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.