A New Chapter Begins

We have some exciting news to share and an amazing story to go along with it! To begin though, I want to share two verses that have been my "life verses” throughout the last several months.

“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be the glory in the church in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” Ephesians 3:20-21 (ESV). 

During these past two years, Sam and I could sit around for days and dream about the “ideal” location for our family with the perfect church, and the perfect house, with the perfect schools, and the perfect community. But here is the thing, nothing is perfect, and so, these were often just dreams. We prayed fervently that we were not seeking our own comforts but truly being open-handed to where the Lord was calling us. In this last year, we had several amazing churches we were looking at and developing relationships with (and we are so thankful for all of those relationships). Through it all, I clung to these verses - that God is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or imagine. And God has done just that: He has transformed our lives throughout this residency and throughout this job search. We are stronger and closer to Him than we have ever been before. We are able to see the enemy’s attacks and stand guard against them because of the power of Jesus Christ in us. We began the residency with the “ideal” job in mind, and God, through His grace, completely and radically changed that vision to the glory of His name. 

It all started a few months ago. We had plans to spend our anniversary/babymoon in San Diego, CA, but because of the abruption and a high-risk pregnancy we decided to keep it simple. We dropped off the kids at Gma's and stayed at a Bed & Breakfast just down the road in the small town of Salado, TX. We spent two days reading, relaxing, praying, eating, and dreaming. In fact both of us said to one another, "Wouldn't it be cool if there was a solid church here in this small town that needed to hire a worship leader?" We continued to dream and both of us loved the idea of living in the small town of Salado. The following weekend we were at a house show for  Flatland Holler (check them out, they are amazing!), and I, Dusty, overheard a conversation about Belton. I interrupted the conversation and asked if they were from Belton and began telling them how we had just spent the following weekend close by in Salado dreaming about moving there. Brett, who had mentioned Belton, had a shocked expression on his face and began to tell us one of his mentors just “planted” a church in Salado the previous year. He put us into contact with the pastor of the church. We were excited but knew they were not actually looking for a worship pastor. Sam met with Jason, the lead pastor, and things began to unfold. Crazily enough, the week we were connected to Jason, the current worship pastor at the church came to Jason and said he needed help. Sam and I listened to several podcasts of sermons, read through their website multiple times, and scheduled to lead worship there one Sunday in April. When we drove away after that Sunday, we marveled at God revealing to us His solid church in the small community of Salado.

We continued to be in constant prayer as well as in communication with the church. On May 6th, they voted to bring Sam on as their worship and media pastor!! He will begin at a part-time position with the intention of hiring on full-time when the church is able.  And we are able to take a part-time position because in March (when everything began) the Lord gave us some very unexpected financial support. We prayed over this money and strongly felt the Lord telling us to use it in order to be a part of a church plant. All of this happened within weeks! It has been a very quick, very God-evident decision. In addition to all of the things that fell in place at the church, we were able to get Sawyer into a school that usually has a wait-list but had one opening because someone had to move. We are also under contract for an awesome house (pending inspections - if everything goes through and we get the house, look out for another update on just how cool that whole process has been). Through these past two months, we have been in awe of how everything has been orchestrated. We are looking forward to getting back to our roots of being in the country, living off the land, and teaching our children about cultivating the earth. We have big dreams for our time and ministry in Salado. The other stories of the staff members of this church are just as crazy as ours and simply cannot be explained outside of God’s providence. We are humbled to be a part of this church and the mission the Lord has placed on it. Our prayer is for the second half of the Ephesians passage: that God be glorified in the church in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. 

While We Wait

Last week we had the opportunity as a team to take a sabbath out at Pedernales Falls State Park. As I sat gazing over the serene beauty of the Texas Hill Country I began to read through Genesis. I was impressed by this: While we wait waters rush by, trees blossom and clouds form. While we wait the wind whips through the trees and we exist because God made it so! I'm not trying to be all cool and into nature here - but it is simply amazing how the world spins and humankind exists and God holds all of this together by his word of power! (Colossians 1:17). During this time tried my best to sit still before the Lord and wait to hear his voice. So I read in the book of Genesis and of Abram, and of how God lead him from place to place: Here's what I wrote in my journal:

Sitting in the cleft of the rock, at Pedernales Falls State Park, gazing at the shaded green - spotted landscape, the clouds whisper in the sky of grey blue, and the rocks are unmoving. I listen and hear the sound of rushing waters and wind blowing through the oak and cedar and I behold the Lord's creation. 
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I sit still and listen

                                         __________________________

I sit still and read of Abram's journey to the oaks of Mamre and I think of God's love and care for his creation and for Abram. God called Abram to a specific location in creation. His hand was leading Abram. And God is also calling me, by name. He is leading me by his mighty hand. I am made in his image. I am his. Where he leads, where he calls me I will go. Amen.

While reading this story of Abram, I was struck with the parallel to my own life: God is leading me somewhere specific at the end of this residency and I must trust him and I must listen. In Genesis chapter 13, The Lord says to Abram:

"Arise, walk through the length and the breadth of the land, for I will give it to you.” So Abram moved his tent and came and settled by the oaks of Mamre, which are at Hebron, and there he built an altar to the Lord.  Genesis 13:17-18

I am confident in the way the Lord is leading me. Just as he holds the planets in place and puts breath in my lungs so he will lead me and establish the boundaries of my dwelling place! (Acts 17:26)


MY NEW EP IS HERE!

The past several weeks have been full of meetings and interviews with potential churches, helping with worship intensives and collective gatherings. During this time I was able to complete a couple recordings in the Austin Stone Studios with studio residents: Wes Ardis and Logan Garza. These guys are incredible friends and some of the most talented folks I know! A couple more shout outs to my sister Emma Ramsey, for laying some vocal tracks, my friend, Fernando Rodriguez for playing drums and friend, Zach Harrisberger for playing piano on this EP! Also thank you to Aaron Ivey for letting us use the studio! Check it out here on my MUSIC page or just click below!

Sweet Pea

We’re having another baby!! Our little Sweet Pea is 21 weeks into being “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14a). The last several months have gone along like our other two pregnancies with me being terribly sick all the time. We were in survival mode through the holidays and into the New Year. Recently, I started to feel better and was able to get back to normal activity. That changed last Monday. 

Monday the 19th I woke up in the middle of the night bleeding. Sam rushed me to Triage. After getting all checked in (which takes an eternity!) we finally were able to hear our sweet baby’s heartbeat - he or she was still alive!! We praised the Lord and quickly began praying for answers and miraculous healing. After a very quiet ultrasound from the technician, we found out I had a 6cm abruption (my placenta was moving away from my uterus). We were devastated. And had a thousand questions that didn’t seemed to get answered.  We called our community all around to pray for us and our Sweet Pea. And they did. We had people come to the hospital and pray for us that day. When we were sent home on bedrest later that afternoon with tons of questions, we had people come to our house, sit with us, and pray for us. We had people texting and calling and stopping by with food and praying for us. Monday night was a very hard night for us as we wrestled with the little information we knew. The only things we could do were cry and pray. 

And God heard our prayers. Psalm 138 says: “On the day I called, you answered me; my strength and my soul you increased.” And Psalm 116:1-2 says: “I love the Lord, because he has heard my voice and my pleas for mercy. Because he inclined his ear to me, therefore I will call on him as long as I live.”

On Tuesday, we had more complications that sent us back to Triage. We had another ultrasound that revealed the spot had shrunk to 1 cm!! Praise Jesus!! The bleeding we had so desperately prayed would stop was actually moving the spot out. We were sent home relieved but still on bedrest and still with a lot of questions. We had a follow-up appointment scheduled with our OB and a new specialist on Monday. The next few days were a struggle for my mind and body. I continued to bleed for several days and stayed put in bed most of the time. I tried desperately to cling to truth, surrounding myself with prayer, scripture, and sermons. By the weekend the bleeding had stopped, but I was just as anxious as ever. Sunday my anxiety reached an all-time high and resulted in a full blown panic attack. We went back to Triage for some things I was concerned about. Thankfully, everything looked fine. Now to wait the remaining 18 hours until we saw our doctor. 

On Monday we finally had our appointments. At the specialist’s, we got to see our Sweet Pea kicking, flipping, hiding, and being the little babe we have grown to love so much. His/Her heartbeat is so strong. And all of his/her measurements are showing I am making another big baby (94th percentile!). Then came the news: we had a confirmed abruption. My heart sank again. And a million questions came out of my mouth all at once. I had to pull my list of questions out so that I made sure I covered them all at least twice, if not four or five times. The doctor was so patient with us, answering each question time and time again. The first time she saw the abruption, she was worried. Now, since the abruption had decreased in size and the bleeding had stopped, she said we were no longer “high risk.” She sent us home on limited activity/homerest for the next three weeks until our next appointment with the prescription “do not worry.” 

Now, how in the world is someone who suffers from anxiety suppose to not worry over their very active unborn child? Jesus. The only answer is Jesus. What He has been teaching me these last two weeks is that He is near to the broken-hearted (Psalm 34:18), that He hears our cries (Psalm 116:1-2), that He is good and faithful and our strength and song (Psalm 118). Minute by minute I have to surrender to Him and His plan for our lives. It has been one of the hardest things I have ever done (and does anyone remember our first delivery??). In the midst of the rollercoaster of last week, we saw God’s might and His care. In 1 Peter it says: 

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.”  1 Peter 5:6-7

He is mighty enough to make a 6cm high-risk abruption shrink to a 2.5cm “don’t worry” abruption. He is caring enough to give us nurses, doctors, and sonogram technicians who have been loving towards us, walking us through what this all means. He is mighty to bring people all over the United States together in prayer for us and for our Sweet Pea. He is caring enough to show us His love through the tangible gifts of our community. We do not know what the next 19 weeks hold. We pray with all our might that they hold an ever-growing baby that will arrive healthy on July 5th. But in the not knowing, there is something we can hold onto: God knows. 

“Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! ‘For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?’ ‘Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?’ For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.” Romans 11:33-36

Sweet Pea is from Him. He/She has been made through His might and care. And Sweet Pea will alway be His. To Him be glory forever and forever. Amen. 

**Please join us in prayer as we pray for our Sweet Pea. Please pray for my placenta to fully heal and reattach to my uterus (which it can do!). Please pray for miraculous healing inside my womb. Please pray for our toddlers as they are struggling with Mommy being unable to do everything she used to be able to do and Daddy’s time being divided. Please pray for our teenagers as they are walking through life and helping us around the house. Please pray for Sam and I to seek God and rest in Him. Thank you!!**

Philippians Chapter 3

Sawyer loves face paint. Here he is as Captain America with a brown chin strap, and I am the "antagonist." Sawyer asked me if he could paint my face. I accepted.

Sawyer loves face paint. Here he is as Captain America with a brown chin strap, and I am the "antagonist." Sawyer asked me if he could paint my face. I accepted.

In this last semester of residency, Dusty and I have been seeking God's direction and wisdom in discerning what's next! It is exciting but also a bit scary. I often joke, "it's a good thing God is in control and not me!" And this is true. Life can hit you hard when you put the weight of making important decisions on yourself. I am confident God will establish my steps and the work of my hands (Proverbs 16:9, Psalm 90:17). The last several weeks have been a whirlwind of traveling, meeting new people, building new relationships, and interviewing with several different churches God has brought across our path. All this while raising 2 toddlers and 2 teenagers! (which is honestly a joy and privilege). We have been really trying to keep our bearings, but then as life goes - last week Dusty and Jahnabell caught the flu! It was rough to say the least, and then to top it off Dusty got food poisoning right as she was recovering. Suddenly we found ourselves realizing that we really couldn't do it on our own. We needed the peace of God that surpasses all understanding (Philippians 4:7). We needed to rest in the fact that God has and will determine the boundaries of our dwelling place (Acts 17:26).

As we began settling into normal rhythms this week, both staff meetings I attended in the residency reminded me of the most important part of my job: knowing my Savior. What's crazy is that I normally drift toward apathy; I don't naturally want to know my Savior. I don't desire to know Jesus until he opens my eyes, my heart, and my mind to the "great peace" that comes from knowing him (Psalm 119:165). Paul takes it to another level in Philippians when he says: 

"I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord" (Philippians 3:7). 

I am still trying to wrap my mind around what this means. I believe much of the Christian walk is wrestling with what scripture says and how it applies to our lives. According to pastor Ross Lester, the phrase "In Him" occurs 37 times in the letters Paul wrote to the New Testament churches. This is plain crazy when you consider how important something is when it's repeated twice or even three times, but Paul thought it important to repeat 37 times! I believe this is because knowing who created us and how much he loves us is indeed an awe-inspiring endeavor. I can know God because he granted me eternal life by sacrificing his only son and making a tangible way for me to know him. Paul continues in this passage by describing one of the craziest reasons why "knowing him" is his highest aim!

"...that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead."  Philippians 3:10-11

Sharing in his suffering means that I also share in his resurrection. How cool is that? But the every-day struggle is how do I know Christ (and the power of his resurrection)? How do I do this when life is stressful? When life is one-thing-after-another busy and many times I feel there isn't time to read about God or talk to him? But I believe this is why Paul calls Christians to "press on." Paul is hyper-aware of his inability to secure his own salvation, and this knowledge produces a passion for pursuing the living God.

"Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus." Philippians 3:12-14

This is what I want for all of us. This is what I want for my kiddos, my wife, and my brothers and my sisters: that they would know Christ and the power of his resurrection! That "in him" our joy would be made complete. Let us press on in knowing our Creator. Let us make this salvation our own, because Jesus has made us his own (Philippians 3:13).


"Great peace have those who love your law; nothing can make them stumble."  Psalm 119:165

Happy New Year!

I hope 2018 is off to a great start for everyone! It's hard to believe that we are already over half way through January!

During my residency I have spent much time putting together a band and working on environment lighting and sound for the South Student ministry at The Austin Stone. I am blessed to work with many gifted volunteers who give of their time and talents! I want to share a couple videos of worship at South Students.

I am blessed to celebrate who Jesus is through the gift of music and with all the tools and resources God has given! My hope is that our hearts would all be stirred collectively to worship and sing to our Savior!

Last week Dusty and I were able to spend time together and go on a date to see the new Star Wars movie. Thank you G-ma for babysitting! My brother Matthew and my sister Sarah Anne live with us now (plus, don't forget the two toddlers!) God has been faithful in giving us all the capacity and grace to care and show love for one another in this busy season! This is my heart's cry: That we will all take joy in every task (large or small) that God has given us - that whatever we do, would be for the glory of God and not our own (1 Corinthians 10:31).

Side note: I am working on a 2 song EP that includes the hymn Come Thou Fount and No Longer Slaves by Bethel Music. My sister Emma laid vocal tracks with me in the studio during her Christmas break. I can't wait to share it with you all!

The Imperfect Pastor

Christmas time is here (again?) it is crazy to believe that it's that time of year again! God has done so much in my life and in the life of my family. This past Worship Collective was a reminder of God's faithfulness and the blessing it is to gather together in the name of our Savior to celebrate his coming! I am so thankful for all the opportunities God has blessed me with. Also, these guys! My family, my wife, my sisters, my kiddos, and my family of fellow residents! A significant part of development in this season has been this community of guys. We are all growing together through shared development opportunities. We and able to help encourage one another on this journey.

Speaking of development, recently I finished reading The Imperfect Pastor with my Mentor Daniel Darnell and it was truly transformative. Here is a description of what that looks like for me on a day-to-day basis:

The dried rice and beans stuck in the grout of the dining room floor compete with the guitar that needs to be tuned and the song that needs to be learned. The trash is full, I should probably take it out while I worry about the email I forgot to send. The mundane and everyday work competes with the tasks of ministry that are calling my name. Often I struggle, wondering how these two worlds of family and vocation can complement one another rather than collide. Last fall I began reading a book called The Imperfect Pastor by small town pastor Zack Eswine.

The Imperfect Pastor brings authentic clarity to what it means to live within the human constraints of time and space which God ordained, and to take joy while doing so, as Jesus himself also did, in the “mattering” things of life.

 

Before opening the pages of this book I had never pondered what it meant for Jesus, who is God in the flesh, to spend years of his life, before his “ministry” began, learning to be a carpenter. In Luke, scripture says: “Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature” (Luke 2:52). The Savior of the world who lacked nothing and was “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation” (Colossians 1:15) grew from childhood into adulthood just like us. Jesus developed skills and learned new information, yet in the same breath he knew all, and was God. In fact, Jesus was with God in the beginning before the world was created! (John 1:2). The creator of all things arrived as a humble infant and put on the flesh of mortal humanity.

After finishing this book there are several things that have been impressed upon me. The first is how the mundane work of a servant is the calling of anyone who desires to follow Jesus the Nazarene. Jesus does not ask us to do great things for him, or to create a platform of any kind; he simply asks that we believe in him, and give him our trust and our lives. In the gospel of John, the crowds listening to Jesus teach ask this: “What must we do to be doing the works of God?” (John 6:28). Jesus’s answer is clear and simple: “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent” (John 6:29). To clarify, it is not wrong to desire greatness or great things, but we must direct these desires through belief in the one who “establishes our steps” (Proverbs 16:9). Pastor Zack puts it like this:

Our problem arises from how the haste of doing large things, famously and fast as we can, is reshaping our definition of what a great thing is. Desire greatness, dear pastor! But bend your definition of greatness to the one Jesus gives us (pg. 29).

This is encouraging and reviving. Often I feel stressed to do something “great” for God, but he has called me to humbly serve my family, the church, and my community with hands of mortality, within the human boundaries he has predestined for me. Zack gives another convicting reminder of this by calling out one of the tendencies I often find myself in: “To the important pastor doing large and famous things speedily, the brokenness of people actually feels like an intrusion keeping us from getting important work for God done” (pg. 28). This is liberating and convicting in the same breath. Jesus does not ask me to do things fast and famously, but to believe in him, trust in him and receive the gift of eternal life through Christ Jesus (Romans 6:22-23). This beckons my heart to servanthood and to cry out, “he must increase, and I must decrease (John 3:30). In chapter five Pastor Zack Eswine also describes what it must have been like for Jesus to experience life within these human boundaries of time and space:

What is the meaning of this sawdust caught in Jesus’s beard and dangling from his smile – and all this tree bark obscurity for thirty years?  (pg. 77).

I had never thought about this before either! If there is anyone in the history of the world that should be using his time and influence as fast and famously as possible, would it not be the savior of the world? The man who was God in the flesh? Dr. Eswine is just as incredulous, and continues in the same chapter:

Thirty years! Jesus had a world to save, injustice to confront, lepers to touch. Isn’t greatness for God squandered by years of obscurity? What business does a savior have learning the names of trees? (pg. 77).

This speaks volumes to me because I often have thoughts of frustration along the same lines! What is the point of doing the same thing day in and day out? What is the point of cleaning the tub for the 100th time? What was the point of my 16-year-old self learning algebra equations and sanding cross scratches from a red oak cabinet face? Then it hits me: My destiny and purpose in life is not in stressing about making people see truth or in being “someone great”, my purpose is in serving my savior in humble obscurity.

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My purpose lies in holding my wife’s hand, changing diapers, learning new songs to the best of my ability, and doing all for the glory of God.

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Something amazing begins to happen within my heart when I realize that all these small mundane things serve and bring glory to my savior. Furthermore, Jesus had many similar experiences. He was fully human. He grew in stature and wisdom, a man of sorrows acquainted with grief. Jesus knows our every struggle and he knows us (Hebrews 2:17, Luke 2:52, Isaiah 53:3). We can see this purpose lived out vividly in the scriptures as God sends his son to earth as an infant. Would we not expect the God of the entire universe to send his son to save all humankind in spectacular fashion?  Pastor Zach illustrates this concept through scripture by making the arrival of Jesus personal: “But here the anticlimax begins. No planets were formed, ‘you will find a baby,’ they said, ‘wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger’. The sign of God’s fame lay in the aroma of cattle and hay—the placenta of new birth, the cries and warmth of ordinary life” (pg. 81). God chose to send his son in the most humble and ordinary way possible. Even the heavenly host of angels declared the arrival of the King of Kings in a remote location with a few ragamuffin shepherds attending. These shepherds went and saw the Christ child in his humble state and bowed down before him. And then they did something unheard of. They returned to their fields of sheep “praising God for all they had heard and seen” (Luke 2:20). Pastor Zach writes about these events in such a way that I am yet again astonished at the implications:

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“By means of the shepherds returning, God seems to seriously imply that seeing God’s glory, hearing his voice, receiving good news, and beholding his love was never meant to deliver us from ordinary life and love in a place – it was meant instead to provide the means to preserve us there” (pg. 81).

(pg. 81).

The Imperfect Pastor points us to the hope of eternal life found in scripture with a jolting human perspective. This hope and free gift of salvation is not meant as a means of escapism, but as a means to preserve, protect, embolden, and give profound joy to all who would “believe” in the only son of God. This Advent season, as smiling faces tear away wrapping paper taped minutes before, may we marvel at the glory, hidden in human form, Jesus, who has delivered us from the fear of death (Hebrews 2:15) and given us hope everlasting! “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:26).

Everflow

Photo by @rileysheehan

The only way to describe the past few weeks is to say that my heart is full. When I am serving as unto the Lord alongside a team with the same heart and mission, the hard work and long hours are always worth it!  Last Sunday night was an incredible experience. It was an opportunity for the church at Austin Stone to sing new songs alongside each other - to lift high the name of Jesus.

I was blessed by the opportunity to serve alongside an amazing team of songwriters, musicians, and artists. I was given the opportunity to build eight, sixteen foot lengths of LED lighting. A big thank you goes to the multi-talented Nathan Jennings for showing me how to build them and to Mark Olsen and Wes Ardis for helping assemble! Every detail was put in place to call attention to our excellent God. It's easy to get caught up in perfectionism when putting together an event like this, but once the night began it was clear that the team was there with one purpose alone, and that was to magnify and lift high the name of Jesus! Over the past year our church has been going through the book of 1st Peter. This book talks much of human suffering here on earth; and doing so with our eyes fixed on Jesus. Because of what Christ has done: He has trampled sin and death and given us the hope of eternity with Him! "We only have one hope to hold, were sin is crushed and hearts unfold! (from the song: Jesus Lifted High)

< Photos by André Chelliah

The same week, Austin Stone Worship hosted a Worship Intensive and brought in 30 worship leaders from all over the United States to spend 2 days and praying and encouraging one another. As leaders called to be on the front lines of ministry these two short days were used in an impactful way. These Worship Intensives are one of my favorites things we get to do and one of the most meaningful experiences in my residency. Getting to hear from the guys who have been called to lead The Austin Stone Community Church in worship week after week is always a critical and impactful reminder for me personally. They talk candidly of their struggles and how they persevere to continually point their people to the hope we have in Jesus.

< Photos by André Chelliah

This Sunday I am leading worship at Trinity Chapel Bible in Ft. Worth. I am continually humbled and blessed by the opportunity to lead people in songs of praise to our risen King. "There is no other so sure and steady, our hope is held in his hand" (from the song: Jesus Is Better). Speaking of new songs, Austin Stone Worship actually released their new album Everflow today! Go check it out!!! The content of these new songs are incredibly rich and full of hope: the hope in Christ that anchors our soul amid a turbulent world!

The Gardener

Monday afternoon was Chaos. Sawyer had missed his nap and was having a particularly difficult day. I was sitting at my desk preparing for a worship leader lab the next day amid his cries. Needless to say, I was stressed. All this was happening while Dusty attempted to make dinner. When what seemed like Sawyer's 100th scream rang through the house, I immediately felt anger rise up within me. My immediate reaction was to jump up and shout, "chill out boy! Obey your mother!"

I was convicted and humbled in that moment of how my natural response would not lead my son well. My natural response would not demonstrate love or help Sawyer with his anger. Meeting anger with anger never turns out well. I was reminded in that moment of how both my son and I are lost in our sin, and in need of the saving grace of Jesus. This in turn brings to mind one of my favorite songs, Gracious Redeemer.  The lyrical content of the song are a simple yet powerful picture of the gospel story!

I was lost in sin, held captive by my fear
’til your mercy showed your hand was reaching near
My God, you came and made a way for me
You made a way for me

My Jesus, gracious Redeemer and friend
There’s nothing like Your love without end
My hope was purchased by the blood of the Lamb
My Jesus, Redeemer

You defeated death, You trampled over sin
You’re the Risen King, You’re coming back again
Oh God, You came and made a way for us
You made a way for us

No guilt, no shame, no curse, no chains
new life, You gave, Redeemer

My debt is paid, my soul now saved
oh God, You came, Redeemer.

Nothing affirms these truths better than Ephesians chapter 2:

"And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved."  Ephesians 2:1-5

The challenge I often face is putting this into action. How?! I ask myself. Every day, this question pervades my thoughts, but I think the answer is much more simple than I make it out to be. Last week I was reading in Deuteronomy, and these verses struck me to the core:

"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates."    Deuteronomy 6:5-9

God calls me to love the Lord my God with all my heart and with all my soul by reminding myself of his commandments daily. This daily endurance reminds me of a gardener: someone who waters slowly, not too much or the soil will erode. The water of God's word will sink slowly into our hearts as we drink of it daily. This will produces growth and good fruit! The answer to my burning question is to treat the word of God like food. It must nourish my soul, the souls of my wife and my children and the souls of those I encounter on a daily basis. And then, as if to clarify, and drive home this concept, a few verses down Moses writes:

“When your son asks you in time to come, ‘What is the meaning of the testimonies and the statutes and the rules that the Lord our God has commanded you?’ then you shall say to your son, ‘We were Pharaoh's slaves in Egypt. And the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand.    Deuteronomy 6:20-21

The Lord has brought us out of Egypt! The Lord our God has released us from the bonds of sin and death through the blood of His son Jesus and calls us to remind ourselves daily of His victory over sin and death.

Song Writing + Perseverance

This past week I had the opportunity to go on a song writing retreat with the community of Austin Stone residents. We spent nearly 2 days eating meals together, writing songs, and sharing our stories with each other. The retreat gave me the opportunity to grow in the craft of song writing. This year I helped write 2 songs with 3 other residents. This taught me the value of co-writing and the value of camaraderie over comparison. Tuesday night we had a song share and were all blessed and encouraged by the songs God had given us and by the collective talents and gifts that were evident in each song.

Last Saturday was Jahnabell's 2nd birthday. We spent the day celebrating her with G-Ma in Salado. Jahnabell is such joyful little girl! I cannot tell you how much of a blessing it is to be her Daddy. 

Yes, that is a huge paleo cookie that Dusty made for Jahnabell's birthday. It was pretty amazing! We gave her the dollhouse that my Dad and I made a few years back as a prop for the Windowpane music video. We got her some furniture to put inside including a miniature crib and baby. She loves anything to do with baby's right now. She is so sweet and smart and it is simply amazing to watch her grow up!

This week and last has been simultaneously joyful and difficult. I am reminded daily that I must abide in Jesus so that I can truly reflect His love in all my actions. It is evident that apart from Him I can do nothing (John 15:5). Apart from knowing and believing the truth of God's word, I strive to lead my family in a very human way. But this striving turns to joy when I abide in Him, when I stop and listen, and when I dwell richly on and in his word. This passage in John 15 has been a great reminder for me this week.

 "If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you."     John 15:7-12

Furthermore I can be confident in the hope God has called me to and press forward with endurance because of what His Word says! I know personally, I have to remind myself of this every day (even several times a day). This is what I know to be true!

Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. For,
“Yet a little while, and the coming one will come and will not delay; but my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him.”
But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.
Hebrews 10:35-39

A Pastor's Perspective: Avoiding Crackers For Dinner

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Paint this picture in your mind: You get home after a long day at work. You are exhausted and all you want to do is eat dinner and go to bed. Only problem is, come to find out, there is nothing at home to eat. You instantly reach for the crackers, but you are still hungry so you make a bowl of cereal. 30 minutes later you are still hungry (and feel a little strange) so you pull out some chips and salsa and top it of with an expired granola bar. That's when it hits you: You are not satisfied, and now feel a little sick. On top of this, now you are a little too full to enjoy a solid dinner. I've been there. Chances are, so have you. I was reminded of this yet again this afternoon as my kids ate some crackers for a snack (because they were losing it) and then of course they would not each any lunch. 

Today, campus pastor Matt Blackwell used this analogy to show how important it is for teaching pastors and worship leaders to be on the same page. They should both believe in the same things from the Bible and agree on how to teach and sing what we know to be true in scripture. When Matt Blackwell brought up this illustration, I laughed inside and then it hit me how true this really is.

When leaders stereotype each other and operate in their own silos, the result is a snack instead of a full course meal. When leaders embrace what it means to collaborate as the body of Christ is designed to do (1 Corinthians 12:12-31), the result is a rich and savory experience that reflects who Jesus is and what He has done! Here are five additional points Matt taught on this morning that teaching pastors and worship leaders should be aware of.

Be Interested and Open

As a worship leader it is all too easy to keep your head down and just do what you do best. Worship leaders must engage their congregation, they must ask questions about the sermon and invite the teaching pastor into the process of making preparing songs for Sunday. It is of value to remember that people will support what they have a hand in creating! Pastors and worship leaders have the same goal - to make disciples!

Be On The Same Page Theologically and Liturgically

Worship is not just the songs we sing on Sunday - it is the collective effort of the teaching pastor and worship leader to engage God's church with a narrative that creatively and accurately reflects the gospel story. 

Be Willing To Trust One Another 1st and Challenge each other 2nd.

It is infinitely valuable that the worship leader and lead pastor build a relationship of trust. Trust creates a platform to give and receive valuable feedback. 

Be Willing TO Receive and Pursue Feedback

All of us know we should be growing in some aspect no matter what we do! Both Pastor and worship leader alike should desire feedback that will help shape them as leaders. The people that can give you honest feedback for your good are often your closest friends.

Serve With Excellence

Serving with excellence is an integral part of the calling to vocational ministry that is often overlooked. Excellence for God's glory is not perfection (that would be humanly impossible). Excellence is loving God with our heart soul and mind. Excellence is serving the bride of Christ with everything we are (Dueteronomy 6:5, Exodus 36). Spend enough time preparing during the week so that on Sunday you have the capacity to engage with those in your congregation!

Make Disciples

The best worship leaders and pastors are the ones who have relationship with their congregation. These leaders make disciples with a meal in front of them (building relationships with people) and a mic in front of them! The people that engage on Sunday are usually the people that know their leaders most!


I am continually blessed by the opportunity to learn from the teaching pastors and worship leaders at The Austin Stone! I am thankful for their example of humility and excellence. My hope and desire is that this season of development produces wisdom and knowledge that points to the cross.

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Let's Fill This Town With Servants

(Graffiti created in Photoshop). This concept was used as a way to inspire the Church to have hearts of servants - spreading the love of Jesus throughout our city. (1 Corinthians 4:1)

Even before Hurricane Harvey hit our coast, God inspired the leadership at The Austin Stone with this concept: "Let's Fill This Town With Servants".  God placed this phrase in the hearts of our church in order to remind us of the gospel and of what God is calling us to as a body of believers.  

This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.  1 Corinthians 4:1

The weekend Harvey hit the worship leadership immediately kicked into high gear and sent a team with boats and supplies to serve Houston. In addition our monthly Worship Collective transformed into a mobilization effort to call our church to serve Houston with immediate financial and physical needs. It was incredibly encouraging to witness and be a part of the response of our church!

Thursday night we sent out messages to all church campuses to bring supplies to The For The City Center were the Worship Collective gathers. After worship and an encouraging word, a specific call to action was made to all our volunteers. Signup stations were put in the foyer and everyone was encouraged to take immediate action. It was incredible to see our people jump in and help! The following week I drove to Houston and met up with a team from the campus I serve at. Together we helped my cousin and a neighbor with demo work. What a blessing it was to serve alongside my fellow brothers and sisters!

The need is on-going as you can imagine. Please continue to pray for Houston and about signing up to help financially or physically. You can do that Here: Bayou City Relief .  Let us be reminded that Jesus is calling us to work for eternal things and this means serving our city and our neighbors. This is the gospel in action. 

For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them.  1 Corinthians 9:19

The great part about all this is that serving never ends. We are called to a life of servanthood in Christ Jesus. But this is not bondage, it is freedom! We all serve something: Either we serve ourselves and our interest or we serve Christ. And if we serve Christ we will serve and love our neighbor. That's why Jesus says in Matthew, "no one can serve two masters" (Matthew 6:24).

The following week we served our student ministry with a night of worship, teaching and fellowship on Wednesday night. Thursday night we also served our South College ministry with a night of worship. Wednesday was also Jahnabell and Sawyer's first day of school (Mother's day out). They are loving it! They are the cutest!

This week was just as crazy (good). I served at the Austin Stone Worship Intensive, which is a mini conference that worship pastors from around the nation attend.  We share meals with them, talk about what God taught each person on staff through years of ministry - iron sharpening iron. God is good. My heart is full. Once again I am inspired by God's word and by his love for all humanity. My goal the rest of this year is to "be a leader worth following". 

Helping Houston

Photo Credit: Weather.com

Hurricane Harvey surprised many of us. The flooding in Houston and in surrounding areas has been unprecedented. It has broken previous flooding records. In La Grange, TX the Colorado river rose from 8 ft to 48 ft! And it's not over. More rain is expected to fall through this week. 

On Sunday morning the water was rising fast in my cousin Kelsey's home. By mid-day she, her husband DeAndre, their two kids Natalie and Henry, and their entire neighborhood were surrounded by water. As the water continued to rise they were trapped and could not escape. Fortunately they had enough food and water and by God's grace were rescued Sunday afternoon.  This hurricane has hit close to home for many Texans. It has affected friends and family of almost everyone I know. This week I wanted to send out my blog early and connect anyone who is interested in sending help to Houston to some great resources that are currently providing rescue for South Texas. Just today The Austin Stone sent a team with supplies to help down South. If you would like to help relief efforts you can provide monetary and/or physical relief through any of these organizations. Below is some super helpful information that our Church has sent out:

From the Austin Stone:


GIVE: If you would like to give to the Austin Stone For the City disaster relief efforts, you can by clicking on our secure site HERE.

SUPPLY: The Austin Disaster Relief Network (website here) is coordinating efforts to supply shelters across the city for evacuees. They are asking for donations of the following items:

  • New undergarments (all sizes, children and adult)
  • New socks (all sizes, children and adult)
  • Toiletries (i.e. shampoo, face wash, soap, toothpaste, toothbrushes, etc.)
  • New bed pillows
  • New blankets
  • Cleanup supplies
  • Black trash bags
  • Mops and buckets
  • Utility knives
  • Leather work gloves
  • Inflatable mattresses
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Box fans

DROP OFF at Hope Family Thrift Store (1122 E. 51st St.)

Mon - Sat 10AM - 5PM

SERVE: The Red Cross is in need of more volunteers to operate shelters in the city. You can apply to become a volunteer online HERE.

PRAY

The Lord sits enthroned over the flood; the Lord sits enthroned as king forever.

May the Lord give strength to his people! May the Lord bless his people with peace! (Psalm 29:10-11)

  • Pray that God would cause this storm to relent and not drop more rain on top of flooded areas. 
  • Pray for those who have been displaced and lost their homes, that they would find comfort in the kindness of neighbors and the goodness of God.
  • Pray for emergency teams and responders as they are actively working in harm’s way to rescue and protect others.

Let's continue to pray for South Texas and the people affected by this hurricane. Let's continue to be the hands and feet of Jesus and meet the physical and spiritual needs of Houston and the surrounding areas. Their needs will extend far beyond this week and next. If you are not able to help currently, continue to ask God what you can do in the coming days. I know that even a month from now people will be blessed by any help they receive!

The Songs We Sing

I had the opportunity over the course of the summer to guest lead worship at a few different churches in Texas. Today I'm sharing a video with you of a few songs that I lead back in June. Providence North is a church located in the Woodlands, TX that I was connected to through my residency. Singing songs with this congregation of believers was a great joy and privilege! In addition to this, my sister Emma was in town and lead worship with me! My sister Emma and I grew up writing songs together. It was definitely a high-light of the summer to have the opportunity to sing together! Thanks Emma!

I have to mention though, the best part in this video is when my little girl Jahnabell dances around and then decides to try and escape down the aisle! (Check out the video at 5:08). She's adorable. 

In closing, I want to leave you with the scripture that I read in the first part of the video. It is such a powerful reminder of who our God is. What a powerful God we serve! How unsearchable His ways! He is the Lion and The Lamb!

For he looks to the ends of the earth and sees everything under the heavens.
When he gave to the wind its weight and apportioned the waters by measure,
when he made a decree for the rain and a way for the lightning of the thunder,
then he saw it and declared it; he established it, and searched it out.
And he said to man, ‘Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to turn away from evil is understanding.’”  
Job 28:24-28

Sunday Setlist

Today I am going to share with you my setlist and part of what goes into preparing songs to sing on Sunday. I love the process of thinking through songs and their content and how to make them all flow together. This Sunday I am leading at Restoration Church in Bryan, TX. Since they usually have announcements after the first two songs I'm doing a call to worship at the beginning of the set. I have put links to the songs if anyone is interested in checking them out! Here's the list:

Set List 8/20/17: Restoration Church Bryan

Call To Worship: Philippians 2:5-11

"Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."  

The Lion and The Lamb (G) 90 BPM

10,000 Reasons (G) 72.5 BPM

Come Thou Fount (D) 74 BPM

SERMON: 1 Cor. 12:9 God's Grace Is Enough.

Gracious Redeemer (B) 74 BPM

O Praise The Name (B) 72.5 BPM

Nothing But The Blood (E) 72 BPM

I prefer listing the key and tempo (BPM) for each song in order to make sure transitioning between songs is smooth and not distracting. I have learned it works well to base my set around the songs a church congregation typically sings. I may introduce one new song but I have learned to stay focused, not on specific songs, but on singing as a collective body of believers. My main goal is to encourage everyone to sing with one voice and to give us all a reason to do so. Just as we see over and over in the Psalms:

Shout for joy in the Lord, O you righteous! Praise befits the upright. Give thanks to the Lord with the lyre; make melody to him with the harp of ten strings! Sing to him a new song; play skillfully on the strings, with loud shouts. For the word of the Lord is upright, and all his work is done in faithfulness. He loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of the steadfast love of the Lord  

Psalm 33:1-5

Engaging each other by singing songs corporately is vital to the life of the Church. It is one of the most joyous ways we can encourage one another with the gospel. This is why we sing songs about Jesus together!  (Check out this short resource below!)

The Happily Ever After Story That's True

This summer has been a whirlwind! A few weeks ago we found out that our daughter Jahnabell had developed a tree nut allergy and is especially allergic to cashews and pistachios. On a Monday morning our little baby girl ate some trail-mix with cashews. She immediately broke out with a rash and couldn't keep it down. Dusty called 9-1-1 right away. They were able to make sure she was stable and now we know: she has to stay clear of those nuts! This happened while I was playing bass at another summer camp which added to the craziness! Last week the whirlwind continued: I drove to Arlington and helped my brother paint his house and then lead worship at a church in Bryan, TX. Through it all God has been gracious to sustain us and grow us as a family! To be honest, the most difficult aspect of all is not the work but remaining constant (and growing) in my calling as a Dad and Husband. After all Paul isn't joking around when he wrote to Timothy:

"... if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God's church? " (1 Timothy 3:5).  

This concept must be kept in focus as I pursue vocational ministry. My wife Dusty is such a blessing (we make a great team) in helping me grow in this ability. Dusty and I talk about capacity a lot, and I am still learning the hard way that saying "yes" to something is in fact saying "no" to something else.  

During the Summer, the church I am doing my residency with brings in guest speakers to teach. I have come to appreciate this because it opens my eyes to how God is moving in different parts of the world and helps me appreciate different perspectives and teaching styles. The best part is that this is done while keeping the gospel central! The Sunday before last Pastor Scott Sauls from Christ Presbyterian Church in Nashville closed out the summer preaching series at the Austin Stone. I highly recommend checking out his sermon! I really want to ruin it by telling you about his closing statement (which is very poingnant). But that would be like opening an excellent book and then flipping to the last page. Sauls makes many bold claims and addresses many relevant issues that we all struggle with, believer and non-believer alike. My prayer is that this sermon would engage our minds and move our hearts and hands to action.

Just Like Peter

This past week I was at Beach Camp with the Student ministry from The Austin Stone. To be honest I am usually pretty skeptical of Church camps and often wonder, is this really transformative for these kids? Is this a good use of resources and time and effort, and on and on and on my mind goes. But after spending a week with the students at The Austin Stone, the answer to that question is a resounding "yes". This camp experience was very transformative for the kids at our church and for me as well. During a time of worship and teaching near the end of the week pastor Matt Chewning preached on the story of Peter. I am going to share a short version of the sermon with you because it is powerful!

The story of Peter easily resonates with me because he's constantly confessing his devotion to Jesus and in the same instant questioning and doubting Jesus! (Matthew 16:13-24). Peter witnesses with his own eyes the Savior of the world! Peter sees Jesus transfigured on a mountain top! It says in Matthew: 

"And He was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light." (Matthew 17:2)  

The God of the universe basically spoke from a cloud and said: "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased" (Matthew 17:5), and Peter witnessed the whole thing!

After witnessing the Son of God in the flesh, Peter up and says, yeah I never knew the guy. What!? Peter is straight up insane! On the very night that Jesus is being questioned by pilate and sentenced to crucifixion, Peter stands warming himself by a "charcoal fire". When asked if he knows this Jesus, Peter denies his closest friend not once, but three times! (John 18:15-27).

Peter then watches Jesus die on the cross. What must have been going through his head? Peter witnessed firsthand: Jesus being transfigured on the mountain side, feeding the 5,000, raising the dead to life and healing the sick, yet Peter still cannot grasp that Jesus is the Son of God. Even though Jesus told his disciples clearly that he would die and then be raised on the third day. (Matthew 16:21-33) Peter still fails to understand. Then guess what Peter does? In his shame he goes back to what he knew before Christ. Fishing. Peter goes back and sits in his boat and cast out his net for fish.

Peter takes Thomas, Nathaniel, and two other disciples with him and says, "let's go fishing" (John 21:1-3), but they catch nothing. Then as day is breaking, Peter looks out and he sees someone on the shore. Peter doesn't know that it is Jesus, but of course Jesus asks, "Children, do you have any fish?" (John 21:5). Of course they don't and so Jesus tells them to cast their net on the right side of the boat: 

"So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish" John 21:6

Finally, when one of the disciples standing next to Peter says, "It is the Lord!", Peter throws himself into the sea! (John 21:7). 

The next part of the story kills me: With love and care, Jesus makes Peter and the disciples breakfast on a "charcoal fire". Jesus recreates the scene in which Peter had denied him three times:

"When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” John 21:9-10

Once they finished breakfast Jesus asks Peter, not once, but three times, "Do you love me?" (John 21:15-19). I can only imagine how Peter felt. Peter had abandoned his Lord. Yet, Jesus revealed himself to Peter again and again and called him to "feed my sheep"

My heart's cry is that we would experience the love of Jesus in this way. That we would hear his voice and respond. When we fall back into a life without Christ, that we would remember the story of Peter. No matter what place of belief or un-belief we are experiencing, Jesus is constantly pursuing us and calling us to follow him.

Where Is Wisdom?

Growing up my Grandma Pearl used a notepad that had a verse from Proverbs written on it. It was always there at the bottom of the page, living in my subconscious.  My grandmother, my mom's mom, is one of the most influential people in my life. And there is a reason why. She loves the word of God. Throughout my childhood I remember her sharing scripture with us either by writing us a note or by pulling us aside and sharing, with much excitement in her voice, what God was speaking to her through His word. When I was reading through Proverbs 1 this week, the verse at the bottom of Grandma Pearl's stationary made an appearance.

"The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction." Proverbs 1:7

Solomon and his quest for wisdom has always fascinated me. In many ways all of us are searching for wisdom. We want to find the pearl of great price. This verse in Proverbs made me pause and think, what does the fear of the Lord mean? Reading further it is clear that both knowledge and wisdom hinge on the fear of the Lord. The fear of the Lord not only produces knowledge but wisdom as well:

"The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight." Proverbs 9:10

Wisdom and knowledge are not mutually exclusive. They are acquired only when God begins to reveal to us His holiness and vast scope of power. When we see His holiness our first response should be to tremble with righteous fear. Solomon talks much about wisdom in Proverbs; and Job also talks about wisdom in the book of Job, chapter 28. In fact this entire chapter is spent asking the question: where is wisdom? This chapter fascinates me because I desire wisdom, and I long to know what is true!

“From where, then, does wisdom come? And where is the place of understanding? It is hidden from the eyes of all living and concealed from the birds of the air. Abaddon and Death say, ‘We have heard a rumor of it with our ears.’      Job 28:20-22

Not even, Abaddon, the angel of the bottomless pit knows wisdom, it is but a "rumor."

“God understands the way to it, and he knows its place. For he looks to the ends of the earth and sees everything under the heavens. When he gave to the wind its weight and apportioned the waters by measure, when he made a decree for the rain and a way for the lightning of the thunder, then he saw it and declared it; he established it, and searched it out. And he said to man, ‘Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to turn away from evil is understanding.’”      Job 28:23-28

This passage adds context and understanding to God's holiness and sovereignty. It gives me reason to "fear" who He is. This knowledge of a pure and holy God is what ultimately leads to true wisdom. This knowledge is offered freely to all humanity in the gospel. It is a treasure. A pearl of great price!

Thank you Grandma Pearl for reminding me of this! 

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Hey Y'all! 

Sam and Dusty here: What a whirlwind of a year it has been. We cannot believe that 365 (plus a few more) days have passed since Sam began the Residency with The Austin Stone Institute. What a blessing it has been. And what a challenge it has been. Every part of our lives are continually being molded into the persons whom God is refining us to be. We must be transparent in order to show the power of Christ at work in our lives.

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We are compelled to share every-day struggles because these challenges reveal the marvelous grace of God at work in our lives.

- Dusty and Sam

Our marriage. When the residency began, we had been married for 4 years and two months and had two children. We had already been through very difficult seasons in our marriage: the loss of our mom Bonny, multiple moves, changes in community and churches, difficulties in pregnancies and deliveries. Through each of these trials, we stayed strong together and strived toward keeping our eyes on Jesus. Summer 2016 was probably our hardest year in marriage. We struggled big time. During this trial, the Lord revealed so much (like sooooo much) sin in my heart (Dusty). Even as I recall who I was last year, I am amazed at where the Lord has brought me. I had taken my eyes off of the Lord; I was relying on my own strength to get me through the resentment and bitterness that was growing inside of me. I was quick to anger and slow to listen and forgive. I had a constant "woe-is-me" attitude. Sam, through the grace of God, was patient with me. He loved me through it and pointed me to the cross, even when I (honestly) would say, "I don't want to pray right now." God showed me that I am not the center of the universe (guys, this was a BIG shocker to me). He revealed to me that I was relying on Sam to make me happy, instead of resting in the joy that Christ freely gives. This showed me that in everything, and through everything, all I (we) need is Him.

I (Sam) struggled as well. I was moving from having my own company to being a part of an Institute. I was essentially re-entering school.

I thought I was supposed to have "it all figured out" by now (a 30 year old).

Some days I found it difficult to navigate how to care for my family and how to be a resident. But the Lord showed me. He showed me His mercy. He taught me (as I have mentioned before when I got a speeding ticket) to not be hasty; to slow down and be diligent for the work He has given me. God has given me the capacity to love my family well and to serve them well. It's only by the grace of God through Jesus that I can truly love and lead my family. It has been made clearly evident to me that this is true. In no way is our marriage figured out. We still struggle, but we are eternally grateful for the season the Lord brought us through in the last year. He has refined us individually, and He has refined us as one. Our marriage is stronger because God is stronger.

Our sweet sweet children. We cannot get enough of them. Child development is fascinating. How quickly they change in a year! Sawyer was 2 1/2 and Jahna Bellamy was 8 months old when we started the Residency. Sawyer is thoughtful. He loves everything music and is really into building things, he loves to read, and over the last year has become an amazing big brother. He is a typcial "threenager" as well, full of tantrums and "Why?" questions.  

Jahnabell is a firecracker; she keeps us on our toes. We really love this stage in development - when their personalities really begin to shine. Our sweet girl is joyful and independent, and she LOVES her big brother. She copies pretty much everything he does. Last week we moved them into a room together. While we have had some difficult moments, we are extremely excited for them to live together and to share a space together. The day-to-day can be difficult when tantrums are constant and sleep is nil. We desire to point them to Jesus daily.

We start our day as often as possible by having breakfast and reading The Jesus Storybook Bible together. Some mornings we discuss the story we read and others we barely finish reading before a meltdown occurs. But we have established this routine in hopes of giving our children a love for reading God's Word. Most mornings now, Sawyer will not start eating his breakfast until we open up the book and begin reading. In the last year, we have had the opportunity to hear from many parents who we highly trust. To hear how they parent biblically has been a blessing for us as parents but also for our children. One big take away is in how we discipline our children. We want to show them the gospel as much as possible. One day Sawyer was absolutely pitching a fit over eating his food. It was getting ugly, and I (Dusty) had had enough.

I told him that if he spit out his food he would have to stay in his throw up clothes all day because I was not going to change them. And I stormed out of the dining room.

A moment later, he had spit up all over his shirt and was uncontrollably upset about it. The Lord was so sweet to us in that moment. I was able to get down on my knees to remove his shirt, and tell him, "Honey, mommy is going to extend grace, just like Jesus extends grace to us. We deserve to wear throw up clothes all day long, but Jesus gives us new clothes." We prayed and moved on. 

This summer we have grown by two: Sam's two youngest siblings are living with us, Matthew and Sarah Anne! While we have loved having them here, Sawyer and Jahnabell are over the moon that they are here. Sawyer loves his "Aunt SA Winkey" and Jahnabell will not let "MattMatt" out of her sight. We have a full house, and we love it.

We know this was a longer than normal blogpost, but we wanted to share with you all some of the things the Lord has been doing in our lives over this past year. If we were to write a blogpost detailing everything the Lord has been doing in our lives over this past year, ya'll would be reading for days. So thank you. Thank you for reading. Thank you for praying. Thank you for giving. We want to be transparent about the work of the Lord in our lives so that others may see how marvelous and wonderful He is. 

We are in a season of support raising for the second (and last) year of the Residency (June 2017-May 2018). We want to ask you to prayerfully consider supporting us. You can learn more about the Residency here. We would also love to have you over for dessert to share more! We are eternally grateful for your love, prayers, and support. 

With love,

The RamFam 

1 year.

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Today marks one year as a worship resident at The Austin Stone. One year ago I began a journey which has challenged me, empowered me and equipped me, not just as a worship pastor, but to better lead of my family. To love, encourage and equip my family in a way that reflects how Christ first loved us. This is paramount. I have learned much about the practical side and spiritual side of being a leader in the Church. But before I go any further I must say this: Everything goes back to the cross. All attributes of a good leader: love, faithfulness, kindness, gentleness, and self-control, flows forth from Cross. Healthy development is a natural part of learning more about the character of God, but it is not because I am a developed or wise person that I am able to be a good leader. Yesterday I was reminded of this while reading 1 Corinthians chapter 2:

"And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified."           1 Corinthians 2:1-2

This is an vital reminder and a humbling reminder. This is an empowering reminder. The truth of the gospel isn't dependent on us. (whew! and it's a good thing it's not right?) But the truth of the gospel should transform us. In fact we should become more like Christ as we trust Him and put our faith in Him. This is humbling because we must realize our dependence on Christ.  This is also empowering because the work of Christ has enabled the spirit to move through our mortal bodies demonstrating true love, patience and kindness (the fruits of the spirit). Paul continues with this idea in verse four:

"And my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God."       1 Corinthians 2:4-5

What an encouragement! Our faith is not dependent on what we can accomplish with our own might. Our faith and hope is firmly rooted in the "power of God".

Indeed, everything goes back to the cross. Because of Christ's true demonstration of love for all humanity we can live with confidence and humble boldness, firmly rooting our lives in His love. In verse 9 of the same chapter, Paul references a passage from Isaiah. This passage has been an anchor to me as I remember back to a time not long ago when my mom was battling cancer - she had this verse taped to the wall:

But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”  1 Corinthians 2:9

My desire is that this passage would be etched on my heart. That these words would be an anchor for my soul and that the true love of Christ demonstrated on the cross would be reflected in my life.

Keep It Real

Sawyer and Jahnabell talking the neighbor's car for a spin. (please stop growing up so fast!)

I believe there is value in simply keeping it real. No filter, no attempts of keeping up appearances. Life is crazy for most of us - we run, and do - we go from one task to the next. I absolutely love the opportunity to do what I do as a worship resident. Whether it's running cables, absorbing teaching, or leading worship. Still, no matter what I am doing, there is the constant tendency for my focus to be on completing tasks and not on engaging with people. It's easier for me to just be "busy" than to rest in the truth of God's word. That He has in fact "made the world and everything in it" and He has determined the "boundaries of our dwelling places"!

"The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place,"  Acts 17:24-26

The truth of God's word is what keeps me anchored.  My own opinions and ideas are fickle, but His word remains forever.

"The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever the rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether."  Psalm 19:9

Yesterday the residents had the opportunity to learn from one of the second year residents Billy Wiginton, who is being sent out as a worship pastor to a church in Washington, D.C. Billy has only 3 weeks left in Austin and then he and his wife and three kids are moving their entire life to another state - to a completely different culture. A place devoid of tacos. But seriously, I have learned so much from Billy. Yesterday while sharing his story Billy said something that has stuck with me: 

"How do you know if you are in God's will? . . . By doing it!"

Billy posed the question, "how do you know if you are in God's will?" His rhetorical response was, "by doing it!" This resounded in my soul ultimately because of the truth it's based on. God has indeed pre-determined our dwelling place (Acts 17:26). Furthermore we cannot escape His will because He has planned out every moment and every thought even before it crossed our mind (Psalm 139:1-4). This knowledge, should call us to obedience not apathy. And this is key.

This knowledge, should call us to obedience not apathy.

O Lord, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know it altogether. Psalm 139:1-4

So how do we walk in God's will? By doing it! By small acts of obedience.  My constant prayer is that my will would surrender to God's ultimate sovereign will and that I would walk in obedience so that I can truly know Him. 

"Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!"   Psalm 139:23-24

I will close with this short inspiring teaching video from Jeff Mangum. This guy definitely knows how to keep it real!