Category Archives: Personal Life

The Most Important Habit of 2017

The new year brings new opportunities for change.  Over the years of personally following Christ and helping others do the same, I have consistently found one habit produces more change than any other.  One habit that transforms marriages, helps parents, fuels evangelism, sparks prayer, and brings new life to a dry and weary soul.  If I could encourage you to start any new habit in 2017, it would be the habit of reading and responding to God’s Word every single day.

Our lives are full of noise.  So many voices compete for our daily attention.  Where do we prioritize the voice of God?  How do we listen first to what God wants us to do each day?  Jesus commands us to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.”  But how do we seek Jesus first?  How do we make our relationship with the Lord our highest priority?  The answer is simple and yet remarkably difficult to do: open your Bible and prayerfully read it every day.

Let’s get really practical: what’s required to start AND maintain this habit in 2017?

  1. A quiet place.  Jesus took the time in Luke 5:16 to get away from the crowds and the disciples to be alone with God.  He taught us in Matthew 6:6 to go into our room and close the door when we pray.  Why?  So that we could find a quiet place to be with the Lord.  Remove distractions.
  2. A good time.  Look at your calendar and find your best time of the day.  This is actually harder than you think to do.  Consider when you are most alert, have some free time, or can use existing time for connecting with God (lunch hour).  Whatever time your choose, mark it on your calendar and stick to it.
  3. The right tools.  Get a Bible translation that you can read and understand.  Don’t consume your time reading devotionals (other people’s words about the Bible).  Read the Bible itself.  Make sure you have a journal, a good study Bible, and an accessible commentary if you get stuck.  Come to the table ready to dig!
  4. A doable plan. Once you find a time and place and bring the right tools, the questions is then what to read. There are so many good Bible reading plans you can choose from.  Find one that works for your schedule and your daily routine.  Start small if you never done anything like this before.
  5. A soft heart.  When you read the Bible, don’t approach God with an arrogant heart, looking for problems and reasons not to obey.  Come with a soft heart that desires to submit to the Lord and follow His ways.  Be ready to apply what God says to you each day.  His Word is living and active and will change your forever.

My friend, 1 Timothy 4:7-8 teaches us to train ourselves for godliness.  Why?  Because training ourselves (having personal discipline) is essential to spiritual growth.  Is it hard work?  Yes – there is no doubt.  But everything of value in life requires discipline.  You want 2017 to be different?  Start the new habit of spending time every single day in God’s Word.

A New Prayer for A New Year

Lord-

As we enter 2016, I cover this year with a prayer for help with the small things.  Not that I have stopped believing you for big miracles in this life, but that my evaluation of faithfulness in the daily grind has gone up exponentially over time.  For that reason, Almighty God, I’m asking for your hand to bless the quiet routines that no one will ever see but you.  I believe that those may be the most significant moments in the new year.  Father, I pray for…

  • the discipline to get up early every day and seek You first.  I understand that going to bed on time and getting up early is one of those small decision with huge ramifications.
  • the creativity to invest new ideas into my dates with Barie.  Don’t let me get stuck in a rut with our weekly date nights.  I ask for the energy and passion to invest in my wonderful marriage.
  • the compassion for those around me who are hurting.  Lord, help me to see what You see and feel what You feel, and to not miss people in my path because of tasks on my to-do list.
  • the honesty to recognize when my body needs rest.  2015 was a tough year of realizing the limitations of my body.  Diabetes has been my thorn in the flesh, literally.  Please help me to rest and exercise as needed so I can be around for my family in the years to come.
  • the patience to parent well.  God, I get angry too often when the kids are disobedient, when they are loud while I’m craving silence.  Help me to have more grace for them, to treat them like You treat me.
  • the wisdom to manage our family budget in a way that fulfills our giving commitments and regular responsibilities.  I need strength in this area.  It is just hard.

God, I want to see you move in big ways in 2016 – in our family, our neighborhood, our church, our nation, and the world.  But as I get older, I increasingly see my need for You in the daily moments of walking with Jesus.  Lord, show us Your powerful hand in the everyday routine of life, helping 2016 be a year of growth and health and peace.

For Your glory and fame.  Amen.

Six Lessons Learned From Our Recent ID Theft

If you didn’t hear the story, Barie had her purse stolen out of her minivan last week while she was working out at the YMCA.  Someone smashed in the passenger-side window while the van was sitting in the crowded parking lot around 10:00am in the morning and stole her purse (which was hidden under the front seat).  Despite my calls to Bank of America within 30 minutes of the incident to report the stolen purse, the thieves were still able to use the debit card and ID to empty all of the money out of our checking and savings accounts.  Here’s what we’ve learned through the process:

  1. If your purse or wallet is stolen (and both your bank card and your driver’s license are taken), it is NOT enough to cancel the debit card with your bank. A thief can still use your cancelled card and your picture ID to access the money in your accounts.  You need to ask for an immediate HOLD to be placed on ALL of your bank accounts with your financial institution, and then as quickly as possible remove all of your funds, cancel your accounts, and open new accounts.
  2. Do NOT trust people that you talk to through the customer service department of any large bank (through their 1-800 phone service). You will end up talking to someone in a call-center who does not understand the details of how fraud and theft actually work.  My advice to you is to immediate go into a local BRANCH and ask to meet with the branch MANAGER.  Ask him or her for a list of steps you need to take to protect your money and your identity.  Don’t leave until the manager gets on the phone and puts a HOLD on your account and flags your ID in their system.
  3. The primary way that people steal money from you after they have your debit card and your Driver’s License is to go through the drive-thru lanes at a large bank (where they have 6 or 8 lanes). They choose one of the far-away lanes and have someone who is close to your appearance go through the drive-thru.  With your debit card (even a cancelled or expired one) and your ID, they can withdraw money from any account linked to your card by forging your signature.
  4. Don’t ever leave your purse or wallet in your locked car (even if it is hidden well). Most ID fraud happens based on stolen identification.  Barie hid her purse well in our van, and another victim even hid her purse in the back seat of her car.  However, the police said that most likely they were being watched as they got out of their vehicles and the criminals saw them leave their purses behind on the way into the YMCA.  This crime happens most frequently at work-out facilities where people tend to leave their purse or wallet in the car.  Don’t do it!
  5. If someone uses your identity as though they were you (which is the definition of identity theft), make sure and let the Department of Public Safety and the Policy Department know that you have been a victim of this crime. Often after this happens, people don’t follow-up with law-enforcement to report the details of the identity theft because their bank reimburses the loss to the customer.  This is one reason that this crime is so infrequently prosecuted.
  6. Trust God. This whole experience has been a reminder to Barie and I that everything we have in this life can be taken from us except for our faith in Jesus Christ.  No treasure on this earth is as precious to us as the gift of grace that God made possible through Jesus.  In addition, we have learned (again) that we must trust God to meet our daily needs.  He has been so faithful to us every step of the way, and we give Him all the glory for helping us through this ordeal.

Sabbatical Thanks

Today is the last day of my first-ever sabbatical.  We had an incredible time of soul and family refreshment, and I feel like we are ready for another ministry year.  Doing a sabbatical in the middle of a capital campaign at church was somewhat of a challenge, but the Lord was faithful to help us enjoy our time away on a small budget.  For that to happen, many people had to help us out.  I want to say thanks to all the awesome people who showed us generosity in our time away.

First, thanks to the elders of HCBC-RR who approved my six weeks out of the pulpit.  I so appreciate their long-term view of ministry and their desire for me to stay in the race for a lifetime.  In addition, they funded my personal spiritual retreat at The Cove in Asheville, NC.  Those four days alone with the Lord were one of the highlights of my sabbatical.  I am thankful for my brothers on the elder board.

Second, thanks to Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove for hosting me for four days and providing a special rate for pastors.  They created an amazing atmosphere for spiritual renewal.

Thanks to Trenton and Franki Haizlip who allowed us to stay at their house for a week in Dallas while they were out of town.  Our kids really enjoyed swimming in your pool and watching movies in your movie room.  Thank you for allowing us to stay there for free so that I could spend some time at DTS while the family enjoyed your home.

Fourth, thanks to the team at Dallas Theological Seminary for allowing me to research at the library for a week.  I enjoyed meeting with several of my former professors and catching up on their most recent work.  My gratitude for my education at DTS only grows as I continue to serve in the local church.

Next, thanks to my parents for helping us have a vacation week in Tyler, TX where we could see my grandmother, Nanny, for a couple of days.  My parents do so much to help us out as a family – with both financial and emotional support.  I am especially grateful to God for my parents and Barie’s mom.  We couldn’t raise our kids like we do without their help.

Sixth, thanks to Hunter and Valerie Pomroy for allowing us to use their condo in Pagosa Springs, Colorado, for our final week of sabbatical.  They only charged us enough to clean the condo.  What an awesome way to finish my sabbatical – with cool weather and great views.

Seventh, thanks to our church staff for carrying extra wait while I was gone.  They had to finish ministry planning, work on next year’s budget, implement some city-wide efforts I had started, take on more pastoral care, and complete the build-out of the new offices while I was away.  I am blessed with the most amazing team on the planet.  Thanks, guys!

Finally, I want to thank the Lord for caring for us so well.  He has truly drawn me closer to Himself during these six weeks, and I am grateful to be reminded that my relationship with Him is my first priority.  God, you are so gracious and patient with me.  Thanks for your kindness and goodness toward us as a family.

We are glad to be back and ready to see our friends and our church family.  We missed you all very much.

Keith & Barie & The Five

One of the Best Decisions I Ever Made

keith&barieIn 1999, I asked a young woman of 19, Barie Sue Davis, to marry me.  Two days ago, we celebrated 13 years of marriage.  If I didn’t know it then, I know it now.  Asking her to be my wife was one of the best decisions I ever made.  Why?  I’m glad you asked.

First, I married an incredibly godly woman.  I didn’t know how much Barie would teach me about the heart of Jesus when I married her, but I did know that her relationship with God was the most important thing to her in all the world.  As I’ve grown to understand my wife and grown to understand the Lord I serve, here’s what I have found – very few people in the world have a heart as much like Jesus as Barie.  You see, Jesus always saw and had compassion on those that everyone else dismissed in the first century – children, women, outcasts, sinners, cripples, foreigners, the hurting and the broken.  Barie has that heart.  She has those eyes.  She sees people that others ignore.  She loves those that others forget.  She is the most Christlike person that I have ever met in that regard.  And God has used her to change my heart again and again.

Second, I married my best friend.  I’ve said this before in many other places, but the most important advice that I could give to someone who is looking for a spouse (after making sure they love Jesus) is to marry someone they really enjoy being around.  Funny as it sounds, I meet with many married couples who simply don’t like each other.  They say they love each other and that they are fighting to make it last.  But the reason they have to fight for it so hard is because they don’t like being around each other.  I am blessed that the person I enjoy being with the most also happens to be my wife.  It sure makes date night more enjoyable when I look across the table and realize that there is nowhere else that either of us would rather be than with one another.

barie&krueThird, I married an incredible mother.  You don’t really know how your future wife will be as a mom until you get there, but you can see signs – how they treat other people’s children, how they talk about parenting, how selfish they are with their own time and energy.  I knew Barie would be a great mom early in our dating relationship.  I just didn’t know that she would set a new height for motherly awesomeness.  First of all, having just witnessed it all again, I’m amazed that she has wanted to have all these kids in the first place.  What a trouper!  Second, she blows me away with her love, care, discipline, and instruction of our children.  She always knows how to balance fun with our kids with the right amount of admonition and direction.  Third, she continues to amaze me with her awareness of our children.  She knows what is going on with them before they know what is going on with them.  How does she do that?!

Fourth, I married someone full of joy.  If you haven’t figured it out yet, you will: this life is hard.  As a pastor, I am confronted daily not only with my own sins and failures, but with the sins and failures of those I shepherd.  I am aware deep in my soul that this world is in the midst of labor pains, longing for the return of the King to set all things right.  Nothing is as it was originally intended to be.  It is easy for me to meditate on the dark things in this world, to slide into my own hopelessness and despair.  But Barie always has that look in her eye, that smirk in her smile, that glow in her face – that something great is about to happen.  You could say that I married an endless optimist, but that doesn’t really describe Barie at her core.  It is deeper, something outside of her circumstances.  It is her joy, a strong connection at a soul level to her hope in God.  She believes that better days are ahead because she believes that God is a promise-keeper.

This is the woman I was thrilled to marry 13 years ago, and the one I celebrate again today.

I’m so thankful I asked her to marry me, and even more thankful that she said yes.

 

 

 

The Dangers of Success

Personal and professional success may ultimately be more dangerous to the human soul than trials and temptations.  For if failure in life leads to self-examination and dependance on God, success can lead to personal blind spots and independence from God.  When things are going well, egos can grow and self-confidence can rise.  Think about your own life.  When your finances, relationships, career, and happiness are trending up, do you go to God with thanksgiving for His blessings?  Or do you consider the success your own?

How can we be successful in life (as all of us wish to be) without falling into the spiritual pitfalls that come with success?  The only long-term remedy is humility, which only comes from remembering the greatness of God in comparison to my contributions.  Ultimately, God is the author of every success in your life.  He  gave you the skills and the resources and the relationships to do well in this life.  And in the end, He will be the One we give an account to for how we used His gifts.  The Bible constantly warns us of the danger of forgeting God in the midst of our prosperity.  Both material and spiritual growth can result in our forgetfulness toward God.  And as we forget the Lord, we become boastful in our own ingenuity and resourcefulness.

In the end, God will not share His glory with another.  And so, if you or I continue to walk in the pride of life, taking credit for God’s work in and through our lives, God will humble us.  He must.  Because He is a consuming fire, jealous of our worship and praise, alone worthy of our adoration.  With this long view in mind, how do we stay humble in the midst of success?  A few personal thoughts:

1- We study and meditate on the character of God – specifically His holiness.  While the Bible definitely teaches the nearness of God, it also reminds us of the otherness of God.  He is not like us.  When our view of God is too small, our view of ourselves will be too high, resulting in us taking credit for the work of God.  I think we start with a focused effort to know God in the fullness of His revelation to us.  We talk about ourselves and think about ourselves all the time.  Why not spend some more time thinking about and meditating on the Trinity?

2- We press into God, expressing our dependence on Him, instead of pulling away from God.  Daily, consistent prayer reminds us that God alone gives us breath and life and the ability to succeed.  Success can lead us to pull away from God and walk independently of His Spirit.  This is the most dangerous temptation in the midst of success – that we would forget our need for God.  Without a forceful, intentional strategy to press into God, we will walk in our own strength and take pride in our own efforts.

3- We confess our sin and need for grace.  Nothing will quench the work of the Holy Spirit like impurity and a lack of repentance.  Success can deceive us into thinking that we don’t need God’s grace – that our blessings are a sign that God is giving us what we deserve.  But this is wrong biblically.  Success is a not a sign of what we deserve, but an evidence of the depths of God’s mercy and forgiveness.  It should lead us to draw even closer to the Lord and confess and repent more faithfully.

Listen to Jeremiah in 9:23-24: “This is what the Lord says: the wise man must not boast in his wisdom; the strong man must not boast in his strength; the wealthy man must not boast in his wealth. 24 But the one who boasts should boast in this, that he understands and knows Me— that I am Yahweh, showing faithful love, justice, and righteousness on the earth, for I delight in these things. This is the Lord’s declaration.”

Similarly, listen to Paul in Galatians 6:14: “But as for me, I will never boast about anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. The world has been crucified to me through the cross, and I to the world.”

If you have stopped being amazed in the presence of God, if you have stopped praying faithfully, and if you have stopped confessing and repenting regularly, then your success is drying up your soul.  Those that God uses most are those who combine strong leadership and biblical faithfulness with personal humility and spiritual dependence.  May God grant us the grace to guard our hearts from success.

Sending Your Best Friend to Plant a Church

Nick Shock and I met in 1999 between our sophomore and junior years in college.  We were both selected to serve in a summer revival ministry with the baptist convention in Texas; he would be doing the preaching and I would be working with youth.  We traveled for 9 weeks to nine different churches and did ministry from morning to night. For most of the summer, we lived together because the host churches would put us in the same host home.

We were an interesting pair.  He grew up in the ministry – watching his dad serve first as a youth pastor and then as a senior pastor.  I had grown up in the Methodist church and only become a Christian at 16.  He was confident.  I was insecure.  He could lead music and knew the language and culture of small-town Baptist churches.  I had no idea what I was doing or what I was saying.  Nick helped me learn the ropes of ministry and the local church.  He was a great team-leader and was so encouraging to me as a ministry newbie.  A friendship was born.

After college, we both followed the Lord on our respective ministry paths.  We served as student pastors in different churches, finished our degrees, and started our families.  Over the years, we stayed very close.  We played the role for each other of that friend that we could seek advice from that was outside our ministry-context.  We leaned on each other and learned from each other.  When God called Barie and me to plant a church in the Austin area, one of the first calls I made was to Nick.  I knew that I wanted he and Jada on the team.  They prayed, they talked, and surprisingly, they came.

I wasn’t sure what it would look like to lead the guy who had first trained me in pastoral ministry.  But Nick is a team player, and he has been an amazing ally and confidant even through the awkward moments where I had to put my “boss-hat” on and talk business.  So much of Hill Country Bible Church Round Rock reflects his passion and influence.  He has helped us understand our stewardship of the next generation, built amazing lay leadership teams across our family ministries, and been a voice for excellence and relevance in everything we’ve done.  I know that we would not be the church we are today if Nick had not been a part of the original team.

Of course, we have made so many mistakes along the way.  And God has almost totally rebuilt our philosophy of ministry along the way.  We have grown in the depth of our love for Jesus and the depth of our appreciation for the power of the gospel.  By God’s grace, we have led a young church through becoming a mature, reproducing church.  We have learned to love our neighbors, serve our communities, and disciple our families.  What a journey God has taken us through over the last 13 years.  I can joyfully say that we are no longer the men we once were.  Thankful, I am also humbled by how much further we have to go.

But now the day comes that I have always known would come.  Our elders announced tonight that we are sending Nick and Jada (and a core-team) to plant a new church in our city.  We have planted two churches already as a congregation, and this will be number three.  But this one feels different.  Very different.  I am sending away not just a ministry partner, but my best friend.  The one in this world who knows me best (after my wife), the one who has influenced me and shaped me and made me a better husband, a better father, and a better man.

Tonight I have been tested to live out what I say I believe.  That the mission of Jesus Christ is more important than staying close to those we love.  Sending out Nick and Jada over the next year feels bittersweet – sad in the sense of losing a staff member and close friend from the everyday routine of life.  But sweet in the sense of sending a trusted leader and pastor to start a new church in a part of the city that desperately needs strong churches.  Jesus has called.  We must obey.

Jesus didn’t say that following Him would be easy.  In fact, he told us that we should count the cost.  The lordship of Christ demands our all because Jesus is God.  Even more, the gospel of Christ demands our missionary labor because Jesus is the only hope of the world.  I have loved every minute of every day that I have been blessed to work on staff with my best friend.  But now he must go.  First, because Jesus has called.  Second, because Jesus’ call is urgent.  The days are evil and the time is short.

We must get to work.  His return is near.

Too Much Stuff

On our annual Getting Away to Get It Together retreat during the last week of December, Barie and I talked about simplifying our life.  The word “simplify” surfaces every time we get time away from the daily grind long enough to talk about what we desire for our family.  Our desire was amplified this year because Barie was reading a book she got for Christmas called Organized Simplicity.  The author of this book challenges her readers to purge their life of everything unnecessary – to pursue an uncluttered life.  If it isn’t useful or beautiful, toss it.  She mentioned that you would be surprised how little stuff that you accumulate you actually need.

So, on Friday, December 30th, the day we returned to Round Rock from Dallas, we began the purging process.  We do a little of this every year after Christmas simply because we are making room for the new stuff we received as gifts.  But this year has been different.  What would normally have been a 12-hour project has turned into a two-week project.  Going through clothes, toys, games, movies, books, kitchen utensils, decorations, tools, etc every day has led to piles of trash bags in our garage – some headed for the dumpster, others for Goodwill.  I was so thankful when the garbage truck came by today so I could get my garage back!

This process has made me even more aware of a truth about the American life that I have always known, but have seen and felt in the last two weeks.  We have TOO MUCH STUFF.  Even after purging our 2100 sf house over the last two weeks, I feel like we could do it again and still have more stuff to throw away.  Junk we haven’t used in years, but put in a closet or on a shelf where it has just been collecting dust.  And you know what is ironic about this cycle?  All of this stuff was new and meaningful to us at some point.  We have been witnessing firsthand what Jesus warned us about in Matthew 6:19 – the treasures we collect on this earth will one day be trash.  Have you considered that?  Your most meaningful possession today will one day end up in at the bottom of a trash heap.  If that is true, shouldn’t we live with a different set of priorities?

Clearing out the old is the first step, but not the final step.  We must also start investing in an eternal portfolio, not a temporary one.  More on that later.

End of Year Giving 2011

Today (12/31/11) is the last day to make a 2011 contribution to a non-profit organization.  Beyond our regular giving, Barie and I like to make some end-of-year gifts to ministries that we believe in and want to support.  I thought it might be instructive to share with you where our end-of-year giving went this year as you consider making a final gift of 2011:

1- Our local church, HCBC-RR.  We give regularly every month to support the work of our church, but we also wanted to give first to our church at year-end.  We believe so deeply in the work of our congregation (and our association) and the impact God is having through our movement that we want to support it financially.  I would encourage you to give to your local church first at the end of the year.

2- International Justice Mission.  We love the work of Gary Haugen and his team at IJM.  They work around the world to help the oppressed find justice and freedom.  Their team includes investigators and legal professionals who work tirelessly to defend those who have no defense.  Their labor is not just their passion -it is their ministry to the Lord.  An investment in their work is part of praying for God’s justice to be established on the earth.

3- Voice of the Martyrs.  The ministry of VOM exists to support the persecuted church around the world and to mobilize/educate the rest of the Christian church to intercede for our brothers & sisters in chains.  VOM has several great ways to give to persecuted Christians around the world – from care packages for families to Bible literature for kids to legal/practical support for those facing opposition.

4- Samaritan’s Purse.  Our kids really enjoy going through the SP Christmas catalog and seeing how our generosity as a family will help someone around the world in need.  This year, our kids chose to give to help build a church for those who were suffering for their faith (maybe our underground church service impacted their thinking).  This ministry helps those in need while keeping their focus on sharing Christ with every person.

5- Redeemer City to City.  This is a new one on our list this year.  Tim Keller’s ministry (both in writing and speaking) has impacted my preaching and philosophy of ministry so much over the last several years.  His church in NY has a similar passion for church-planting that our association has in Austin.  Redeemer City to City in the next step in their work help gospel-centered churches get started in urban areas all over the world.  I personally believe in this ministry and was excited to make a small gift to support them this year.

6- Compassion.  Our family supports a child monthly through Compassion International.  At Christmas time, they encourage sponsors to make a one-time gift so that the kids who are sponsored are able to receive a Christmas gift from the organization delivering the care.  It is our joy to do this.  Considering how much we spend on Christmas gifts for our children, this is nothing.  But it makes a big impact.

There you go.  These are the ministries we supported this year.  How about you?  Where did God lead you to give in 2011?  Why do those ministries mean so much to you?  I’d love to hear from you-

Keith

My Christmas Prayer for You

Dear Reader:

Merry Christmas from the Ferguson family to your family!  I hope that this post finds you enjoying this special time of year.  If you are anything like me, the busyness of the season can sometimes eclipse the significance of the season.  In the midst of our activity (and the pace that comes with having four kids!), my family must strive to take a few moments to remember why the Christmas holiday is so meaningful.

Of course, we enjoy the much-needed break from the routine of the fall semester (including some time off of work).  We look forward to seeing friends and family members that we don’t visit enough.  We anticipate the tasty food, the meaningful gifts from thoughtful friends, and the stories we will share with one another.  I hope that your Christmas includes these blessings and more.

But my greatest desire is that you would know the joy that comes from receiving God’s gift this year.  Christmas is the day we remember that Jesus Christ was born into this world in the most humble of circumstances, come to this earth to perfectly reveal the character of God and to give His life for each one of us.

No other gift you receive this year (or any year!) will ever compare to what God has given in sending His One and Only Son.  For you see, this life is sweeter and eternal life is possible because Jesus came.  He didn’t have to come, but He did.  And not only did He come.  He died and rose again, giving life to all who believe on His name.

There is so much to celebrate at Christmas.  But there is only One who brings light to every day of the year, and He is the reason we have Christmas at all.  Don’t forget to celebrate Him this year.

With my love and prayers-

Keith