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.

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.

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.

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.

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.