Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Bless Bastrop Project

Grace is setting out to be a light in the darkness right here in Bastrop, LA. This is our "Jerusalem" & we want to serve our city through hard work, generosity, & the love of the Gospel. Several Sunday nights have been set aside for service in our local community. Our prayer is this will instill within us a greater heart to serve others as Jesus did. We need to be reminded as well as display to others we don't exists for ourselves but the world around us.

Our great group of volunteers showed up Sunday afternoon ready to serve. We've adopted the part across the street from our church & we're renovating the playground equipment. Another team picked up trash at the park & 3 local school campuses. Others went to a local grocery store to bag groceries, carry & load groceries, retrieve buggies, & greet customers with a smile. The overall purpose of this initiative is to be a blessing to our town. We want to get outside the walls of the church & love our neighbors as ourselves. We had a blast serving together & many have expressed excitement in the next opportunity to serve.

Some of our volunteers were able to share the Gospel with people we met at various places in town, but most of us were able to be a positive example of love & service to others. Here are some pictures from Sunday afternoon.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

My Sports Buddy

I'm glad I've got a friend to watch Ranger games with me.

I'm even happier I have a friend to watch Razorback games with me.

Who says there's not a "man gene" somewhere in our DNA from birth?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

A Visit from the Governor

Sunday we had the privilege of having Governor Bobby Jindal share his personal testimony of his faith in Jesus Christ in our morning worship service. The Governor tries to spend many Sundays a year speaking in churches, not as a political event, but as a ministry opportunity. Yes there were aspects of his message that felt political (such as discussing various things that have happened during his tenure) but the primary focus was telling his story.

I was impressed with his personal nature & receptivity to meet, take pictures, & sign autographs with everyone who wanted after the service. He truly left an impression on our church & others from the community who attended that we have a caring, Christian Governor who puts effort into helping the entire state of Louisiana. He challenged us to continue to plant seeds of the Gospel b/c his testimony recognized the various seeds planted in his life along the way, eventually leading to his salvation. He also encouraged the importance of prayer for one another.

My prayer through this experience, as I clearly shared the gospel at the end of the service, is that Bastrop & the surrounding community will see Jesus in us & allow us to transform this community for Him. I'm hoping many who attended (290 people) we're exposed to the love & acceptance of our church family. I'm committed to praying for Governor Jindal & our entire government system & I hope you will too.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Grace Gives Back (pt. 3)

A little more than a week removed from the beginning of our churchwide emphasis "Grace Gives Back", I want to try to explain how we went from conception to reality. 1st & foremost, my heart as a pastor was burdened to lead a church to be a driving force in meeting needs in our local community. We're to be Great Commission & Great Commandment people. Too many Christians live w/ blinders on & only focus on the needs of those immediately around us at home & in the church (& many times we miss those too).

I knew the "honeymoon" phase of being a new pastor would soon wear off as it always does. I felt we needed to do something meaningful & impactful soon to continue the momentum of the 1st few months. Spending much time in prayer, meetings, & brainstorming I felt this concept of giving back to our people so they could be empowered to be a blessing was what we needed to do.

Our staff discussed many things & this idea came up a time or two (aware it wasn't original w/ us). I then attended a one day event called "THR3E" @ Elevation Church in Charlotte, NC. This event radically confirmed many things in my heart as well as opened my eyes to many things. When getting the rare privilege to talk directly with Pastor Steven Furtick for only a couple of minutes I shared my situation & we talked personally. Then before I walked away he encouraged me to "do something big, & do it now." I left that event & on the flight home that evening had a headache from information overload. After processing all I had experienced I shared w/ my staff about what I felt God taught me. Soon after we talked about doing something to kick off the Fall ministry of our church & I was told by a staff member Elevation had done this one Sunday (I wasn't aware they had done it, but maybe that was the "big" thing we needed to do). Long story short, God put all the pieces in place & used Pastor Steven to confirm this vision from God.

This decision wasn't made on a whim. It was a process we struggled through for awhile, but the end result has blown us away. We're beginning to see what a New Testament church is supposed to look like. God has overwhelmed us w/ His glory in numerous ways. There were times I questioned whether this was the right thing to do or not & if it would have the desired impact. All along the way God has given us confirmation. I plan to share stories of God's blessings every week for who knows how long. We'll eventually post them on here or our new website so others can be blessed through this project. God is changing lives right before our eyes & using us in the process...there's no greater privilege this side of heaven!

I end by giving an example of God's confirmation in a practical way. Since we gave away a week's worth of offerings & didn't receive any that Sunday, we gave up 2 weeks of offerings essentially. The Sunday BEFORE we did this (& only 6 or 7 people knew about it) our offering was a little more than double the weekly average. God blessed before as if to put His seal of approval on it. We expected God to bless & make up for it the following Sunday & boy did He ever. The Sunday AFTER we did this our offering was a little more than triple the weekly average.

YOU CAN'T OUT GIVE GOD! Let's continue to give in response to the great mercies God has given us. Be a blessing, whether you are a member of our church or not. I look forward to sharing God's stories as a result of this in the future.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Grace Gives Back (pt. 2)

God is truly revolutionizing the hearts of His people as a result of Sunday. I have received some incredibly encouraging phone calls & emails telling stories of what events have taken place in their lives & the ways God is leading them to be a blessing to others. As a pastor there are times when I cringe hearing the phone ring or seeing a list of emails, but lately I am eager everytime the phone rings or messages appear in my inbox due to the excitement of what God is doing.

Today I want to share a little bit more about why we gave cash $ away in church on Sunday & didn't accept anyone's financial gift. Above all we did this because God lead us to this decision & affirmed it in many ways. Let me share a couple ofthings this project is NOT:
  • It was not a publicity stunt for media attention or to trick people into coming to church. (If the media wants to cover this story as a result of what God is doing, great, but in no way are we attempting to draw attention from them)
  • It was not merely copying what other churches have done. (I am aware this idea is not original to me or our church. We seek not to copy other churches but we are willing to learn from them & use their ideas effectively in our context if God so leads)

Here are several core reasons we felt led to implement "Grace Gives Back":

  • To empower our people in a practical way to be a blessing to those outside our normal circle of influence.
  • To instill a greater sense of awareness in our hearts & minds of the people & needs around us we might easily ignore or fail to recognize.
  • To let our congregation & the surrounding community we are serious about reaching out (into the community) rather than merely reaching in (to ourselves inside the church).
  • To ultimately emphasize the condition of your heart is more important than your money.
  • To show the community we love them & are willing to reach out to them & meet their needs with the love of Jesus Christ.
  • To give a renewed sense of stewardship, not only financially, but in every area of our lives.

My prayer is this emphasis will revolutionize our hearts & instill within our souls the ability to "love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, & strength. And to love your neighbor as yourself."

Later I hope to share the process leading up to Sunday & how God orchestrated such a great opportunity in our church.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Grace Gives Back

Wow, what an incredible day we had yesterday in church. If you missed it, you truly missed a blessing. God challenged our entire church to go out & be a blessing to those outside our circle. A few months ago God laid on my heart an emphasis to empower our people to bless others. As a staff we decided to schedule a Sunday where, instead of receiving an offering as we do every week in our morning worship service, we would give what we normally receive away.

I went to our Finance Team & requested the money. We took the money(several thousand dollars) & divided it into increments from $5 to $500. I wrote a letter explaining the project & we inserted the money into envelopes w/ the letter. I preached a message from Matthew 25:14-30 on the Parable of the Talents. Then I explained, much to the shock of most, we wouldn't be taking the offering instead we would be giving it away. I told them it was the ONLY Sunday they were to take something out of the offering baskets rather than put something in.

I spent time explaining the purpose of why we were doing it & gave these rules:
  • You must use this money to bless someone outside your circle (not your closest family, friends, or fellow church members)
  • Tell us what you did with your money so we can use your story of generosity to bless others.

During the time of invitation the altar was flooded w/ individuals, couples, & families surrendering to God. God opened many eyes to the vast array of needs around us everyday that we miss or choose to ignore. This project will hopefully make us more aware of the hurting & needy around us & how easy it sometimes is to be a blessing in Jesus name. We're collecting the stories of how God is using this & we plan on sharing them over the next few months.

Throughout this week I hope to share more details of the process of making the decision to do this & the desired impact it can have on our community. We pray this is the beginning of a brand new chapter in the life of our church.

Monday, August 10, 2009

10 Month Pics

So we missed taking the 8 & 9 months pictures b/c we were moving, distracted, & just didn't get it done. Cade turned 10 months old on the 4th of July which is why he's sporting the "I Love the USA" gear. He's now over 11 months old so I'll get those pics posted soon hopefully. Poor lighting, sorry.
The mischievous grin while attempting to escape from the chair.
He cooperated well for these pics.
He's such a sweet, good boy.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Past the Provision

Eating lunch out the other day with my wife & son reminded me of something many of us selfishly do on a regular basis. In order to entertain our son while we eat we usually give him toys & snacks on the table in front of him. He kept reaching & stretching for the little tupperware bowl of snacks in the middle of the table. We had to sit him back in his high chair & show him the snack that had been placed right in front of him. Single snacks were being provided for him, yet he couldn't see it right in front of him b/c he was too busy looking for the bowl full of snacks.

Too often we want the whole bowl, or the bigger blessing (car, clothes, house, etc.), when God has given us what we need right in front of us. We miss the provision & blessings of God b/c we want what He doesn't allow us to have.

Open your eyes & see what God has provided right in front of you, be thankful for it, & accept it graciously rather than overlooking it by fixing your mind on something you don't really need.

A friend was leading in prayer to receive the offering not long ago & the opening line of his prayer pierced my heart: "Lord thank you for what you provide for us & for what you keep from us." Let that be your prayer today & everyday.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Next Generation

When I came to Grace over 6 months ago I made it clear we were going to be a church committed to reaching the next generation for Jesus Christ. Our ministry to children, youth, & young adults is top priority. We love our older generation & much of what we do couldn't happen without them, but our primary purpose will be raising up a new generation of Christians. Though our vision is still being developed as we seek God, the excitement about what God is doing is growing.

2 weeks ago we baptized 6 teenagers in our AM Worship Service with one more scheduled to be baptized soon. We also have at least one child preparing for baptism as a result of VBS. After evaluating our current ministry system we're now beginning to make changes to further enhance our efforts in providing meaningful ministry to children & youth. It can't be summarized in a few words or maybe even an essay but let me share a few principles & concepts that are vital to our vision.

1. We won't water-down Biblical truth. People are starving for truth in today's society & there are lots of places people can go to receive "feel good" religion. We don't dumb down when preaching to students or teaching children. We wrestle with the hard questions & difficult issues facing this next generation. We do our best to make Biblical truth relevant & present it in a way it can be understood.

2. We make discipleship a priority. Too many people make decisions to follow Jesus & then are left to fend for themselves in figuring out how to take the next step in the Christian life. We are working to offer numerous discipleship opportunities for all ages so spiritual growth can take place. In fact, our entire Sunday evening emphasis is shifting to discipleship this upcoming Fall. The Great Commission calls us to disciple & multiply, therefore we intend on training this next generation to become fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ in hopes they can reach their generation & the ones to come for Jesus.

3. We focus less on rules & more on relationship. Obeying God's commands are important but we want to create an atmosphere of love & acceptance among those in our church & community. A loving, accepting fellowship is important to helping others know church is where they belong. Spending time building relationships is crucial to effectively reaching & maintaining the younger generation. We have great volunteers committed to loving & accepting all who walk through our doors.

4. We believe in missions. Our heart is to serve in our community & beyond with the message of the Gospel. God has planted us right here in Bastrop so that's where we will begin. We plan to serve & love the community around us through various projects & eventually extend beyond local missions & help reach the world for Jesus. Our students are planning service projects on their own initiative & our prayer is this will become contagious among the adults!

5. We pray. God will not bless what He does not initiate. Our vision must be God's vision. We place a great emphasis on prayer throughout all the ministries of our church. We pray for His initiative, His wisdom, & His strength to endure. The New Testament church was committed to prayer & if we want to be a truly Biblical church, we must be a church that places a high priority on prayer.

May God give us His wisdom & power to reach future generations for Jesus Christ.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Our 4th Anniversary

Last week we celebrated our 4th wedding anniversary. This was the 1st one as parents (though last year Erin was 7 months pregnant). I planned an overnight trip to Jackson, MS since neither of us had been there & it was only a couple of hours away. It was a surprise to Erin. I told her a couple of days before we were going somewhere alone overnight. I made arrangements for the baby & took care of all the plans. We had a blast & as much as we love our son it was refreshing to get away for a couple of days. We ate a LOT, went to a movie, & actually did as much or more shopping as we did eating.

The movie we saw was "The Proposal" & I must say it's a quality flick. We laughed out loud so many times throughout the movie & we were able to stay interested in the plot until the end & surprisingly it wasn't a cheesy, predictable chick flick. I look forward for the next opportunity to get away for a fun trip. I am truly blessed to have a wonderful Christian wife who is an incredible mother to our son & a source of strength for me in my ministry.

Lunch when we got there was good, it's a lot like McAllister's but with significantly more options on the menu. We really enjoyed it.
We had a nice dinner at this wonderful Italian place, the food was wonderful & made for a wonderful dining experience.
Erin's chicken dish.
My Chicken Parmesean (by the way the portions were huge though you might not can tell from the pictures)

I took her to one of her all-time favorite places for lunch the next day before heading home.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Catching Up

After a "blogging vacation" I'm back in the groove. We've since moved into a house we bought & so our time moving, unpacking, & travelling has consumed the last month or so of our lives. We're having a blast enjoying the summer as we gear up for what hopes to be a high impact ministry for the Fall Semester. I was sorting through some pics of the last couple of months & wanted to share some. Our boy is almost 10 months He's crawling (army style), pulling up on everything & thinks he's ready to walk but he doesn't understand his legs don't work that good yet. Just chillin' w/ that goofy grin on his face.
His 1st swimming pool, though when he gets in the big pool he already thinks he's a fish.
Before he started pulling up & hanging over the edge of the crib (which we've since lowered to the lowest level) we would find him like this after a nap or in the morning. He was looking to see when someone was going to let him out of prison.
Already into everything. He thinks it's cool he can crawl across the coffee table & as you can see the spit up doesn't slow him down.
We participated in our church's Parent Commitment Service on Mother's Day.
Another shot from under the table.
He doesn't know how to ride it yet, but enjoys sitting on his car & always looks cool in his sunglasses.
Big sister Molly still isn't real fond of him yet, especially now that he's mobile but we were able to get this rare shot before she abandon's ship. If Molly only knew how much he loved her & how excited she gets when he sees her she would treat him nicer.
Sea Creatures outfit wouldn't be complete w/o the hat (with the bill that is impossible to shape right).
Our happy boy playing w/ all his toys. This is a rare shot b/c after sitting a few seconds he's on his belly & off to something he's not supposed to have.

Monday, May 11, 2009

A Bright Future

I get numerous comments at the end of our worship services while greeting people in the lobby. We had a big crowd here yesterday which meant lots of comments (mostly all good ones) but one stuck out at me:

"You've got a bright future ahead of you young man."

He had generous compliments on the service & my message but I couldn't quit thinking about that particular sentence all day long. One sweet lady told me if I ever preached a better sermon I would have to work real hard b/c she loved it...that lifted me up but I already had this previous comment burned into my mind.

Was I encouraged by it? Yes & no.

Yes, because it means God used me to have an impact on his life during the service & knowing I did good for God's glory meant something.

No, because as much as I want a bright future what I'm striving for daily in my ministry is a bright present. The future isn't guaranteed & God has called me to be a difference maker NOW. The future needs to have bright potential b/c if it doesn't then either I'm not doing a good job or I've maxed out my potential & my potential needs to continue to increase until I get to heaven!

I don't know about you, but I'm not going to patiently sit & wait on my bright future, I'm going to give it my all to shine bright today & hope for the opportunity to shine bright tomorrow.

(Disclaimer: I don't over-analyze every comment. I need to be encouraged & take genuine compliments to heart. And I hope he was right about my future.)

Friday, May 8, 2009

Missed Opportunities

Flying home from the Thr3e conference in North Carolina last week put on by Elevation Church I had the privilege of sitting next to a young man my age who was flying back home on business. We small-talked some & then I decided I wasn't going to miss my opportunity to witness to him (sad to say like I do more often than not). He claimed growing up Catholic. I proceeded to ask what the Catholic church believes about Heaven. I could tell he didn't have a solid belief in much of anything though he said before this he was "spiritual" and prayed some but that was it. His intention was to get back in church once they had children.

We had a good & interesting conversation about various things as I used every opportunity to interject about my faith & Christianity. I finally got bold & at one point asked what they believed about Jesus. He quickly became uncomfortable & as I pursued an answer he very politely & uncomfortably said he would rather not talk any more about it & that he had some work to do on his computer. I almost forced a speed of light salvation talk on him but chose to remain quiet.

He initiated some more conversation about general stuff but never ventured near spiritual issues again. After getting off the plane I shook his hand, asked his name again & wished him well. Walking out of the airport I was BUMMED. I missed another opportunity b/c I was a coward & couldn't come out & boldly say what I needed to.

Sitting in bed I shared my guilt & frustration w/ Erin. She quickly changed the tone of the conversation & informed me I did the best I could & forcing it upon him probably would have done more harm than good. I didn't believe her at first, but her wisdom (thank God I have a wife who many times gives a fresh & insightful perspective) helped me process that encounter & maybe she was right.

I shared this w/ our men's group at church this week & shared my disappointment & I was overwhelmed at their disbelief in my seemingly missed opportunity. They were pumped up & encouraged feeling as if I was sensitive to the Holy Spirit & not overbearing, leaving this young man w/ a positive encounter w/ a Christian who cared about him & respected him.

A seed was planted & now prayers are being offered for this man to encounter Jesus in some way. Could I have done more...maybe. But I laid the foundation for the next person who cares enough about his life to share Jesus w/ him. I was a compassionate friend who didn't show judgment or disrespect.

Be BOLD in sharing your faith. Fear not, God will give you the courage & the dialogue. At the same time, realize every seed you plant God may one day choose to water & sprout to life.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

7 Month Pics

Our little boy is growing up way too fast, but we're trying to soak up every moment. His hair is getting a shade darker & filling in a little more on the sides. He babbles more & more & we can see his motor skills improving each day. I hope in the next couple of days to post some pics we've taken of Cade over the last month or two

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Person God Wants Me to Be

The world tries to tell us what we should be. Our peers try to tell us what we should be. But what does God want us to be? He wants us to be fully devoted followers of Him. Over the next several weeks we'll be looking at a few key characteristics of what it takes to be the person God wants us to be. For those who want to better understand how to live the Christian life, this series is for you.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Happy Easter

What a great day! Our church service this morning had a dynamic spirit I'm not sure I've ever experienced in my ministry. The preaching was simple, but passionate. God filled my heart with a message a couple of months ago that overwhelmed me. I felt God gave me this message for Easter. Great crowd, incredible worship, & praying many lives are changed as a result.

We had a church Easter Bash on Saturday for the children which was a good success. Cade looked sweet in his Easter duds. We took his pics yesterday because of the weather today. I will post some pics, but check out Erin's blog to see more.

I hope you all had a great weekend celebrating our risen Savior Jesus Christ. May God give you victory over whatever circumstances you're facing in your life as a result of His overwhelming power over death.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Who's to Blame?

"Train a child in the way he should go, & when he is old he will not turn from it" (Proverbs 22:6)

I hear people all the time say things about the younger generation & children today behave worse, learn less, & basically aren't the same as kids were in the "good 'ole days" (whatever that means). I understand the pressures of culture, technology, & the busy-ness of life. It's a rough world we live in today, but who's to blame for how kids turn out when they grow up? I believe Scripture puts an immense responsibility on parents when it comes to children. I know, some will say no matter how good of an environment they provided for their children they still turned out screwed up or whatever.

Many times I tend to give kids the benefit of the doubt when their behavior is sub-par in my opinion. I always wonder what's going on at home or not going on at home that influences this behavior. Let me give you an example of what I experienced on Monday afternoon:

I was in Wal-mart (where it seems we spend a large part of our time & money) waiting on a prescription for Cade. I went back to sporting goods to get my LA fishing license & encountered a sad scene. A mother & another lady had 2 children w/ them & were looking at baseball gloves for the young boy (my guess is 6 or 7 yrs old). The mother got my attention when she was screaming & cussing at this little boy b/c he didn't know how to put the glove on right. If I repeated what she said on here I would probably lose my job, but trust me it was embarassing me & I was 20 ft away!

The little boy was crying & couldn't defend himself b/c the mother was berating him & throwing gloves around. At one point she said something like "hurry up before we get kicked out of wal-mart" (w/ a few choice words mixed in). People were staring & security was almost called before a male associate arrived & helped the boy try on a glove, figure out if he was right or left-handed, & provided the irate, stupid, irresponsible woman who doesn't deserve in my opinion to have the privilege of being a mom, with the right glove.

I walked away at that point & my blood was boiling. I honestly wanted to go help the boy but didn't for fear of getting beat up or sued or something, but more so I wanted to punch the woman in the face (sorry, God & I are working on the anger thing) & give her a piece of my mind. After walking away I prayed for them asking God to dramatically reveal himself to them.

Will this boy when he grows up have to take responsibility for his actions...absolutely. Can we as parents be perfect in raising our children...absolutely not (I'll admit I'm far from it, but I'm striving to do my best everyday w/ God's help). But if we as parents take responsibility NOW for the way we're raising, or not raising, our kids maybe the younger generation wouldn't be so "horrible" in society's eyes.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Opportunities for Obedience

2 perspectives on being obedient to God:

1. "I have to be obedient to God & follow his rules or else..." (Obligation)
2. "I get the privilege of being obedient to God when He gives me opportunity" (Opportunity)

Which line of thought do you usually take?

Let me give an example:

I was talking to J on the phone this morning (he's a young crop farmer in our church). He was so excited to tell me something that happened to him yesterday. One of his farm hands (an 82 yr. old man) lost his last sibling the other day & had been down & disturbed by it. J was talking to him about it & felt compelled to ask whether he ever trusted Jesus w/ his life. The man said no but wanted to & right there on the farm prayed & trusted his life to Jesus. J not only encouraged him to share his good news w/ the other farm hands but J is going to church w/ him on Sunday & walking w/ him to publically profess his faith in Jesus.

J never said he felt the pressure of obligation, but rather became aware of the incredible opportunity God gave him to be obedient. When we see God giving us opportunities to be obedient & respond rather than only feeling the guilt of obligation to be obedient, it will not only change our perspective but begin to revolutionize our relationship with Jesus.

Pay attention today for the opportunities of obedience God will give you.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Our Little Leprechaun

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Molly's feelings would be hurt if we left her out of the fun!