Monthly Archives: November 2010

Social Justice: Pray for Wisdom

The book of James says if we lack wisdom to pray for it (James 1:5). If in any way we need more prayer it’s for wisdom.  James basically spent the rest of his efforts explaining why we need this wisdom:


  • To not be deceived by merely listening to the Word, but to do what it says (James 1:22).
  • To understand that the type of “religion” God accepts as faultless and pure is one unpolluted by the world and one that spends itself on the orphan and widow (James 1:27).
  • That loving our neighbor is the “royal law” and by keeping it we can be confident we are doing right (James 2:8).
  • That mercy triumphs over judgment (James 2:13).
  • That faith without deeds is worthless (James 2:16, 20).
  • That knowledge is beneficial only when applied to a good life and humble deeds (James 3:13).
  • That wisdom resulting in selfish ambition is unspiritual but wisdom from heaven is full of mercy and good fruit (James 3:15-17).
  • To see that when there is good to do, we sin when we fail to do it (James 4:17).
  • To understand how our self-indulgence and our neglect have made us the oppressors (Jas 5:1-6).

If this is our condition, we’re in trouble, and we certainly need wisdom.

“Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray… And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” – James 5:13-16

If in any thing we need more healing it’s in how we deal with need in the world. If the statistics don’t create a sense of indignation in us, then we should pray. If God’s words do not create a sense of indignation for either our condition, lack of concern, or neglect. Pray that it does. Pray that the Holy Spirit convicts us. Pray that our minds are renewed. Pray for indignation.

“Each individual has the spiritual responsibility of cultivating that indignation. Tapping into that rage. And then allowing that rage to be converted into compassionate action.”[i]

It’s both a personal and a collective responsibility. If no one else will go, we must still go. If no one else will care, we must still care. If every Christian in the world thinks we’re crazy. It doesn’t matter. In our indignation we will find joy. And the joy of the Lord is our strength.[ii] We will find it to be our hearts delight. For when we live recklessly by the Word and commands of God, we bear His name, not ours.

“When your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart’s delight, for I bear your name, O LORD God Almighty.  I never sat in the company of revelers, never made merry with them; I sat alone because your hand was on me and you had filled me with indignation.” -Jeremiah 15:16-17


[i] Ashley Judd: Call and Response: A Film about the Worlds 27 million most terrifying secrets, (Fair Trade Fund 2008).

[ii] Nehemiah 8:10

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An Open Letter to ANC

I’m blown away by how committed the people of ANC are to making a difference in our community and world. Two weeks ago at our “Garage Sale for Orphans”, we raised over $11K to help finish an orphanage in Haiti and dig a well at another orphanage in Zimbabwe. As of this last Sunday, ANC sponsored every orphan in need at that Haiti orphanage. Simply amazing.

“Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.” Isaiah 1:17

These aren’t things that come naturally to us. Our flesh opposes the Spirit (Galatians 5:17). It takes effort and sacrifice. The Prophet Isaiah was clear that we have much to learn. Scripture leaves no room for us to sit idly by and do nothing.

  1. Step one is to seek an understanding of the issue.
  2. Step two is to do something about it.

There are over 150 million orphans worldwide. Through your support many have not only found a home, but also food, clothing, and education. But many have not yet been claimed. Orphans are major targets for human trafficking in our world. There are more than 27 million people enslaved today. And it’s closer to home than we think.

I’m asking each of you to plan on joining ANC (and forward this email along) as we launch our “Restore the Innocent” campaign on Tuesday night, December 7th at the Blanton Museum of Art on the campus of The University of Texas. It’s an awareness event where you will have the opportunity to learn the truth about Human Trafficking.

You may not feel called to join the fight, but I’m asking ALL those who call Austin New Church home to attend and “learn” more about it. From there, prayerfully consider what your involvement may be. Maybe it’s just continued prayer. But we cannot remain uninformed.

Please click HERE now and purchase your tickets. Every dime from ticket sales will go to fund ANC’s research and training to fight Human Trafficking.

If you would like to find out more on the teams of people forming from ANC, I would like to invite you to a meeting this Thursday, November 18th from 6:30-8pm at the home of Matthew and Sarah Hansen (324 Island Oak Drive, ATX  78748). You can find out more by emailing Matthew Hansen at matthew@austinnewchurch.com.

This Thursday we will be discussing the formation of three teams:

  • (1) Public Awareness
  • (2) Local Trafficking
  • (3) Global Trafficking

Thanks for being the church we were called to be.

Brandon


Shaping Church Culture: Social Action

When I was in college, my adviser instructed me to be aware of how I use my time. He said that students typically have three areas where they delegate their time: Sleeping, Playing, and Studying. Then he said that my college career would be marked by how I choose to balance the three and that if I’m not careful, studying can easily be replaced by the other two.

Church has a similar tension. We have worship (focus on God), we have community (which traditionally focus on us), and we have service (focus on the least). We love to worship. We love to be in bible study and hang out together. So much so, that serving the least can easily be neglected, often getting only what’s left over of our time, our budget, and our efforts. And when we do serve, we often serve ourselves or our agenda.

While our current missional momentum has brought with it a refreshing change in posture for helping us focus outward through incarnational community, it doesn’t automatically translate to serving the poor.  It requires an additional and intentional effort to take service beyond our neighborhood and into the streets of our city and the slums of our world.

Introducing social action as new value into an existing church structure is difficult but not impossible. Here are a few suggestions:

1. COMMUNICATE SERVING AS A PRIORITY:

In order to create a culture of service, we have to communicate and structure serving as a priority not an add-on or optional event. If it doesn’t feel like a priority to you, it won’t become a priority to our congregations. We can do this in a number of ways:

  • Use Your Platform: The most underutilized platform is Sunday morning. We need to use it not only to preach our sermons, but to also cast vision regularly. The mistake we sometimes make is waiting until we have it all figured out before we share. It can be an effective leadership strategy to bring your congregation in on the journey. Being vulnerable, even starting with a confession of neglect, can be one of the most powerful ways to lead towards service. This is a great time to proactively address anticipated objections, concerns, or misunderstandings. If we are not willing to utilize our Sunday mornings to regularly communicate serving, it’s simply not our priority.
  • Use more Scripture: We would never make a point during a sermon without building a scriptural foundation, yet we tend to expect people to serve just because they should. Share not only from your heart, but also from your bible. Scripture has plenty to say about serving the least. We can have confidence that the Word will not return void.
  • Call your people to Prayer: I know, sounds pretty basic, but do we do this? We pray as leaders, but we don’t call our people to prayer often or early enough. We often rob them of making change a personal and spiritual journey. Whether we’re making a major transition or a simple tweak, if it’s a Biblical mandate, prayer might be the most underutilized weapon in our arsenal. We need prayer even without change. How much more do we need it while leading others through change?
  • Be strategic in calling out Leaders: The best leaders don’t have to search for something significant to do, they are being asked by everyone to join their effort. One of the most effective things we can do is to schedule a lunch or a coffee with a key leader, share our heart with them, and ask them to be a part of it. Don’t expect them to fully understand what you’re doing or why, but ask them to be a part of exploring scripture, committing to prayer, and evaluating the process.

2. GIVE PERMISSION:

Permission means letting go and is therefore one of the toughest things we do. However, giving permission to try new things and to think outside of the box can end up being one of the most empowering and freeing things a leader can do. New leaders are birthed and old leaders have breakthrough moments through being empowered and released. Until we let go, our people will continue to check the box. We also need to give permission for our leaders to stop doing some things:

  • Permission to stop showing up to every program, freeing up time to fully vest themselves in their new mission.
  • Permission to do not volunteer on campus, freeing up time to pioneer ministry outside of the church.
  • Permission to fail and learn from their failure. One moment of failure allows a learning opportunity for every group from that point forward.

3. PROTECT MARGIN:

We simply cannot ask people to keep adding things to their ministry life. If we do, service will be the first to go. We have to simplify our forms and find ways to create margin in our current structures. Celebrate addition through subtraction. It’s worth the effort to give your people (or yourself) the time to do what you’re asking them to do well. Some of the greatest ways to protect margin are to:

  • Evaluate: Cut events and projects that don’t serve the mission.
  • Consolidate: Identify our most effective existing forms and find ways to utilize them as a funnel for service. One example is missional community. If we value community as much as we claim, is it possible to utilize it as a funnel for all things outside the Sunday experience? This will communicate a clear and simple path as well as make missional community a priority.
  • Reshape: If the structure of our community groups are our main emphasis outside of the weekend gathering, yet meet the same need as Sunday – on the micro level – we may need to reshape what our community groups do. Consider serving primarily through community instead of as a church wide project. Delegate the responsibility of finding a ministry, planning, inviting, and carrying it out to community group leaders. Give permission to replace part of their regular schedule, moving away from the “event” mentality, not just adding on to what’s already there. This will up the ante for each group and increase involvement exponentially.

4. FIND A COMMON LANGUAGE FOR SERVICE:

The breakthrough point in supporting the vision is often found in finding a common and concise language. This requires us to do the necessary groundwork of landing on a structure that supports the vision. We can’t communicate concisely if we’re not sure what we’re doing. Everything we do at ANC happens through what we call a Spiritual Formation Funnel, overlapping the call for communion, mission, and community:

  • Expose Need: Utilize the Sunday morning worship time to EXPOSE relational, physical, and spiritual NEED through scripture, creative elements, media, and seasonal focus.
  • Experience Need: Consider a quarterly event to help people EXPERIENCE NEED as a first touch to serving the least. We do this every fifth Sunday, in place of our Sunday morning gathering, communicating priority, and creating a safe environment for first timers to serve in a group setting. This is only a “taste and see” event and is not the end all. It is something that by itself only creates consumers of the service project. There must be a next step.
  • Engage Need: Missional/Incarnational community is not only a great place to build relationships, fellowship, pray, and learn together, but also to ENGAGE NEED on a more personal level. Our missional communities are structured to give away as much time as we keep, alternating the focus of each week on biblical community and service.

Missional Community and Starbucks

A couple years ago Jen and I decided to take a cruise from Seattle to Alaska for our anniversary. It was awesome. We had never been to Seattle, so we decided to fly in a few days early to take in the city. We did all the usually stops. We stood on the observation deck of the space needle, Jen caught a fish at Pikes Place Market, and since we’re both huge coffee lovers, we figured we’d better check out the original Starbucks while we were there.

I was pretty pumped about the Starbucks thing. The line was out the door. The storefront was just like the pictures. And they were funneling people through as efficiently as possible, everyone leaving with their coffee and an additional t-shirt, mug, or other logo-laden paraphernalia. It was a whirlwind of action. I grabbed my grande black coffee and went to grab a chair to wait on Jen and her eight-syllable drink when it hit me… there’s no place to sit down.

Surely not, this is Starbucks, home of community and wi-fi. The place we hang out for business meetings and stale pastries. Honestly, it set me back a moment. But they had removed every chair in the building to make room for in-and-out traffic. What once was a place built on the idea of community, had now become a business so efficient that no one in the room even noticed they were being treated like cattle.

And we didn’t care. No one was there to hang out, read a book, or sip on a latte. They had a tourist schedule and needed to move on. They were giving us exactly what we wanted, coffee, a t-shirt, and a picture in front of the building to prove we had been there.

Every time I hear someone teach on the Acts 2 church I wonder what first century faith community really looked like.  I can’t help but think there was something special about it that we’ve lost. It’s hard to imagine a day where people would pool what they had to make sure no one was without. While things certainly look different in our time, it just seems like we’ve lost a little something.  Something tells me community didn’t just fill a need in their lives to connect, it gave them purpose.

Robert Bellah, American sociologist, and Professor of Sociology, at the University of California, Berkeley wrote that, “We find ourselves not independently of other people and institutions but through them. We never get to the bottom of our selves on our own. We discover who we are face and side by side with others in work, love, and learning. All of our activity goes on in relationships, groups, associations, and communities ordered by institutional structures and interpreted by cultural patterns of meaning.” (Robert Bellah, et al., Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American Life (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983), 84

In other words, we need each other. We were created that way. And whether we choose to be or not, we are shaped by our relationships. We will be influenced and find our significance as believers in community.  “Jesus said that he had come to give life, and life to the full (John 10:10). Paul was clear in Ephesians 4:1-2 that we were to “lead a life worthy of the calling” and to “make every effort” to live in unity. It’s through doing life together that we learn to do so. “The church is God’s people gathered as a unit, as a people, gathered to do business in His name, to find what it means here and now to put into practice this different quality of life which is God’s promise to them and to the world and their promise to God and service to the world.” (John Howard Yoker, The Original Revolution: Essays on Christian Pacifism (Scottdale, Penn.: Herald, 1977), 30-31

In learning to become a community that is “not about us”, we more intuitively lean into the leading of the spirit as we seek to participate in God’s mission in the World. “In doing so, it becomes a sign that God’s redemption is now present in the world, a foretaste of what that redemption is like, and an instrument to carry that message into every local context.” (Leslie Newbigin, The Open Secret: An Introduction to the Theology of Mission, rev. ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995).

In essence, missional community may serve as one of the best ways we can embody the incarnation of Christ. Putting on flesh. And being Jesus to our world.  “In living out this identity and living into this role, the focus for the church shifts primarily to one of discerning and responding to the leading of the Spirit – being a spirit-led missional church. When this understanding is translated to congregations, we find that congregations begin to take seriously how to explore and engage the communities in which they are located.” (Craig Van Gelder, The Ministry of the Missional Church: A community Led by the spirit, (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2007) p19