What remains.

What remains.

As a young leader learning to deal with difficult people, I found the sage wisdom of an elderly mentor. Bick Moore was a retired Army colonel. He was full of stories and insights. In fact, after listening to me want to distance myself of a few hard-to-love personalities, he challenged me to “Drain the swamp”. I said, “Huh?…I don’t even know what that means.”  

Bick said, “The most fear on the battlefield was when you didn’t know where your enemy was hiding. David, we weren’t afraid of a sniper, when we knew where he was.” He said, “Drain the swamp” to know remove the doubt of where danger exists.

Life has a way of exposing us – bankruptcy, addiction, success, prodigal children, cancer, abundance, power, responsibilities, aging, divorce…all leave us vulnerable! It also reveals what we believe about God. 

When we’re drained by work, politics, human tragedy, family needs, and difficult people, what are the remnants of faith that surface? It’s so easy to let circumstances define faith INSTEAD of faith grounding us in an unchanging and present God! 

The basis for God’s intervention in our lives is because He is compassionate and gracious. Compassion means, “to suffer with”. God suffers with us in sickness, loss, fear AND selfishness and pride. That’s solidarity! And solidarity is compassion. God looks at our broken world—injustice, oppression, poor, marginalized and seeks to come alongside. So can we.

All of us possess a picture of God. Some accurate, some skewed. Exodus 34 is the only place in the entire Bible where God self-describes and, because of that, is epicenter to build (or heal) a theology of God. Join us on Sunday as we explore “God Who?” and grow a Living Faith.

God Who?

God Who?

Letters from a Skeptic, chronicles three years of correspondence between an agnostic father and a Christian son. The questions were brutally honest and the responses were gentle and articulate. I found myself asking many of the same questions as well as believing in the same truths. Ultimately, the father came to share his son’s belief in Christ.

Inspired by their conversation, this became the genesis of a group I began on the University of Alabama campus called, “God Who?—An open discussion on the purpose &/or existence of God”. Despite the innumerable churches populating the Deep South, many people left with bad experiences and gnawing doubts.  Our weekly group maintained an assumption that all of us are spiritually curious. Our time wasn’t about persuasive arguments. Rather, it was a safe place to raise questions, struggle with belief, and not all have to agree. And Christ was made known.

All of us possess a picture of God. Some accurate, at times skewed. However, Exodus 34 is the only place in the entire Bible where God self-describes and, because of that, is epicenter to build (or heal) a theology of God. This passage captures Moses' request for God’s presence, guidance and wisdom to lead. 

 What we learn is this…Faith doesn’t prevent us from struggle or doubt but it can help us see God in the midst of it.

What we find is that faith begins by knowing the nature of God. Like an expanding Thesaurus, the more we know about God’s character, the more we can know God’s heart. This new series, “God Who?” is a chance to grow or restore our belief, see our lives as an offering, SO THAT we can give away a Living Faith!

Under the Influence

Under the Influence

We’ve all seen, cringed, &/or probably laughed at alcohol’s effects. In a social experiment called 3 Glasses Project, a photographer captured the curious results after 1, 2 & 3 glasses of wine. We even have language to describe its influence: “liquid courage”, “take the edge off”, or “drown my sorrows”. And, of course, people under the influence are also prone to being louder, laughter, and affectionate.

Maybe, the way we relate to alcohol can offer us an idea of how we’re supposed to relate to the influence of Holy Spirit. We find clarifying moments in scripture apart from alcohol’s effects.

When it comes to being “under the influence” in the Christian life, it means we receive the Spirit’s guidance and strength. Not unlike alcohol, the infilling work of the Spirit provides the ability to step out in faith to do what doesn’t always come naturally.

Take compassion. It’s hard to be too concerned for homeless, cancer, unemployment, war, immigrants, mental illness, violence, abuse… UNLESS it personally affects us. Yet, when we sense the Holy Spirit at work in us (despite fear, discomfort, or convenience) the fruit of compassion always grows.

LENT / TGIF for FRI, Mar.30th: Practice Compassion. Find simple ways to express empathy.

  1. ray about what limits your empathy & compassion…fear, time, interest? Pray for eyes to see & meet a need that’s different than your own.
  2. Make a care package and give to someone you love or needs it.
  3. Do something for someone that they hate doing themselves.
  4. Let someone go in front of you in line or traffic.

 

New wealth

New wealth

In his book, Last Hour of Ancient Sunlight, Thom Hartmann meets with a Native American who lives in a mobile home a desert reservation pitifully lacking in anything but scrub brush, cactus, and dust. It’s what you might imagine – in a beat up old trailer, drives a 1970s Chevy with major body parts missing. He lived in middle of nowhere and got by bartering with neighbors for food, gasoline and clothes. His IRS tax form listed $500 last year. By any American standard, it’s poverty. But this is what he said… “I’m a rich man” while motioning his hand and finger round the reservation. If I get sick, there’s people that care for me. If I need food, my neighbors give me food. It always materializes from someone’s home. I know that I will not die alone. And when I get old, I’ll move in with someone because I’ll be a village elder. And they’ll revere me and want my wisdom and they’ll take care of me.

The author then asks his upwardly mobile friend, “What would you do if you lost your job?” “Probably find another”, he says. “Yeah, but what if there was a recession and you couldn’t?” “Well, I’ll probably lose my house shortly after.” He presses further, “What about if you got sick?” “No insurance! I couldn’t pay for healthcare without insurance!” He concludes: You can be wealthy but not secure. In the end, wealth is relational.

Friends, our budget is modest but we are RICH in faith, community, and mission! Biblical Community is where we discover our potential AND find our contribution. As Americans, I think takes practice to not simply approach as spiritual consumers of religious goods and services. Christian community is like a family that shares in the chores. It’s how we invest in each other, demonstrate care, and serve God.

Lent/“T.G.I.F” For Friday, Mar. 23rd…Practice Community. Discover the image of God in another. Be attentive. Share hope.

  1. Give undivided attention-Have a meal or extended conversation w/o checking your phone or watch once.
  2. Pick up a friend or neighbor’s kid(s) after school so they can enjoy a couple extra hours.
  3. Identify the difference Christ is making in you. Share it with one person. Invite someone to join you for Easter.

 

All in!

All in!

There’s a video making it’s rounds on social media What does it mean to be a child? So Good! It captures the imagination and adventure in children. It wasn't until I saw the video that I had an answer: Being a child means living as if consequences weren’t real.

Ever surprised by a child jumping into your arms? You weren’t expecting but caught ‘em. Barely. Jesus welcomes a ‘childlike’ faith SO THAT we can trust him with our lives without reservation. No matter how hard we’ve worked or overcome, everything is a gift from God – education, health, friendship, shelter, gifts, and the ability to generate an income. In other words, being a Christian is learning to see God as the Source and our lives as an offering.

When we talk about generosity, giving comes from 2 perspectives: Either, I give from my own resources - my earnings - my stuff… OR, I give from God’s provision – blessings - resources, which I’ve been entrusted to steward.

Unlike children, we often want to trust and then learn to GIVE. But, it’s only in giving that FAITH GROWS. We tend to think of giving as a trade off (this-for-that) but giving our entire life is the only way to new life!

God Cares for us as his own – Not indifference but intimately & personally. Spiritually, it’s means we learn to see – at every stage and every age – Christ at the center. This isn’t automatic! It requires a practice and a regular discipline to remind us who we are in light of who Christ is. We're invited to follow without reservation, to give our lives by going 'All in'!

Welcome to Lent because Easter is coming. New Life is within reach. Our Lent initiative to make each Friday good for another. With child-like faith, make a plan to practice generosity... 

  1. Make a charitable contribution as an act of faith.
  2. Put $$ in an expired parking meter or buy a 2 hr parking sticker & leave it stuck to machine for someone.
  3. Leave an exceptional tip (whether they deserve it or not). Decide to be generous as God is with you.
  4. Buy a strangers’ coffee anonymously, if possible.

 

Taking Inventory

Taking Inventory

How Can I Pray (& give up control without giving up)?

More than 400 years ago St. Ignatius Loyola encouraged a Daily prayer of Examen – a prayerful reflection on the events of the day in order to detect God’s presence & to discern his direction. A great way to pray is to look for God’s presence in your life.  Since we’re in the midst of Lent (prayer, sacrifice, & compassion) and talk about Rhythm of Renewal (i.e.  becoming more aware of God’s presence & turning as led), try this version of prayer on your own:

1.    Become aware of God’s presence. Look back on the events of a day/Wkd in the company of the Holy Spirit. If it helps, pick out one day this week that’s most memorable. The day or circumstances may seem confusing to you—a blur, a jumble, a muddle.  

  • Ask God to bring clarity and understanding…

2.    Review the day with gratitude. Gratitude is the foundation of our relationship with God. Walk through your day in the presence of God and note its joys and delights. Focus on the day’s gifts. Look at the work you did, the people you interacted with.

  • What did you receive from these people?
  • What did you give them?
  • It’s all a gift.  Pay attention to small things—the food you ate, the sights you saw, and other seemingly small pleasures. God is in the details.

3.    Pay attention to your emotions. One of St. Ignatius’s great insights was that we detect the presence of the Spirit of God in the movements of our emotions.

  • Reflect on the feelings you experienced during the day—Boredom? Excitement? Resentment? Compassion? Confidence? Inadequacy? Nervous? Condescension?
  • What is God saying through these feelings?
  • God will most likely show you some ways that you fell short. Make note of these sins & faults. But look deeply for other implications. Does a feeling of frustration perhaps mean that God wants you consider a new direction in some area of your work? Are you concerned about a friend? Perhaps you should reach out in some way.

4.    Choose one feature of the day and pray from it. Ask the Holy Spirit to direct you to something during the day that God thinks is particularly important. It may involve a feeling—positive or negative. It may be a significant encounter with a person or a vivid moment of pleasure or peace. Or it may be something that seems rather insignificant.

  • Look at it. Pray about it. Allow the prayer to arise spontaneously from your heart—whether intercession, praise, confession, or gratitude.

5.    Look toward tomorrow. Ask God to give you light for tomorrow’s challenges.

  • Pay attention to the feelings that surface as you survey what’s coming up. Are you doubtful? Cheerful? Apprehensive? Full of delighted anticipation?
  • Allow these feelings to turn into prayer. Seek God’s guidance. Ask him for help and understanding. Pray for hope.

St. Ignatius encouraged people to talk to Jesus like a friend. End with a conversation with Jesus. Ask forgiveness for your sins. Ask for his protection and help. Ask for his wisdom about the questions you have and the problems you face. Do all this in the spirit of gratitude. Your life is a gift, and it is adorned with gifts from God.

Making Noise

Making Noise

Typically, we think “strength in numbers”, “bigger is better”, “the more, the merrier” BUT…studies show the larger a group, the less productive it becomes. In one study, researchers found what they called, the Social Loafing Effect. One experiment, participants wore blindfolds and noise-cancelling headphones and were asked to shout as loud as they could. Without exception, everyone made less noise in groups compared to when they shouted alone. Their conclusion: the mere perception that you’re in a group reduces one’s motivation and effort.  

Researchers explained how Social Loafing is a feedback problem. It means when groups get larger, you experience less social pressure and feel less responsibility because your performance becomes difficult, even impossible, measure within a crowd.

Jesus invites each of us into a personal faith AND a group participation within the church. The danger of groups, though, is getting lost in crowd where serving is limited, gifts minimized, commitment lowered, and depth of experience missed...all of which can bringing change from the inside out.

At Mission Hills, we define the Rhythm of Renewal as a growing awareness of God’s presence. Despite the pace and demands of life, Renewal seeks to be sensitive to the Spirit prompting us to turn away (ie resentment, addiction, anger, etc) &/or turn towards (compassion, gratitude, hospitality, etc).  This week’s Friday Lent Initiative, “TGI…not my will” offers room to God’s Spirit to guide us in thought, word, and deed. Pick (at least) one and make a plan because a living faith leads to new life. Easter’s coming!

 

Results.

Results.

Inspired by the grand parties of Long Island in the 1920’s, F.Scott Fitzgerald began piecing together big ideas for a most memorable novel. In 1925, The Great Gatsby received mixed reviews and only sold 20,000 copies the first year. Hardly the results of such an inspired idea! Fitzgerald eventually died in 1940, tragically believing himself to be a failure and his work all but forgotten. As we know today, The Great Gatsby is widely considered to be a literary classic!

Sometimes it’s hard to see the impact of our work, our words, our friendship, our faith. Oftentimes, it’s easy to miss the fruit of the seeds we plant. And always, God invites us to trust.

In Jeremiah 29:11, there’s a heart-warming promise to the people of God in exile - “For I know the plans I have for you. Plans to prosper you, not to harm you. Plans for hope and a future.”  The problem is that it would be 70 more years before they’d be freed. Instead, He tells them to seek the peace of the city…for in its prosperity you will also prosper.  In other words, serve, host, give, help, throw a party and trust that God will meet you there. Apparently, God doesn’t prosper us by removing struggle. But…he defines a way to experience his presence.

Speaking of grand parties and seeking the peace, we threw a ‘Roaring’ party last week (See pictures HERE). It was a chance to host others as we celebrated two years of faith, community, and mission in Austin. It’s hard to measure the impact of a party, a favor, an invite, a worship service, brunch, a bag of groceries, or a shared meal with a refugee. But God invites us to trust while we seek Him and the peace and of the city.  Here’s to demonstrating faith and trusting God with the results! Join us for worship this Sunday as we consider more of God’s promises for a New Year! In fact, don’t just come…Host. Many guests might be ready for another invite.

Trusting Him, together.

Creation Speaks.

Creation Speaks.

Is it just me or did Austin just come to a screeching halt this week?!?!  With yet another “snow day”, we have another round of closures and cancelations. It can feel like an interruption to our hyper-scheduled lives. And yet, the conditions also remind me of God’s design for renewal. Psalm 24 says, “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it, the world and all who live in it.”  Extreme climates, often defined by agriculture, enforce a work-life balance. The seasons of fall, winter, spring, and summer outline a rhythm for rest, preparation, new life, and harvest. Even animals instinctively hunt, gather, and bury themselves in hibernation.  

While I love living in Austin, our mild climate hardly lets up. Our year-round pace remains full and often demanding. So if you find yourself getting restless or feeling interrupted this week, consider God has created our lives for BOTH fruitful labor AND stillness, fellowship AND solitude. This week, embrace the weather as a Divine Interruption. Put a log on the fire. Brew a midday pot of coffee. Enjoy unexpected time with family under the same roof. Turn on some music. Loudly.  Work from home. And wear sweats around the house all day. “Kairos” moments represent Spirit-inspired opportunities to turn…turn towards…turn away…but most importantly RE-Turn to the One who Authors Life.   

Prototype for Shelter

Prototype for Shelter

Being a single mother used to carry more of a social stigma. Now it feels fairly common or even acceptable. 2000 yrs ago, if you’re unmarried & pregnant, it could get you killed depending on how you interpret Levitical law. In Luke 1, Elizabeth was married, without kids, “past-her-prime” but finds herself pregnant with John the Baptist. She’s got morning sickness and chores. She’s moving slow and more tired. Despite all that, Elizabeth becomes a prototype for hospitality in giving shelter to a marginalized girl-on-the-run.

Elizabeth and Zechariah were in good standing. Yet, she finds it in heart to offer shelter to Mary – pregnant but not wed. Imagine the looks, the whispers, the risk to their social status. And yet, compassion to those on the margins is God’s calling for every Christian. We don’t show compassion because we have so much. We do it because we’re no different. 

History is filled with people who lived fully in God’s story…AND it was disruptive. Curiously, it’s called ‘Good News’. We all have days of peace, moments of joy, expressions of grace, feelings of gratitude — These are foretastes of heaven. They wet our appetite for God’s salvation, love, and intent. But, to be sure: following Christ is disruptive. (Anyone with a houseful of guest for the Holidays knows how disruptive hospitality can feel.)

Hebrews 13:2 says “make sure you practice hospitality, you may be entertaining angels.” Like Elizabeth, God’s chosen each of us extend hospitality. Sometimes we make room. Other times, we are learn to receive. In either case, it’s means we see who God’s prepared in advance for us. When we do this, God transforms us in ways we couldn’t imagine. Here’s to seeing Elizabeth’s story as our own!

Something About Mary

Something About Mary

Every year, we re-read the Christmas story…shepherds, wise men, angels, Jesus, Joseph, and Mary. It’s beautiful but it’s more than historical, especially when it comes to Mary, the Mother of Jesus. She is unique in that, while a virgin, conceived and gave birth to the Christ child. It’s also tempting to think of Mary as unique simply because God chose her and not me. Yet, if we allow the Mary's story to end there, we miss the greater significance. Maybe a better way to view Mary is a prototype of God’s plan for every person in the world!  More than “just” the virgin birth, she represents the hope of Gospel: Christ In Us!    

Paul writes to the Galatians the point of the Christian life, “My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you.”  Paul’s singular desire is that we become people who bear and express the life of Christ. Like a mother with labor pains, I don’t want you to just look/sound/act like Jesus but to be the actual presence of the resurrected Christ. 

That’s the Gospel! Christ formed in you. Jesus paints a picture of vine and branches and invites us to “abide in me” (John 15).  He’s saying, allow your life to be filled with mine. This is the goal of Christian life! We do that that and we bear much fruit!

WHAT IF…this were your starting point? Everyday you know that Christ lives in you. What if…you went into each day with the hope, power and confidence of the resurrected Christ? Mary made Jesus’ arrival possible some 2000 years ago. But, we can hasten Christ’s return as we live into the God’s invitation of Christ in us.  Welcome to Advent!

F.O.M.O

F.O.M.O

F.O.M.O is the very real phenomenon described as the "Fear Of Missing Out". It’s a common anxiety that an exciting or better experience may be currently happening elsewhere, often aroused by posts seen on a social media. We’re constantly checking posts, messages, alerts, and emails in hopes of staying connected. Yet, we struggle to be present. Being attentive is a timely message. 

Before Moses became a leader of the Jewish people he was a shepherd. One day, while tending his flock, he came upon a bush that was burning but was not consumed.  As Moses stared at this awesome sight, God spoke to him (Ex.3:1-6). People usually explain that God used the burning bush to attract Moses’ attention. But, suppose you were God and could do anything you wanted – split the Red Sea, make the sun stand still, set up a pillar of fire.  Compared with such spectacular displays, a burning bush is not very impressive.  So why did God choose such a "modest miracle"?

Perhaps the burning bush wasn’t a miracle but a test. 

God wanted to find out if Moses could see the Divine in the ordinary. In order to see it as a miracle, Moses had to watch the flames long enough to realize that the branches were not being consumed and something more was happening. Once God saw that Moses could pay attention, he spoke.

We live our lives looking for “signs” when God’s all around — in the ordinary — and wants to know if we’re paying attention. For Moses and the bush, God wasn’t providing light or warmth but direction.

Capital-ism at its best.

Capital-ism at its best.

A few years ago, I met a bride-to-be for the first time. Originally from Dallas, she was living near Shanghai, China with her fiancé. They met in high school, dated through college and now he was running the manufacturing of family’s furniture business. Parents were proud – They learned Mandarin, production was on schedule, and profits were impressive. Of course I had a haunting picture in my mind of what factory work was life overseas. More than wedding plans, I was curious to hear about their work. 

“Tell me what it’s like there,” I said. “I have this idea of dorm-style housing for workers, who leave home villages, and work long hours for very little.”

“Yeah, that’s about right. They make about $2/day and work 10-12 hours usually 6 days a week. But they’d work more if we wanted” she said mater-of-factly.

“Really?… Do you ever go in the factories?” I asked. “Oh, no. It’s miserable. It’s so hot and muggy.”

Looking to inspire some imagination, “What if…you were the one company that provided air conditioning for all workers? Or, what would it be like if you were the only company that decided an 8 hour work day was enough and they’d make the same amount? Or, what about if…you were the only employer to pay them an extra $1/day?”

Her response still upsets me…”But it’s all they know.” 

“Umm…What if you gave them another day off so they’d have a weekend to visit their families? Do you think that would make a difference?”  Silence. Quiet stare.

While I was disheartened by this conversation, I knew if I went home to look at the labels of my clothing, furniture, and appliances I also benefit from to this often exploitive economy. We live in a world that God created and even said was good. But this also isn’t the world that God intended. Our “normal” is broken and it breaks the heart of God. Yet throughout history and scripture, God’s working to restore and repair creation. To do that, God looks to set a part a people – called by His name – that might align with His plans and purposes. 

In his book, Oikonomics Mike Breen outlines “Five Capitals” in scripture and in our lives. We all posses these “Capitals" in varying degrees. They serve to grow our faith and restore the world as God intended. In other words, we all have capital to work with!

1.     Spiritual Capital:  Faith is a like a spiritual muscle – it grows when used. Christ invites us to new life, which also implies we’re supposed to grow. So, how much faith do you have to invest? What next steps God might be prompting you to take in faith?  

2.     Relational Capital:  Right now, you already have influence and favor with people who are restless, in need, and searching for meaning. What next steps can you offer them?

3.     Physical Capital: Every season of life feels full. Yet, growing our faith prioritizes time and energy in service and community. Your presence matters. Being present and protecting a ‘standing appointment’ for Christian community makes a difference. 

4.     Intellectual Capital: We don’t often think of our skills, our work ethic, or achievements as gifts from God. But, where would we be without God’s grace? As faith grows, we see how our intellect, skill sets, and competencies are part of God’s plan to bless others. So, what gifts do you have to offer?

5.     Financial Capital: There’s no area that tests and grows one’s faith than finances. Stewarding wealth means we see God as the ultimate Source. Growth and joy emerge – not by achieving a 10% contribution – but by a growing response to God’s leading. How is God guiding you to begin or increase your giving?

It’s easy to want more. But God doesn’t need us to possess more in order to do more. God gives each of us exactly what we need to participate as we become people of hope, justice, mercy, generosity, compassion, and restoration. 

Here’s to being a part of God’s restoration! On earth, in Austin, as it is in heaven.

 

New Car Smell.

New Car Smell.

Ever get a new car vowing to maintain it’s pristine condition?  But…as the new car smell fades, so does the upkeep. When’s the last time you checked tire pressure, oil level, or bothered with that pesky engine light? It’s easy to think that as long as I’m putting gas in the tank — & it’s running — it’s all good. Yet, just because we can get from Point A to B doesn’t mean it’s running optimally. 

Similarly, faith has a way of fading when left unattended. Going to church once a week (if we’re lucky) is like putting gas in the tank once a month (if we’re lucky). Proper care is needed for the soul, which really benefits with daily care. The goal of Mission Hills is to develop a Living Faith – one that helps us experience the heart of God, use our faith to restore broken lives, and offer a practical way to reproduce our faith in another. 

None of these things happen without effort, which means faith can feel inconvenient, even sacrificial. But, Isn’t that the point of the Good News of Jesus?!?! "I give you my life because you gave your life for me.” Growing our Christian faith means a greater awareness of God’s presence! The more I find my life IN CHRIST, the more the journey offers hope.

Both of our cars are over 10 years old. I like to think I’m pretty good at caring for them. However, the real test comes when it’s time for a road trip. I have to ask myself, “Do I trust this car – as is — to get me there?” The thought of being in the middle of West Texas highway broke down is enough to get a tune up, a set of tires, change filters, and/or top off fluid levels.  Whether faith thrives or it doesn’t, we can still operate compassion, peace, and patience. Uncertain circumstances – like a long road trip without cellular service — don’t have eliminate generosity, hospitality, compassion, or gratitude when we practice renewal. Long after the new car smell, we can still experience a sustaining faith with a little daily attention.

Faith works.

Faith works.

Ever take a car ride or flight in severe weather without incident? Ever eat at a ‘hole-in-the-wall' meal and NOT get sick? Have you ever sat in a wobbly chair that didn’t break?

It’s amazing to think how much faith is such a part of our everyday and ordinary life. You could even argue that exercising faith is human nature. So when it comes to a belief in God — Is faith a matter of God doing something we can’t do ourselves - OR - Is faith simply doing the right thing?

In a word, Yep.  In another word, both!  Most of the time we exercise faith after we throw our hands in the air and admit we can't control outcomes. It’s easy to think of faith doing the impossible beyond our control. And yet, faith is equally seen in everyday and “ordinary" ways. 

It’s as subtle as a thankful prayer before lunch or a $1 handout that encourages more than feeds. It’s a kind-but-unexpected word even if you don’t know a person or circumstances.

Faith is reading scripture – not because every passage is interesting – but you believe it's makes a difference over time.

Faith says ‘yes' to leading a ministry despite feeling busy because God meets us in our weakness more than our strength.

Faith is showing up for church even when you’re tired or discouraged.

Faith is inviting a friend multiple times because you know the community and serving might help them heal.

Faith means serving someone even if their response lacks gratitude.

Faith believes God can transform lives in the midst of - & b/c of - struggles.

Faith gives from "first-fruits" and trusts God to meet our needs.

Faith believes the Holy Spirit guides, interrupts, comforts, and strengthens when we allow.

Hebrews 11:1 says, "Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” Yeah…faith grows from inexplicable miracles. It’s also in small, daily acts where it’s hard to see an immediate benefit. It’s the ordinary and everyday ways that seem to grow our faith most. Here’s to a Living Faith that's extraordinarily ordinary!

Why Not?

Why Not?

One of the most popular TED talks is an 18-min video called, Start With Why by Simon Sinek. He offers great insights as to why some companies - with great products – struggle while why other companies soar. 

Most companies start with ‘What’ product they're selling or service they offer. Sinek's asserts describing ‘What' you do is neither interesting nor compelling. Using the highly competitive field of technology, he illustrates how most computer companies sound…

  • What: We make computers. 
  • How: They’re beautifully designed and easy to use. 
  • Why: Wanna buy one? 

It’s UN-inspiring and sounds like everyone else. If you want to capture imagination you need to start with ‘Why'. On the other hand, Apple is different. They start with WHY. In fact, an early campaign invited consumers to, “Think Different”. So it sounds like… 

  • Why: Everything we do we believe in challenging the status quo & thinking differently.
  • How: The way we challenge the status quo is by making products that are beautifully designed and user friendly.
  • What: We just happen to make great computers. Wanna buy one?

In other words, People don’t buy WHAT you do. They buy WHY you do it. The ‘Why’ represents our belief, which is possibly the most compelling part! Using this same method for the church, ‘What’ sounds eerily familiar and UN-intriguing…

  • What: We gather like-minded people each week to talk about what we believe.
  • How: We host meetings that provide relevant teaching, good music, great programs for children and youth, small groups and missions.
  • Why: Wanna come? 

We have no shortage of churches that offer the same basic menu of programs and services. However, Jesus’ last words were an invitation to MAKE DISCIPLES. The idea is that we would develop a living and reproducible faith.

Mission Hills seeks to imagine faith and community differently. We begin with a belief that God is already at work in the world. Our desire is to align with Him. To do that, we need a faith that integrates with work, family, finances, influence, needs, struggle, and tragedies all with God’s Spirit. This is why we’ve chosen to rally around daily and ordinary “Rhythms”. We are the church whether we’re gathered or scattered. But we’re able to practice a Living Faith wherever, whenever, and with whomever!

So, let’s try it again…The ‘Why’ of Mission Hills Church.

  • Why: We believe real change is possible…in our hearts, homes, communities, and world.
  • How: We seek to be the change by practicing a Living faith (Rhythms), listening for God’s voice, responding to needs and opportunities among us.   
  • What: We just happen to gather in a neighborhood near you. Wanna be the change?

Why not?

 

Can't Not.

Can't Not.

Ever wonder how two people can look at the same situation — one person is seemingly unfazed while the other is completely undone? One responds, “Well, that’s a too bad…so, what’s for dinner?” while another says, “I’ve GOT to do something!!!”  When a hurricane devastates a city, there’s some people moved to save lives, provide aid, clean up, and rebuild. And there’s others who seize the opportunity to loot or price gauge lodging, gas, groceries, & supplies. 

There’s an important spiritual question when we have a chance to respond to revelation…What do we do with what we see?

For 140 years, the Israelites sat in exile. Jerusalem was in ruins. Some had returned to build their own lives but not their collective good. Rather than fortify the city, re-establish their national identity the remnant simply sidestepped the rubble. 1000 miles away, Nehemiah gets a report there’s a temple but no wall AND no one is doing anything about it, he mourns, prays, and answers the call. So, when God reveals the condition of a vulnerable people… What do you do with what you see?

Nehemiah had every reason to sit back an enjoy life as is. As Cupbearer, the king trusted him with his life. He also got to enjoy the lodging and lifestyle of the royal court. Now, he’s willing to throw it all away for a project with no guarantees?! Why would he leave all that and take on that seemingly impossible task?

Nehemiah knew something about God…that, God restores broken places. Ultimately, God’s vision is to restore all of creation. Restoration IS the work of the people of God – helping restore souls, families, neighborhoods, & cities. 

We are always God’s response – not government, non-profits, or social services but each Christ-follower responding to restore God’s creation. Friends, Mission Hills Austin is a church of practice & experimentation, which means we’re always a work-in-process. We just need to exercise faith by trying; Exercise faith together, & Exercise faith in restoring lives beginning in Austin.

Here’s to answering the call!

Possibilities.

Possibilities.

Culture is enamored with the idea of transformation, especially what can be captured in a 30-60 minute 'reality' TV show. Admittedly, I've been drawn in by many of these stories. But what does transformation really mean? Advertising over-promises and under-delivers with miracle diets, workouts, lotions. We hear lots of testimonies or public apologies of people "turning over a new leaf"...hmmm... It’s easy to be skeptical whenever anyone suggests anything about life change.  

A couple years ago, there was a popular video circulating around the internet about Jim Wolf, a homeless veteran who went through his own makeover. With a team of stylists, he was “transformed" in a time-lapse video from a disheveled nomad to a well-dressed, ready-to-interview gentlemen. I have to admit, I loved the outward change. But, What does it mean to go through lasting change?

Transformation IS possible, just not easy or quick. Lasting change requires constant attention of our hearts! Jesus suggests a new way to be human (Matt.5) — an interior reworking followed by sustainable outward expressions. It implies we have to create room in our hearts—like cleaning a wound before it gets bandaged. 

Jesus begins each statement with a loaded word, "Blessed…”, meaning fully satisfied, not necessarily feeling happy. Consider the process that he outlines as blessed...

  • 'Poor in Spirit' learn to see their need for God beyond their success, talents, & resources. They’re ‘blessed’ because they can identify God as the Source.
  • Those who ‘Mourn' experience how God sustains, even strengthens, them in weakness. They find comfort knowing God’s actively writing & redeeming their story.
  • The ‘Meek’ trust God with results. They ‘inherit’ the currency of God's promises and faithfulness.
  • Growing in ‘righteousness’ means God shapes the desires of our heart. Their hearts ‘filled' with hope and justice.

These first four Beatitudes describe how we nurture our hearts in light of circumstances. The second half represents an outward response:

  • Showing ‘mercy’ becomes a more natural reaction because they've already experienced it! 
  • The ‘pure in heart’ begin to see God in poverty, in crisis, in suffering…and willingly insert themselves on behalf of justice. 
  • ‘Peacemakers’ contend for a better way even if it involves more effort. Being at peace with God, they’re more able to express God’s concern. 
  • Whether consumed by a desire for righteousness or persecuted by others because of it, the ‘persecuted’ learn to see God in sickness & success, conflict & comfort, burnout & blessing. 

Life in Christ, then, is an invitation to becoming human, again. Our commitment to faith, mission, and each other is a chance to have our hearts re-sensitized  and made new. The road might can be winding. Glad we’re on the journey together.

A Holy Visitation.

A Holy Visitation.

Yesterday was a beautiful day not because it was easy, but it was a good. For nine months, we’ve responded to Austin's growing immigrant community. After visiting some of the same apartments, people’s stories and needs linger. The visits become personal.

On Monday evening, eight of us re-visited the home of a young mom from Myanmar – Ma Tee – who died of cancer last Friday. She leaves behind a husband and three kids – 12, 8, & 6. He quit his factory job two months ago to care for his terminally ill wife. She also left behind a sizable Burmese community of friends who, like her, were forced to make a life here. 

We showed up with a bowl of fresh fruit, cards with a little money to help with funeral expenses, and a desire to comfort. Most immigrants struggle to assimilate because they often don’t have any American friendships. Being overwhelmed in a new culture, high cost of living, and language barrier…most crave the familiar, something that feels like home.

Thankfully, we were recognizable faces yet we also shared a recognizable faith. Before we were done, the apartment began to fill. Their extended community show up each night in solidarity to grieve, pay respects, and pray. The only way I can describe our prayer time is as a vibrant, full-participation “Concert of Prayer”. It was a chorus of agreement, calling on the name of the Lord…in sadness, through tears, with hope, and in unwavering faith. It wasn’t easy but it was so good!

It occurred to me, this is what happens when“Sunday School” leaves the classroom and becomes an exercise in humility, community, and hope. We simply can’t wait for people to show up to our parties, our worship, our small group meetings. We are sent people who can – and called by God — to bring the church to others! 

Here’s to new life, faith becoming a Rhythm, & being changed from the inside out!

Performance Art.

Performance Art.

Two weeks ago, I had the awful experience of driving home to find our street lined with police, sheriffs, news trucks and yellow tape. Not able to pass, I pulled over. Then I saw it — a body laying in a driveway covered with a yellow tarp. Apparently, a man kidnapped a woman, a 10 year-old boy, drove for 10 miles, and randomly ended up in my neighbors' driveway. She sustained gunshot wounds but survived. He turned the gun on himself and died at the scene. At the urging of a 911 operator, the boy knocked on the nearest door for help

A homicide a few doors away is upsetting. Later in evening I began scrolling my news app for answers. By then this story was buried in the head lines. The headlines leading by then were about bathroom bill, White House staffing changes, Heat wave, North Korean missiles, POTUS’ Twitter account, collusion with Russian, et al. It bothered me that it was buried so quickly. A life was lost. Another almost taken. A young boy abducted and it felt like “yesterday’s news”…except that it was the same day. 

The news-as-entertainment is designed to create an emotional response. And our country is riding a roller coaster of emotions! Media maintains ratings by absorbing stories at lightening speed while strategically painting stories in extreme light. It’s normal to feel outrage, offense, sorrow, or even fear. But emotions shouldn't be the final word any more than indifference.

Jesus says, ‘Blessed are the pure in heart for they will see God’ (Mt.5). Like getting a new lens or outlook on life, the ‘Pure in heart’ see God in poverty, in crisis, in racism and willingly insert themselves on behalf of justice. We become 'pure in heart' when we identify AS & WITH a fallen one. I’m able to show mercy, offer hospitality, practice generosity WITHOUT needing you to have all the right reactions. I’m able to serve without recognition or give without re-payment BECAUSE I see God as my audience more than I see the recipient. My gift—from the heart—is to God. It could be my tithes, my time, my skills but my life is an offering to God, which can be most freeing. The Beatitudes in Matthew 5, reminds us of how to be citizens of heaven and earth…

Blessed are the poor in spirit (aka - the 'fallen ones', which includes me). 

Blessed are those who mourn (that is, mourning over & with fallen ones)

Blessed are the meek (ones able to trust God in the process without succumbing to accusation, violence or even apathy)

Blessed are those who hunger & thirst for righteousness (because our desires can lead to personal change AND allow us to be light in a dark world)

Blessed are the merciful (because they know they’ve already received mercy)

Here’s to a Living Faith & hearts made new!