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...