight because I can only imagine the pain and suffering of all those families who lost loved ones today. But I have a very heavy heart tonight praying and hoping that someone took the time to love those students and share with them eternal life in Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Eternal Perspective

I've been going through a study with some leadership guys in our church plant core team called "Discipleship with a purpose." It is a great 20-week study that really challenges people to take a long look at the hard sayings of Jesus. One of the main points of the study is that the perspective of a follower of Jesus Christ must be eternal instead of temporal - not a new idea, but we've been challenged to continue to find more verses that demonstrate the eternal perspective of a follower of Christ. What a radical idea this truly is - that we would live for the reward in heaven and not for the temporary pleasure of this life. I saw a great quote this morning related to this idea that I thought I would share with you:

"All the loneliness, angers, hatreds, envies and itchings that this world contains, if rolled into one single experience and put into the scale against the least moment of the joy that is felt in Heaven, would have no weight that could be registered at all."
C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce

Sunday, April 08, 2007

New Class / Discussion Group

We are starting a new class/discussion group at our church this morning called Q8: Christianity Uncensored. The pastor of our church got together some of his young staff guys and asked us to come up with the top 8 questions that we thought the unchurched/unbelieving community was asking about the church and the faith in today's cultural context. I'm teaching two of the eight weeks, and some of our other pastors are teaching the other 6. I have really enjoyed the work we have done on this class, and I'm praying that our people will use this class as an opportunity to invite the unchurched/unbelieving peers who are asking these questions. Our best stab at the top eight questions:

1) Is Jesus a white, middle-class Republican?
2) Why would I want to be a Christian when the church is so messed up?
3) Is Jesus really any different from Mohammad?
4) Why does God care about what happens in my bedroom?
5) Is God as judgmental as most Christians that I know?
6) If God is all-powerful, why doesn't he stop the spread of AIDS in Africa?
7) Why is the church so anti-science?
8) Why does the church suppress women?

I guess my question to you would be...what questions do you think we missed? OR, better said, what questions do you hear from those outside the church that you engage with in your sphere of influence? Thanks for your feedback.


Sunday, March 25, 2007

Selling my Truck...

Well, I'm officially trying to sell my truck as of this week. If you know of anyone who wants a great 2001 White Chevy Silverado 1500, tell them to check out my ad on cars.com & send me a note if they are interested. The truck is just not practical right now since I never take the boys with me at any time (we're not going to move over three car seats to take a trip with the boys anywhere) - so it's just me in the truck. I just don't need the space or the horsepower. But I know there are people who do, so send them my way if they're looking.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Busy Week

Sorry for not posting more this last week - still fighting off illness as a family. Barie and the boys are feeling better, but I feel like my head's about to explode. I'm all medicated up, but the sinuses are still not agreeing with me. Wanted to let you know that we have a new website revision up for the Round Rock plant that has a lot of cool information about the vision of the plant and the beginnings of our different ministries - small groups & launch teams. God is doing some amazing things around us, and it is truly a ride to hear the wonderful, life-changing stories that I hear from our team. I can't hardly believe that we are only 171 days away from our first public service. It really feels like yesterday we were 18 months out.

Just to let you know, both HCBC Hutto and HCBC Leander are set to launch on Easter Sunday, April 8th. You can check out their websites above to see what they are doing to get ready for their big first day. Both churches were commissioned out from the mother-churches last week, so this is a significant week for both - they will have their first "practice" service this Sunday in preparation for going public on April 8th. Send some prayers up for both churches & their pastors, Bo Thompson & Peter Horn.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Movie Review: Amazing Grace

Barie and I had the opportunity to slip out of the house last night after the kids went to bed (Barie was feeling better!) to see a quick movie. It was a great time with my bride, getting a big bucket of popcorn at the theater close to our house and seeing the new movie Amazing Grace, about the life and work of William Wilberforce in ending the slave trade in England in the late 18th century. I have to thank Mom-Davis (my mother-in-law) for watching the kids last night so we could slip out to the show. Now on to the movie...

It was the best-written movie I've ever seen - I felt like some of the lines were a little forced - somewhat cliche or formulaic. But overall, the acting was passionate and well-done. And the story is absolutely amazing. Though he plays a very small part in the film, the John Newton character was very well done. You can feel the depth of his remorse for spending years of his life in the slave trade, and the depths of his conviction for how Christ had redeemed his terrible sin. The story mainly centers on the Wilberforce character, a member of parliament in the late 1700's in England who gives his life to ending the slave trade in the British empire. The movie does a good job showing how his work was a life-time effort, not a quick process - he was going up against an entrenched position that had serious financial power in the empire. It took him most of his adult life to see the rest of the English Parliament come around to his conviction of the evil nature of the slave trade. It is truly unbelievable, as I've said before in this blog, how a people could so overlook an evil like slavery while it took place under their leadership. I wonder what generations in the future will look back on with horror in our own generation - abortion, genocide in Darfur, extreme poverty - human killers that we failed to engage.

Overall - I highly recommend you go see the film - powerful part of history and significant example of how a committed Christ-follower can impact culture for the better.