Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Nativity Story

As parents, we are always trying to think of ways to make the Christmas story more real to our kids than the presents they open on Christmas morning. We read them the Christmas story from their kids-Bibles, but the cartoon images make the story seem somewhat unreal. Barie and I share why we are thankful for the coming of Jesus, but that seems somewhat subjective. We also have acted out the Christmas story with all the kids this year - which they really enjoyed. But the acting-out of the story involves more laughter than anything else - we are a goofy group. So, I was really excited to show our kids The Nativity Story movie last night, if for no other reason just to make the story come to life with real people with real emotions with real families. I had never seen the movie, so I was pleasantly surprised by how it well it grabbed the attention of our kids. They asked all kinds of questions throughout the movie - "who is that?" - "why did she do that?" and more. I was really excited by how well the movie brought us into the lives of these characters and made the story so much more real for my whole family. I highly recommend that you take the time to see it!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Noonan on Culture

I always enjoy reading Peggy Noonan's article on Saturday in the WSJ. She has some good insights into politics and the American culture. I sometimes disagree with what she writes, but always makes me think. I especially connected with her article this weekend about parents feeling exhausted by the energy it takes to guard their kids from the culture at large. I would take her argument one step further, believing that we don't need to just protect our kids from cultural influences before they are ready, but that we need to teach our kids how to think about the cultural influences they experience. It is more about training our kids to engage culture with a biblical worldview than escaping our culture, but it does make this parent of young children feel tired when I have to constantly be on guard for what might show up even in a commercial on TV. Here's Peggy's main thought about why most Americans feel shaky about our country (even more than economic reasons, she would say). She uses Adam Lambert's performance on ABC as a launching pad:

People were offended, and they complained. Mr. Lambert seemed surprised and puzzled. With an idiot's logic that was nonetheless logic, he suggested he was the focus of bigotry: They let women act perverse on TV all the time, so why can't a gay man do it? Fifteen hundred callers didn't see it as he did and complained to ABC, which was negligent but in the end responsive: They changed the West Coast feed and apparently kept Mr. Lambert off "Good Morning America."

Mr. Lambert's act left viewers feeling not just offended but assaulted. Again, "we don't care what you do in New York," but don't include us in it, don't bring it into our homes. Our children are here.

I don't mean to make too much of it. In the great scheme of things a creepy musical act doesn't matter much. But increasingly people feel at the mercy of the Adam Lamberts, who of course view themselves, when criticized, as victims of prudery and closed-mindedness. America is not prudish or closed-minded, it is exhausted. It cannot be exaggerated, how much Americans feel besieged by the culture of their own country, and to what lengths they have to go to protect their children from it.

It's things like this, every bit as much as taxes and spending, that leave people feeling jarred and dismayed, and worried about the future of their country.
Agree or disagree?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Proud Husband Alert

What an awesome weekend!

In the last few days, our church family has participated in Jingle Jam out at Round Rock Family Christmas Night on Friday, prayed for 24 hours on Saturday, and hosted the Women's Christmas Social on Sunday. All three went extremely well.

The staff and the LIVE team did a great job representing our church and Christ to our city. Many families in our city were exposed to the message of the gospel through Jingle Jam. Hat's off to the team who set up the show and braved the tough weather to pull off a great evening.

I also have to say how proud I was of my wife for the message she gave at the Women's Christmas Social. She worked hard for two weeks to prepare a message that would share the heart of God with the 230 women who came this year. I might be biased, but I thought she did a phenomenal job in sharing the story of Christ in a winsome and authentic way. I know that many great spiritual conversations were started because of that event.

Thanks to everyone in our church who participated in these events this weekend, especially those of you who prayed. I believe God is moving in such powerful ways because we continue to seek His face on a regular basis. Ultimately, I am thankful to God for His grace and His presence in all that we do. Thank you, Father, for such an awesome weekend and such an awesome wife...

Monday, November 23, 2009

A Good Tired

Everyone is moving slowly at the office this morning after last night's volunteer-appreciation dinner, but we are a good tired. We have such a great church-family, and last night was a fun time to celebrate all that God has done through our ministry-volunteers this year. I hope everyone knows how much we appreciate them and what a huge impact they are making. Here's the video we finished with last night as we start to spread the word for Christmas Together 2009 - our Christmas-Eve services at Hill Country Bible Round Rock. Have a great Monday...

Staff Carol of the Bells from Hill Country Bible on Vimeo.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Finished the Race!

What an awesome weekend!

Barie and I did our fourth annual Getting Away to Get It Together weekend. We had a great time this year. We ran the San Antonio Rock 'n' Roll Half-Marathon on Sunday morning in 2 hours, 25 minutes, and 58 seconds. We then spent the rest of Sunday recovering from running a half-marathon. You can watch the video of us crossing the line on the Rock 'n' Roll website - just enter in Bib Number 16446.

After the race, Barie and I spent the next two days regrouping on the home front - evaluating our relationships with God, each other, and our kids. We spent time discussing our calendar, our budget, and our priorities as a family. It was a tremendously refreshing and helpful time.

Thanks for everyone's encouragement and prayers. Now go run!

Tom Basile Video

I went to school with some great people at Dallas Theological Seminary.

One of the most interesting was Tom Basile, who was in my Spiritual Formation group during my first two years at school. Tom was serving in New York City in homeless ministry before he came to DTS, and since he graduated, he has returned to NYC to serve as the director of the Bowery Mission, a historic mission in the heart of the city.

Just this week, DTS highlighted Tom's work at the Bowery Mission in one of their promotional videos. Tom still has the infectious energy that he had when he was in school with me. Check out this wonderful video to learn about his work.

Go Tom!

Thursday, November 12, 2009


I was in Exodus 20 this morning for my devotional time (as I'm following along with our study guide this week) - reading through the Ten Commandments. What struck me today was the emphasis on idolatry in the first few commandments - God is serious about making sure that we understand that He is the only real God and that we don't bow down to any other idols in our lives. I wrote in my journal today that if I can root out the idols in my heart (by His grace), then I will be in better shape to follow the rest of His commands.

I've been reading Tim Keller's new book Counterfeit Gods recently, but trying to do it slowly so that I could personally reflect on the observations that he is making. In his chapter on money, I was struck by the following insight on the hidden idolatry of greed - see if it resonates with you:
Why can't anyone in the grip of greed see it? The counterfeit god of money uses powerful sociological and psychological dynamics. Everyone tends to live in a particular socioeconomic bracket. Once you are able to afford to live in a particular neighborhood, send your children to its schools, and participate in its social life, you will find yourself surrounded by quite a number of people who have more money that you. You don't compare yourself with the rest of the world, you compare yourself to those in your bracket. The human heart always wants to justify itself and this is one of the easiest ways. You say, "I don't live as well as him or her or them. My means are modest compared to theirs." You can reason and think like that no matter how lavishly you are living. As a result, most Americans think of themselves as middle class, and only 2 percent call themselves "upper class." But the rest of the world is not fooled. When people visit here from other parts of the globe, they are staggered to see the level of materialistic comfort that the majority of Americans have come to view as necessity. (pages 52-53)
Ouch. May God open our eyes to see what we truly worship.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Sunday Night Thoughts -

I'm sitting here watching the end of the Cowboy game (good to see them win a big one) while my wife and kids are sleeping peacefully. It has been a great day today.

We've continued to preach through the gospel of Mark this morning at church - we finished chapter 12. I've enjoyed preaching through a long book - it has been one of the more challenging things I've done since we started the church two years ago. Nick is preaching next Sunday through chapter 13 (the prophetic teachings of Jesus) while Barie and I are in San Antonio for a much-needed weekend away. We're running the Rock'n'Roll half-marathon next Sunday morning, then spending two days working on our marriage and our parenting. We always love our times away together, and this year is no different.

Then, after we get back, we've only got a few weeks left until we're done with the gospel of Mark. I'm working now on summarizing what I have learned after preaching through the whole book - would love to hear from you about what you've learned. We're already working on the preaching calendar for 2010 and it looks very different - I can't wait to roll it out in December.

This afternoon I was able to rest for about an hour, which was great after working late last night and early this morning on my sermon - it took a while to figure out how to get The Office clip I needed :). Then, tonight, we gathered with two neighborhood families for dinner - what a blast. We really love these two families and enjoyed our time at dinner. After three years in our house, we love the community that we've been able to build with our neighbors. It is sad that some are already moving, but others are moving in. I thank God for our awesome neighbors.

Well - that's all I've got tonight. Get some sleep...

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Book Notes Today

I haven't posted in a while, so I thought I would say a few words about what I've read recently. First, I read a book on ancient classical history - the period from the formation of the earliest Greek cultures through the Roman period.

This is a fascinating period in history for me because it defines the context for so much of the NT. Jesus lived and taught and Paul traveled in this Hellenistic world, though of course they were shaped in huge ways by Hebrew culture. Robin Lane Fox' book called The Classical World is a quick overview of a huge period of history. Fox tells the story well, though I must admit that I skimmed through some of his longer discussions about wars between different people groups during this time. What I was really looking for was information about what it would have been like to live during this period - and Fox delivers on this front. Of course, he admits that large parts of his description of ancient life are speculations built upon our study of ancient artifacts and history written later about that time period. However, what he describes is not some mystical, wonderful, enlightened world that was lost during the Dark Ages by the influence of the church (the narrative we all learned in school), but a period that was full of war and famine and incredible immorality. The cultural elites of the ancient world were all men (women were not valued or accepted, but used for reproduction) and were involved in pedophilia (using young boys for sexual gratification). Not only that, but the period was full of war (like every period of history) between people groups and strife between cultures. Fox' vivid description of the development of Greek culture (including art, philosophy, and science) reminded this reader how depraved humans are in every period. It was into this world that Christianity's message of love, charity, care for the poor, sexual purity, and gospel grace came flooding through.

As I was reading this book on ancient culture, I was handed another book by a friend to read called Atheist Delusions by David Bentley Hart. Hart's work is an academic response to the popular attacks made by New Atheism against Christianity. Hart writes at a high level and engages academic and popular positions throughout the book. His main argument is that Western culture has failed to understand the dramatic impact that the Christian gospel has had upon every facet of society. He argues persuasively that the popular atheist writes of today are standing on a Christian foundation to make their attacks against the Christian religion. Hart is a wordsmith, and his writing is devastatingly articulate in tearing down the false premises of the new class of atheist apologists. Hart rightly points to the development of care for the needy, the rights of women and slaves, and the philosophical underpinnings of an ordered world as distinctive contributions of the Christian worldview. His most provocative sections are about what happens to our worldview and treatment of others when the Christian revolution is undermined. To answer this question, he looks at the world before the Christian revolution and says that we could easily be headed back in that direction - see my notes above for why that is so scary.

Fun reading - I love history anyway, and these books are helping to fill out my reading of the Bible and the radical nature of the message of the gospel.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Questions of Jesus

I've really enjoyed preaching through the book of Mark this year at the church. We just finished chapter 10 on Sunday, so we have basically hit the 2/3 marker in our journey. The text this weeks starts the Passion Week narrative, where Mark slows down the timeline and spends six chapters in the last seven days of the life of Jesus. We will be preaching the end of Mark all the way until the end of the year, which means that the Advent season will take us through the crucifixion of Jesus and on Christmas Eve, our last service of the year, we will preach Mark 16:1-8, His resurrection. Should be interesting!

One thing that happens when you preach through a whole book is that you begin to notice interesting connections and themes that go from beginning to end. I shared Sunday night at Leadership Community about the theme of the compassion of Jesus in the book of Mark, which challenges us to see people with the eyes and heart of God, not our normal cynicism.

One other interesting thread on Mark's gospel is how many questions Jesus asks. I know you will think I'm weird for doing this, but I actually wrote out all the questions from Jesus and counted them. He asks 46 questions in 16 chapters. It seems that Jesus teaches with questions. In so many passages, he gets a question and turns it immediately back to the questioner with his own inquiry. Jesus is the master question-asker. A couple of thoughts hit me as I read this...

1) I should ask more questions rather than always assuming that I have the answers. Do I ask good questions or just space-filling questions?

2) I should not only come to Jesus with my questions, but should also listen to His questions. Maybe I'm consumed with the wrong stuff and Jesus is trying to shift my focus.

3) One of the best ways to teach is to ask great questions. We all struggle with self-awareness and a good question can lead a student to see himself honestly for the first time.

What did I notice about Jesus' questions? Well, that might need to be another post. Or even a sermon series - the questions of Jesus. That would be fun - like Jesus putting us on the hot-seat rather than us always throwing our questions at Jesus.

One final note - Jesus' last words in Mark are a question - My God, My God, why have you forsaken me? Wow - the questions of Jesus.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Spiritual Dryness

We had a great discussion yesterday at staff meeting about spiritual dryness - what it is and how to diagnose it. We all agreed that we go through seasons in our walk with God where we hunger passionately for Him and really enjoy our time with him, and we also go through seasons where we are disciplining ourselves to spend time with God, our hearts are cold spiritually and our passion is gone. The big question for me is, "what do we do in seasons of spiritual dryness to get that passion and joy to return in our relationship with God?" Our team had a few ideas that I thought were helpful...

1) Be Honest With God. We need to start with self-awareness and honesty. For some reason, we tend to deny that we are in a spiritual rut until we get really desperate. We need to buck that trend and start with telling God the truth (since He knows anyway) - we are struggling spiritually and need His help.

2) Repent of Sin. Sometimes spiritual dryness results from unconfessed sin in our lives. God is convicting us by His Spirit and His Word, we are rejecting His leading, and the result is distance in our relationship with Him. We need to ask the question, is there sin in my life that is keeping me from being close to the Lord?

3) Reconcile Relationships. Strange as it sounds, we all agreed that broken horizontal relationships can negatively impact our vertical relationship with God. If we are having a hard time connecting with God, it may be the Spirit telling us that we need to get right with another person (spouse, friend, child, anyone) first.

4) Meditate on Truth. Rather than thinking that we need read something new in Scripture or listen to a new sermon for that spiritual spark, sometimes we just need to meditate on what we already know to be true. This is especially important for those of us who are readers and think that we just need one more insight. We may just need to reflect on the cross and the love of Jesus Christ.

5) Tell Someone. Spiritual leaders struggle greatly with telling someone else about their spiritual dryness. Maybe because we feel the pressure to always be "on" or maybe just because we are full of pride and hate to admit that we are not craving God as we should, we tend to hide our dryness behind religious language. We should reject this as vanity and tell someone close to us that we are dry spiritually so that they can pray for us.

6) Pray. In the final equation, only God by His Spirit can grant us the grace we need to pursue Him with all our hearts. Knowing this, we should ask God for anything that is lacking in our walk with Him. He is faithful and will answer.

Hope that helps when you are in that dry place. I've been there many times, but God has always been gracious to lead me out. May He do the same for you -

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Awesome Time of the Year

I have to confess that October is one of my favorite months of the year. It brings...

1) Cooler weather (and this year wetter weather!) - after a brutally hot and dry summer here in Austin, we are ready for some cool, wet weather. My attitude always seems to improve a little bit as the weather changes - not a lot, just a little.

2) Baseball playoffs - though the Rangers couldn't make it this year (they did give us a great season), the baseball playoffs are still great to watch. The crowds are huge and energetic - the players are at their peak - and every game matters.

3) Holidays are close - the holiday season is so much fun at home and at church - I just look forward to it with great expectation every year. And October seems to be the month that starts the discussions - what are we doing for the holidays, where are we going, what are we doing for the kids - all so fun. And everyone gets some much-needed time off.

4) More people outside - seems like every night, our neighbors are hanging out outside in the street with each other since the weather has turned, the kids are playing, the parents talking - just an awesome time to connect with more people.

5) Dreaming for the next year - we do our ministry planning for the next year in October of each year, and though planning and budgeting can be tedious at times, I love dreaming about the future and trying new things - all of that starts in October. We even do some planning for our family next year - and this one will be big since next next May is ten years of marriage.

What's your favorite time of the year?

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Gifted Hands

Barie and I watched a great movie last weekend called Gifted Hands, the Ben Carson story. Ben grew up from humble origins to be a director of pediatric neurosurgery at John Hopkins University. His story is quite incredible and well told in this movie. Cuba Gooding, Jr. plays the adult Dr. Carson, though much of the story is about his childhood and the influence of his mother in shaping his hunger to learn and his Christian faith. Check out this promo video...

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Abstinence Education

As a former youth pastor who has spent a lot of time teaching students about sexuality, I was very interested in this Austin Statesman article on Sunday about districts moving away from abstinence-only sex education. If you didn't know, there has been a long debate in public education about how to each kids about sex. The "consensus" professional view has shifted over the years, and now another shift seems to be taking place. The recent history goes something like this...

The last decade has seen a large increase in federal funding for abstinence-only sex education in the public schools. This has spawned a large number of non-profit organizations that specialize in teaching students to wait for marriage before they become sexually active. These non-profits get large amounts of federal funding and then are contracted by school districts to come in and do their sex-education. All well and good except that now federal money is moving away from abstinence-only education because of recent research showing that it is not working - in other words, more kids are having unprotected sex resulting in higher pregnancy rates and higher STD transmission rates. The education establishment is now wondering if abstinence-plus sex education would reverse these trends. In other words, if educators still tell students that waiting is the best option, but also teach them how to use condoms and more details about STDs, would we see these trends go the other direction?

The Statesman article is very good, with lots of charts and graphs to help illustrate the data that public officials are wrestling with. I'm not sold on all their conclusions, but they do raise a great question that the Christian community should think about. For the sake of argument, let's agree with the following presuppositions (I'm not saying that I do) and see where we land. When abstinence-only education is compared to abstinence-plus education, we find that abstinence-only education helps the average student wait an additional year before beginning their sexual activity, but also increase pregnancy rates and STD rates by 10%, how should we move forward? In other words, if the average student begins sexual activity at 17 instead of 16 and yet more teen girls get pregnant or more students get STDs, what policy should school districts have when it comes to sex-education? I'd love to hear your thoughts...

A few of mine (that won't necessarily clear this up):

1) Kids should learn about sex at home. We shouldn't depend on the school district to teach our kids about sex. Parents need to be more open with their kids and kids more open with their parents so that sex is not off-limits at home. I think kids make stupid decisions with sex when they get bad information from peers and they are not prepared for the temptations that come as a teenager. Parents, let's make sure to help our kids through this with gospel-grace and brutal honesty. We can't pass this off on a school-administrator.

2) God desires our best - saving sex for marriage. As a society, we need to keep in mind that sexuality is not just about pregnancy and disease. These are obviously huge issues, but sex is ultimately about God. He created it and His intent is that we enjoy it within the boundaries that will give it the most meaning and beauty and keep us from the most pain. I've talked with plenty of students over the years who have been destroyed by sexual activity, but not because they were pregnant or had a STD. They had given themselves away to someone else and connected too intimately with them. As many have said before, "you can't put a condom on your heart."

3) God desires the best for kids. What complicates this discussion for me is that God desires the best for children - a consistent theme that shows up throughout the Bible. In fact, I'm preaching a passage this Sunday that reminds us that Jesus welcomes children to Himself even when no one else does. My point is that we have to think holistically about this issue. If abstinence-only education results in more abortions or more kids born into and raised in poverty, we need to think hard before we rubber-stamp it as they only way.

Any insight on this one?

Monday, September 28, 2009

Proud Uncle Alert

I received some new pictures from my mom of my nephew Evan. He is 4 1/2 months old in these pictures - he's a cute guy, isn't he? Check him out...

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

David Robinson & Michael Jordan

Loved this post from Voddie Baucham about why we should be like David, not like Mike (based on their speeches at the Basketball Hall of Fame induction last week). I grew up watching these guys play and idolized MJ on the basketball court. Funny how time, maturity, and wisdom changes your perspective. One of Voddie's thoughts...

David Honored God... Mike Honored Basketball

David Robinson ended his speech with a moving reference to the story of the ten lepers in Luke’s gospel. It was so refreshing not to hear the old standard, “First, I want to thank my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who made it all possible by making me so good” cliche. Instead, Robinson actually referred to the Bible (book and chapter), used it in context, applied it to the situation, and was completely appropriate, God-honoring, and not at all cheesy. Praise God!

David Robinson presented himself as a man who had a great career, but didn’t let it define who he is. Michael Jordan, on the other hand, presented himself as a man who loves, needs, and craves basketball and the attention it brings. He even alluded to the idea of coming back and “playing at fifty.” I doubt he was serious, but the point was clear. Jordan is defined by what he did on the court. He needed this moment to snatch his throne back from the likes of Kobe Bryant if only for one night. He needed the bright lights, and the attention again if only for twenty-three minutes. And in the end, it was quite sad. A man who has “everything”; the most recognizable figure on the planet at one time, looked as empty as the United Center (where the Bulls play) two hours after a disappointing loss.
Read the whole thing - it is very good.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Rangers Jinx

My dad and I finally made the decision this year to visit the Rangers during spring-training back in March. We'd been talking about it for a long time and decided to actually go. Because of getting to meet the players and see them play up-close, I've been a much bigger fan this year. And they've actually been good this year - lots of fun to watch.

As unlikely as it sounds, the Rangers have been in the playoff race most of the season and stayed with the Angels and the Red Sox, who are both looking to make the playoffs. We've even purchased tickets to go see the Rangers in person this Friday night (when the Angels come in town - could be a make or break series) - plan on taking the kids and everything!

All that being said, I gave in to the temptation to purchase post-season tickets when they went on sale last week. A man has to hope, doesn't he? Well, since then, the Rangers have lost 3 out of 4 games and look like all the rain in Arlington is getting to them. With only 19 games to go in the season, and being 3 1/2 out of the wild-card and 6 out in the AL West, the Rangers have got to step it up and do it quickly.

I guess I'm wondering, did we jinx the Rangers by buying playoff tickets too early?

Monday, September 14, 2009

Sick Day

I've felt lousy today, trying to shake a cough and sore throat and lots of drainage (yummy). My voice barely made it through preaching yesterday (God's grace), but it is almost completely gone today. I tried to go and coach t-ball tonight for the boys, but I wasn't much good without a voice (thankfully I had a whistle). So, today I decided to read The Hobbit. One word - awesome.

I've owned the whole Lord of the Rings set since the movies came out and got me interested, but I've never actually read them from start to finish. With so much serious stuff filling my reading list lately, it was time for a break and something just purely enjoyable. Of course, Tolkien makes great points throughout his books about life and human nature and truth, but mainly they are just a great story. Creative, imaginative, fun, rhythmic, insightful, and interesting. Did I mention fun?

Now on to LotR book I - Fellowship of the Ring. And after I read them through, I will take out the movies and enjoy them again; it's been a while since I watched them.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Book Notes: Fearless (4/5)

Max Lucado writes books like I write sermons, which is to say that they keep on coming. I just finished reading his latest book, Fearless, this week, and hope my thoughts are helpful as you decide if this book is for you. Before I can review the book, however, I need to truthfully share my preconceived ideas about Lucado and his books.

First, I had the opportunity to sit in a meeting with Lucado and some other large-church pastors during a conference in 2006. I was able to compare and contrast his personality and leadership with other large-church pastors during our short time together. What did I find? Max Lucado is one of the most gracious, genuine, down-to-earth, friendly guys you will ever meet. Some of the guys in the room that day couldn't fit their egos in the room, but Lucado was incredibly humble and gracious the whole time. From that one meeting, I walked away asking God to make me a more gracious and humble pastor - such ingratiating traits. All that to say that I really admire and respect Pastor Lucado.

Second, and not quite as positive: I've read my share of Lucado books over the years. They seem to all follow the same pattern, which makes me wonder if they are constructed out of sermon series that he preaches at his church. They are full of wonderful stories, short, insightful explanations of Bible passages, and extremely practical applications. This not a bad pattern - it is just Lucado's pattern. In some ways, if you've read one of his books, you fill at home in the others - though the content is different, the structure is very similar. This always leads me to assume before I even read one of Lucado's books that I am going to enjoy his stories, but not be challenged too deeply by his insights.

Now, to Fearless, Lucado's effort to expose our deepest fears and provide helpful solutions to live a fear-free life. The book gives one chapter to each fear. Here's the list of fears that Max addresses:

1) the fear of not mattering
2) the fear of disappointing God
3) the fear of running out
4) the fear of not protecting my kids
5) the fear of overwhelming challenges
6) the fear of worst-case scenarios
7) the fear of violence
8) the fear of the coming winter
9) the fear of life's final moments
10) the fear of what's next
11) the fear that God is not real
12) the fear of global calamity
13) the fear of God getting out of my box

Out of this list, I personally connected with only a few chapters. However, I read each chapter because I know people in my congregation struggle with these fears - they sit in our chairs every Sunday and in my office during the week. So what did I like?

1) I really enjoyed his explanation of each fear, especially the way in which he showed the reader how these fears show up in their lives. He does a great job of explaining what this fear looks like in our every day lives.

2) I always enjoy his illustrations and stories. Lucado does a wonderful job using historical examples, personal stories, and funny parables to make his points come alive. I'm sure some of his illustrations will show up in my upcoming sermons.

3) I really enjoy his writing style. His language never gets old or repetitive. His chapters are short and to the point. He uses great metaphors and keeps the reader engaged.

So what did I not enjoy?

1) I felt like his solutions to the different fears left me wanting something more. Part of this may have been driven by my lack of satisfaction at his analysis of the source of each fear. He exposes fear adeptly, but doesn't seem to get down to the root issues. I understand that I am afraid of not mattering, and I understand how that shows up in my life. But WHY do I have that fear? What root heart-issue explains my irrational fear of something happening to my kids?

2) I don't have answers to those questions (like I know something that Lucado doesn't know), but I felt like he didn't really wrestle with them. The closest he got was the last chapter, where he began to explore the connection between fearing God with other fears. Here, he quickly mentions that all other fears are rooted in a lack of fear toward God. I think this is kernel I was looking for, but got to the end of the Fearless and wanted more. How, then, do I develop my fear of God? Why don't I fear God? Why do all my other fears dwarf my fear of the Lord? These answers would have helped me more.

Thanks, Max, for another great book and for continuing to teach us so much about faithfully communicating the message of Jesus to this generation.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Book Notes: This is Your Brain on Joy (3/5)

Dr. Earl Henslin is a licensed professional counselor in southern California who has written a new book on how to have a healthy brain. He has adopted many of the practices of Dr. Daniel Amen (famous for his books on the brain that have developed from his brain-imaging work) and put them to work in his daily treatment of patients in his counseling practice. His basic premise is that people are complex physical and spiritual beings who have complex physical and spiritual issues based on their life experiences and their individual physiology. Through the book, he explains his own personal development as a medical profession and his growth in diagnosing multiple complex causes of his patients' struggles.

I really appreciated Dr. Henslin's book and his view of helping people, though the book became very tedious about half-way through when he began going through each individual section of the brain, looking at various scans from different patients, and describing the variations in treatments that he uses to help each kind of brain issue. The most personally helpful sections of Dr. Henslin's book affirmed what I long have suspected to be true - that a healthy diet and daily cardiovascular exercise and good sleep all contribute to good brain health and increase personal joy. I have already implemented his recommendation that everyone take a daily does of fish-oil as it increases the health of the brain.

Dr. Henslin's variation of recommendations encouraged me that there is no one way to help people who have brain issues. He discusses medications at length, but in the end only recommends them in short doses because of the long-term consequences they can have on the brain themselves. Each of the chapters that discuss the different areas of the brains and the issues connected to those area end with various ways to help the brain. He discusses diet recommendations, supplements, exercise routines, books to read, movies to watch, music to listen to. He even adds long sections of Scripture at the end of each chapter than can be memorized and meditated on - very cool.

The last two chapters show us how Dr. Henslin's Christian worldview influence his professional practice - he spends time working through Paul's prescription for eternal joy in the book of Philippians. His conclusions are not new, but they are really cool to read in the book from a medical professional on brain health. Overall, a good read that bogs down in the details, at times making it feel more like a reference book that a cover-to-cover read.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Sunday Night Thoughts -

What a fun weekend - thanks to everyone who helped to make it possible.

We chartered Summit Community Church on Saturday evening - they are now official! Pray for Summit as they prepare for their first public service on Sunday, September 13th. I am so proud of this whole team and Josh & Amber. I can't wait to see what God is going to do through this new work.

On Sunday morning, we moved into the new gymnasium at the YMCA for our first worship service. We bought an additional 100 chairs for the move (so we can now set out 350 for worship). The facilities team was up all night working on the sound and lights and the new stage set-up. It was really amazing to see the fruit of their labor. I again can't wait to see what God is going to do as we open up more space in our worship venue.

On Sunday night, we baptized at the Stone Oak Community Pool. We baptized 16 - 8 adults, 5 kids, and 3 teens. Baptism never gets old - hearing life-change stories as people explain how Jesus has changed their lives from the inside-out.

Don't we serve an awesome God?

Now, on to another week...

Monday, August 24, 2009

School Starting Tomorrow!

Big day in the Ferguson home tomorrow as Kade starts kindergarten tomorrow at Teravista Elementary School. We went to the Kindergarten round-up on Friday and had the chance to meet his teacher. Kade is very excited, though he shared last night that he is a little nervous about meeting a whole new group of kids. But after a week, they will probably all be his best friends. Kade's teacher seems great, and we are excited about this new phase in his life. Pray for mom and dad, however, as we are a little overwhelmed emotionally that our son is old enough to start school! I know that millions of parents have been through it before us, but it is still hard for us, being our first time.

My prayer goes out this morning for all the kids, teachers, and administrators starting back to school tomorrow - for God's grace to cover the new classes and the new relationships. And I pray that those of us who claim the name of Christ can represent Him well this very public environment. To everyone starting back, I pray for a great year!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

New Church Plants

This is an exciting time for our association as we plant four new churches this fall. One of the plants, of course, is our daughter church, Summit Community Church. These new works start on September 13th. We commission Summit CC during our August 30th service (the first in the new gym at the YMCA - big day!). Here's the video that introduces the four planters that are starting this fall.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Book Notes: Beyond Belief (4/5)

I finished reading Josh Hamilton's personal story called Beyond Belief: Finding the Strength to Come Back. I really enjoyed the book, but I am not your average reader of Hamilton's story. I am a lifelong Rangers' fan, a big-time baseball fan, and I actually got to see Josh up-close while he was signing autographs at Rangers' spring training back in March. My boys and I have been watching the Rangers all season, and we are rooting for the Rangers to earn a playoff birth this year.

Hamilton's story is gut wrenching - a four year journey through the depths of drug addiction, a trip from being one of the hottest prospects in baseball to someone who couldn't even keep his personal life together. The book is a quick read and brutally honest. It seems like Josh's goal was to be completely transparent about his experience with drugs in order to honor the grace of God at work in his life. As a pastor, I also appreciated how Josh recounted his journey to wholeness - it was a slow, day-by-day process which is still in progress.

I think some people believe that the moment they trust in Jesus as their Savior that all their struggles will immediately go away. They will no longer be tempted to sin and live a perfectly holy life all the rest of their days. I appreciated Josh's honesty in explaining that he was a believer in Jesus even before his days of drug use, but that it wasn't until a time of total surrender to God that he could begin the process of recovery. I think this is reality - personal transformation is a lifelong process that can have days where we are very far from living the life of Christ we seek to live.

Josh is always fun to watch on the field - in fact, I'm watching him bat as I write this blog. When dad and I saw him play in person during spring training, we noted his amazing balance of speed, arm strength, bat work, and amazing power. He is awesome on the field and when he is on his best, he plays the game like few others. I hope he can keep from repeating his stumble that occurred this January and keep his eyes on Christ. His life is a wonderful testimony to the glory and grace of our Savior.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Book Notes: Grand Expectations (4/5)

I just finished the next book in the Oxford History of the US series that I have been enjoying so much recently. This one covers 1945 to 1974 and is written by James T. Patterson. The history picks up after the end of WWII and caries the reader through the amazing time of progress for American society during the postwar years. This 30 year period included amazing economic prosperity for our country and with it, a challenging of "traditional" cultural values on everything from racial roles to sexual identity to gender relationships.

Patterson's approach to covering these years is different from the other books in the series that I have read. While covering the important details, he seems to be concerned with explaining all the various historical views of those events rather than clearly articulating his own view. While this "fair-minded" approach helps the reader to see all sides of the history, it can become laborious over 800 pages. When I read history, I understand that I am seeing through the eyes of the historian, not completely objectively. Total objectivity is impossible. That being said, I have enjoyed other books in the series that seem to be more "lop-sided" because they passionately present their perspective on the historical events.

The early parts of Patterson's political narrative were not new to me because I have read two fascinating presidential biographies on Truman and Eisenhower. I would recommend them both - David McCullough's Truman is an awesome book (winner of the Pulitzer for history) and Stephen Ambrose's book on Eisenhower (Soldier and President) is one of my favorite biographies of all time (mostly because Eisenhower's life is so interesting). However, I did learn a ton from Patterson's description of everyday life in the late 40s and 50s. Suburban American was exploding, technological changes were advancing, and families were becoming wealthier. TV was expanding into homes for the first time and media was starting to reflect a more diverse culture to more people. I really enjoyed learning about this era when my parents were coming of age.

The politics of the 60s and 70s, though closer to me chronologically, was new to me. I haven't really read much on LBJ's historically significant presidency (though I have visited his presidential library here in Austin) or the troubled presidency of Richard Nixon. Both men had huge impacts long after they left office (not necessarily the kinds they wanted to, but important nonetheless). I also gained a new perspective on the escalation and pitfalls of the war in Vietnam, obviously one that had a huge impact on my parents' generation, but has been forgotten by many in my generation.

Life in the 60s and 70s was a time of greater turmoil as the civil-rights movement exploded in America and student-led opposition to the war in Vietnam increased. Political parties were upended, leaders were voted in, then out, and long-held cultural expectations were challenged. Patterson's best work is done in these chapters, where he recounts the life of the normal American during these years.

Overall, a fascinating work that helps me understand the period before my birth in new light.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Spurgeon on Prayer

Quote for the Day:
We are taught to say, "Our Father," but still it is, "Our Father who are in heaven." Familiarity there may be, but holy familiarity; boldness, but the boldness which springs from grace and is the work of the Spirit; not the boldness of the rebel who carries a brazen front in the presence of his offended king, but the boldness of the child who fears because he loves, and loves because he fears. Never fall into the vainglorious style of impertinent address to God; he is not to be assailed as an antagonist, but entreated with as our Lord and God. Humble and lowly let us be in spirit, and so let us pray.
Helpful reminder today that we can go boldly before our God through Jesus our Savior, but that we should never lose perspective. We are still approaching the Sovereign of All Creation.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Handling Criticism 3

The final type of criticism that those of us in the church are likely to experience is general criticism about the church or about a ministry area. This is different from 1 & 2 because it is not directed toward you as a individual and is really not about another person, but it general in nature. As spiritual leaders, this kind of criticism can be hard to figure out. Here's a few words of wisdom to shape your response:
  1. As with all of these situations, understanding the person well is of primary importance (what are they really saying/critiquing?)
  2. When people criticism something in general language (the church is so ______ or this ministry is too _______), we need to encourage them to get more specific in their criticism – what have you experienced that makes you feel that way?
  3. When driving people from generic statements to specifics, we sometimes find that we have to go back to point two because they are really upset with one person, not the church in general (but don’t know how to process their emotions).
  4. Sometimes, we also have to be discerning when people use others’ behavior as an excuse to not take responsibility for their behavior – we sometimes call this the victim mentality. In these situations, we need to lovingly direct people away from being others-focused to being self-aware.
  5. On top of this, we additionally need to be willing to learn from general criticism – maybe the issue is not personal offense or a victim mentality – maybe we are being told something we need to really work on as a group. It is helpful to ask, “What do we need to learn from this comment?”
  6. Finally, we need to see when a value mismatch is present. Some organizational conflict is personality based, but many times it is value-based. In these situations, we can be most helpful to others by helping them see the root values mismatch involved.
  7. For example, if someone criticized our church because we are evangelistic even after the biblical foundation and vision were clearly explained, the core issue is primarily a values mismatch and will not go away. Either the person will have to adopt our values, live in the tension, or find another church with different values.

These principles will work for any organization - not just the church. But they require you and I to know the core values of our organization and not try to change who we are in every conversation we have in order to try and make everyone happy. Behind the scenes of this discussion is a big issue - are we ultimately trying to please God or please man? They are not always in tension but many times are.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Handling Criticism 2

Yesterday I gave some tips on how to handle personal criticism. Today, I want to look at the equally complicated issue of how to process criticism directed at someone else. Let's say, as an example, that someone approaches you to tell about what bothers them about another person in the church, your small-group, your neighborhood, your family, etc. What steps do you take to know that you are processing that situation biblically? Here are a few suggestions that can really help:
  1. Attempt to shut people down from just gossiping to you about someone else by asking them two fundamental questions: “Do you want something to change in this situation?” – check intent - “Would you say that in front of them face-to-face?” – check importance
  2. If their answer is no to either of those questions, then politely tell them that you are not going to listen to them talk about someone when they don’t intend to handle the situation biblically, which is…
  3. They need to go directly to the person they have an issue with (Matthew 18) rather than talking to others about that person
  4. This is important because we are all part of one unified body in Christ (Ephesians 4) and Jesus prayed that we would have unity as His followers (John 17)
  5. If they are willing to talk to the person they have an issue with directly, then we can provide coaching on how to talk with that person directly
  6. This will primarily involve helping them process their fears about confronting someone directly (and helping them understand why they are afraid)
  7. The final step is accountability – making sure that the person who has talked with you then follows through in meeting face-to-face with the other person.

This can be one of the most difficult because we want to sound empathetic to those who come us. At the same time, we don't want to triangulate and create circles of gossip. We need to encourage and equip people to deal with their issues directly rather than indirectly.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Handling Criticism Part 1

We started a great discussion yesterday at staff meeting about how to handle criticism. Every one of us receives criticism from others, whether that is from a neighbor, friend, family member, boss, coworker, of fellow church member. Criticism can cause us to get angry and respond inappropriately if we are not careful. And because we don't think much about criticism except when we are getting criticized in the moment, we rarely take time to think objectively about handling criticism.

At our staff meeting, we broke down criticism into three types - personal criticism, criticism about another person, and criticism about the church/ministry in general. Each is different and requires different skills to respond graciously. Today, I want to give you our thoughts on the first type of criticism. How do I respond when I get personal criticism? In my world, this generally has to do with my preaching or leadership at the church. In your world, it is probably something different. Here's a few biblical tips we came up with:
  1. Don’t assume bad motives too quickly, jumping to the worst possible conclusions about the person delivering the criticism
  2. Attempt to separate the facts from the person as much as possible
  3. Listen well before you respond (James 1) in order to make sure that you understand what is being said correctly before responding to it (active listening - so I am hearing you say....)
  4. Take some time to process before you respond in anger (be slow to speak - some people respond too quickly and regret what they say)
  5. Don’t take too much time to process lest the emotions turn to bitterness (some never respond, but avoid and bury their emotions which can lead to other problems)
  6. Filter the criticism through a biblical grid – is this criticism a sin-issue in my life that I need to repent of, a personal preference that I can be flexible on, or simply a personality difference?
  7. Process the criticism humbly, thinking of others instead of being completely self-absorbed and defensive (Phil 2:1-4)
  8. If repeatedly criticized by the same person, be discerning about deeper issues in that person’s life (hurt people tend to hurt people)
  9. Don’t sin in your anger, but use your words appropriately (Eph 4), seasoning your speech with grace (Col 4:6)
  10. Evaluate your response through the grid of the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5) - am I self-controlled, gentle, peaceable, loving, maintaining my job, etc.?
  11. Pray for discernment and wisdom (James 1) to understand what you need to learn

I hope that helps you the next time you receive some personal criticism - great food for thought.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Marriage and Sex

As someone who has done a lot of teaching to students about sexuality over the years, I was really interested in this article from Christianity Today that just came out. The article, written by UT professor Mark Regnerus, makes the case for early marriage. I hope you will take time to read his thoughts. While his argument is not air-tight, it is an extremely helpful correction to our over-focus on sexuality and lack of teaching on marriage. I hope that we can help the next generation of young people make good choices sexually by making good choices with marriage.

Monday, August 03, 2009

What do we worship?

One of the things I enjoy on Sundays after church is picking up a Sunday-edition of the newspaper to read. You can imagine that it caught my attention this week when I had just finished preaching about the idols that can choke out the Word of God in our lives and I opened the Austin paper to find this interesting full-page article about the new Cowboys' stadium. The title of the article says, "Cathedral of Football" and says that Cowboys' fans "can take a trip to Arlington to worship in Dallas' new stadium." Wow - never thought I would see it so clearly laid out, especially by our local paper. I guess when you spend $1.4 billion to build a new stadium, you run out of words to describe what is happening - you can only turn to God-words like cathedral and worship. So sad, but so true. I like the Cowboys, but are they really worthy of our worship?

Saturday, August 01, 2009

500th Anniversary

We are celebrating some big events in the history of the Reformation over the next several years. John Calvin's 500th birthday was this summer, and we are coming up soon on the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther's famous act that started the Reformation storm - pinning his 95 thesis on the church door at Wittenberg. There is obviously a ton in print about these reformers, but I wanted to pass on a few notes that I've enjoyed recently.

On Calvin's legacy, read Kevin DeYoung's thoughts (someone who is in the Reformed tradition) and Ben Witherington's thoughts (someone who is not in the Reformed tradition). Both have some great insights into Calvin's lasting impact.

On Luther, check out this neat story from today's Washington Post, which includes a great online slide-show where you can see the sites of modern-day Germany where Luther made history. Wouldn't it be fun to go there some time?

Monday, July 27, 2009

Investment Advice

I recently picked up this little book on investing at the library after seeing it at B&N and wanting to read it. I talk investing a lot with my dad and was interested in Solin's insight on investing. Solin has put together a very simple strategy for keeping up with the market and not losing money to overactive money managers. His main premise is that most money managers (who oversee mutual funds) do worse than the overall market when compared over long periods of time, and they charge you fees to do it. In light of this observation, Solin advises the normal investor to simply choose a combination of index-funds that fit their tolerance for risk - more in stocks when they can handle larger market swings and more in bonds when they need more stability.

For the young investor (like me at age 30), Solin would argue for a higher-risk combination of stock index funds (from Fidelity or Vanguard which charge very low fees for these types of index funds) and bond funds. For me, he would recommend 60% in a US stock index fund, 20% in an international index fund, and 20% in a US bond fund. Solin's arguments make sense and his data is well presented.

My biggest problem is trying to make the case for his position when looking at the last ten years (which has been a flat time for the market - way up during the first 7 years and way down the last 3 - so that the index-fund investor would have broken even). Fidelity actually has a fund that approximates the combination of index funds that Solin recommends - it is called Fidelity's four-in-one fund (FFNOX). This fund has done better than the market over the last ten years, so it works according to plan. It's expense ratio is low - 0.22% - and it has averaged 0.21% per year over the last ten years. So, while the S&P500 has averaged -2.22% over the last 10 years, Solin's recommendation would have had us breaking even over the last ten years. While this is okay, is this really good?

At the same time, Fidelity's Low Price Stock Fund (FLPSX) - one of the so-called overactive managed funds that Solin decries - has averaged a return of 8.43% per year over the last ten years. While it does have a higher expense ratio (0.99%) than index-funds, it has done considerably better than the market over the last ten years. Maybe this is one of those few exceptions that outperforms the S&P 500 over long periods of time, but right now it is looking better to me. And while I know that past performance does not guarantee future performance, the numbers are interesting.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Ministry Convictions

This Sunday we are going to briefly mention our church's convictions about ministry involvement. Here are our five commitments:

1) Ministry to others can only be sustained when it flows out of a healthy personal relationship with Christ.

2) Every believer in Christ has a spiritual gift that God intended them to use to help the body of Christ mature.

3) Jesus modeled service to others, so as His followers we should serve others.

4) Commitment to service is a catalyst for spiritual growth.

5) God has entrusted our church with the sacred stewardship of the next generation.

I'll touch on these quickly during service on Sunday.

Any thoughts on these?

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Spurgeon on The Call

How do you know that you are called to gospel ministry as your vocation?

Spurgeon attempts this answer in his Lectures to My Students:

1) An intense, all-absorbing desire for the work, a thoughtful one that continues with us.

2) An aptness to teach and some measure of the other qualities needful for the office of a public instructor.

3) A measure of conversion-work going on under his efforts.

4) Preaching that is acceptable to the people of God.

5) The call endures through hard times.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Sunday Night Thoughts...

Wow - what a tremendous week we've just had! A few thoughts rolling around in my head...

1) God answers prayer! Excited to know that both Kristina Hedges and Joel Caldwell are home recovering this weekend after both having some complications after the kidney transplant. Keep praying for them!

2) The gospel changes lives! We had 295 visitor-kids from the community come to our Kids-Clubs this year (not counting our kids) and 17 kids trusted Christ for the first time.

3) We have the best people anywhere! Our church-members worked so hard all week to love on our community with the love of Christ. And our teenagers kept the energy up all week as well - great job guys!

4) Cross-cultural ministry is awesome! We are learning so much about loving the Hispanic community in Round Rock and welcoming them into our congregation with open arms. We need to do much more to work on issues like poverty, language-education, and immigration - but always with the gospel at the center of what we do.

5) God is stretching us! I love the fact that God does not leave us where we are, but continues to refine us through new vision and new challenges. I see all of our people growing so much as we follow Christ.

6) What's next? My eyes are wide open, excited to see what God will do in the next six months. Sure feels like He is up to something big right now. I hope we continue to stay sensitive to Him and out of His way.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Spiritual Warfare

I said Sunday from the pulpit that we could really expect to experience spiritual warfare this week as we took the gospel into the community of Round Rock through out Kids Clubs ministry. Someone approached me after church and asked a really good question...

What should I be on guard for in spiritual warfare? How would I know that the Enemy is working against me?

This is a question we all wonder about, and it forced me to articulate what exactly we must be on guard against. The Bible is clear that we have a real Enemy, who is not an equal to God, but is a powerful spiritual being who works against the people of God. The Bible says that Enemy is known as Satan, which means accuser. In other words, his name alone tells us that he works to accuse believers and drown them in guilt. The gospel works to free us from sin and guilt, but the enemy works to lead us into sin and guilt. He tempts us with lies on the way toward sin (which feeds our natural sinful inclinations) and then buries us with guilt after we sin. The Bible reminds us that he is a liar and cannot tell the truth - that Satan works to distort God's Word (as he did to Adam and Eve) and convince us that the temporary pleasure of sin is better than the eternal pleasure of obedience to God.

In the context of our missionary work this week, I think spiritual attack will show up in a few practical ways. One is discouragement - if God has commanded us to take the message of Christ to the world, then we can count on the enemy to work against that goal. I believe he primarily works through seeding discord and disunity in the church body and discouraging the people of God. If you find yourself fighting discouragement and discord, you can be sure that you are in the middle of spiritual warfare. The enemy will use critical comments from others (who don't mean to discourage) to work against our motivation to serve God. Guard your heart against discouragement.

Second, I believe another tool of the enemy is deception. As I said above, the enemy loves to deceive God's people into believing lies about God and about others. Many times the enemy tends to use our circumstances to convince us that God is not good or that God is not who the Bible teaches Him to be. In other words, we have to be on guard against the temptation to ignore the clear teaching of Scripture and follow our gut. The Bible says that our hearts are deceitful above all else (Jer 17.9) and the enemy will work with our deceitful hearts. When you find yourself questioning God's character and His commands, you can be sure that you are in the middle of spiritual warfare.

Third, the enemy uses the time-tested technique of seduction. He simply tempts God's people to sin (disobey) and turn away from God's ways. The seduction of the enemy again works with our own sinful desires so that his ways are hard to discern. However, the Bible is clear that Satan works to make sin more appealing than it is and obedience harder than it is. We must stay on guard for the temptations to sin that the enemy will surely send our way. When you find ourselves taking shortcuts with your integrity and ignoring the standards of God, you can be sure that you are in the middle of spiritual warfare.

While it is helpful to know how our enemy works, it is more important to believe that Christ is in us through His Spirit, leading us to victory over the power and presence of sin in our lives. The Bible reminds us that He who is in us is greater than he who is in the world (1 john 4.4). So, remember that our enemy is a defeated enemy, who still submits to the authority of God (job 1) and will one day be cast into the lake of fire (rev 20.7-10). Let's continue to fight the good fight of faith and keep our eyes on Christ. The Bible promises that if we will resist the devil, He will flee from us (james 4.7). Keep hope.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Terrible Tragedy

I just received word today that Caleb Koke, the 17-year old son of the pastor of Shoreline Christian Center in Austin, was killed in a car accident last night. Apparently, he was driving home at 3:00am from an event and fell asleep and crashed into a tree. Shoreline is a great church in the Austin area which is making a huge impact for the kingdom of God. The pastor and his family are well respected in the Christian community in Austin. This is a terrible tragedy and so much harder because pastor Robert Coke just lost his father in a boating accident last week. Here is the information from the church's website.

Please keep this family in your prayers tonight as they grieve the loss of their son. You can see the official news report from the Austin paper on their website. People are posting comments for the family both on the church's website and on the Statesman's website. Great reminder for us all to hug our kids very tightly tonight - tomorrow is never guaranteed, is it? Our love and prayers go out to the Koke family tonight. May God shower them with grace and comfort in this dark hour.

Kids Clubs Day 2

Douglas is shooting and posting some great video from our clubs this week. Here's the video posted today...

An update on Day 2 from Hill Country Bible on Vimeo.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Good Question on Authority

I preached yesterday on Mark 1:21-45, where the Gospel of Mark establishes the authority of Jesus over law, demons, sickness, customs, and cultures. Jesus is portrayed in one of his typical ministry days, traveling to preach and teach about the Kingdom of God and healing people as He goes. I made the case yesterday that this passage was primarily teaching us about the ultimate authority of Jesus and the way He used this authority. He used His authority to serve those under Him, not oppress or control them. I challenged everyone to think about submission to Jesus in real terms (how is my attitude toward His commands?) and to think about their own authority as a stewardship issue (temporarily granted to me as a gift from Jesus) that we will be held accountable for. I got the following question from the comment-cards yesterday:

If you choose to willfully submit to God does that mean your heart has to be in it? Doesn't God honor and respect and bless the submission & possibly change your heart to match the obedience?

The key word in the question is the word "willfully." This is an attitude of the heart. While we may desire to sin and disobey God, we choose to submit to His commands with a willful heart. When I give my kids instructions for them to obey, I can tell whether they are willing to follow what I am asking OR if they are doing what I ask just because they are afraid of discipline. I can tell if the obedience is willful or not. I think the same is true with God. While I, as a parent, am glad when my kids obey (whatever their motive), I am most blessed by them when they obey with a joyful heart. The difference is not the obedience (which is the same), but the motive behind the obedience. One kind is driven by guilt and fear, the other by joy and trust.

While obedience pleases God, the Scriptures continue to point out to us that God wants our hearts - He wants us to trust Him and trust that what He has commanded is good for us. Obedience without a pure heart has the potential to turn us into Pharisees, where the outside of the cup is clean, but the inside is dark and hard toward the ways of God. This is why we must continue to search our heart. Hebrews 11:6 says that without faith it is impossible to please God. David says in Psalm 51:16-17 that God does not delight in empty sacrifices, but in a "broken and contrite heart." In other words, we don't want to end up in the place where we are on the receiving end of Jesus' words from Isaiah 29:13 which say that we are drawing near to God with our words, but we are far from Him with our hearts.

I agree in principle that we should obey even when we don't understand and even when our heart is not fully in it. But we should quickly ask the Lord to change our hearts, lest we become religious people who look holy on the outside, but are really only hiding our deceitful hearts.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Sunday Evening Thoughts

Sitting here at home at the end of a great Sunday, excited by the following...

1) We had another first-time decision to trust Christ today at church - very cool.
2) We seem to be hitting our stride again after moving the Summit church-plant core team out of ministry this spring. The Summit core-team has been visiting other churches the last few weeks, so we have started to get a feel for what it will really feel like in September when they launch. I have honestly been nervous, but God is so faithful in sending us great new families who are plugging in to the life of our church very quickly. It is truly amazing to watch God work in that way - a reminder of His faithfulness and our need to be open-handed with all that God gives us.
3) The worship was awesome this morning - great sound, good songs, meaningful time together in prayer before church. I also love it when we take communion - seems to really help us keep the cross at the center of our church-life together.
4) We had concert of prayer this evening outdoors, and it was hot! As with everything we are doing with Rock the Rock this year, we are changing our church's paradigm for summer outreach. We have decided to love on our city, especially those parts that are closest to the YMCA and least reached by the churches in our community. I thought the prayer-walk was significant.
5) As I'm challenged to think about ministering to the Spanish-speaking community in Round Rock, I'm also impressed that we need to help those with a Catholic background to understand the gospel as personal trust in the living Christ. How to do this respectfully but also truthfully seems to be the issue. I'm thinking sometime in the spring about doing a series on doctrine and I would like to do some teaching on the Catholic and Protestant views of justification.
6) We have an awesome team of leaders and an awesome church. I am constantly amazed at our people and their willingness to serve others in the name of Christ. I think we had over 100 people out tonight at the YMCA soccer fields for concert of prayer - wow. What is God going to do this week in response to our prayers and the faithful service of so many? I can't wait to hear.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Book Notes: The Big Idea

Another one of the books I read during my study-break was Dave Ferguson's The Big Idea. Dave is the lead pastor at Community Christian Church in the Chicago, Illinois area. He also writes a great blog that I follow regularly. This book is primarily about how the church can make a bigger impact in people's lives by slimming everything down to one main message per weekend. The team at their church then works to get children's ministry, student ministry, small-groups, worship ministry, and preaching all making the same point each week. Ferguson makes the claim that this multiplies impact throughout the families in the church.

Of course, it has take their church years to get to the place where every part of the organization can work together. But one of the great challenges I took away from Ferguson's book was to do sermon writing and planning earlier - work ahead! This sounds easy, but it is not common among teaching pastors. Ferguson's group does some things I think are strange in sermon-planning (group-preparation) and some things I don't agree with philosophically (topically-driven 4-6 week sermon series), but they do great work in getting their work done far in advance. This in turn helps the creative people on their team to have time to supplement the message with additional communication elements. I really enjoyed this work and appreciate their impact for the kingdom - also a great church-planting church (started the New Thing Network). Here's a summary of The Big Idea:
  • Ferguson’s main theme is that people are overloaded with too much information throughout their daily life, and that this process continues at church, where many small ideas are communicated through unaligned ministries. He advocates aligning ministries and messages into one Big Idea every weekend that focused on application of biblical principles, not just communication of biblical truth.
  • One big question is whether the different ministry areas of the church that are overseen by different ministry leaders/staff are all heading the same direction and aligned in their purpose – are we helping or hurting families by our efforts?
  • Ferguson advocates that small-groups use discussion guides built on the sermon each week and gives the following five reasons for this alignment:
  1. Increases likelihood of application of biblical principles
  2. Diminishes people’s fears of leading a small group
  3. Eliminates the question, “what do we study next?”
  4. Makes the group another venue to communicate vision
  5. Increases the quality of the small group experience
  • The benefits of the Big Idea process each week:

  1. Less energy and better product
  2. New ideas and good ideas (brainstorming weeks ahead, critiquing weekly)
  3. Cross-generational in appeal
  4. Targeted and reproducible curriculum
  5. Planned and spontaneous creativity
  6. More believers and more maturity (obedience)

  • Ferguson argues for starting Basic (with just the weekend service, planning far ahead), then adding additional components as possible (different ministry areas), then collaborate with church-plants on planning series**.
  • CCC’s team does a 12-month ministry plan for Big Ideas, starting with a huge brainstorming session to generate 3-6 week series ideas. Then, a small group of decision makers meet to set the Big-Idea calendar for the next 12-months. This group spends time praying together, talking through the flow of the calendar, talking through the various topical series, then putting the Big Ideas on the calendar. After the 12-month calendar is complete, the teaching pastor puts together a weekly Big Idea summary sheet to lead the creative team in their planning.
  • CCC’s timeline to pull off creativity around their Big Ideas:
  1. 10-13 weeks out: Big Idea graph sent to each department
  2. 9 weeks out: Big Idea creative planning meeting
  3. 5 weeks out: Big Idea reality check (can we pull this off?)
  4. 3 weeks out: Big Idea teaching team meeting & study-guide production
  5. 2 weeks out: Sermon Manuscript 1.0 and media completed
  6. 1 week out: Final run-through with all resources in place

  • The impact of the creative-planning process will work best with three elements: advanced planning that gives the creative people time to work, proximity to each other as staff (they work in offices with no walls), parameters for the creative elements (do they help or distract from the Big Idea?
  • For a good creative-team meeting, creative songs, video ideas, and sketch ideas need to be brainstormed before the meeting, everyone needs to lay down their egos so that the best ideas can be selected, the team needs to work through the graph overview from the teaching pastor, then use active brainstorming to generate ideas. Select good ideas, then put together the service order – don’t get stuck in a rut of dong the same things over and over again!
  • CCC uses a teaching-team approach where they generate most of the teaching material in a teaching-team meeting (105 minutes), then the teaching pastor for that week takes the next two to revise the manuscript to its final form.