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Unity in the Gospel

It has been quite an eventful week at ABC.  Last Sunday we prayed over nearly 100 students and leaders as they loaded up buses for Orange Beach, Alabama.  These students and leaders are currently having a big week at Beach Camp, and God is moving in the hearts of our teenagers.  In fact, I’m thrilled to report that five students have already made decisions for Jesus Christ this week.  Additionally, last Sunday was a milestone in our church family as we welcomed our new Worship Pastor, Dr. Todd Stearns, along with his wonderful wife, Sonya.  We should all celebrate God’s goodness and provision as he has sent us a wonderful shepherd to guide our family to the throne of grace each week.  Right now, our ABC Kids team is dialed in on VBS prep.  We are looking forward to welcoming hundreds of new visitors in the coming days and hosting one of the biggest vacation bible schools we’ve seen in recent years.  It’s our hope and prayer that many children will come to Christ through the ministry that will take place inside our church walls.

While all those big things are happening at ABC, we also have some big things happening in Nashville.   As many of you know, our church is participating in our annual Southern Baptist Convention in Nashville, Tennessee this week.  This meeting is indeed annual, but of course the SBC was not able to come together in person in 2020 due to the pandemic.  That missed year helped make this year’s meeting one of the largest gatherings in recent memory, with over 15,000 messengers registered in Nashville.  I’m currently writing this week’s article from my hotel room before I head off to the final day of our meeting.  There has been much media coverage leading up to this week and I know many in the church, and outside of the church, have been looking to see what would transpire in Nashville.  To put the moment into perspective, this year the SBC issued four to five times more media credentials than they have in recent convention years.

That increase was for a purpose.  Many outside the faith are hoping to find a headline or controversial sound bite that will spread across our nation.  And there has indeed been robust discussion and debate over difficult topics this year, however I am grateful to report that there is also a spirit of unity that is alive and well.  Thousands of southern baptists remain steadfast and committed to the inerrancy of scripture, the autonomy of the local church, and the great commission that binds our hearts together.  While the SBC has indeed experienced numeric decline in recent years, our convention is alive with 45,000 churches that are committed to Gospel ministry around the world.  To put that in context, that is more churches than all Starbucks, McDonalds, and Subways in our country combined.  While that is worth celebrating, I also invite you to pray that God will give us more.  As part of the SBC’s Vision 2025, our cooperating churches are going to begin praying for God to raise up 5,000 new churches to bring us over that 50,000 mark.  Further, we’re praying that God will call 500 new full-time missionaries, giving us 4,200 fully funded missionaries through the IMB.  We’re also praying for the baptism waters to be stirred in our churches by children and teenagers.  As a convention, we are in agreement that we must each sacrificially do our part to reach the next generation for Jesus Christ.

These are ambitious goals but nothing is impossible for our God (Luke 1:37), and God’s Word actually instructs us to dream big and pray big (Ephesians 3:20).  So I ask you to do exactly that.  Pray that God will work through Austin Baptist Church to expand the kingdom, and for our church to unite in mission together.  During our SBC President’s address, Pastor J.D. Greear, gave an illustration that stuck with me.  He mentioned his friend and former SBC President, Pastor Steve Gaines, once told him Baptists are like hunting dogs.  When we have a mission, we all unite together and we are a force to be reckoned with.  But when we don’t have a mission, like those dogs, we always start to fight with each other.  My prayer is that we ABC will be united by one clear mission: to light up our city with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. 

It is both easy and tempting to sniff out things to fight about.  If our mission is to find something to argue about, we will always accomplish that mission in our churches and convention.  But it is so much more profitable and edifying to find a mission that unites us and brings glory to the Father.  Fortunately, we need not look far for that mission because Jesus Christ already gave it to us: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them inthe name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20 ESV).  May this mission burn on our hearts individually and on the heart of our church collectively.  I pray that God may pour out his grace on your life, so you can be an effective witness to your neighbors, co-workers, and families for glory of God.  Invite a friend to join you this weekend, and I look forward to seeking God’s wisdom with you through worship on Sunday.

Last Sunday’s Sermon: Wisdom Works – “Wise Living” – Proverbs 1:1-7

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Prayers for the Summer

Last Sunday was a special day in the life of our church.  I think it’s fair to say that the Summer Kick Off party was a blast for all in attendance.  We had over 400 people stick around after church for a fantastic lunch and special event.  I loved seeing folks from both of our worship services come together as one church to enjoy fun and fellowship on a Sunday morning.  I want to thank everyone who participated and helped make it all happen.  Jennifer Wilcoxson knocked it out of the park with her food services team, Derek Tackett led a great team of staff and volunteers that got our Heritage Hall ready for the kids, and Terry Odneal did a wonderful job organizing our classic cars outside.  The BFG’s showed up strong for our chili cook off competition, and I want to congratulate Maranatha for taking home the prize!  Last Sunday truly felt like there was something for everyone, and I’m thankful for all who were a part of it.  I’m also proud of many you for also capitalizing on the big weekend to invite your friends.  We had dozens of visitors last Sunday, which simply reiterated the power of a personal invitation.  Churches grow one person at a time, so I encourage you to continue to invite your friends, families, and co-workers so they can experience what God is doing at ABC.

While last Sunday was a big success, it is important for us to press forward as we have many other big endeavors on the horizon.  It all starts this weekend with the presentation of our Worship Pastor candidate, Dr. Todd Stearns.  I hope you’ve been able to familiarize yourself with Todd this past week, and he and Sonya are looking forward to meeting you this weekend.  The weekend’s schedule is enclosed in this week’s issue of The Bridge, and I hope you plan to join us for another important moment in the life of our church.  Additionally, this Sunday we are sending off about 100 teenagers and leaders for our student ministry’s Beach Camp in Gulf Shores, Alabama.  We’ll be recognizing the group in the 9am service and praying for them right before they load the buses and hit the road.  Then one week later, we’ll be celebrating our Vacation Bible School as their big week starts with a rally on Sunday June 20th.  Last but certainly not least, we’re also looking ahead to our “Freedom Over Austin” event on July 3rd.  This event will feature a free All-American carnival, food trucks, and a professional firework show for the entire community here at ABC.  Once again, I encourage you to capitalize on this event as an opportunity to invite someone to come experience what God is doing in our church family.

With so many important things around the corner, I think it’s important for each of us to slow down and not miss what matters the most amidst all of it: prayer.  It’s easy to get busy and forget that all these things mean nothing if God is not in the middle of them all.  Proverbs 15:29 reminds us that, “The Lord is far from the wicked, but he hears the prayer of the righteous.”  God hears us when we call out to him, so I encourage you to call out in unity for these things:

  • Pray for Dr. Todd Stearns and his family as they prepare for this weekend.  Pray for the future of our worship ministry and that God will be honored in our business meeting.
  • Pray for our students heading to the beach.  Pray that they will each have a divine appointment with God and come back fueled by God’s Word.
  • Pray for our VBS.  Pray that Gospel seeds will be planted into homes.  Pray for salvation in children’s lives.  Pray for parents to be impacted by what God does in their kids’ lives as well.
  • Pray for Freedom Over Austin.  Pray that new people will feel welcomed and encouraged by the unity of our fellowship, our love for our country, and most importantly our love for Christ.
  • Pray for me.  Pray that God will continue to guide me and give me vision and wisdom to lead His church.  Pray for me as we begin a new sermon series this weekend in the book of Proverbs.

God’s Word tells us He can do more than we can ask or dream (Ephesians 3:20).  So dream big and ask big from our great God.  If we unite in prayer as one body, I have no doubt that we will see God do amazing things this Summer.   I look forward to seeing you Sunday.   

Last Sunday’s Sermon: John 15:1-5

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Still the greatest country

It looks like most of the rain is clearing out just in time for a big holiday weekend.  As you know, this coming Monday is Memorial Day, and many families are making plans for a fun filled 3-day weekend.  I hope you get to enjoy some time outdoors at the lake or pool, or perhaps a BBQ with some of your closest friends and family.  But amidst all of the excitement, I also hope you take some time to pause and reflect.  This weekend should remind us that we are blessed beyond measure to live in the United States of America.  Many today have tragically lost sight of that reality, but that does not negate the fact.  Despite all the problems our country currently faces, I still contend that we live in the greatest nation in the world.  Every day, you and I experience a level of prosperity and freedom that most of the world has never seen firsthand.  It’s important for us to humbly acknowledge that truth with great thanksgiving to our God, but we must also remember that our blessings came at a high cost.

Jesus reminds us, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13 ESV).  Thousands of brave men and women have demonstrated this kind of love by willingly laying down their lives on our behalf. Our freedom is not free, and many heroes that we’ll never know paid the ultimate sacrifice to preserve our liberty.  They must not be forgotten, and that is why Memorial Day is so important.  So I encourage you to remember them by praying for the families that will be missing someone at their family gatherings.  Pray for the spouses and the children that are pressing on with heavy hearts.  Pray for the parents and grandparents that have gone through the pains of burying a child.  And pray for protection over all our current service men and women who are protecting us just like the heroes that walked before them.

This Sunday we will have a special time of prayer together as a church family.  We’ll be praying for all the things I just listed, but we’ll also be praying for others in the world that are not experiencing the freedom we have.  We’ll lift up in prayer our brothers and sisters in Myanmar and in other areas that are experiencing hostility and oppression every day.  We’ll also be praying for Israel as they continue to navigate through unrest in the middle east.  If you’re in town this Sunday, I encourage you to join us for this service.  One of the best ways you can honor the lives of our heroes this weekend is to exercise the freedom they protected for you to gather and worship our savior Jesus Christ.

Lastly, make sure you’ve bought your lunch for Sunday June 6th!  We’re going to have our first ever Summer Kick Off Party at 12pm that day.  We’re treating this as a high attendance day, so I encourage you to find someone that you can invite to church that Sunday.  We’re cooking out burgers/hot dogs, our BFG classes are having a chili cook off, and we’ll have inflatables and tailgate games out for people to enjoy after church.  It will be a great day of fellowship so make sure you wear a Hawaiian shirt and come ready to celebrate the arrival of summer.  You can buy your lunch ticket right now by clicking this link: www.austinbaptistchurch.com/summer.  Come expectant to meet with the Lord this Sunday and I look forward to worshipping with you on this special weekend.

Last Sunday’s Sermon: I Am the Resurrection and the Life – John 11
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Ready for a new season

It’s hard to believe it, but the school year is almost wrapped up and summer is right around the corner.  I think there is fresh sense of excitement leading into this new season, as last summer felt stolen by the pandemic.  But with COVID numbers consistently diminishing and CDC guidelines relaxing, most Austinites are making big plans for the summer.  People are feeling the need to get out, and they are hungry to find fellowship with others.  However, we should note that desire was not caused by this pandemic.  God declared in the garden “it is not good that the man should be alone.” (Genesis 2:18 ESV).  As image bearers of God, we are made to be relational just like our Creator.  Our desire for fellowship is deeply embedded into our souls, and the pandemic simply starved us from feeding that natural appetite.  So thousands in our city are now looking for ways to nourish that need.

My prayer is that many will find the fellowship they are looking for at ABC.  We want our church family to serve as a place of refuge, for people to connect, be fed, and find encouragement that can only come through community with other believers.  To make that happen, our church is going to offer many extra opportunities for people to find community this summer.  The fun will begin this Friday at our first ever “Homecoming Dinner.”  This event is designed to provide a fellowship opportunity for those who are new, or newly returning, to ABC.  Our hope is that all of our guests that night will feel welcomed and will begin to build new relationships with our staff and with each other.  If you would like to join us for this special event, there is still room to add a few extra folks.  Simply reach out to Christina Mendoza and she’d be happy to assist.

We are also planning a church-wide social on Sunday June 6th.  Save the date and plan to participate in our ABC Summer Kick-off Party.  We encouraging everyone that morning to wear Hawaiian shirts or relaxed summer attire as we celebrate the arrival of summer.  We’re going to have some classic cars and boats on display, the children’s and student ministries are going to have tropical fun-factors, and BFG classes will be having a chili cook-off competition.  The winning class will be awarded an amazing breakfast in their room the following Sunday.  We will have a church-wide luncheon at 12PM, and we’ll be serving hamburgers and hotdogs for lunch and have inflatables for the kids.  I encourage you to register quickly so we can count you in on the food order.  Lunch tickets are available for $5 and you can purchase them here: https://www.austinbaptistchurch.com/summer.  But I also encourage you to consider buying a few extra tickets and inviting your neighbors and friends.  This party will serve as a perfect opportunity to invite a guest to ABC and have them enjoy the fellowship of this exciting church family.  

There will be plenty of opportunities to invite others into the followship of our church this summer.  VBS is coming up, Freedom Over Austin is on the horizon, and there will many amazing events happening all summer long.  But the first opportunity to invite someone is this Sunday in worship.  My prayer is that the fellowship of ABC will stand out to those who walk in, as they see us aim to be the church that God’s Word has called us to be: “And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:15-17 ESV).

May we stand united as one body, with Christ ruling in our hearts, and thankful for all that He’s done.  I look forward to worshipping alongside you this Sunday.

Last Sunday’s Sermon
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Living Stones

I hope you all enjoyed our Mother’s Day celebration.  I thought last Sunday was an amazing weekend of worship from start to finish.   From the pre-service photo loop, to the children’s ministry video tribute, to the delicious chocolate truffles provided after our services, I believe Mother’s Day 2021 was a day that we’ll all remember for a long time.  I am proud of our team and how hard they worked to honor the Lord and our mothers on this big day.  I’m especially thankful for Lori DeVillez and Tabitha Jackson for encouraging our mothers and challenging our congregation through their powerful stories.  I firmly believe that if you are pro-life, you also have to be pro-mom.  As we heard, there are many mothers in our city who are in a pregnancy crisis, so I’m thankful for ministries like the Trotter House that lead the way in ministering to them.  I look forward to continuing, and expanding, our partnership with Trotter House, so we can help share the hope and help that comes through Jesus Christ and His people.

Even aside from the Mother’s Day excitement, last Sunday was worth celebrating for another reason.  It was the first time since August of 2019 that we saw 800+ people attend our regularly scheduled worship services (excluding Easter).  Momentum is continuing to build as every week we welcome new faces, and welcome back many familiar ones.  Last Sunday was a good reminder of why we are hosting our Homecoming Dinner on Friday May 21st.  That evening will provide a great opportunity for our new and newly returning folks to be properly “welcomed home,” but it will also give me an opportunity to share my vision with you and answer any questions that you may have about ABC.  If you have not already RSVP’d for this important dinner, please do so now using this link: www.austinbaptistchurch.com/homecoming.  It will be a be a wonderful night of fellowship, unity, and excitement as we look to all that God has in store for us together in the coming days.

This steady growth indeed brings excitement to our church, but it is important to note that it also brings needs.  As more and more people walk through our doors, more ministry needs likewise start to arise.  Last weekend we had over 100 in our ABC Kids worship services for the first time since the pandemic.  Our student ministry also reached 80 for the first time since the pandemic, and many BFG classes are starting to add chairs.  Food services are continuing to be stretched, as are our greeters, ushers, and AV team members.  We also are looking to expand our music ministry with more choir members and instrumentalists.  I’d encourage you to ask yourself how you can join in on the excitement.  Peter reminds us As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace” (1 Peter 4:10).  Every believer in this church has been given at least one spiritual gift, and we’ve been given those gifts for a purpose: to serve one another. 

That is the beauty of the church.  As the church grows with needs, God already gives the church everything it needs to meet them.  This is because church members are not designed to be spectators, but instead, participants in ministry.  Peter actually tells us that we are “living stones” that God uses to build up His church (1 Peter 2:5).  So my question for you to consider this week is, “How is God using you to build up ABC?”  I have no doubt that God has given you gifts that would be a blessing to this church, and I also have no doubt that we need your help on the team.  So I encourage you to not settle for the bleachers.  It’s so much more fun to get in the game.  If God is tugging on your heart to serve in any of these areas, I encourage you to reach out to one of our ministers and they will gladly help you find the right place to plug in. 

I believe Jesus is building up this local church.  May we all be available to Him to use us however He wants in this kingdom construction project.  I look forward to seeing you this Sunday as we press on in our study of the seven “I am” statements of Christ.

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Mother’s Day at ABC

This Sunday will be a special day in the life of our church as we celebrate Mother’s Day at ABC.  I think this year’s Mother’s Day will be especially significant because many did not get to see or celebrate their moms on this day last year.  I believe many will make up for lost time, and our church will be filled with mothers, grandmothers, and even great grandmothers worshipping alongside their loved ones and celebrating God’s blessing of motherhood.  We have big plans this weekend to honor our moms at ABC through a photo tribute, a special video, a poem, and a message from God’s Word about the power of motherhood.  Every mom in attendance will also walk away with a box of delicious chocolate truffles, courtesy of our ABC food services team.

Through all of this, I pray that our moms will be blessed this weekend, and our church will see that ABC loves mothers and values the unique role that God has entrusted to them.  We should do this because Jesus himself treasured his mom.  When Jesus was on the cross and approaching his final breath, the scriptures record seven different statements that he made at Calvary.  I find it interesting that one of these final statements revolved around His devotion to His mother.  Jesus looked at his dear friend, John, and his faithful mother, Mary, and said “’Woman, behold, your son!’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold, you mother!’ And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home” (John 19:26-27).  Some commentators believe Joseph likely passed away by this time, so Jesus is clearly concerned about his mother’s welfare after He dies.  So even though He is bearing the weight of all the sin of the world on his shoulders, Jesus still made it a high priority to honor and care for his mom

At ABC we are committed to honor and care for the mothers in our city  We do this through relationships, ministries, and support systems that we have built into this community of faith.  For instance, we are launching a new fully licensed 4-day preschool, “Little Lights Preschool,” this fall to minister to young children, but also to minister to moms.  We are partnering with moms this summer through our on-campus Vacation Bible School, as well as through dozens of activities and events for kids this summer.  We have a dynamic Women’s Ministry, with bible studies, special events, and Godly women that are devoted to love, encourage, and pray for moms in our city.  Our hope is that all mothers will not only feel loved on Mother’s Day, but also feel valued and encouraged all year long at ABC.

One way we also support mothers in our city is through the Trotter House.  Some of you are very familiar with one of church members, Lori DeVillez.  Lori has the honor of serving as the Executive Director and Founder of Trotter House.  She has devoted her lifetime to investing into the lives of moms who are in a pregnancy crisis.  This weekend, I’ve invited Lori to share her heart for mothers and give an update on how God is moving in the lives of moms through her ministry.  We will also have several Trotter House tables in the Great Hall that will display many ways in which you can partner with their ministry, so you can also make an impact on moms who are in desperate need.

I hope you are as excited to worship this weekend as I am!  Take some time to personally invite a mother to be a part of the celebration at ABC.  I look forward to seeing what God is going to do through this special Mother’s Day weekend.

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Summer Momentum

Last Sunday was a special day in the life of our church, as we saw God move in a powerful way through our Student Ministry.  Our first ever “ABC Student Weekend” was a huge success, and it was inspiring to watch our students lead the way in our church. I want to thank our Student Minister, Nathan Wood, for his outstanding leadership behind the scenes to make the weekend such a success.  I also want to give a special thanks to Mason Cushing and Ashton Rausch for sharing their hearts through their testimonies.  I believe God spoke a word to each of us through their stories that morning.  I also want to thank you church family for being so supportive of our next generation.  The importance of our church investing into the lives of our children and youth cannot be overstated.  They are our future, and we must ensure that we equip them to carry on the work of the ministry for the generations to come.  Thank you for loving them, encouraging them, and blessing them with your generous contributions at the spaghetti luncheon. 

While our students were indeed a spark of energy last Sunday, it was also exciting to see that our crowd is continuing to grow week to week.  We saw our largest crowd since March 1, 2020 walk through our doors for our regularly scheduled worship services.  We are welcoming first-time visitors every weekend, and our Bible fellowship groups are starting to add chairs to their rooms.  It is an exciting time in the life of our church, and my prayer is that this wave of momentum will only continue to grow in the coming days.  I believe there is a hunger in our city as thousands of people are longing to connect, experience community, and meet with the Lord after such a dry year.  Be cognizant of those that God has strategically placed around you.  Paul reminds us that “we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us” (2 Corinthians 5:20 ESV).  I encourage you to serve as a kingdom ambassador this week.  Love and encourage those who are around you and invite them to come experience what God is doing here at ABC.  If we commit to that, I have no doubt that Jesus Christ will continue to build up his church with people from across the Greater-Austin area.

To help you serve as an ambassador, our staff has worked hard to build a dynamic summer calendar for our church family to enjoy and to use as a catalyst to invite others.  This Sunday you’ll receive this calendar in your bulletin, and I recommend you take it home and keep it in front of you.  There will be exciting events such as “Freedom Over Austin,” which will be a patriotic event hosted here at ABC on July 3rd.  It will feature a professional fireworks show, food trucks, and carnival attractions for kids and teens.  We’re also going to have a night at the ballpark this summer, as we’ve purchased a large block of tickets for our church to go watch a Round Rock Express game together.  We will have a summer kick-off party after church on Sunday June 6th with burgers/hot dogs, inflatables, BFG chili cook off, and great fellowship for all.  You’ll see we’re offering a free in-person VBS and several wonderful kids events all summer long.  The students will be looking forward to beach camp and great fellowship events each month.  The women’s ministry will have some wonderful nights out, and in a few days we’re going to announce some additional special events specifically for our senior adults.  I think you’ll see that our church will be busy this summer!  I hope you plan to jump in and invite someone to come alongside you.  Our prayer is that these events will help our church build relationships with the surrounding community, and that these events will open up the door for our church to make a Gospel-centered impact on thousands of people.

This Sunday, I am looking forward to stepping back into the pulpit to carry on in our “Who Do You Say I am” series.  This week, we’ll be looking at Jesus’ declaration that He is “the door” in John 10:9.   The door is open for each of you to come and meet with Christ this Sunday.  I hope that you’ll walk through our doors and invite some to come in with you.  God bless you and your home, and I look forward to seeing you on this Lord’s Supper Sunday.

ABC Student Weekend Recap

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Teaching to Serve

If you’re new to ABC, it won’t take you long to realize that ABC loves kids!  Our church family has always placed a strong emphasis on reaching and teaching the next generation for Jesus Christ.  Because of that, we offer some of the finest staff and volunteers, resources, and facilities to the youngest ones who walk through our church doors.  In the coming weeks, you’re going to see a dynamic summer calendar filled with great events, many of which are designed specifically for kids.  These events will include staple programs such as our vacation bible school, student beach camp, and pre-teen camp.  But you’ll also discover lots of new exciting things sponsored by our ABC Kids and ABC Student ministries.  You’ve probably also heard that we are expanding our day preschool this coming Fall to make it a fully licensed 4-day ministry to our community.  “Little Lights Preschool” will help nurture and teach the youngest children in our area, and we’re confident that it will shine light into homes all across Austin.  I’m thrilled to pastor a church that is committed to raising champions for Jesus Christ and devoted to making the necessary investment to do so.  But perhaps the greatest investment we could make as a church family is to teach the next generation how to serve.

Every year new studies come out that communicate the same disheartening news: most high school graduates simply stop going to church.  That reality has led to conversations filled with countless proposed answers to the most obvious question, “Why on earth is this happening?”  While I acknowledge the answer to that question is multifaceted, I would dare say one major reason young adults leave the church is because they never learned how to contribute to the church.  Many children across our country are taught that their only job at church is to receive.  They aren’t specifically told that, but their programs are specifically catered to their needs, all the work is done for them, and they simply have to show up and absorb for 18 years.  While I do firmly believe we must pour into our children, I also believe our children have to learn how to pour out themselves.  Regardless of our age, God has given every believer time, talent, and treasure to be used to build up His church.  Even our youngest believers have spiritual gifts that God has given them to serve the bride of Christ (1 Peter 4:10).  That’s why we had kids serving with their parents and leaders last weekend at ABC Serves.  That’s why we have teenagers help lead our kids every Sunday in our children’s worship program, Elevate.  And that’s why this Sunday we are going to have our first ever “Student Weekend” here at ABC

This Sunday our student ministry is going to “take over” the church.  We’re going to have youth serving as greeters and ushers, we’re going to have a student choir in both services, and we’re going to feature talented student singers and musicians.  Students will help lead us in prayer and in the various platform assignments.  We are even going to have students share their testimonies in worship and in a few of our bible fellowship groups.  After each worship service, dozens of students are going to serve our church family lunch at our Super Summer Spaghetti Spectacular luncheon.  As you can imagine, a lot of work has gone into making this Sunday happen.  I want to thank our Student Minister, Nathan Wood, for his outstanding leadership these past several weeks.  The efforts of Nathan and his team will provide a special moment in the life of our church as we watch our students boldly serve and lead our family of faith.

When you see these students this Sunday, I encourage you to thank them for their service, and serve them by being their biggest cheerleaders!  It takes a lot of courage for even an adult to step up and serve Christ which is why these students are so remarkable.  As you may remember, Timothy was a powerful young Pastor in an established church of Ephesus.  He had a big job ahead of him to lead the church, but Paul charged him to not shy away from his calling as a young man.  Instead, Paul said “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12).  Join me in praying for these students as they set the example this weekend for all of us.  Come to church ready to worship and ready to learn because Jesus says we all should take notes this Sunday: “Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:4).

God bless you and your family and I look forward to worshipping with you on this special Student Weekend.

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Life’s Most Important Question

“Who do you say I am?”  In Matthew 16, Jesus asked this question to His disciples, as He understood that there were a variety of opinions circulating about Him.  This is because Jesus is the most famous person to ever walk on this earth and people have always been trying to make sense of Him.  And since Jesus ascended back to heaven, these opinions have only increased over nearly 2,000 years.  It’s good to become educated on these various opinions, but Jesus tells us in that Matthew 16 passage that He is most concerned about your opinion.   “Who do you say I am?” is the most important, and the most personal, question in the entire Bible.  This is because the question calls every person to process His life and ministry and come to a decision regarding all of it.  The weight of the question likewise could not be overstated, as scripture tells us, all of eternity is hinged to that answer. That’s why I’m so thrilled that more and more people in our church are coming to the same conclusion that Peter had that day: “He is the Christ, the Son of the living God (Matthew 16:16).”

This past week we celebrated another baptism, which is a public answer to that essential question.  We’ve been humbled to watch 8 individuals in our church get baptized over the past 5 weeks.  Believer’s baptism is a special moment where people proudly raise their flags for Jesus Christ.  In obedience to Christ’s command, each of those eight people showed outwardly what they already knew inwardly: Jesus is their Lord.  Last Sunday we added 6 more new members who likewise answered that question.  They joined this family of faith based on our common confession that Jesus Christ is Lord.  Three other individuals said they are ready to join our church family as well and will be following through with believer’s baptism very soon.  God is moving in our church family, and by His grace more and more people will discover the answer to that question through the ministry of ABC.

This question should stir us to action.  The reality is most people do not know the true answer to that question.  Everyone knows of Jesus, but most do not know Him personally (Matthew 7:13-14).  That’s why we must commit to take the Gospel to others outside of our church, both by word and deed.  We are all ambassadors for Christ, and we all must do our part in kingdom service.  I’m so proud of Scott Agthe and our Missions Committee, as well as our Deacons, for leading the way in our first ever church-wide service day, “ABC Serves.”  These men and women have worked hard in organizing and planning these past 2 months.  Their efforts have made it possible for our church to be mobilized to take the hope of Jesus Christ out to our community through service.   This Saturday, ABC will work with 12 organizations to meet needs across our city.  We will be partnering with great organizations such as Austin Baptist Chapel, Baptist Community Center, Mission Possible, Trotter House, Circle of Hope Community Center, Texas Baptist Children’s Home, Community First, Down Home Ranch, and more.  I am proud of those who have labored hard to make this weekend happen, and I’m proud of every person who has answered the call to serve alongside them this Saturday.

My hope and prayer is that we will all continue to open our eyes to the needs around us.  Jesus is clear that there is no shortage of work to do.  He’s said it has always come down to a shortage of labor.  He explains that , “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; 38 therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Matthew 9:37-38 ESV).  Jesus has answered that prayer by sending 100+ laborers out this Saturday to serve as His hands and feet.  But I know there will be plenty of work left to do next week as well.  I encourage you to labor for the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Ask for God to use you, and pray for a great harvest here at ABC.  By His grace, I believe many more are going to learn the true answer to that question through the ministry of our church.

Ask God who you could invite to join you in worship this weekend.  We will press on in our study of the “I am” statements and we’ll learn that Jesus is the light of the world.  Come prayed up and expectant to meet with God in His house.  Have a great week and I’ll see you Sunday.

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Onward and Upward

I hope you were as encouraged as I was last Sunday!  Easter 2021 was a special day in the life of our church as we celebrated a “homecoming” moment for many in the ABC family.  Last Sunday we saw 1,187 people join us in-person for our worship services, we distributed 3,000 eggs to children in our community, we added seven new members, and baptized five new followers of Jesus Christ.  The choir sounded amazing and featured the most voices we’ve had on stage in over a year.  The orchestra was packed with talented instrumentalists who provided a beautiful, full sound in our worship center.  I want to thank Eddie Cox, Mackenzie Guthrie, Carlos Jordan, and the dozens of volunteers in our music and media ministries for making it all happen.  Their hard work and servant leadership behind the scenes made it a special day for all of us.

But while the music was beautiful, perhaps the sweetest sound all day was the “buzz” coming from our Lobby.  It was music to my ears to hear the body of Christ congregating, laughing, hugging, and enjoying one other’s company. People were handing out bulletins, drinking coffee, and even eating donuts.  I might dare say, it finally “felt” like church.  My prayer is that kind of momentum will only continue to build in the coming weeks.  God willing, we’ll keep seeing new people walk through our doors, and we’ll see more of our regulars come back home to worship and experience the community that can only come through the body of Christ.  As folks continue to walk through our doors, May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God” (Romans 15:5-7 ESV).

So what’s next at ABC?  As a diehard Aggie, I don’t like to quote Texas Longhorns very often.  However, I have to admit I can resonate with what Coach Sarkisian has been preaching lately on the 40 acres: “it’s going to be all gas, no brakes.”  We are likewise moving full steam ahead with lots of exciting things coming up.  I hope you’re signed up for our ABC Serves event on April 17th.  If you have signed up, you’ll be able to pick up your t-shirt in the Great Hall this Sunday.  If you haven’t, I encourage you to sign up quickly as space is filling up.  This Sunday we’re also going to celebrate 4 families through our Parent Child Dedication during the 11:11 service.  These moms and dads are going to boldly commit to raise their children in Christ-centered homes.  After worship, I’ll also be leading our Starting Point membership class to get to know some of our recent guests at ABC.  In worship, we’re kicking off a brand-new sermon series on Jesus’ 7 I am statements titled, “Who do you say I am?”  I believe we’ll all be challenged and encouraged as we get to know Jesus through His own words. 

More great things are on the horizon, but it all begins this Sunday.  Easter may be behind us, but this Sunday will be another resurrection celebration.  Invite someone to celebrate with you and come expectant to meet with the Lord in this place. 

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Getting Prepared

I hope you had a great week, and for those of you fortunate enough to enjoy a spring break, I hope you found some rest.  I had a great week with my family as we got to spend time together with out-of-town relatives and friends.  I missed being with you all on Sunday, but it was refreshing to reconnect and recharge before our final sprint to Easter.  I want to publicly thank Pastor Matt Gillum for filling in the pulpit last Sunday to free me up.  I know we’d all agree that he did a great job wrapping up our “Fresh Start” series by teaching us what it means to truly do all things through Christ who gives us strength.

I’m looking forward to rejoining you in our worship services this weekend.  As you know, we will celebrate Palm Sunday and prayerfully enter into Holy Week.  Sunday’s services will be filled with special elements, as our children’s choir will help lead us in worship, we’ll observe the Lord’s Supper together as a community, and we’ll be celebrating changed lives through believer’s baptism in both services.  I hope you make it a priority to join us for this important Sunday and begin preparing your own heart for Easter.

Proper preparation is always critical for any event to be successful.  Last week, in order for us to have a successful vacation, we had to thoughtfully prepare all of the logistics.  We had to focus on our schedules, pack the right things, and make all of the proper travel arrangements.  In the same way, we must all thoughtfully begin preparations if we want to have a successful Easter at ABC.  These preparations will look different than my travel plans, because spiritual preparation isn’t centered around mere logistics.  Instead, the preparation we must focus on centers around our hearts.

You might ask, “how do I prepare my heart?”  First, I’d advise you to reflect on the Gospel with fresh eyes.  Paul tells us, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:3-4).  It is of “first importance” that we remember our own need for a Savior.  Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection were not merely historical events, they were personal events for any Christian.   His death was our death, and by grace and through faith, His resurrection is our new life as well.

Secondly, I’d encourage you to confess your sin.  There is an old puritan saying that the most mature Christian isn’t the one who sins the least, but rather the one who repents the most.  As we grow in Christian maturity, we should also grow in awareness of our own shortcomings.  The more we understand the Word, the more we see where we fall short.  The more we are led by the Holy Spirt, the quicker we will hear His correction.  I’d encourage to examine your heart this week and ask for the Holy Spirit to expose and convict you of sin.  When He does, quickly confess and turn away.  When you do, the Apostle John tells us there is great news waiting for you: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

Finally, I’d encourage you to commit to the Word of God.  Read your Bible every day.  If you already read your Bible every day, read more of it every day leading up to Easter.  Don’t spend your time on commentaries and authors (although they all have a purpose), but instead solely focus on God’s Word.  Let Him speak to you, not some other author.  I truly believe most Christians spend more time each week reading the words of man, instead of the Word of God.  Read God’s Word consistently and purposefully this week.   Read the crucifixion and resurrection accounts in each of the four Gospels.  Read the greatest resurrection chapter in the scriptures, 1 Corinthians 15.  Focus intently on the story of Easter, and ask for God to speak into your life through His Word.  The good news is the Book is alive, just like our Savior (Hebrews 4:12).  If you seek His voice this week, I believe you’ll find it in His Word.

The countdown is officially on for Easter.  My question is are you ready for the big day?  We’ve all got time to get prepared, but the work begins today.  So may we all be purposeful in the coming days, because if we are, I believe we’ll experience a Resurrection Sunday like no other.  Have a great rest of your week and I’ll see you on Sunday.

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Easter Homecoming

I looks like warmer weather and sunny skies arrived just in time for this week’s spring break!  Many Austinites have been looking forward to this week, especially after such a frigid and tumultuous February.  Thousands of Austinites are now spending time with their family and friends to rest and recharge for the final sprint to summer.  Likewise, I’m also enjoying some time off this week with Bethany and the kids, as we rest before the final sprint to Easter.

I’m excited that churches around the country will be gathering in-person this year on Easter Sunday.  As we all know, almost every church in America had its doors closed on Easter in 2020, but I’m praying this Easter will be a “homecoming” moment for many Christians across our country.  To make room for those who are not here yet, we are offering three identical worship services with choir and orchestra at 8:15AM, 9:45AM, and 11:11AM.  This schedule will give us extra space for guests and extra time to properly sanitize and flip the room in between services.  If you are ready to worship with us in-person, I’d encourage you to join us on this special resurrection Sunday.  For our early risers and for those who would like to avoid the crowds, I would encourage you to join us for our earliest morning service.  I believe you’ll be blessed by that 8:15AM service,  and you will likewise be a blessing to our guests in the later services by making room for them.

As we approach this special Sunday, I’d encourage you to do a couple things.  The first is pray.  Pray for our services, for the message, and for the music being led by Eddie Cox and Mackenzie Guthrie.  Pray that people will feel welcomed, loved, and renewed by the hope of Christ’s resurrection.  But also pray for your friends and neighbors.  I believe many are looking for hope right now, and Easter could be the catalyst to get them pointed back to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The second thing I’d ask you to do is invite.  We all have neighbors and friends who do not go to church, and you’d be surprised how many would be open to a sincere invitation.  Many people do not go to church simply because no one invites them.  Attending an unfamiliar church all alone can be an intimidating endeavor.  So I urge to invite your family, friends, co-workers and neighbors to join you on April 4th.  Young parents, I encourage you to attend the 11:11AM service since the egg hunt will begin right afterwards.  This will provide a great opportunity for you to invite a family to sit with you in worship, and then join you for the festivities afterwards.  We’ll also have some beautiful Easter photo spots that morning for families in all services to capture a special Easter picture.

To help equip you to invite, we’re going to begin distributing Easter yard signs this Sunday after our worship services.  I encourage each of you to pick one up and place it proudly in your yard.  This will help ABC create awareness in our community, and it will serve as a springboard for you to open up conversations with others.  Even if you are not ready to attend in-person, you can still invite others to join us online!  These yard signs will be distributed at church on 3/21 and 3/28, but you can also come up to the church to pick them up during the work week, beginning Monday March 22nd

Jesus tells us in Matthew 9:37 that “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.”  My prayer is that we will all labor together in the coming weeks to point others in our city to our living hope in Jesus Christ.  If we do, I believe Easter 2021 will be a day to be remembered by the church for many years to come.

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why baptism?

2017 was a year that I will always remember with great clarity.  This is because several big things were happening in my life that year.  Our third child, Daniel, was born at the end of 2016, so Bethany and I were adjusting to being “outnumbered” in the home.  My former church opened the doors to a brand-new state of the art facility, and we were experiencing exponential church growth.  And in the city of Houston (where I was residing), I remember everyone caught a case of “Astros-fever.”  As you may remember, the Houston Astros finally took home their first world series championship that year after having no luck for 50+ years as an organization.  I remember how I jumped on the bandwagon with great enthusiasm that year.  Everyone in the city was thrilled that our team formerly ridiculed as the “Lastros” finally made it to the top of the mountain.

The mass hysteria was very clear to me when I drove by a local Academy on the evening of the World Series championship.  The store had advertised that they’d be the first to carry “World Series Champion” merchandise for fans to purchase.  The store planned to open their doors the next morning, but I was shocked to see hundreds of people lined up outside preparing to spend the night outdoors.  They were committed to doing whatever it took to get that coveted championship merchandise.  And many will hear that story and think, “why?”  Why would they be so fixated on owning a simple t-shirt?  The reason is they desperately wanted to identify themselves with a champion.  They saw the Astros victory as their victory, and they wanted the world to know it.

I find it interesting that right before Jesus Christ ascended to heaven, He left the church with a specific commandment.  He said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19).  Jesus commanded us to go and tell others about Him, but He also commanded us to baptize them after they believed.  It’s clear that baptism meant a lot to Jesus.  He himself was baptized (Matthew 3), and He chose to highlight this topic during His most critical, final words to His disciples.  And because baptism meant so much to Jesus, I believe baptism should also mean much to us.  After all, through believer’s baptism we are publicly identifying ourselves with our champion.  The Bible teaches us that Jesus’ victory over sin and death is our victory over sin and death.  By grace and through faith, His victory has become our very own.  And believer’s baptism is our way of putting on that championship t-shirt. 

This year we are placing a special emphasis on baptism on Easter Sunday.  Easter is the perfect day to raise your flag for Christ through baptism.  There is no better way to celebrate the resurrection than to demonstrate that resurrection through believer’s baptism.  Every baptism is a Gospel presentation.  As a believer goes under the water, we declare that he or she has been “buried with Christ unto death.”  These words celebrate that all of their sins, past, present and future, were crucified with Christ.  Then when the believer comes out from the water, we declare that he or she has been “raised to walk in newness of life.”  These words point out that the believer has experienced a spiritual resurrection through faith in Jesus Christ, and one day, he or she will experience a physical resurrection through the second coming of Christ.

If you have never been baptized by immersion, I would strongly encourage you to take that bold step this Easter.  Last Sunday, we had a great turnout at our ABC Kids “First Steps” class, and two kids were ready to raise their flags for Christ this Easter.  If you have children in your home that you think may be ready, you’re welcome to join us for our second class on March 28th at 12:15pm (Sign up HERE).  I was also thrilled that two students committed to be baptized at our ABC Student Conference.  Through all of this, it’s clear to me that our Savior was spot on when He told us that we all need to find child-like faith (Matthew 18:3-4).  Children have a way of humbly trusting God’s commandments for their life, and my hope is that all of us grown-ups will likewise do the same.  If God is leading you to be baptized this Easter, you can sign up HERE or in our lobby this Sunday.  From there, our staff will follow up and we’d be honored to help walk you through the process.

I look forward to opening up Philippians Chapter 4 with you this Sunday.  Don’t forget to “spring forward” your clocks the night before.  We’ll have fresh coffee waiting for you in the morning, and we can’t wait to worship with you this weekend at ABC.

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A Strange Anniversary

It was great to be back at church this past weekend!  I was so encouraged to see many faces walk through our church doors to experience the fellowship, encouragement, and worship that only comes through the gathering of God’s people.  I think our recent winter storm taught us that it’s easy to take some things for granted such as power, water, and access to safe roads.  But it also reminded us that it’s easy to take church for granted as well.  The local body of Christ is so pivotal to our spiritual and mental health, and when the doors are closed, we simply aren’t the same.  So I was thrilled that we could reopen our church last Sunday and resume the ministry that Christ has called us to in this city.

I know we are all so grateful that the winter storm is behind us, and we can now move forward.  However, I realized this week that we have now been weathering a much more powerful storm for nearly a year.  This Sunday will be the 1-year anniversary of America’s last “normal” Sunday.  This is of course because COVID-19 became a household term that following week, and the virus left its impact on every entity across the globe.  Sunday March 8th, 2020 was a day that will be marked in church history, as whispers of a new “coronavirus” were making their way through our country that morning.  However, people still gathered in their respective churches to fellowship and worship as usual.  Then as we all know, reports began to get grim that following week, and virtually every church in America shut its doors the following Sunday.  And tragically, many in our country have not been back to church in-person ever since.

In my life, I remember that March 8th date very well.  I was in the pulpit at Second Baptist Church in Houston, Tx preaching on David and his sin with Bathsheba.  I was not fully aware at the time, but ABC also had members of its pastoral search committee in that worship center with me as I was presenting God’s Word.  It’s pretty amazing to look back at it from my perspective because a transition was happening right in front of me even though I did not fully see it.  God was about to literally shut the doors to my current church, but also open a door to my future church.

I share all of this because I think it’s important for us to understand a key truth: God is always at work even when we can’t see it.  We are all caught off guard by the problems of this world every day.  Yet Jesus knows everything, sees everything, and thankfully, He has a plan for how He’s going to use everything for His glory and our good.  Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”  It’s easy to focus and fixate on the problems of these past 12 months, but I encourage you to not miss the work that God has done amidst it all.  People have come to saving faith this past year, and countless believers have been refined in their faith through the fire.  God has extended the reach of His Gospel this past year through expanded media platforms and ministry innovations.  And everyday people like myself and so many of you have been matured and empowered to advance the true Kingdom, even as our earthly kingdom experiences ongoing unrest.

I encourage each of you to ask yourselves a simple question this week, “How has God worked in my life this past year?”  If you’re in Christ, I can assure that that God has been at work in you.  He always desires to work in you, and then through you, to impact a world that needs Him.  So ask yourself where have you seen Him work in your life this past year?  How has he matured you and what has He been speaking into your life?  And perhaps even more importantly, what has he been calling you to do?  Paul is going to explain this weekend that God is indeed at work and desires to use each of us even in the storms.  But He can only work through us effectively if our minds learn how to “forget,” and our hearts learn how to “press on.”  I look forward to unpacking these ideas with you in Philippians chapter 3 this Sunday.  Love well and serve well this week, and I look forward to seeing you at worship.

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Where do we go from here?

I think we would all agree that it’s been a wild couple of weeks.  Who would have thought that Austin, Tx could experience snow twice in one winter?  And not just snow, but 6 inches of snow and single digit temperatures!  My mind is still in a little bit of shock that we were in the middle of an unprecedented winter storm last week, yet today I’m planning to go for a walk this evening in beautiful 75 degree weather.  Living in Texas certainly keeps us all on our toes. 

That being said, I know this past week has been incredibly difficult for many of you.  Having no power, water, or access to resources can be a terrifying experience.  Further, having to deal with bursting pipes and unexpected expenses is both frustrating and stressful for any homeowner.  I’m praying for each of you who were impacted by the storm, and please know that our church does stand by you today.  We realize that this storm is not over for everyone, and we want to do everything we can to come alongside you in the coming days.  Please do not hesitate to contact our church office if there is any way we can serve you. 

Many in our city are now wondering, “where do we go from here?”  I believe the wisest answer is that we need to go worship.  In a moment of crisis, each of us as believers have a decision to make.  Will we run from God because of our problems, or will we run to Him with our problems?  Unfortunately, many in this world choose the former.  They become so fixated on their present afflictions, that they forget they do not have to carry them alone (1 Peter 5:7).  Jesus Christ, our sympathetic high priest, is ready to serve as our strength and our anchor in every storm (Hebrews 4:16, 6:19).  But my question for you is where are you running today?

In the Old Testament, King David understood heartache and suffering.  As you may remember, the prophet Samuel privately anointed young David as King of Israel, yet it took many years for David to actually sit on a throne.  Instead of ruling the kingdom, he spent many nights sleeping in caves and hiding for his life.  And even after he finally received the crown, you may remember David once again returned to his refugee days after his own son Absalom led a revolt against him.  Yet amidst all of the turmoil in his life, we still remember David as a “man after God’s own heart.”  This is because he worshipped God in every storm and consistently turned to Him in moments of crisis.

Psalm 63 is one of those moments.  David is on the run and hiding in the wilderness, yet his faith remained steadfast.  He said, “O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory.Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you. So I will bless you as long as I live; in your name I will lift up my hands (Psalm 63:1-4).   As was usually the case, David is seen seeking God amidst his suffering, and we can hear the longing in his heart to return to the sanctuary.

I don’t know about you, but I can personally resonate with David’s words.  In our own way, we too have been living in a dry land with no water.  Likewise we have been displaced from the sanctuary for far too long.  It’s been a long couple of weeks, and truthfully it has been a long year.  We’ve had to close our doors now on two different occasions in 2021 due to trying circumstances.  However, I’m excited that this weekend we are finally going to “do church.”  Yes, we the people are the church, but there is also power and purpose in the church assembling together (Hebrews 10:24-25).  And i believe we all need to experience the renewing power of worship once again. This Sunday we’re going to worship Him and praise His name with our lips.  We’re going to observe the Lord’s Supper and remember that Christ has given us everything we truly need. 

If you’re ready to gather physically in-person, I’d encourage you to join us this Sunday at ABC.  It will be a special day as we re-open the doors and gather to honor Him.  If you are not ready yet, we of course will meet you in your home through our regular online platforms.  However you choose to worship this Sunday, I encourage you to earnestly seek Him through it.  If you do, I believe that God will renew your mind and restore the hope in your heart that we have in Jesus Christ our Lord (1 Peter 1:3).  Where will you go in this time of turmoil? I hope you’ll go with me to the sanctuary this Sunday.

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Braving the Storm

I hope you didn’t store away your winter coats too early!  Isn’t Austin such an amazing place to live?  One week it can be in the 80’s, and then another week we can be under a winter weather advisory.  It’s crazy to think that our temperature could drop to the “teens” in the coming days, and we could potentially experience ice and snow in back-to-back months.  While all of this is certainly surprising, I think in a strange way it also seems to make a lot of sense.  We’ve been experiencing a major storm for nearly a year now, so it almost seems fitting that we’d also have a change in the weather.  But regardless of what this winter storm does bring, I think we can all rest assured with some good news: this too shall pass.  Eventually, the sun will come out and the ice on the roads will melt away.  We won’t have to worry forever about travel hazards, nor will we have to bundle up when we go outside.  The sun will simply melt away those problems, and we will get to joyfully press on.

Wouldn’t it be nice if all of our problems could melt away that easily?  Unfortunately, we all know life is much more complicated than ice in Texas.  The truth is our problems seem to stick around much, much longer.  Every day can feel like a battle, as we constantly face conflict in relationships, stress in our finances, obstacles at work, ailments in our health, and rising political unrest.  Because of that, the body of Christ groans together (Romans 8:22) and longs for those problems to melt away.  And I cannot promise you that they will melt away any time soon, but I can promise you that the Son will indeed shine over them.

Jesus tells us that He is the Light of the world (John 8:12), and as the Light, He consistently shines His goodness, mercy, and grace into dark situations.  One day the Light will physically return to this world, and all of our problems will fully melt away at that time (Revelation 21:1-4).  But until then, Jesus commands us to shine His light now.  Jesus tells us, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden” (Matthew 5:14).  Because Christ is in us, we actually have the power to shine and bring real change into this world.  While the problems of this world may not fully melt away yet, we do still have the power to make real progress for the kingdom of God right now.

Each and every one of us are called to be difference makers.  As we talked about last weekend, God’s Word instructs us to set aside our own interests and take on the interests of others.  So my question for you this week, is “where are you shining?”  Is there an area in our church, and even in our city, where you are actively shining the grace of God into dark spaces?  This past week I was proud of ABC for shining light into the Austin Police Department.  We partnered with their chaplain to provide some much-needed mental health resources for their officers.  Many of our teenagers are shining their light in our children’s ministry by now leading our youngest in worship every weekend at Elevate.  Our student ministry is about to shine its light through a brand-new event, the ABC Student Conference.  This one-day event will be filled with worship, relevant Biblical teaching, and fellowship for students so they can find a place to belong.  Matt Gillum and I are in the process of releasing a new podcast channel, where we hope to shine the light of Christ into our city by engaging our culture with God’s Word and applying it to real life issues.

Those are just a few ways ABC is shining, and I’m proud of the many volunteers and faithful witnesses in our church who are truly shining in areas all around us.  But the question to ponder today is, “are you shining your light?”  It’s easy to hunker down during a storm, but we’re called to rise up and brave our way through it.  Have you found a place to use your gifts and expand the Kingdom of God today?  The Son wants to shine His light through you this week, so I encourage you to take Paul’s words to heart: “Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:9-10).

Shine on,

Jonathan Spencer

Last Sunday’s Sermon: “Joy in Humility” – Phil 2:1-4
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Lessons from the Super Bowl

It’s hard to believe that January is already behind us, and we are now moving full steam ahead into February.  Super Bowl Sunday is coming up this weekend, and millions of eyes will be watching what should be an entertaining quarterback battle between Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes.  As we all know, every year Americans look forward to this special game, and this week I’ve been asking myself, “why?”  Because the truth is millions of people will find themselves watching a game they don’t particularly care about.  Most Super Bowl spectators are not football enthusiasts, nor do they usually have an emotional connection to either team playing on the field. Nonetheless, they still find themselves on a couch somewhere watching it year after year.  I believe this isn’t an accident, but instead it’s due to the excitement and the fellowship that surrounds the big game. 

Leading up to the Super Bowl, friends, co-workers, and classmates continuously talk about the game, thus creating a great desire for football outsiders to become insiders as well.  Further, Super Bowl Sunday is always packaged as a fellowship event.  Admittedly, this year will be different due to COVID complications, but normally people do not watch this game alone.  The tradition has always been to throw Super Bowl parties and invite your neighbors and friends.  Because of that, many football outsiders suddenly find themselves giving football a chance, simply because a friend invited them to be a part of their community.

I believe there are several lessons we could all learn from this big game.  The first lesson being that we should view every Sunday at ABC as a Super Bowl Sunday.  Every weekend is a big weekend, as God gives us another opportunity to worship and meet with Him in a community of faith.  So just like the Super Bowl, we should all have great anticipation leading up to Sunday. My prayer is for that genuine excitement to build up in our hearts and rub off on those who are around us.  I believe there are many outsiders of the church that would attend our “Super Bowl,” if they simply had an invitation from a friend.  It’s interesting, there have been lots of studies on church growth over the years, and even though strategies do indeed change, the most effective catalyst for growth remains the same: the personal invitation.  Outsiders become insiders when one insider makes room for them.  And just like this weekend’s big game, I believe many would come to our big event if they were simply asked.

God has given our church an amazing fellowship as the body of Christ, and the good news is there is still room for others to experience it with us.  Because of that, Paul gives us quite the charge when he writes, “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:20).  As Christians, we all have the privilege to serve as mouthpieces for our Lord Jesus Christ, and one of the most simple things we can communicate is that invitation. Last weekend, we learned that we’re all preaching sermons every day and that our words truly do matter.  My prayer this week is that our words will be powerful tools to expand the Kingdom of God here in our city.

Consider who you can invite to worship this Sunday, either online or in-person.  I’d even encourage you to do the same this Wednesday night.  We had an amazing kick off to Midweek last week as we saw over 100 people join us for the meal, and many more join us for our Bible studies that took place afterwards.  But there is still room for more in our fellowship, so may we all serve as faithful ambassadors to those around us.  I look forward to seeing you at the “Super Bowl” this Sunday.

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Seeking Him First

It sure was wonderful to worship with you last Sunday!  There was a great spirit on our campus as we re-opened our church doors, and I hope you were as encouraged that morning as I was.  As we are all learning in 2021, each of us can experience a “fresh start” every day, and I believe our church family experienced one last weekend.  I’m grateful that we are now able to press on in the mission and ministry that God has called us to, and I’m excited for this week as we likewise look forward to a fresh start in our Midweek programming.

I believe we have much to celebrate in this new year.  One thing I am celebrating this week is our church’s steadfast commitment in the area of stewardship.  In a year filled with turmoil, our church family remained resilient and faithful through its giving.  Through your generosity, God provided all that we needed to continue, and in many cases even expand, the ministries of ABC.  I’m thrilled that we made the 2020 budget as we received over $4.1 million in general contributions.  I’m also thankful that our church gave above and beyond to missions, as we exceeded our Lottie Moon goal by collecting over $64,000.  Additionally, we were able to put a considerable dent into our debt in 2020.  We were able to pay off an additional $642k above our debt service payments because of your faithful designated gifts.  What an amazing testimony of God’s grace, that even in a year filled with countless challenges, our church cheerfully and faithfully gave over $4.9 million for kingdom work!  I want you to know that your generosity makes a difference.  Anytime you see a new visitor, a new member, or a testimony through believer’s baptism, you were part of that story through your faithful tithes and offerings.  Because of that, we should all celebrate the 20 people that joined our church in December, including the 8 who were baptized last month.  Likewise, we should all celebrate the ministry that is happening right now in 2021. 

It was encouraging that even after a 3-week hiatus from gathering in-person, we added 6 new members into the family last Sunday.  Additionally, we saw God move mightily in several of our ministry areas.  The 11:11 service was up 44% from where it was on that same date last year, pre-pandemic.  The student ministry also had a big weekend as they too welcomed more students than they had last year at this time.  Our teenagers were thrilled to learn about the new ABC Students brand, see some of the new technology, and experience a few of the exciting upgrades to our youth rooms.  Our children’s ministry also had a successful morning as they kicked off their new worship program, “Elevate.”  The children had a blast as they learned about Christ through a dynamic program featuring videos, skits, music, and of course God’s Word.  I was humbled to see over 20 teenagers step up to help lead those children through our Elevate team.  It is a beautiful sight to watch young people grow a hunger to serve and disciple others in our church.  I’m also looking forward to this Sunday as our Women’s Ministry will host a new ministry event, “The Collective.”  I hope all of our ladies plan to attend this special evening of worship, and I encourage each of you to even invite a friend.

God is moving in our church, and we should all pause to give thanks.  I believe He is blessing us as we collectively seek Him through our faith and obedience.  Jesus reminds us, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matt 6:33).  As we continue to faithfully seek Christ and give towards His mission, I have no doubt that He will continue to build up His church for His glory.  May we all pursue Him today, because if we do, I believe the best is yet to come.

Last Sunday’s Message: Joy in the Outcome
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Pass on the Light

We are in the final sprint to Christmas!  I hope you are enjoying the cool temperatures, beautiful lights, and are making plans to spend time with loved ones in the coming days.  I’m confident that our music ministry helped you get in the holiday spirit last Sunday through their wonderful production, “The Sounds and Stories of Christmas.”  I’d like to especially thank Dodie Morris and Richmond Dewan for their tireless efforts to make it all happen.  Through their clear direction and countless hours of service, our church family was able to creatively celebrate the Christmas story, both online and in-person, all while involving over 150 ABC volunteers!  I’m grateful for their talents and their ministry-minded hearts, and I do thank everyone who pitched in with them to make it a big success.

Christmas is a special time of celebration.  From the music, to the traditions, to the gatherings with family and friends, this season is a beautiful moment for God’s people to pause, reflect, and celebrate.  Even in 2020, this celebration should continue because our present darkness does not change the fact that the light has already come.  Because the Word became flesh, you and I have a joy and a hope that is unwavering and transcendent of all circumstances.  This hope is in fact so bright, that you and I are Biblically called to share it with others. 

A few weeks ago, my family and I went out for a late walk on a trail in our neighborhood. We left while there was daylight, but time got away from us and darkness quickly settled in.  We hadn’t planned for it, so we did not bring flashlights with us, but fortunately, I did have my iPhone with me.  And as we all know, if you have an iPhone in your pocket, you do in fact have a flashlight with you.  So I turned on the flashlight feature and began to light up the path in front of me.  The light pushed away the darkness around me and gave me sure footing on the path.  But I did not keep that light to myself, because I knew there were others around me that needed it as well.  So I shined my light towards my entire family, so their next steps could also be made clear.

A lot of people in this world are unsure of their next steps.  They are concerned about the present darkness in this world, and they don’t know how to navigate through it.  But the Christmas story tells us that Jesus came to shine light into those dark places, and to give us hope and assurance in our next steps.  Light always comforts.  And the light that Jesus gave us is in fact so bright, that it is powerful enough to share with others.  Because of that, he actually commands us to share it!  He says, “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:14).  We have an opportunity to share the light of Christ in these coming days.  We all have people around us that are stumbling in the darkness, and God has given us an opportunity to shine light into their lives.  This week, you can shine by writing a note to a loved one, dropping off a gift to a neighbor, or simply checking in with someone who has been isolated for a long time.  When you do these things, you are sharing that light with others that need it.

On Christmas Eve, we will share the light with each other as we pass the candlelight down the aisles and light up our beautiful worship center.   But I encourage you to pass that light on long before you walk into our church doors.  One way to pass it on is simply through an invitation.  If you plan to stay at home on Christmas Eve, pass on the online link to our 4PM broadcast. If you plan to attend in person, invite someone to join you for one of our three services, 2PM, 4PM, and 6PM.  We have added a third service this year to welcome others, and still be able to maintain our current space standards in the worship center.  So prayerfully consider who God might be leading you to share your light with, and I believe many will be ministered to through our services this year.

I look forward to seeing you this Sunday as we have another big weekend ahead of us.  We’ll have live caroling in the lobby, our children will enjoy the Bethlehem Village (with live animals), and I will present our final message in our “Unwrapping Christmas” series.   Keep shining this week, and I look forward to seeing you Sunday.

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Shine This Season

What a powerful Sunday we had together!  I hope you enjoyed Sunday morning as much as I did.  It was exciting to see our children in pajamas enjoying train rides and hot chocolate, and it was wonderful to have Veritas help lead us in both of our worship services.  We experienced another “pandemic-record” in attendance that morning, and then we welcomed hundreds of people that evening for an amazing outdoor event, Christmas Under the Stars (see recap video below).  The event was filled with laughter, fun, and powerful worship that served as a public testimony to the birth of our King.  I’d like to thank our entire staff and the 50+ volunteers that worked so hard to make it happen.  Your efforts paid off, as I believe God used that event to bless our church and our entire community.  We were honored to register over 100 new guests that evening, and we pray that we will be able to minister to them even more in the coming days.

That is what Christmas is all about!  We are always called as a church family to love those that God has placed around us, but I believe that responsibility is even greater during this difficult season.  Our world is filled with darkness, but we are called to shine brightly as a city on a hill (Matt 5:14).  When we do so, we demonstrate to the world that Jesus’s words were true when he said “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).

We have the light of life in us, and because of that, we have an opportunity to shine brightly for Him this Christmas.  Our deacons shined brightly last week, as our servant-leaders were commissioned to deliver 100 poinsettias to widows and members that cannot join us in person at this time.  The gift of those flowers, as well as their presence, greatly ministered to those who needed a personal touch.  Our music ministry is shining brightly, as Dodie Morris and Richmond Dewan have put together an amazing online Christmas production to minister to people anywhere in the world (see trailer below).  I hope you are making plans to join us online, or in person for the viewing party this Sunday at 6pm in the worship center.  But more than that, I hope you make plans to share the video with someone that needs to experience the Light. 

This Sunday we will all shine brightly through our generosity.  This weekend is our annual mission project, “White Christmas,” and our church family will continue to provide food and relief for those who need it most this season.  I encourage you to bring your goods with you to worship this Sunday, or drop them off this week at the bins located by the main entrance driveway.  Your gift of mercy will bring light and hope into those homes.  And lastly, we all have an opportunity to shine brightly this month as we close out our budget year.  God has blessed our church and community tremendously through your continued generosity and faithfulness.  Our ministries have not slowed down during this pandemic.  Rather our ministries have not only pressed on, but they have even expanded!  We have been able to bless others in need, extend our online reach, and continue to offer excellence in live worship, Bible study, and children’s ministry because of you.  Thank you for being faithful and steadfast in a year that has been filled with storms.  God is shining through this church and I am excited to see what He is going to do as we strongly close out our annual budget through year end giving.

My prayer is that God will continue to bless you and our entire church during this important season.  May He continue to bless us, and keep us, and shine His face upon us.  Bring your White Christmas gift with you this Sunday, and come ready to worship and meet with the Lord.  The best is yet to come.

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Keeping Christmas

Christmas is officially here at ABC!  I want to thank all of our amazing volunteers for putting in many hours to decorate and transform our church for the holiday season.  The church looks absolutely beautiful, and I believe every person that walks through our doors this month will feel encouraged and welcomed because of the environment you helped create.

I think creating such an environment is especially important this year.  Normally this time of year, our country is naturally rejoicing and celebrating as we approach Christmas day.  However, I think we can all agree that this year is different.  Many are discouraged by our present challenges and anxious regarding the future, and because of that, our country is lacking its regular Christmas cheer.  And while all of those challenges are undeniable, so is our hope that we have in Jesus Christ.  So be careful to not allow the enemy to rob you of the joy that God has already given us through His son.

The prophet Habukkuk knew a lot about cultural challenges.  During his ministry, he was discouraged by Assyria’s heavy hand over Israel.  And in the book of Habakkuk, he cried out for relief from the Lord.  To his surprise, God answered that prayer by informing him that things were only going to get worse in the coming days.  God told him that He was preparing to send the Babylonians to further discipline and pillage Israel.  But after Habakkuk processed that devastating news, he came to an amazing conclusion.  He said, “Though the fig tree should not blossom,  nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls,18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation” (Habakkuk 3:17-18).

This month, I encourage you to follow Habakkuk’s lead and remember to rejoice, regardless of our challenging circumstances.  We will take joy in the God of our salvation this Christmas season at ABC.  We will not allow the present darkness to make us forget that the Light has already come!  I encourage you this month to rejoice and celebrate Christmas with your family, but also with your church family.  We will celebrate safely to minimize risk, but we will indeed celebrate the Light because He is worthy of our praise.

The celebration at ABC will begin this Sunday December 6th.  The vocal group, Veritas, will be joining us in worship this weekend to help lead us in our services (see below for one of their music videos).  We’ll also provide some extra Christmas cheer for our children that morning, as they will enjoy a “Polar Express Sunday,” wearing their pajamas, drinking hot chocolate, and going on a train ride during BFG’s.  Later that afternoon we will be hosting an amazing community event called, “Christmas Under the Stars.”  To once again minimize risk, we are hosting this event outdoors with lots of space, and all the fun will begin at 4:30PM with a Christmas festival featuring train rides for the kids, a petting zoo, a snow slide, snowball fights, food trucks, and a live ice sculptor.  At 6:30PM Veritas will provide a full Christmas concert outside with plenty of space for everyone to spread out in the field to enjoy it.  Bring a lawn chair/blanket, and don’t worry, we will have some heaters on site!  It will be a powerful time of worship, and a great witness to the world as they hear the name of Jesus Christ lifted up on our church grounds.

I hope you plan to join us, and even more than that, I hope you plan to invite someone to come with you.  Many in our city need some joy right now, and this will be a great opportunity for ABC to shine brightly in a city navigating through darkness.  If you have Facebook, take some time to share this promotional video online (CLICK HERE).  Post it on your personal page and pass it on to any neighborhood pages that you may associate with.  Make a few calls/texts this week to help share the gift of Christmas with others who need it.  Rejoice in the Lord and take joy in the God of our salvation!  I look forward to celebrating with you this Sunday.

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Thanksgiving Lists

I hope you all are getting ready for a wonderful Thanksgiving week!  I know next week may look a little different than the Thanksgivings from previous years, as some of you have perhaps altered your travel and gathering plans.  But nonetheless, I do pray that each of you still takes the opportunity to come together with some loved ones to give thanks for all that God has done.  Psalm 9:1 says “I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart; I will recount all of your wonderful deeds.” This psalm tells us that it is important for each of us to not only give thanks, but to also give thanks specifically.  This coming week, we all need to recount the wonderful things God has done in our lives.

If are struggling to create that specific Thanksgiving list, I would encourage you to think a little longer.  This is because we are told that anything good in our lives came from above (James 1:17), and we have reason to give thanks in all circumstances (1 Thess 5:18).  For instance, we can all give thanks for the breath we are breathing (Isaiah 42:5), for the families we’ve been placed in, for the community of faith we belong to, for His consistent provision of food and shelter, for our freedom in this country, and most of all, for our freedom in Jesus Christ.  Personally, I can tell you that I am thankful to each of you at ABC for allowing me to serve as your Pastor.  I’m thankful for your prayers, encouragement, and for the warm welcome you have given me and my family these past 4 months.  I’m thankful for our phenomenal staff and lay-leaders.  I’m grateful for the new visitors, new members, and baptisms that we’ve been able to celebrate these past few months.  I’m thankful for God raising up the biggest deacon class in church history, as we added 28 qualified men into our fold last Sunday.  I’m thankful for church growth and for steadfast stewardship, even amidst a pandemic.  I’m thankful for technology helping us bridge the gap to those who wish they could be with us physically.  And I am thankful for what God is going to do in this coming Christmas season, as I know He will use His church to shine brightly for Him.  My list could go on and on, but instead of continuing to read mine, I would encourage you to go make your own. Then share that list, first with the Lord, but then also with those around you. If you do, I think you’ll find it to be good medicine for your soul.

This weekend will feature a special Sunday in the life of our church.  For the first time at ABC, we are going to have a “Missions Sunday.”  In a spirit of Thanksgiving, we’re going to thank God for what He is doing to advance the Gospel around the globe.  We’re going to do this by bringing in a special guest speaker, Dr. Gordon Fort.  Dr. Fort is the Senior Ambassador for the IMB.  He has been devoted to Missions his entire life, as his ministry began when he grew up in Zimbabwe as one of 5 boys born to medical doctor missionary parents.  Since those early days, Dr. Fort has gone on to serve in a myriad of leadership positions for the IMB since his appointment in 1985.  I look forward to him encouraging our church family, and challenging us, to become even more Missions-minded in the days to come.  We will also promote our upcoming Lottie Moon offering and encourage all of us to prayerfully consider how we can be a part of it. I hope you plan to join us for a great weekend.  If you have family or friends visiting, we’d love to meet them at church this weekend!  Have a wonderful rest of your week and we’ll see you Sunday.

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Thankful Hearts

We had an amazing Veteran’s Day weekend at ABC!  Our Wall of Honor proudly displayed 108 heroes that faithfully served our country, our music ministry led us well in worship, and Ken Wallingford did an incredible job sharing his story as a POW in Vietnam.  I’d like to thank Ken for sharing that powerful testimony, and for teaching us what it means to truly pray in submission.  

Our church’s momentum continues to grow, as we saw yet again another record attendance for this pandemic season.  God is at work in our church family and we indeed have much to be thankful for.  It’s important for us to pause and give thanks for the things that He has done, and is currently doing, in our midst.  If we do not force ourselves to stop and reflect, it’s likely that we will overlook the clear gifts of grace that He has generously placed in lives.  

My three children all have different personalities, but they also share some commonalities.  For one thing, their first words were all alike.  As toddlers, I remember when they began saying those sweet first words such as “mama” and “da-da.”  However, I also remember that they all shortly thereafter transitioned to less pleasant words such as “no” or “mine!”  I didn’t have to teach them those words, they just seemed to come natural to them.  This is because selfishness is not a learned behavior; it’s something that comes naturally to all of us due to the Fall (Genesis 3, Psalm 51:5 ESV).  Because of that, all parents try to chip away at this vice in their children’s lives.  One of the primary ways is by teaching our kids some simple, courteous words such as “please” and “thank you.”

As adults, we too sometimes need a gentle reminder to say “thank you.”  We live in a world that is easy to pick apart, criticize, and complain about.  It is easy to cast stones in politics, in our families, and yes, even in the church.  And if we are not careful, we will overlook the countless blessings that God has bestowed on each of us.  We’re told, “Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever” (1 Chronicles 16:34 ESV).  In the New Testament, Paul goes on to say that our thankfulness to the Lord should never be contingent on any outward circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:18 ESV).  This is because His love for His people does endure forever.  Our Father has richly blessed every believer with the saving grace of His Son, and the common grace of countless blessings on this earth (James 1:17 ESV).  It’s a fair question to ask then: have you stopped to give thanks for those things this week?

To help us do that, we are going to pause and gather as a church family on Wednesday, November 18th.  We are pressing forward with our annual Thanksgiving event, however this year we are going to scale it down to dessert-only due to COVID complications.  This event will be a wonderful opportunity for all of us to come together and celebrate the blessings that God has poured out in our individual lives, as well as in the life of our church.  Please make plans to join us, and consider making a contribution that will go towards The Trotter House ministry: https://www.austinbaptistchurch.com/thanksgiving

This Sunday, I look forward to returning to the pulpit to wrap up our mini-series on the Lord’s Prayer.  I hope you make plans to join us, and I encourage you to invite someone that needs to experience the life and ministry that can only come from His local church.  I look forward to giving thanks with you this Sunday.

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Service and Sacrifice

The holidays have not even arrived, but things are starting to get busy at ABC.  We had an amazing Sunday morning as we kicked off a new sermon series, welcomed a special musical guest, and celebrated seven beautiful families as they participated in our parent child dedication.  Later that same afternoon, we trained nearly 100 BFG leaders, and this week we are making preparations to ordain 28 new deacons in our church family on November 15th.  God is at work here at ABC, and I hope you are as thrilled as I am to watch Him build His church!  Check out this brief video to see what has been happening the last few Sundays:

This weekend we are pressing forward full steam ahead.  November 8th is poised to be another big day as we honor and celebrate our service men and women.  As you know, we are putting together a “Wall of Honor” to showcase ABC’s military heroes.  We have received over 100 veteran submissions, and we look forward to proudly celebrating and paying tribute to these men and women that served (or are currently serving) our nation so faithfully.  Many will not know it, but this wall was a massive project behind the scenes.  Derek Tackett and his team have done a phenomenal job designing and constructing a 30+ foot wall to proudly display the names and pictures of our heroes.  I’d like to publicly thank Derek, along with Daulton Halliburton, Ken Porter, Tom Howell, Phil Samuleson, Josh Preston, Christopher Medina Saavedra, and Adam Mendez.  These men have worked tirelessly and sacrificially to make this vision come true.

I find it rather fitting that it took such great sacrifice and effort to build that wall.  After all, the entire purpose of this wall is to celebrate the service of great men and women in our country.  It only seems appropriate that it would require substantial service from our church family to make it possible.  My prayer is that we will follow the example of all of these humble servants in the coming days.  As followers of Jesus Christ, we are all called to do our part and follow the example He set on this earth (1 Cor 11:1, Eph 5:1).  We are told, “ For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).

Jesus gives us opportunities every day to set aside our own interests, and instead respond to people just like Him (Philippians 2:3-4).  Every day we have a decision to make: will we live selfishly, or selflessly?  I hope this Sunday we will all be inspired to take the Christ-like approach.  Make sure you come early to find a good seat, as we will press on to the second week of our new series on the Lord’s Prayer.  This week, our very own, Ken Wallingford, will share his Vietnam POW testimony.  I believe that through his words, we will all better understand what it means to “pray with surrender.”  Invite a friend and I look forward to seeing you Sunday in worship.

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Feeling more “normal”

Thank you to everyone that helped make Trunk or Treat a big success (see the highlight video above).  I’ve participated in a lot of church events in my lifetime, but perhaps none ever felt as necessary as last Sunday’s gathering.  It has been a long year, and with that we have experienced a long drought in church programs due to the ongoing pandemic.  But for two hours on Sunday, it almost felt like things were “normal” again.  Granted, we were still sanitizing train seats after each rider, many were wearing masks, and we handed out “touch-free” candy.  However, there was incredible power in our family of faith simply gathering again for fun and fellowship. 

Things felt normal because you and I were not made to be alone (Gen 2:18, Ecc 4:9).  But unfortunately, many have been living in isolation and left unable to meet their God-given need for community.  Acts 2:42 says, the early church “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” Healthy churches devote themselves to gathering.  It starts with worship and the teaching of God’s Word, but it expands to the fellowship and community that our souls desperately need.  Last Sunday, I was thrilled to watch many people quench that thirst for fellowship for the first time since March. 

We experienced another “pandemic-record” crowd in our Sunday morning services, and we saw hundreds more join us for the community event that evening.  My prayer is that ABC will continue to serve as an outlet for God’s people to connect and belong during this storm.  Some in our church will need to continue connecting online for a season.  But for many others, my hope is that they too will reenter our church doors.  There are thousands of people in Austin that have reemerged into every other facet of culture, except church.  My prayer is that those folks will start feeding their souls the things that they are truly hungry for: God’s Word and the fellowship of His people.

In the coming weeks, you’re going to see our church continue to safely move forward.  This Sunday we’re bringing in a dynamic singer, Jeff Anderson (from Veritas), to help lead us in worship.  We’ll also celebrate our first Parent Child Dedication of 2020 and train all of our BFG leaders through a 4PM leadership summit.  This week, we just wrapped up a critical staff retreat, and in the following weeks, you’ll hear about us celebrating veterans, ordaining deacons, observing the Lord’s Supper, celebrating Thanksgiving, and unveiling a dynamic December calendar.  This Sunday, I look forward to beginning our new sermon series, “Walking on Your Knees.”  We will turn to the Lord’s prayer to find strength and guidance as we enter into a critical election week.  I hope you come prayed up and ready to worship and fellowship with our family of faith. Invite someone to join you, and we’ll see you Sunday!

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Worthy of Celebrating

We had an amazing Sunday at ABC!  Last weekend we experienced our highest attendance since the pandemic, we celebrated multiple new members and a baptism, and we successfully conducted a much-needed ministry fair.  As you know, we encouraged our church to rise up and meet some critical ministry needs during this new season of growth, and I am proud to say that many of you stepped up to the plate.  We had 53 new volunteers turn in cards and say “count me in” to be a part of what God is doing at ABC!  I want to thank those 53 for their faithfulness and willingness to join God in His work here at ABC.  I’m grateful for each of you, and I look forward to seeing God work through you in the coming days.  As you bless our church through your efforts, I have no doubt that God will bless you as well.

Serving the church can be one of life’s greatest joys.  It opens up doors to new friendships, it matures us in our faith, and it often leads us to new blessings in our lives.  Because of this, I believe service is something we should celebrate as a church family.  We should  honor those who serve our church so well, both inside and outside of our church walls. When I think of public servants, I don’t think there is a better example than the brave men and women who serve our nation through our armed services.   They embody the Biblical mandate to, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others (Philippians 2:3-4).  Every day, men and women set aside their own interests to selflessly protect and serve people they do not even know.  What a wonderful gift God has given us in our nation’s service men and women!  We must not take that blessing for granted, nor overlook it.

Because these men and women are worthy of our honor, I want ABC to stand up and celebrate our local heroes on Veteran’s Day weekend, Sunday November 8th.  On that date, we are going to have a “Wall of Honor” in our lobby.  This wall will feature names, photos, and biographical details of men and women who have served (or are currently serving) our nation.  I would like to ask you to help us honor the heroes in your life.  If you, or any of your relatives, have served (or are currently serving) in any of our armed services, I’d like to invite you to submit their information for our Wall of Honor display.  This wall will proudly showcase the names and faces of ABC’s heroes so that our entire church family can honor and recognize them together on November 8th.  If you have not done so already, please submit information on each veteran by using this FORM, or you can fill out a hard copy in the Great Hall on Sunday.  It will be a Sunday you won’t want to miss as we proudly celebrate these men and women, and we’ll hear a special testimony from Vietnam POW and ABC church member, Ken Wallingford.

I hope you have either made the time, or have scheduled a time, to get out and vote!  Going to the polls is one of the best ways you can honor these men and women who bravely fought to protect our freedom.  Bethany and I casted our first votes in Austin, TX this past Monday.  Make sure you plan to do the same, and make your voice known through the 2020 ballot box.  Vote for men and women who stand up for policies that express our Christian values, and join me in prayer for the leaders that God will appoint in this new season.  Invite someone to join you this weekend, and I look forward to worshipping with you as we press on to Daniel chapter 6.

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Growing Pains

This past week Bethany and I took the kids shopping.  With cooler temperatures on the horizon, we knew we had to get our kiddos some clothes for their winter wardrobe.  When you have young children in the home, this is typically an annual occurrence.  Temperatures begin to drop, and parents begin to realize that none of their kids’ clothes fit from last year.  Old jackets are too tight, pants are too short, and moms and dads flood to the same stores to frantically keep their kids warm.  And on those days every parent is reminded of an uncomfortable truth: kids are expensive!  In fact, the USDA estimates that the average parent spends nearly $300,000 on each of their children from birth to 18.  This number of course does not include college, weddings, and future expenditures to help our children launch into independence.  The reality is as our children continue to grow, their need for resources continues to grow with them.

It’s amazing how this same truth applies to the church: as our church family begins to grow, our need for more resources continues to grow with it.  These types of resources can be vast and broad, from high-ticket items like facilities and AV resources, to more curriculum and programs to meet ministry needs.  However, the biggest resource that growing churches need is people.  Church family, you are our greatest resource in the church.  We are in the people-business and it takes people to minister to people.  And for us to reach this city and minister to those that God brings our way, we need a fresh wave of volunteers to step up and meet the needs of our church family.  And this is the way God designed His church to grow.  You and I were not made to sit in the bleachers at church, we were made to get in the game.  Peter reminds us, “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace” (1 Peter 4:10).

When you professed Christ in your life, the Holy Spirit sealed you and enabled you through the power of His presence.  He came into your life to serve as a guarantee for your future inheritance (Ephesians 1:14), but also to equip you with a spiritual gift(s) to contribute to the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:7-8).  If you are a born-again believer, God has given you at least one spiritual gift, and for many of you, he’s given you many spiritual gifts.  I would simply ask you, “are you using it to serve one another?”  If not, this Sunday is a great opportunity for you to change that.

Due of our present growth, we have lots of pressing needs in our church.  Our volunteer teams are thin, and we need people to rise up to help us meet the needs of our church in both of our worship services.  So this Sunday after each of our worship services, we are going to have a condensed ministry fair in the Great Hall.  We are focusing on 5 specific ministry areas that are our present greatest needs.  I will talk more about this on Sunday, but I would encourage you to go ahead and begin praying over what area God might be calling you to step up in.  We presently need volunteers added to the following service teams: Greeters, Ushers, Guest Information/Check-in, Media Ministries, and Kids Care. 

I trust that you will commit to serve as a “good steward of God’s varied grace,” and make plans to use your gifts to build up His church.  What an exciting opportunity to come alongside God and be a part of what He’s doing in this church family!  Trust me, it’s always more fun to be in the game than to be a spectator.  I look forward to seeing you this weekend as we unpack Daniel chapter 5.  Invite a friend and I look forward to seeing you there.

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Roots of Faith

Last week I finally found the time to knock out some yard work around the house.  As you all know, we have been in the process of settling into our house this past month, and for the last several weeks, I have been focusing on the inside of our home.  However, last weekend I was able to shift my attention to the outside since most of my indoor projects had been checked off the list.  So I spent a few hours outside knocking out small projects from pulling weeds, to trimming hedges, to doing the typical mow/edge/blow lawncare maintenance.  But I also made time to plant a small shrub in our backyard.  We had brought it with us from Houston in a pot, but I wanted to get it into the ground so we could watch it take root and fully grow at our new home.  However, I know that growth will be a process.  It will not grow immediately, as it will take time for those roots to adjust to the new soil.  But I also know that when it does fully take root, it will certainly bear fruit and flourish in the years to come.

In the Scriptures, Jesus says our church’s growth is likewise contingent on the health of our roots.  If we want to see our church grow, we must each independently focus on our own roots in this season.  Jesus reminds us in John 15:5, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”  In this famous verse, Jesus gives both a promise and a warning.  He promises that if we abide (or root ourselves) in Him, we will bear much fruit.  The fruit of the spirit will begin to manifest itself more fully in our individual lives, and the Spirit of God will manifest Himself more clearly in the life of our church.  Churches grow when its members are fully committed to the reign and rule of Jesus Christ in their lives.  We as a church family then begin to bear fruit.  Marriages are healed, children are discipled, sin is broken, and lives are forever changed.  That is the kind of fruit that we all want to see at ABC, but it will only come if we daily plant ourselves in Him.  As followers of Christ, we can only control the depth of our faith, and He then takes care of the width.  As we go deeper in Him, it’s amazing to then watch how He widens our impact for Him.

But I also said the verse comes with a warning.  Jesus boldly reminds us that apart from him, “you can do nothing.”  If we do not plant ourselves daily in him, we will never see the spiritual fruit we want in our lives.  Sin will continue to trip us up, our flesh will fail, and our relationships will begin to hurt.  Simply put, we cannot walk in faith without a daily dependence in Him.  Likewise, if we do not take root in Him individually, our collective church will never bear the fruit we want to see.  It will not grow, lives won’t be changed, the next generation won’t be reached, and the church will not be alive unless we fully devote ourselves to Him.  Church growth begins with each of us.

Fortunately, we are beginning to see some amazing fruit in our church.  I do believe many of us are planting deep roots, and because of that, God is blessing our church family.  We have seen nearly a 40% increase in attendance in the last 8 weeks.  Our contemporary service had over 160 people last Sunday, and every week it is averaging more people than it had at this time last year, pre-pandemic.  We have multiple baptisms scheduled for this month, and we’ve joined new members the last several weeks.  We had over 30 first time visitors fill out cards on campus the past 3 weeks.  New staff members have joined our team, dozens of new deacons have been recommended, and giving has been tremendous.  I hope you can see that God is moving, and our church is bearing amazing fruit.

But that being said, I don’t want us to lose focus on the cause.  Firm roots lead to a fruitful harvest.  Commit yourself to be more fully rooted in Him this week than you were last.  And if you do, I truly believe the best is yet to come.  Invite a friend to join you this Sunday, and I hope to see you in Worship this weekend.