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?