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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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

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.

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.