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!

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.

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.

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.