Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Book Review: For These Tough Times

No one can turn a phrase like Max Lucado, which may explain why he is one of the best-selling Christian authors in the nation. In his preaching and his writing, Lucado tells a story, creates a metaphor, and multiplies his adjectives to make sure that his point comes across. I so appreciate the emotive style in his writing, not just because it sucks the reader into his thoughts, but because it moves the reader at a deeper level.

Lucado's newest work is a short 75-page reflection on how our faith in Christ helps us during the darkest hours of life - whether that is situational (losing a job or facing a health crisis) or it is permanent (losing a loved one). In each chapter, Lucado treats classic Christian arguments for how a good God can fit in a world with unspeakable evil, but he does it in a very pastoral way - with great illustrations and compelling stories.

Lucado covers topics such as God's everlasting love for us, the power of prayer to change terrible circumstances, the ultimate triumph of good over evil, listening to God during times of pain, forgiving rather than getting evil, and keeping our eyes on God in everything we endure. The thread that ties each chapter together is the cross of Christ. The cross shows us how good can overcome evil, how God is in charge even in our darkest hour, how the Father truly loves us regardless of what we feel at any certain time, and how Jesus understands our pain.

I appreciate Lucado's pastoral heart and his skill with the English language. I would highly recommend you read this book if you are in the midst of a dark hour, and that you pass on this little book to others who are struggling with their faith as they live through tough times.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Abstinence Pledges

As someone who participated in True Love Waits as a teenageer and led many True Love Waits commitment ceremonies as a youth pastor, I was intrigued by this article today in the Washington Post. These studies come out every 3 to 6 months it seems and all contradict each other, but I still like to read the latest.

Monday, December 29, 2008

God answers prayer...

Our leaders really prayed hard for our Christmas-Eve services on last Wednesday night. It was a very different service for us (like it was last year) because a lot of our young families are out of town for the holidays, but many other of our regular attenders bring their family and friends. We are still praising God for what He did...

1) 477 in attendance between our two services.

2) 16 first-time decisions to trust Christ.

I can't wait to see all that God does in 2009 in our church and in our city. I'm sure having fun during this season of ministry...

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Book Review: What in the world is going on?

"What in the world is going on?" is a summary of Dr. David Jeremiah's teaching on biblical prophecy and current events from a dispensational perspective. From all the alliteration and parallel construction, it is obvious that Dr. Jeremiah put together 10 sermons that he preached on this topic and compiled them in book form for this publication. To be completely transparent before I review his work, you need to know that I am a fellow graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary and a committed dispensationalist in my view of Scripture and eschatology. With all that in mind, let's talk about Dr. Jeremiah's latest book...

First, let's review what really works in this book. Dr. Jeremiah, because he writes not just from an academic perspective, but a pastoral perspective, is conscious in each chapter to discuss the practical applications of his eschatological views. I agree with Dr. Jeremiah's conviction that biblical prophecy has huge implications for the daily life of the Christian believer, and he does a great job of taking time at the end of each chapter to discuss what his theological views mean for everyday life.

Another positive in this book is Dr. Jeremiah's faith in the truthfulness of Scripture. Even if you disagree with his hermeneutic or his interpretation of modern events in light of biblical prophecy, you leave the book with the strong sense that Dr. Jeremiah believe every word of the Bible to be trustworthy. His strong faith encourages the reader to have a higher view of the Word - always a good mark in my opinion.

With regards to the individual chapters, I felt like his discussion about Israel and his discussion about Islam were the most helpful. The unique place that dispensationalism holds in evangelical theology is related to its view that God is not done with the nation of Israel, but that He will completely fulfill his promises to them when Jesus returns to the earth. Dr. Jeremiah is definitely in that stream of teaching (a lot of the book feels like an updated version of Dr. Walvoord's writings), and he does a good job of helping the reader understand how the nation of Israel fits into end-time prophecies. After the chapter on Israel, the chapter on Islam was the most powerful in my mind - maybe because it contained the most new information to me. The startling detail about the nature of Islamic teaching always makes me pause and say a prayer for Muslims around the world.

Not everything about the book is a home-run, however. Though I agree with Dr. Jeremiah's theology, his book is a good reminder of the danger of getting too specific in identifying the players, the motives, and the dates of end-time prophecy. Every dispensationalist in the 1940's was sure that Hitler was the Antichrist and that the end was near. Every book about the end-times over the last 20 years has had a section about oil and the impact that the energy markets will have on the end times. Dr. Jeremiah devotes a whole chapter to this topic, and I'm sure when he wrote it in May-June and oil was $140 a barrel, it made total sense to him. Of course, oil is now back to $40 a barrel and his insights don't seem that prescient.

My point here is simply to say that our theological beliefs need to be informed by historical awareness. Every generation looks for signs of the times, as they should, but the point I think from Jesus' generalized teachings is that we should be ready all the time, knowing that His return could come at any point. When teachers attempt to identify the countries that will attack Israel and the place that the Antichrist comes from, I believe they are speaking more specifically than the Scriptures. Dr. Jeremiah uses prophecies from Ezekiel and Daniel to speak to end-time players and the sequences of events. The problem with doing that (in my humble opinion) is that we are reading our 21st century worldview into an ancient document (with a 6th century BC worldview). If the end comes tomorrow, Dr. Jeremiah may end up being a genius. But history is full of prophecy readers who were sure they were close to the end, proclaimed it boldly, yet were terribly wrong. Do we want to hang our credibility as Christians on our ability to predict the end-times?

I personally don't. I want to be very humble in my handling of biblical prophecy, and teach it and preach it in light of how many before me have been so wrong. This doesn't mean that we can't have a conviction about what Scripture is teaching; it just means we need to be extremely careful lest we speak with more specificity than the Bible itself.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Austin Downtown Churches

Read this interesting article in yesterday's Austin paper about church-growth in the downtown area.

President Bush Ducking Shoes

I don't know if you saw this, but it is awesome. More impressive than the shoe-throwing was President Bush ducking both of them...


Thursday, December 11, 2008

Making Vision Stick

I read a short little book last night called Making Vision Stick by Andy Stanley, the pastor at Northpoint Community Church in Atlanta. This 75-page book gives Stanley's insights on how to make sure that the vision of an organization is remembered and owned by everyone. Here are a few of his insights and how I see them working in the Hill Country Bible Church.

(1) State the vision simply. Our vision as a church is very simply - to see every man, woman, and child in Greater Austin have the chance to experience the life-changing reality of Jesus Christ because they hear the gospel from the lips of someone at a Hill Country Bible Church. Though our statement is long, it is one sentence and uses language that is common in our church culture. The main phrase that we throw around a ton is every man, woman, and child. We are committed to seeing every person in our city get personally introduced to Jesus Christ.

(2) Cast the vision convincingly. We try to share the details of our vision with our congregation at least twice during the year. We always have "vision Sunday" where we talk about what it means to be a church who takes the mission that Jesus gave the church seriously. We always spend time in Acts 1:8 and share our part in reaching every man, woman, and child. Stanley says to cast the vision convincingly we need to a) define the problem - I could do better here to help our congregation own the lostness of our city, b) offer a solution - for us it is using our lives and our voices to personally share the gospel, and c) present a reason - hopefully the urgency of sharing the gospel comes through in our belief that Christ could return at any time.

(3) Repeat the vision regularly. As I mentioned before, we share the vision corporately at least twice a year, but we could do more to make sure that our vision is discussed at the small-group level and in one-to-one discipleship. Stanley is right that it is not enough for the main communicator to share the vision from the pulpit, the vision must be discused regularly in other venues (elder meetings, staff meetings, retreats, small groups, etc.).

(4) Celebrate the vision systematically. Are we celebrating as a congregation whenever people are exposed to the gospel through personal communication and then experience the life-changing reality of Jesus Christ. We are doing a good job of this during advent this year by having couples share their testimony as we light the candles each week. But we could do more - we could start more of our meetings by celebrating wins that support our vision and spending less time on trivial issues. This is a very important reminder for me.

(5) Embrace the vision personally. Barie and I are here on this one; even with four kids, we are interested in giving our time and energy away in order to connect with others in our neighborhood and our city so that we can share the gospel of Jesus Christ with them. We have been blessed to see some fruit from that over the last 2 years, and we pray we will see even more. But beyond that, we so believe in this vision that we are giving our lives to invest financially and personally in what God is calling us to do. I hope others see in us that we are personally interested in seeing every person get exposed to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

You can use this grid for any organization. It is helpful to remember the importance of vision.


Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Demonstration of Grace

You probably heard about the family that has suffered great loss because of the crash of the military jet in California. I received this report today about the Korean man's response who had lost his family. This is grace...

SAN DIEGO
, California
(CNN) -- A Korean immigrant who lost his wife, two children and mother-in-law when a Marine Corps jet slammed into the family's house said Tuesday he did not blame the pilot, who ejected and survived.

"Please pray for him not to suffer from this accident," a distraught Dong Yun Yoon told reporters gathered near the site of Monday's crash of an F/A-18D jet in San Diego's University City community.

"He is one of our treasures for the country," Yoon said in accented English punctuated by long pauses while he tried to maintain his composure.

"I don't blame him. I don't have any hard feelings. I know he did everything he could," said Yoon, flanked by members of San Diego's Korean community, relatives and members from the family's church.


Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Bible for Blackberry or iPhone

I personally don't have a blackberry or an iPhone, but almost everyone I know does have one.

I saw today that Life Church has completed their Bible application for both formats. Download here:

Blackberry: www.youversion.com/bb

iPhone: www.youversion.com/iphone

Plans & People

Quote for the day:

“Men are God’s method. The church is looking for better methods; God is looking for better men… What the church needs today is not more or better machinery, not new organizations or more and novel methods, but men whom the Holy Spirit can use – men of prayer, men mighty in prayer. The Holy Spirit does not come on machinery, but on men. He does not anoint plans, but men – men of prayer…


The training of the Twelve was the great, difficult and enduring work of Christ… It is not great talents or great learning or great preachers that God needs, but men great in holiness, great in faith, great in love, great in fidelity, great for God – men always preaching by holy sermons in the pulpit, by holy lives out of it. These can mold a generation for God.”


E.M. Bounds



Monday, December 08, 2008

Reading Again

I have struggled to get back into my routine with reading again after being in the hospital, and the pace at work has kept me from reading as much as I usually do at the office. But I did have a few hours to read through Timothy Keller's new book, The Prodigal God. You may remember that I read Dr. Keller's first book, The Reason for God, earlier this year while we were on vacation in May. As I mentioned in a earlier blog posting, Dr. Keller's first book is on eof the best apologetics books I've ever read. I was so encouraged by reading it that we gathered five neighborhood couples together in our backyard to read through it with us and dicuss its impact on our thinking.

So, when Keller released his second book, The Prodigal God, I quickly ordered a copy. Keller's heart for the gospel is so clear in this book, and as was evident in his first book, he enjoys a firm command of the English language and utilizes clear, lucid thinking in putting his ideas together. He is truly a joy to read.

In this work, Keller writes about the heart of the gospel from the angle of the story of the prodigal son from Luke 15. Instead of emphasizing the younger son, however, as is normally done, Keller writes that Jesus' original intent was to shock his listeners in his description of the heart of the Father, who quickly welcomes back the younger brother and invites the older brother to come in and celebrate with Him. This is a "prodigal" love - extravagant, over-the-top - hence the name of the book. Keller makes a great argument that the real target of this story is not the younger brothers of the world, but the older brothers of the world - those who believe that their self-righteousness is sufficient to have earned them God's favor.

In reality, the gospel message is that all people (regardless of the conformity of their ethical behavior to the law) need the life-changing grace of the Father. We all need to be converted from the inside out, and this only happens when we see our need for a Savior (which generally is a difficult step for us when we see ourselves are righteous people who have made good decisions throughout our lives). In this, Keller helps to remind us that the gospel is good news because it is so different from religion. Religion (of all stripes) teaches us to live well and keep the rules, and then we will enjoy the blessing and favor of God. The gospel of Jesus, however, shows us that God loves us in Christ before we do anything to serve or love Him. He moves toward us in grace, and we live for Him in response to this amazingly undeserved compassion at work in our hearts.

Keller goes on to argue that our main struggle as Christians is that we have not truly understood the depths of the gospel message. He argues that even if we have believed it so that we can go to heaven, most of us do not live daily in such a way that acknowledges that we have been captured by God's grace. We get into the rut of thinking that God's grace is sufficient for my eternal salvation, but not for my complete transformation. All this does is add religion to the gospel, creating many Christians who live as "older brothers," condemning others for not living as they have, believing in their hearts that somehow they have come to deserve the Father's love.

How incredible and life-changing is the message that Jesus the Christ came to earth, lived a perfect life, died a undeserving death, rose again from the chains of the grave, and ascended to heaven so that I could become a son of His Father. May He in His grace help me not become an older brother but to remember my daily need for His mercy and compassion.


Saturday, November 15, 2008

Name the Source

"Confidence in the banking system evaporated. Investors panicked and tried to liquidate. With everyone trying to sell at the same time, the value of investments plummeted. Each businessman in the commercial chain was trying to save himself. At the end of the chain, the little people, the farmers and workers, the consumers, had less recourse when their debts were called in. They lost their mortgaged homes and farms. As their demand for goods and services shriveled, those who sold to them went bankrupt and laid off their employees."

Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought, page 143, describing the Panic of 1819

Who says history doesn't repeat itself?

Food for thought - the hard times of 1819 lasted three to four years, varying on where you lived in the country.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Funny Pics

One of my good friends, Bret Ostendorf, found something interesting in his car this morning as he was leaving for work:


HT: Bret

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Doctor's Update

We just returned from seeing the neurologist at Scott & White who was reading the results of the sleep-deprived EEG from this morning.

Her report was great – everything looks normal!

She said I could immediately get off the seizure medicine and quit taking the vicadin as soon as the pain was gone.

She still asked that I finish the antibiotics for the sinus infection and see my endocrinologist in order to get my sugar back under control.

We praise God for His faithfulness to answer our prayers.

Thanks for your love and support over the last week.

I think I will be back in the office part-time tomorrow.

God is good all the time -

Monday, November 03, 2008

Learning

Hey, everyone! Thanks for the prayers. I've been home since Friday night.

I don't really remember anything until Thursday night as I was in a coma-like state since Sunday morning, but God has been very gracious to me by providing me with great medical care at the new Scott and White Hospital next to our house and giving me an unbelievable support network of family and friends that have cared for me and prayed for me so well.

The last two days I've been praying a lot personally - asking God what He is trying to teach me through this whole experience. I can already discern quite a bit and thought I would share some.

First, I have been humbled again by the power of God and my limited strength and ability. It is hard not to be humbled when you are set on your butt for a week by illness. I have been reminded (since I have not preached the last two weeks and our attendance and giving have been up) that Jesus leads our church, not me. Our elders and staff have been amazing, and God has shown me once again that my main role as the spiritual leader of this church is to stay close to Him and spend lots of time on my face.

Second, I have been reminded about what is most important in life - knowing and loving Christ, and knowing and loving others. Because of my dysfunctional type-A personality, it takes quite a bit to remind me about what is most important in life, and it's not my success.

Finally, I have had my eyes opened again to what an amazing wife I have. Barie is my hero in so many ways, and she is such a servant-leader. She constantly has challenged me over our marriage by her compassion and heart for others, but now I've seen it directed at me in such a powerful way. I have to say thank-you to God for giving me such a wonderful wife.

Thanks again to everyone for your prayers and encouragement. You have been great support during this whole week. Blessings to you...

Keith

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Highlights from Catalyst

The church staff and our wives just returned from the Catalyst Leadership Conference last week in Atlanta. We connected again as staff-families and we heard from God. Here's a few of the highlights that I took away...

"If we don't have moral authority (alignment between creed and deed), our leadership skills are irrelevant."
-Andy Stanley

"Adding a new initiative or program should always be accompanied by eliminating an old initiative or program."
-Jim Collins

"Unity in diversity is a product of the Holy Spirit (see Acts 2), not a new cultural phenomenon."
-Brenda Salter McNeil

"Be definition, gossip is when a negative is discussed with anyone who can't help solve the problem."
-Dave Ramsey

"The gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes (see Romans 1:16). God doesn't need us to assist His gospel, just to faithfully proclaim it."
-Franklin Graham

"To reach people no one else is reaching, we must do things no one else is doing."
-Craig Groeschel

Lots to think and pray about.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Work On Your Marriage

Just a reminder to proactively work on your marriage. A few ideas...

Take your spouse out on a date regularly.

Have long conversations over coffee.

Laugh about things you've messed up on recently.

Enjoy each other sexually often.

Cook a meal for your spouse.

Apologize before you get called-out.

Plan a weekend away without the kids.

Dream together about the future.

Take a long walk together at the park.

Hold hands at the store.

Hold each other close while watching TV.

Work-out together.

Pray over each other out loud.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Wild Week

We've had a wild week over the last seven days.

Our good friends (and fellow staff members) Nick and Jada Shock had their daughter last Tuesday. Emry was born with cleft palet, which brought some complications, but through prayer and good medical care, she came home today from the hospital - great news.

We left last Wednesday to drive to Dallas to visit with my parents and see my grandmother (Mimi) on my mom's side. She is doing very well health-wise, but struggling with her memory. It was great to see her.

We left Dallas on Friday and drove to Gladewater (in East Texas) to see my other grandmother (Nanny), who is sharp mentally, but really struggling physically. She has not felt good over the last couple of months, so it was good to visit with her.

Both grandmothers were excited to see Brynlee and play with her. She truly has brought joy to many already in her short 3 months out of the womb.

We made it back to RR on Saturday night, and did church on Sunday morning. I'm continuing my series on 1 Thessalonians, and we talked on suffering this week. Heavy stuff, but timely.

Today, I'm looking over the pile of work to be done and asking for God's mercy and his help. Later --

Monday, September 15, 2008

The Year in Review: Life-Change Story #9

One of the hardest parts of planting a church in Round Rock, TX, oddly enough, is finding a place to meet for worship. You would think in suburban Austin, in a city with a fast-growing population and lots of construction growth, meeting places would abound. You would think wrong. The main obstacle to new churches finding meeting places is the current school-district facility policy that forbids rental of school properties on Sundays. With schools off the table, planters are forced to look into other places (like theaters, community centers, shopping centers, etc.).

When we started looking for a place to meet, a new Cinemark movie theater was being built near our neighborhood. They were open to having us meet in their theaters, but we knew that childcare would be a challenge. The only other location that we could find that would really meet our needs was the YMCA of Round Rock, but I had already been told by another planter who had asked that he had received a "no" and that the location was really not available. Not knowing any better, we decided to ask anyways.

Well, I can still remember our first meeting when three of us from our church-plant team (Toby, Patrick, and me) went to see Sheri Yerrington, the director of the RR YMCA. In the first few minutes of the conversation, she gaves us all the reasons that she was resistant to the idea of a church using the Y facility - from previous bad experiences to the wear on the facility. About 10 minutes into the conversation, however, Sheri's whole demeanor changed, and she told us that she really did want us to meet in the YMCA. We talked some more and she became more excited about the partnership opportunities we could find in impacting the lives of people in our community.

Finally, it came down to cost. She asked, "do you think $2000 a month would be fair?" We couldn't believe it! God had provided a great facility at a great location at a great price. We continue to have a great relationship with the YMCA, and we're pumped to see how He uses our partnership in the future.

I guess it shouldn't suprise us so much when God answers prayer.

Friday, September 12, 2008

The Year in Review: Life-Change Story #8

One of the greatest joys I've had this year has been leading a church that is so generous and excited about blessing our community. Not long after we launched in September, our elders decided it would be fun to call December our "season of giving" and spend four weeks giving away $10,000 to our city and to other churches in light of all that God given us in sending His Son.

So, we gave a few thousand dollars away to our people in $20 bills and asked them to bless someone they knew that needed help. We also decided to have representatives from local ministries that we support (Texas Baptist Children's Home, Agape Pregnancy Resource Center, Round Rock Serving Center, and the YMCA) come and share in our service about the work they are doing. We presented each organization with a check from our church to help support their work.

The coolest part of Season of Giving was when we called church-planters around the city and went to meet them with a financial gift from our church. The church-plants were not part of our network, and many were overwhelmed that we had decided to give support to their works. It was an awesome time.

In the spring, we decided to host two teacher-appreciation breakfasts for the teachers at two local schools - the high school in our backyard and the middle school not far from there. Needless to say, the faculty were very encouraged by our gesture of good will to them. And our people out-did themselves in putting together an awesome breakfast.

Just this past month in August, as I was preaching through the end of Isaiah, I did a message on how God's justice will be restored in the future kingdom. The main point was that as God's people today we can give people a taste of the justice that is coming by becoming an advocate for those who have not advocate. Our board stepped out in faith again and decided to give away half of that week's offering to support justice ministries around the world. We were blessed to be able to give away $6500 that week.

One of the greatest joys this past year has been seeing our church learn to be a truly generous community.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Read this article...

...about the bravery of Sarah Palin in keeping her Down Syndrome baby, Trig. Sadly, a very rare decision today.

The Year in Review: Life-Change Story #7

Earlier this year, our elder board began praying about taking a radical step of faith as a young church: to plant our first church in 2009. I posted my thoughts on this blog earlier this summer about why we felt planting before we built was important, but I didn't really go into detail about how God had led us to make the decision. During our elder meetings this spring, we began to discuss our priorities as a church. We were growing numerically and financially and felt the responsibility to steward God's resources wisely. We began to pray and wrestle with the responsibility we had to manage God's people and money well.

There are many obstacles to planting a church in your first two years. In our cycle, we needed to find a planter this summer (before our one-year anniversary) so he could start the residency in September, build his team this fall, get involved in strategic evangelism this spring, and launch by next September. This means a plant needs about a one-year runway. This meant we had to make the decision about planting six months into the life of our church, which felt very fast. We were just getting our feet under us when we felt like we had to decide our first major step as a congregation.

More background - we typically get two questions from visitors when they come see us for the first time. One has to do with the age of the pastor. The second has to do with how long we plan on being in the YMCA. The first question is easy to answer - the second is not. We have told people repeatedly that we don't have a time-line in mind for a building campaign, but as we began talking about planting, we realized that our decision on a future facility was connected to our decision to plant. We couldn't do both in our second year, so which was more important to us?

As you know, we went the direction of planting first, hoping to set the precedent for our church family that reproducing spiritually dynamic churches was more important that brick and mortar. Of course, at some point in the future, a building will become necessary, but we wanted to make sure that building never got in the way of church-planting.

So, we decided to plant, met some of the potential planters, and picked Josh and Amber Cagle to be our first planters. They packed up and moved here from southern California in August, put their kids in school, and have now started the residency. They have stepped out in faith to lead a new church just as we have stepped out in faith to plant our first church. They leased out their home in California in one day, and God's hand has been on them as they have made the transition to Texas.

I can't wait to see how this story ends...

Monday, September 08, 2008

The Year in Review: Life-Change Story #6

One of the first small group shepherds in our church-plant was Brad Hammack. Brad and his wife, Yvette, have a real love of hosting other people in their home. In fact, one of the first vision-casting meetings we had about family ministry was hosted in their back yard (I think this was the one where my oldest son peed on their fence while I was trying to wax eloquent about our passion to reach the city). Brad and Yvette had a strong small group from the time we started, leading one of the largest groups in our church.

Around launch time, I spend time challenging our shepherds to be prepared to multiply their groups so that we could be ready for the new families that God would send us. Brad took this challenge to heart, and he prepared Bob and Linda Goodfellow to step out and lead a new small group right after the launch of the church. The Goodfellow group started well and continues to this day. A few months later, with Brad's group continuing to grow and do well, Brad had the idea of multiplying his group again. This time, Brad tapped Dana and Carole Tucker to step out and lead a small group for the first time. In just a few months, the Hammack group had started two new small groups and developed two new couples into great small group leaders.

After he multiplied two small groups, Brad saw his own small group shrink in size and stay small for the next six months. But Brad never gave up and never threw in the towel. He stayed faithful to his ministry, and his group has begun to grow again. Most exciting of all, the Tucker small group has grown to the point where they are now multiplying their first small-group this summer. The Meese group has stepped out of the Tucker group and has stepped out in faith to start a neighborhood "seeker-group." It is exciting to see all of these couples step into leadership and grow in their trust in the Lord as He leads them to risk for Him.

As of this week, we now have 16 small groups. We launched a year ago with 7.

Friday, September 05, 2008

The Year in Review: Life-Change Story #5

Barie and I first met Douglas and Darin Hallam about 5 years ago when they first came to work in the worship ministry at FBC Ovilla, where Barie and I were serving in student ministry. After many late night chats about church-planting, Douglas and Darin followed the Lord as He led them to move to the Austin area with us to be a part of the new church we were launching. Knowing that the planting process would take around 18 months and that nothing was garaunteed after that, Douglas decided to take a full-time job working at Starbucks while he worked part-time with our church.

Since then, Douglas has been promoted within Starbucks to the point where he is now managing his own store. In his part-time worship ministry position with us, he has been responsible for putting together the music for every service we have had since launch. Darin, his wife, used to work from home for Accenture, but they made the decision as a couple around the first of the year that they wanted to be able to allow Darin to stay at home as full-time mom (since they were preparing to have their second child).

Needless to say, it has been a tough 2.5 years for the Hallam family, but one in which God has been faithful in meeting their needs repeatedly and grown them tremendously. Having known the Hallams for a long time has allowed me the unique perspective of seeing God change their lives as they completely sold-out to Jesus Christ. Through this long journey, Douglas and Darin have learned to trust God with every step, they have learned to risk for the kingdom of God. Douglas has become a better leader during his time working at Starbucks, and both have grown as parents and spiritual leaders. Douglas has become an excellent guitar player in the last year and grown spiritually to the place where he could really push others in the walks with Christ. Most encouraging of all, God has turned the Hallams into missionaries for the cause of Christ. He has expanded their borders and given them influence with many people who are living far from God. I think every person that works with Douglas has visited our church at one time or another.

For all these reasons and many more, I was so blessed to be able to announce to our church family this morning that our elders had decided it is the right time in the life of our church to make the worship pastor position a full-time job. After a two week interview process, our elders last Friday asked Douglas to become our full-time pastor of worship and communications as of October 1st. He graciously accepted.

What a year it has been...

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

The Year in Review: Life-Change Story #4

Another couple that we baptized together on Sunday evening was Scott and Cristal Misplay. Scott and Cristal came to us earlier this year and started attending our church regularly. Their first step into the life of our church was attending Life University: Marriage Edition this February on Sunday evenings at the YMCA. They were seated in our group, and so Barie and I had time to get to know them and hear their story.

Scott and Cristal had moved from California where Scott had been working in law-enforcement. Scott originally took a job consulting the Williamson County sheriff's department, but quickly stepped down from that job to take a position doing delivery for Fed-Ex. Scott said that he wanted more time with his family, and with Fed-Ex, even though his days start really early, he could be home every day by 1:00pm.

Scott and Cristal attended our membership course this spring and commented that they had been church-people in California, but had never really decided to center their lives on Jesus Christ. Cristal had been baptized around the age of 10, but told us that she had never made a public profession of faith as an adult. Scott also said that though he knew about Jesus, he had not made the decision to daily follow Jesus.

Over the course of the last several months, God has continued to work on Scott and Cristal about making Jesus Christ the center of their lives. After several conversations, they decided it was time to be baptized and make their personal trust in Christ known to their family, friends, and our church. On Sunday night, as they stood their in the water, Cristal said, "as a family, we've heard about Jesus for a long time, but now, we've decided to make him the center of our family and consider His will in all the decisions that we make..."

Wow.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Year in Review: Life-Change Story #3

Tonight was our fourth baptism celebration of the year. We have baptized at the San Gabriel River in Georgetown twice, the Clay Masden Rec Center once, and tonight we baptized at the Stone Oak Community Pool. It was a beautiful night for a baptism, with cool temperatures, a large oak tree, and a church family that we dearly love. We had the joy of baptizing 10 people tonight, 9 of which were adults. One of the couples we baptized was Jay and Kelly Teresi.

Jay and Kelly visited our church for the first time a few weeks after we started the church. Kelly had met Barie at one of our neighborhood playgrounds as she was watching the three Teresi kids and Barie was watching the three Ferguson boys. Kelly saw Barie's church t-shirt after she had seen our newspaper advertisement, and Kelly was interested enough to tell her husband Jay about us, and they decided to visit. They had been going to another church in town for over a year (where they were first introduced to a clear gospel presentation), and Jay had become a believer. Kelly was interested, but not convinced about all that was said about Jesus.

After they started visiting our church, Jay and Kelly decided to get involved. Jay started singing with the worship team and helping with set-up while Kelly starting working with children's ministry. They both started attending our small group and soon after volunteered their home for small-group childcare. A few months ago, with everything rocking along, Kelly confided in Barie that she had not decided if she believed in Jesus. She was convinced that God was real, that He loved her, but just couldn't get her heart and mind around the fact that Jesus was God and that Jesus had died in her place.

Barie and others started investing more into Kelly and giving her more resources to read, and one Sunday this July, she responded to an invitation to trust Christ during one of our Sunday morning services and became a Christ-follower for the first time. Her and Jay continue to grow every week in their walk with Christ, and we are pumped about how far they have come in the last year. I can't wait to see what God has in store for them. Tonight, Jay and Kelly were baptized together to declare their faith in Jesus Christ publically.

It was a tremendous evening.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Year in Review: Life-Change Story #2

I first met Mike and Dawn Rivell at one of our front-yard cookouts. Our small group hosted a grill-out for our neighbors last fall and many of them came, bringing kids and lawn chairs to enjoy the cool weather and get to know their neighbors. Mike and Dawn live on the cul-de-sac behind us, and they decided to come over for the party and the food. It was really a great time.

Mike is a mechanical engineer at Dell who graduated from UT, and Dawn is a elementary school teacher. Mike and I hit it off quickly based on our similar engineering background, and very soon, we were having late-night discussion in my backyard on everything from the Bible and Jesus to evolution and war. Mike has a sharp mind, and he wanted to make sure he had considered every angle of the Christian faith before he made any decisions.

Mike and Dawn starting attending our church soon after it launched and they also started attending our neighborhood small group. Soon after we started, our group went through The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel, and the material in the book and the topics discussed in church each week slowly led them to the conviction that Jesus is who He said He was.

I can still remember the Sunday morning after church when Dawn told me that she and Mike had crossed the line of faith and become Christ-followers. Since then, they have started serving in ministry and growing in their faith. This spring, they were baptized in the river and told their story to our entire congregation. It has been a true privilege to see their lives impacted by the gospel of Jesus Christ. And I can't wait to see what God does with them in the years ahead.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Year in Review: Life-Change Story #1

It is hard to believe that we are coming up on our one-year anniversary as a church. Time goes by so fast when you're doing what you love with people that you love. And having our fourth child seems to have only helped that progression of time accelerate. So, before our one-year anniversary gets away from me, I want to take the next couple of weeks to remember some of the most amazing moments and life-changing stories from our first year as a church. I can only hope and pray that our second year of ministry is as fruitful as the first.

Life-change story #1

I first met Julie Deffenderfer in the spring of 2007 when she walked into my office at HCBC Pflugerville needing some pastoral counseling related to her marriage. During our initial conversation, I shared the simple gospel message with her and she said that she was ready to trust Christ right there in my office. I was thrilled to lead her to Christ that day.

Fast forward a year to the spring of 2008. Julie decided to come with us to the church-plant in RR and had been attending since the launch when she called to tell me that her mom was in the hospital struggling with treatment of her throat cancer. Julie's mom, Norma, had been struggling with cancer for 2 years, but had taken a turn for the worse and was staring her own eternal destiny squarely in the eye. Julie said that Norma (and her husband Pat), who were not "church-going people," had requested to speak with a pastor. So Julie called me and I headed to the hospital.

During the time in the hospital room with Pat and Norma I was able to present a clear gospel to them, and both of them responded to the invitation to put their faith in Christ. It was an incredibly moving experience to meet with two people who were so broken and soft toward God after dealing with such a tremendous trial over the last two years. After Pat and Norma expressed their trust in Christ, they attended church whenever Norma's health allowed her to. Toward the end of the spring, we announced that we were going to be baptizing and Norma approached me about getting baptized.

Norma was concerned about not being able to be immersed because of her open throat wound, but was deeply committed to the idea of getting baptized. I told Norma that God cared more about her heart that the act of immersion, and that if she would come to our baptism at the river, we would pour the water over her head rather than immerse her in the river. She was thrilled, and the whole family came to watch her be baptized.

At 57 years of age, Norma Rowley publically declared her faith in Jesus Christ through water baptism. It was a sight to see and incredibly moving. I'm pretty sure there wasn't a dry eye on the shore of the river that evening as we witnessed the tremendous courage of our new sister in Christ.

The story doesn't end there. After a long 2 1/2 year journey with cancer, Norma Rowley went home to be with the Lord
this Sunday afternoon. I'm doing the funeral tomorrow morning at a funeral home in Cedar Park and will be able to declare with confidence that Norma is with the Lord, healed from the painful disease that ravaged her body here on earth. I thank God for the opportunity to share the gospel of Christ with this wonderful family, and I'm grateful to be a witness to the life-change He brings.

We serve an incredible God, don't we?


Friday, August 15, 2008

Only in Texas

Did you see this piece about the leaders of the Harrold Independent School District (north of Fort Worth) deciding that they would let their teachers bring concealed guns to school to protect themselves and the students starting this fall?

I guess it could also help with discipline problems, as in "don't make me pull out my 9mm to get you to quit talking in my class."

Monday, August 11, 2008

Religious Freedom in China

As we're watching the Olympics over the next two weeks, it is important to remember the persecution that many Christians are experiencing from the Communist regime.

You can read this article on the current situation for believers in China.

And you can read this article on President Bush's challenge to Chinese leaders to open up religious freedom.

Overall, more than praying for less persecution, we should pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ to continue to be bold with their faith and to stay strong in the face of opposition.

Thank God for the great example we see in the faith and courage of our extended family in China. We have a lot to learn...

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Father and Sons

Now that Barie and I have finished having children, I've been thinking a lot about the short time that you get to enjoye while your kids are at home. I'm having a hard time processing that Kade turns 5 this October - it just seems like yesterday that he was born.

I just finished reading Tim Russert's book about his dad, Big Russ & Me, which is a great telling of his childhood and life through the lens of what he learned from his father. Barie and I really came to enjoy Tim's style of journalism on the night of Bush v. Gore in 2000. We had just been married in the spring and were enjoying married life together at our small apartment in Waco. We stayed up most of the night waiting to hear about the results of the election. It was a memorable night, all the more so because of Russert and his white dry-erase board that he had on the set with him.

Tim passed away suddenly and unexpectedly this June. You can check out MSNBC's memorial for him on their website. There are some moving video segments from the memorial service. Tim was a awesome guy, and his book recounts a remarkable life. He died at the age of 58, and with my dad turning 57 this year, it is a reminder to me that we're never certain how many days we have left.

More than anything, Russert's book reminded me of the value of Fathers to the Sons. My dad has and will continue to make a big impact on the way that I see the world. And I know that my life will impact my kids. Russert tells wonderful stories of going on trips with his dad, seeing sporting events together, and doing normal father-son stuff. I'm so looking forward to the next 20 years as I get to enjoy making those kind of memories with my sons.

Thanks, Tim, for the reminder and for a life well-lived...

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Worldwide Justice

I preached a message this Sunday on our future hope in the justice that Jesus will establish when He returns to establish His Kingdom. It was a fascinating topic for me to cover for three reasons:

One, justice is not something I preach on very often and so it was a challenge in sermon preparation, but also in personal conviction.

Two, justice is obviously close to the heart of God. After reading through all the passages in the Scriptures on justice, I am more convinced than ever that the heart of God beats for those who have no advocate.

Three, the justice of God makes sense of the cross of Jesus Christ. Justice explains the sacrifice of Jesus on our behalf (see Romans 3:23-25). And this gospel gives us the theological framework to treat all people equally - to live out the justice that is so dear to God's heart.

Our elders voted to give away 50% of our offering this Sunday in response to God's heart for justice around the world. We were moved by God's Word to respond to the injustice in the world by being generous with all that God has given us.

Here are some of the groups we will be supporting:

International Justice Mission - working hard to be an advocate for those who have no advocate, especially in the areas of human slavery, sex trafficking, and abuses of power.

World Vision - working to fight against poverty and epidemic diseases (especially AIDS) among those struggling at the bottom of the world's economic ladder.

Living Water International - group out of Houston that specializes in helping provide sustainable clean water sources to the poorest communities in the world.

Compassion International - working to help children out of poverty and suffering through child-sponsorship, which provides needed nutrition, health-care, education, and family-help.

Voice of the Martyrs - group that works tirelessly to advocate for the persecuted church around the world - presently trying to spread the message ahead of the Beijing Olympics about the fate of Christians in China.

Visit their sites - sign up for newsletters - stay informed - pray - give.


Saturday, August 02, 2008

I think my job's hard...

...but today I have a whole new appreciation for what my wife does.

Barie left yesterday at lunch time for a two-night scrap-booking retreat and will be back on Sunday. She took our newborn, Brynlee, with her for feeding purposes, and I am at home with the three boys.

So, today I woke up and began taking care of the boys - the usual - making beds, changing clothes, feeding breakfast. Then I started with the dishes, picking up toys, decided to clean up the kitchen from last night and mop the floor.

At this point, it's 10:00 am and we're late for a swimming appointment I made for the main pool in our neighborhood. We swim with friends for 1.5 hours, then head to Chick-fil-a (everyone else's pick on Saturday for lunch) to eat and play.

We get home by 1:30 pm. I get the kids cleaned up and changed from swimming, and now everyone is resting. It's 3:11. I'm finally reading my Bible, paying some bills, writing in my journal.

And my first point today: thank you God for a wife who does all this incredibly draining and hard work with such joy, energy, compassion, grace, and love. And thank you God that she has anything left at the end of the day to give to her husband.

My conclusion: I am a blessed man - I have a great wife and my job is a piece of cake.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Challenges of Leadership

A quick glimpse into my personal journal to see what God is teaching me about leadership these days as I try to lead this local body of believers:

1) Leadership is a stewardship (meaning that it is a temporary gift given to us by God that He can take away at any moment) that we will be held accountable for. Thanks to Andy Stanley for pointing this out repeatedly in his talks on leadership. I need to be reminded daily that my leadership is not my own, but a temporary responsibility that the Sovereign One has given to me. I think regularly about the day I will give an account to Him about my leadership.

2) Leadership can be very lonely at the top because it is ultimately about making hard decisions that will benefit the many rather than cater to the few. This means that leaders have to constantly say no to good things in order to say yes to great things. I have personally seen this episode repeated over and over again in our new church.

3) Leadership is primarily about clearly defining reality. In other words, if the leader does not see what is really happening around him and is not pointing out the true condition of his organization, he is not leading well. The temptation to self-deceive is very high in leadership, and we have to constantly fight to make sure we are seeing what is right in front of us. As George Orwell said, "To see what is in front of one's nose needs a constant struggle." A hearty amen to that.

What is God teaching you these days?


Monday, July 28, 2008

Faith & Politics

We're hearing a lot of discussion this year about the role of faith in politics, first because it is a presidential election year, but second because the Democratic candidate at times is more comfortable talking about his Christian faith than the Republican candidate (different from previous election cycles). A few interesting links to get you thinking this morning about the intersection of faith and politics...

One of the more interesting potential vice-presidential possibilities on the Republican side this year is Bobby Jindal, the governor of Louisiana, a 37-year old Indian immigrant who converted from the Hinduism of his parents to Catholicism as a high-school student. You can read more about this guy in this article in the WSJ.

Two, Andy Stanley has done a great sermon series this summer called "Letters the Next President" where he shared three biblical principles he wants the next president to remember. I thought the series was great and very thought-provoking. Check out this site for all the details.

Third, interesting news out that Rick Warren, the pastor of Saddleback Church in California and the author of The Purpose-Driven Life, will be hosting both presidential candidates on Saturday, August 16th at his church. Warren will moderate a one hour interview with McCain and a one hour interview with Obama. This will be one of the few times this campaign season that the two candidates are the same place, on the same stage, talking to the same moderator. I'm encouraged that God has given Warren this platform in our country. You can listen to him talk very intelligently about the intersection of faith and politics in this interview with CNN:

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Evidence #354...

...that men are different from women.

I broke vases today during my sermon as an illustration of what has been lost since the fall.

Every man who talked to me after the service seemed a little sad that they didn't get the chance to break something today during church.

Every woman who talked to me after service was frustrated that I had destroyed perfectly good vases that could have been used to decorate their kitchens.

Fun times.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Kazakhstan

Most of you know that I traveled to Kazakhstan back in April for 2 weeks in order to help train church leaders who are working to start church-planting movements in Central Asian countries. It was an invigorating time, and I cam back re-focused on what God has called us to do in Round Rock and Greater Austin. As works with missions, you always return learning more than you ever teach. You can read my thoughts on the trip here. After returning from our trip, our church decided to get financially involved in the mission work in Central Asia (with East-West Ministries), and since then, I have been keeping my eyes open on news from that part of the world.

You can imagine that I was surprised when the WSJ cover page two days ago ran a full article revealing new details of corruption at the highest levels of the Kazakh government. Everyone has known that Kazakhstan's president (who has been in charge since the fall of the Soviet Empire) has been making tons of money on the backs of the Kazakh people over the years. He is known as one of the country's wealthiest people because he owns so much of the natural resource wealth in the country, but also because he owns a bank that lends his money to people in the country & makes a profit on this interest he charges. The WSJ article is giving first-hand reports for the first time of how deep the corruption goes.

Yesterday, the WSJ ran a follow-up article to this one talking about the response of the US government to the revelations from their first article. Interestingly enough, Kazakhstan is supposed to lead the OSCE (a group in Europe responsible to encourage human rights) starting in 2010. Hard to believe it is possible that a country with so much corruption and oppression of the poor could be lecturing other European countries about human rights violations.

Please pray for God to change the hearts of the leaders in Kazakhstan and to strengthen the believers who are boldly following Christ in tough circumstances.


Tuesday, July 22, 2008

My Most Important Sermon To Date

This Sunday I announced in my sermon that our elder board is following God in taking the first steps in moving toward planting our first church in 2009. We have decided (after much prayer and deliberation) that God is calling us to plant in Round Rock, and that we will be working with one of the residents coming to be trained at HCBC NW. His name is Josh Cagle, and he has been a youth pastor in southern California for the last ten years. He and his wife, Amber, will be moving to the Austin area in August and starting the residency program in September.

I preached Sunday on our vision - our desire to see every man, woman, and child in Greater Austin have the chance to experience the life-changing reality of Jesus Christ because they hear the gospel from the lips of someone at a Hill Country Bible Church. I was giving the context of why we made the decision to plant our first church by the time of our 2nd anniversary as a church. Of all the messages I have preached over the last year of our church, this is most likely the most important. You can listen to it on our website or by downloading it from our podcast on iTunes.

I handed out one-page insert Sunday morning that attempted to answer many of the questions that I know people have in response to our decision. I want to post those thoughts here for anyone who wants to see what we're doing in more detail and see my current thinking on church-planting in the life of the church. Feel to free to comment below - I appreciate the feedback in clarifying my thoughts on this very important topic. Until All Treasure Him...

Q1: Where is the biblical mandate to start new churches?


A: The biblical mandate from Jesus is to be “sent” into the world (John 20:21) in order to be “His witnesses” (Acts 1:8) that we could “makes disciples” of all peoples (Matthew 28:19-20). This call to “make disciples” requires that we baptize follows of Christ and organize believers into local communities (see Acts 2:41-47). Starting new churches is the best way to make sure that we are following Jesus’ commands to evangelize the nations and turning new Christ-followers into committed disciples.

Beyond that, we have the example of the apostle Paul in the NT who went from city to city establishing new churches (see Acts 14:21-28, 16:9-12, and Titus 1:5) and raising up elders to oversee these local congregations. Paul demonstrates through his own life and ministry how personal evangelism and church-planting are directly connected.


Q2: How does church planting fit into our vision to reach every man, woman, and child in Greater Austin with the life-changing reality of Jesus Christ?


A: Our hope and prayer is that every person in our city has the opportunity to experience the life-changing reality of Jesus Christ because they hear the gospel from the lips of a real person. In order for every man, woman, and child from every socio-economic and every racial group to hear the gospel, we need to have strong, healthy, dynamic churches in every part of the city reaching into every demographic group. Church-planting is the most effective way to reach people with the gospel of Jesus Christ, and since we are passionate about people experiencing Jesus Christ, we are committed to planting churches. If we discovered a better strategy for reaching the city tomorrow, we would stop planting churches and adopt that strategy. But that scenario is unlikely as history has consistently demonstrated the effectiveness of starting new churches in spreading the gospel.


Q3: Why should we plant new churches in Round Rock when so many churches in Round Rock already exist?


A: A quick survey of the research compiled on church-growth in Greater Austin and around the nation reveals that this question has two faulty underlying assumptions: first, that new churches compete with existing churches for members, and second, that Round Rock is a “churched” city. Let’s look at these assumptions one at a time.


(1) New churches find most of their members from those who are previously unchurched, not those who are transferring from other churches. Nation-wide surveys show that 60-80% of the new members in new churches are previously unchurched, while 80-90% of new members in congregations older than 15 years come from other churches. Because new congregations are forced to focus on the needs of non-members in the community rather than their own attenders, they are 6 to 8 times more effective in evangelism than established churches. Additionally, new churches are more effective in reaching different demographic groups than established churches. For all of these reasons, new churches do not compete with existing churches, but effectively reach those that existing churches are not reaching.


(2) Greater Round Rock has a current estimated population (summer 2008) of 133,000 people. A recent survey of the 63 current Protestant churches in RR shows that they have 16,150 in attendance on a typical Sunday, for a total of 12.1% of the population. With Greater Round Rock expected to grow to 250,000 people over the next thirty years, every church in Round Rock will need to grow and new churches will need to be planted in order to increase the percentage of our city’s population that regularly attends a church. Round Rock is not a “churched” city and is falling further behind every year that new churches are not started. One thing, however, is certain: without starting new congregations, the percentage of Round Rock residents that attend church will continue to decline.


Q4: Why are we planting a church before we build our own facility to meet in?


A: Starting a capital-campaign for a facility early in the life of our church would have three unintended consequences that could negatively impact our church. First, the energy and resources of our leadership would be focused on raising funds for the new building for several years. This would immediately become our church’s highest priority for the foreseeable future. Second, building before we plant would create the mindset that planting was secondary in importance to building, when in reality building is secondary to planting. Rather than asking how church-planting will impact our building-campaign, our elders hope to establish a pattern where we ask how a building-campaign will impact church planting. Simply put, order matters. Third, building early in the life a church always leads it to build too small. Because God has miraculously provided us an awesome home for the next several years at the YMCA at a good rental rate, we feel confident that we can continue to grow in our current space without taking on the financial burden of a new building.


Q5: Why is the model changing to a “missional-core” plant instead of the hive-off model that we used?


A: The “missional-core” planting model seeks to send a maximum of ten missional families with the planter instead of the large group of 30-40 families that are sent with a hive-off. The model has changed for two primary reasons. First, large hive-off churches tend to be less effective in their evangelism because they start with a large core of Christians from the mother-church rather than starting with a mix of missional Christians and new converts from the community. “Missional-core” plants spend more time and energy reaching the lost in their community rather than ministering to their own families. Second, in order to plant a large hive-off church, the “sending” church must be large and able to send off a large contingency. If planting is limited to the hive-off model, then only large churches will be involved in church planting in the city.


Q6: How will church-planting impact the ministry of Hill Country Bible Church Round Rock?


A: Church-planting is good for the “sending” church in several ways. First, planting a missional, evangelistic church renews the “sending” church’s commitment to evangelism and mission. As the church-planting team engages in strategic evangelism in the city, the families of the “sending” church are challenged to do their part to own the vision in their sphere of influence. Second, planting a new church provides opportunities for new people to step up into significant leadership roles. Church-planting opens opportunities in the “sending” church and obviously creates opportunities for service in the new church. Finally, church-planting matures the “sending” church by teaching us how to walk by faith and how to be Kingdom-minded. Each of us will learn to trust God more and be reminded that God’s work is bigger than our own congregation.


Q7: How much does it cost to plant a church, and how can we afford it?


A: The latest estimate on funding a church-plant in our association is about $135,000, which includes funding a resident in the training center for one year and providing some of the initial funding for the church plant. Of course, the final cost of the church-plant will vary depending on the actual costs incurred by the planting team. The funds for the cost of the plant can come from several sources: the sending church’s general budget, a special offering from the sending church, and the fundraising resources of the planter himself.


As of now, the elders of HCBC-RR have adjusted the remainder of the 2008 budget (starting in June) to reallocate future-facility funds into our church-planting fund now that the YMCA lease has been finalized for the next two years. Beyond that, we are trusting God to lead us over the next year in how to fund the plant, and we are also trusting Him to provide the necessary funds. Like all budgeting decisions, our money follows our priorities. We feel confident that God will honor our sacrifice for His Kingdom as He has done with other Hill Country churches as they have been open-handed with the resources God has provided.


Thursday, July 17, 2008

Read it and weep...

To all those who endlessly berate me about my decision one year ago to sell my 2001 Chevy Silverado (with 75,000 miles on it) and buy a 2004 Kia Spectra (with 14,000 miles on it), read this article and weep...

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Revolutionary Era

I read David McCullough's book on John Adams several years ago and thoroughly enjoyed his writing style and his insight into the private world of one of America's founding fathers. Adams was known as the "voice of the Revolution" as much as Jefferson was known as the "pen of the Revolution" because of his vocal, argumentative, strong personality. McCullough won a Pulitzer Price for his writing on Adams, both for his strong historical work in the original sources (he spent many hours reading the letters between John and Abigail (his beloved wife) and between John and Thomas Jefferson) and his wonderful story-telling ability.

McCullough also won a Puli
tzer for his work on the life of Harry Truman, another president from American history who shaped our country in significant ways but was relatively unknown compared to other major figures from history. McCullough's book on Truman's life is also a fascinating read, though incredibly long and detailed (around 1,000 pages if I remember correctly).

But back to John Adams. HBO just turned McCullough's book into a 7-part miniseries that I've had the joy of watching while hanging out with my new baby late at night the last week. The series is awesome, and I would encourage everyone to check it out. The material captures well the complexity of the character of our second president. He was very intelligent, but could be overly-belligerent and hard to work with. He seemed to always be concerned with his reputation, and to that end, worked ceaselessly for his country while many times leaving his family to fend for themselves.

This series captures all of the awe-inspiring scenes of Adams' life - from his presence at the signing of the declaration of independence, to his time in France and his time as the first ambassador for America to England, to his time as the first vice-president of the US, to his four years as president of the US, to his long-time writing relationship with Thomas Jefferson. In all of this, the signs of the times stand out as remarkable when viewed from a 21st century perspective: the long times of separation from his family, the rigid relationships at home, the long trips across the ocean to get back and forth to Europe, the terrible medical conditions, and the blight of slavery.

In the end, this amazing series (and book) makes me thankful again for the sacrifices of so many that allowed us to enjoy the freest and most prosperous nation in the world.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Sleepless Nights

The nights of the newborn are sleepless nights.

When we had our first son, I remember being frustrated when he kept me awake late at night, rocking him, singing to him, swaddling him, all in a vain attempt to get him to calm down and sleep.

Last night was one of those nights...

Son3 was up throwing up everything he ate yesterday (and if you know Kale, this was a large amount), and my daughter (still weird to write that) has her days and nights messed up as most newborns do.

But something has changed. I really enjoyed last night. I guess now I realize that it all goes by so fast, that I will wake up in a year and Brynlee will be walking around our house. In two years, she'll be talking, and in three years, she'll be ordering her older brothers around our house.

All that to say, the sleepless nights don't last.

I want to enjoy every one.