One Day, Heaven…

I’m sure there are many other churches like ours. But I tend to think that the numbers are not large. If you drive a mile or less in one direction, you find homes in the million dollar range. Drive the same distance in the other direction and you find a tent city of homeless people. Between those extremes are people at all socio-economic and educational levels as well as cultural backgrounds. And, if you look around during a worship service, you see a snapshot of our community. I’ve always appreciated the fact that we are a multi-generational and multi-cultural church, but the significance of that fact recently settled in on me more deeply than ever.

On Good Friday we have a Drop-in Lord’s Supper. People are able to come as family groups, individually, or with a friend or two. They can spend time in quiet, personal worship and preparation for receiving the Lord’s Supper, remembering the sacrificial death of Christ. We have tables set with the elements at the altar with our staff spread out at the tables. As families or groups are ready, they may come to one of the tables where they share scripture and experience a time of remembrance and thanksgiving for God’s gift in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

As I finished praying for one of our families who have been long-time, faithful members and both successful and stable through the years, I looked up to see one of our newest couples. Financial success has escaped them. Having used all of their resources in a move to Austin from the far northwest on the promise of a job, they discovered that the job didn’t exist. They’ve been caught in a frustrating cycle. Without an address, most places won’t accept their job application. On top of that, most businesses now want applications filled out on line and interviews arranged by email. But they have no computer and the tent they occupy has no electricity. We’ve set up computers and our church family has provided some wonderful help to them and others who find themselves in the same situation. But that’s another story.

As I looked at these two contrasting families I was overwhelmed with thankfulness for God’s goodness to all of us. It doesn’t matter what we have or don’t have. It doesn’t matter whether we live in a home worth hundreds of thousands, or in a tent. It doesn’t matter if we arrive in a nice car or we walk. When we come to the Lord’s Table and to the cross, the ground is level. I knew that, but the reality became more powerful than ever to me that night as I looked at a living demonstration of that truth. We all come to the cross with a need that we have no hope of supplying. No matter what our resources, they are woefully inadequate.

I also thanked God for the privilege of being part of a church family who has opened wide its arms to all. It’s not just a church that allows people to come who are different from themselves. AMBC is a church that embraces people and walks with them into the presence of a Savior who has leveled the ground for all of us at the foot of the cross. It’s a taste of what heaven holds for us as we will worship together with every tribe, language, people and nation.


Empty Promises

PromisesPromises_580x326I listened to the weather report this morning as the meteorologist predicted the change in our weather for the days ahead. When one of the news anchors teased about the accuracy of the report, the meteorologist responded with a humorous disclaimer by saying,”I just try not to be wrong every day.”

Her words brought a knowing smile as I thought back to the three days prior. We’re in a drought in Texas. It’s the worst drought in about 60 years. When the weather forecast calls for rain, we want that forecast to be accurate. We’re looking for a sure thing. And that was the forecast for last Friday, Saturday and Sunday – three days of rain. But Friday came and went with no rain. Saturday did the same. On Sunday, a few drops hit my windshield, but I could have counted them all on one hand. It was just another empty promise from those who are supposed to know something about our future weather. I know they can’t be totally accurate. But it’s disheartening to count on something you not only want, but something you really need, only to find it to be an empty promise.

As I smiled at the disclaimer from the meteorologist, I thought of how grateful I am that Jesus needs no such disclaimer. He said, “Just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” And, after His burial, the chief priests and Pharisees went to Pilate and said, “Sir, we remember how that impostor (Jesus) said, while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise.’ Therefore order the tomb to be made secure…”

But no disclaimer was necessary. There was no 70% chance or 90% chance. There was only the promise. “Bury Me, and in three days I will rise!” Death could not hold the author of life. And when we trust Him and rely, without question, on His promise of life, death will not hold us either. And we don’t even have to wait three days for our resurrection. To be absent from the body, Paul said, is to be present with the Lord. No empty promises and no disappointments.

As you celebrate Easter, thank the Lord Jesus for the fact that we can live in light of His sure promises. He offers no disclaimers and we experience no disappointments.



The Busyness Trap

BusynessIt’s that time of year. April 15th is only a week away. My CPA recently told me that the “normal” hours no longer exist during this season. Days begin early and often go until 2 a.m., leaving only a few hours to rest before beginning again. Thankfully, that doesn’t continue throughout the year. But that conversation struck a cord with me as I have been battling my own to-do list lately.

Life has its seasons. Not just the four seasons, but seasons that relate to a stage of change or of responsibilities, schedules and activity. Those seasons are not always predictable. Life seems to be running smoothly and then, you look at your calendar and find that there just don’t seem to be enough hours to get it all done. I’ve been in one of those seasons lately. It can be frustrating. But God has recently given me some needed insight into this season of busyness.

First of all, I have discovered that I have become a victim of the digital age. Technology is a wonderful tool, but it also has its dangers. One of those is the threat of encroachment – the fact that we are always available to our work and to others. My digital devices can set and control my schedule. As a result, there is little opportunity for rest or quiet periods that leave room for our minds and spirits to take some needed sabbatical hours. As a result, I don’t start the day with a renewed joy because I never really left work. I left the office, but not work. I stayed connected, even working while semi-engaged in what is supposed to be a relaxing time at home. So I have a hard time getting back to work the next day because I never really left work. It becomes a cycle that wears me down and makes me less productive while constantly working. Pascal once said, “I have often said that the sole cause of man’s unhappiness is that he does not know how to stay quietly in his room.” In our digital age, that statement is more true than ever. I have too often bought the lie of believing that every possible moment must be given to getting the work done and being constantly available. But the truth is, a schedule that allows for some time away from my work will allow me to focus on work when I should be working. Staying plugged in makes me less effective, not more.

The second lesson is a reminder of the fact that my plans are not the ones that matter most. Yes, I should have plans and goals. But I also need margin in my schedule which allows for the unexpected that God brings into my day. Psalm 146:4 says, “When his breath departs, … on that very day his plans perish.”  One day my life will end and my plans will perish as well. When that day comes I don’t want my legacy to be the fact that I was a busy man. I want it to be a legacy that demonstrates the value of knowing Christ and enjoying life in the pursuit of His plans. I want His to-do list to dominate my calendar. When that happens, frustration gives way to fulfillment. That’s the season I want to live in. How about you?


Maybe I’m a Millennial

America’s largest generation consists of nearly 79 million individuals who were born between 1980 and 2000. They are known as Millennials. So, by age category, I don’t qualify as a Millennial. But when it comes to some of the views of those in their twenties and early thirties in this generation regarding worship and the church, I can count myself as one of them.

Thom Rainer, President and CEO of LifeWay, also leads a respected research group and has researched and written about the Millennials. In a recent blog he refers to new conclusions from his research regarding worship style preferences of this younger generation. When asked what worship style they preferred; traditional, contemporary, or some spectrum of blended styles; the answer was somewhat surprising. The overwhelming response was “none of the above.” Style of worship is really not their focus at all. Instead, says Rainer, they are looking for worship and music that have three major elements.

First, they want the music to have rich content. They want to sing songs that have deep biblical and theological truths. That desire is demonstrated by the fact that they are gravitating toward hymns that are being revived or re-styled. As an example, Rainer points out that the hymnody of musicians Keith and Kristyn Getty have taken the Millennials by storm. They are not in a new cycle of the worship wars. They’re not interested in that. They are looking, instead, for depth and richness of content in the songs of worship.

Secondly, these Millennials want authenticity in a worship service. They are not interested in a performance and can sense when both leaders and those in the congregation are just going through the motions. In other words, these young adults are not interested in something “canned” or a production. They want authentic worship.

And lastly, they want quality in a worship service. The quality grows out of the authenticity they expect, along with the preparation of the worship leaders both spiritually and in the planning. Size of the church is not important if the quality is present.

And one further general insight gained is the fact that Millennials, along with a sizable number of seekers in their generation, are moving toward churches where the teaching and preaching is given a high priority and the members are focused on serving the community and the world.  They’re not interested in fighting over non-essentials. According to Thom Rainer, “Their focus is on theologically rich music, authenticity, and quality that reflects adequate preparation in time and prayer.

In light of the research and in spite of my age, I know I’m a Millennial. And you?