Prayers for the Neighborhood

texas-murder-suicideAs country music star Travis Tritt said, “There’s some hard times in the neighborhood…”

There’s several things I’d love to have your prayers for around the neighborhood.

First, neighbors are rallying together to try to figure out what to do to support an 8 year old child who called the police when he found his mother murdered and father committed suicide in their home.  You can read the story here.

Its an unimaginable tragedy.

The young boy apparently has no other family in state and will likely be moved to Detroit.

Its one of those situations where you feel like you so badly want to do something.  This happened just a few streets away from us, yet we didn’t know the family.  So we don’t really feel there’s a lot we can do but pray for the boy.

We would also love to elicit your prayers.

As we also know, the Lord delights in taking awful situations like this and finding a way to make good of it.  We are paying close attention to see what He may be doing to try to make this egregious crime a wake up call to the neighborhood.  I have been talking to some people who feel like me, that they badly want to help but don’t know how.

I wrote a post on the Next Door app (its basically Facebook but only for your neighborhood) to begin to encourage others to use this as fuel to ignite the fire within them to become a better neighbor.

Imagine a neighborhood where we knew each other so intimately we could actually help our neighbors with their marriages…

Imagine a relationship so good with your neighbors kids that they would first run to you when tragedy strikes.

We long for this kind of change in our neighborhood and will do our best to make the best of something unimaginably awful.

Also, please pray for my neighbor Bob.  We have become very close over the past 8 months.  He found out yesterday that his PSA levels are through the roof and they are going to test him for prostate cancer next week.

We spend a while this morning talking and praying together.

Pray for a miracle in his life so obvious that his non-Christian family members would come to know the Healer.

Thank you for your continued partnership in prayer.  I thank the Lord for you all often.

Block Party!  (and photos of our newest daughter!)

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Since our Halloween cookout we have been focusing our attention towards individuals and families in our neighborhood and nurturing and discipling those in our house church.  That has been very rewarding, but we had been feeling a desire to connect at a wider level again.

So with the help of one of my neighbors from a few doors down we hosted a neighborhood wide block party.

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It was a fantastic event!  Over 70 of our neighbors came by to meet each other and hangout in one of the park areas on the main drag of the neighborhood.  We rented a bouncy house and were thrilled to see a couple dozen kids going bizerk inside.

People helped by bringing all kinds of food, drink and supplies.

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The party lasted nearly 4 hours until the sun went down and the mosquitos came out in full force.  We met lots of neighbors we hadn’t seen before and I was able to begin a list of guys that want to try to start some kind of regular game night.

It was great to get to be a party of helping create a sense of community in the neighborhood and  (as we did in our apartment ministry) begin to develop a reputation of trust and leadership in the community.

Due to popular demand, we are planning another event for early July.

I must say though, my favorite outcome of the event was my growing friendship and partnership in the work we are doing with my neighbor James.  He has a real heart for our neighborhood and a passion for joining God on mission.  He is a huge answer to the prayer to the Lord of the Harvest for workers in the neighborhood.

We are going to try to start getting together regularly and I couldn’t be more thrilled about that!

Thank you for your continued prayers for us in this way.

Also, I know some of you just came to see these…

Hattie Lou Elise Bunch was born on May 7 (We call her Hattie Lou).  She was 8lbs even and 21 inches.

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She is a true joy.

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Annabelle is loving life as a big sister as well!

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Our partners Heath and Katie Newton welcomed Ruby to their family just 6 weeks before Hattie Lou!

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Here we are at the Round Rock Express baseball game!  We got tickets for 15 of our friends, family and neighbors and all went together.

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Gardening/Neighboring and the Jehovah’s Witness Evangelists

As I’ve written about before, we try to spend a good amount of time outside.  As the weather has been spectacular lately, we’ve been outside even more.

Our front lawn has been in really rough shape.  So I’ve been trying every trick in the book to bring it back to life.  I finally pulled out the trump card and decided to patch the really bad spots with some sod.

Bob next door took me to pick up the sod in his truck.  We had a great conversation about the history of his families faith.  Bob grew up Mormon and his wife was Methodist.  As has become all too common, both of them left their faith early on as adults and never ventured back.  However, recently, Bob has reignited his desire to learn about God and has been doing some Bible study.  We talked a lot about that and about his desire for his wife to join him in that journey.

We parked in the front and Bob let me use his truck all day to unload the sod.  As we pulled up 3 women in bright neon colored dresses were knocking at my door.  I greeted them and they proceeded to hand me their JW.org booklet and tell me about something they had been learning lately.  I said goodbye to Bob and they said they needed to move on their way.

So I began what was to become a full 8 hour day in the yard.  About an hour passed and the 3 women came back.  I asked them how their door knocking campaign had been going and they stopped to talk about it.  I asked them how they became part of the Jehovahs Witness Church, and one of them elected to leave, but the other 2 stopped to tell me their story.  I continued on asking questions about their life, and primarily their faith and we talked for an hour an a half until someone came to pick them up.

During that time, we had a fascinating conversation about Jesus (who they believe is “A god”  emphasis on “A”, and a “spirit person”).  I had to repent for getting verbally angry with them when they talked about Jesus that way.  I think my exact words were, “that’s such blasphemy!” in not the nicest of tones I’m sure… I realized though, that its not really their fault that they have been taught this heresy, but I was sharply aimed to correct it.

I remember my mother telling me when I was young that it was my responsibility to always be prepared to give an answer when people ask about your faith.  There are few times in my life when the need for this seemed as real as it did in this moment.

Our fascinating conversation continued as the Lord gave me more patience and grace than I had earlier.  When it was time for them to go, I invited them to come back.  They plan to come back around this Friday morning.

I appreciate your prayers for that conversation and others we are having in the neighborhood.  Your partnership in prayer to the Lord means the world to me and is powerfully effective.

The Spiritual Discipline of Walking

I’ve been learning a new Spiritual Discipline over the past few months.  The simple act of going on walks.  Annabelle and our dog, Jack often come with me.  Annabelle actually likes it even more than Jack does.

We have a great neighborhood for walking.  The whole neighborhood has sidewalks and there’s a couple of different walking trails that our neighbors frequent.

And so, we walk to the mailbox (its a community mailbox about 4 blocks away from the house).  And we walk the sidewalks.  And we walk the trail.  And we walk to the playground.

All along the way many wonderful things happen.

I see the wonder and amazement in Annabelle’s eyes as she notices the acorn in the grass, and proceeds to stick it down her shirt for safe keeping.  I see God’s creation with fresh eyes through hers and reconnect and center myself with Him.

And we see our neighbors as we walk.

Our next door neighbor (who we had over for dinner last week) recently had a heart attack.  So he is working on his diet and going on daily walks.  So we join him on our walks and talk about refocusing our lives on the more important things.

A neighbor just 5 doors down from us has 2 little girls a few years older than Annabelle who like to play with their mom in the front yard.  So we stop and Annabelle plays with the girls while we talk about what the neighborhood could be like if we learned to care more about our neighbors.

And we walk to the mailbox where I met James, a young engaged man who lives about 6 houses down from us.  We strike up a friendship over a similar line of work (my video production business) and discuss when we might be able to meet for lunch.

And we walk to the playground where Annabelle climbs quickly to the top to zoom down the slide in my lap.  We meet many people at the playground where we connect around our children’s budding friendships.

And we walk back home and pass by some eager to talk to someone willing to listen, and others who are eager to complete the task of their walk and are not quite ready to be bothered.

Walking is a deeply spiritual thing.  It gives us eyes to see things we never noticed before… Like the trees with branches so low you can’t pass by on the sidewalk.  I wonder if this neighbor needs someone to help them this tree.  Or the little boy (Trevor) playing basketball in his driveway by himself who beamed with joy when me and Annabelle told him how good he was.

Walking puts us into the lives of neighbors we might have never met otherwise.

So please pray for our walks.  Pray that we have eyes to see the people of peace, and the wisdom to pass by those who don’t welcome our peace.  (Luke 10)

H*@

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HOA doesn’t have to be a 4 letter word.

Most of the freedom loving American’s I know have a hate/hate relationship with their HOA.

You want to put up a basketball goal?  Submit a request.

Want to cut down a tree?  Submit a request.

Got busy and let the grass get a little too long?  You’ve got mail! 😦

Want to plant a flower?  What color?  Where are you going to put it?  Will it bring in bees?

You get the idea.

Did you know that Home Owners Associations (HOA) are completely made up of people who live in your neighborhood?  If you have an HOA where you live, then you are partially in control of what your HOA does and doesn’t do.  All you have to do is find out when they are meeting and show up.

I joined our HOA last week.  And call me crazy, but I am actually super excited about it!

I am now a proud “Block Captain” (still waiting to figure out exactly what that means).  If you would like to send me a badge to wear that would be great! 😉

I am also a part of the “Social Committee.”  So I can’t wait to get the parties going!  We are going to start working on getting something going for Christmas soon.

In our apartment community we quickly became known as the leaders of our community.  This gave us great influence and respect from our neighbors.  It helped us establish a level of trust that enabled us to love them in some uniquely Christian ways.  It also gave us a platform to share the Truth with them.

Its more difficult to establish that kind of dynamic in a typical neighborhood.  I’m thinking joining the HOA via the Block Captain group and the Social Committee group will help move us in that direction.

Time will tell.

On a side note…  I found out that you can actually start your own committee…  One neighbor, Buddy, who also happens to be our mailman, started the “Save the Bunnies Committee.”  While the lady sitting next to him started the “Relocate the Bunnies Committee.”  This should be interesting…

Halloween

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Jesus replied, “The most important [command] is this: ‘Listen, Israel! The Lord our God is the only Lord. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’  The second most important commandment is this: ‘Love your neighbor as you love yourself.’ There is no other commandment more important than these two.”

Matthew 22:36-40

Halloween may just be my new favorite holiday.

I know, that’s not very Christian of me… but its true.

Over the last several years I have grown more and more passionate about the second greatest command.  Imagine, if Christians everywhere were known as the people who genuinely loved and cared for the people who lived on their block.

Seriously, imagine it.  Stop and think for a minute…  How would your city be different if every Christian took seriously the idea that the second most important thing God wanted us to do (next to loving Him), was to express love to the people who lived on our block?

If this actually happened, I am convinced that the Great Commission would be accomplished.

It really is that simple.

When I was in college I had this idea that I was going to be a massive force for the fulfillment of the Great Commission.  I now realize that its not my job to be a massive force.  Its my job to be faithful to the little things God invites me to join Him in.

It is my job to do my part.  No more.  No less.

So I’m working on figuring out exactly what my job is in the Highland Park neighborhood.

We started with Halloween.

We were excited that we were able to move in just a few days before Halloween, and we had a feeling that we would have a lot of trick or treaters.  And so we did!

We had roughly 250 people come by the house!  It was a wonderful welcome to the new neighborhood!

I grilled hotdogs on the front lawn and ended up giving out 60 of them to parents and kids.  IMG_3975

We made a great connection with several neighbors who lived close by.

We were even given an invitation to join one family for dinner and told we would soon be getting an invitation to a BBQ!

Please pray for our new neighborhood.  Pray again for God to raise up workers for the harvest in Highland Park.  Pray against Satan’s attacks.  Pray for wisdom to know how to love our neighbors in the way they best receive it.  Pray for relational favor.  And continue to pray for our marriage and our growing family, as Satan loves to attack the home front of those doing this kind of work.

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Speaking at Elderlink – Dallas

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If anyone happens to be in the Dallas area on November 13-14 you should consider registering for the Elderlink conference.  This year they have an awesome group of presenters (Lynn Anderson, Carson Reed, Judy Siburt, Rick Atchley, Carley Dodd, Eddie Sharp, David Wray) and one guy who’s still not sure why he’s been invited to speak. 😉

This year they are focusing on helping our churches lean into God’s design for them in a world that’s gone amok.

Here’s my class title and description…

Love Thy Neighbor: A Practical Guide to Helping Your Congregation Follow Jesus’ Second Greatest Commandment 

Many of our church members are familiar with Jesus’ second greatest commandment, but actually expressing love to the people who live next-door is a challenge for most Christians. This session addresses this challenge through the personal experience of a missionary couple. In a city where less than 10% of the population attends church, they have built meaningful community with over 200 of their closest neighbors. Participants will explore practical steps for helping their church members do the same in their neighborhoods.

If you’re interested in joining you can register here.

You can also view the Facebook Event Page here.

A Long Awaited Update

A few of you have asked for an update.  I apologize once again for my lengthy hiatus from writing here.  I really should make it more of a priority, because I know many of you use this as a way to pray about more current events.  And I can’t tell you how much I value your prayer.  I should let that be reflected in the frequency with my posts here… Thank you for your grace with me.

Life in the Bunch house has been a wild roller coaster this Summer.  So this post will be a little lengthy to help catch you up with the last several months.

Many of you know that our apartment building was purchased by a new company in May.  We were very nervous about this transition as we had built strong relationships with all of the staff.  I’ve written about much of that here.

At first it appeared that it was going to be a great transition and that the new owner would gladly welcome us as a key part of the community.

However, we quickly found out that was not the case.  Within the first month of the transition to the new owner, we began to feel that our position in the community was very temporary.  We were told by a staff member, that the manager wanted us to stay on the team, but that the new asset manager for the owning company was an atheist and in her research, discovered the Christian origins of our work.  She was not okay with this, and made plans to replace us.

We had no idea when we would be removed from our position, but we knew it could happen very soon.

We also knew that we could not afford to live in our current apartment without being the CARES Team.  So we were stuck in a transition that we had no control over that would dramatically effect our lives, our friendships, our ministry, our finances and our home.

Not a fun place to be.

At the beginning of June we went on a retreat for a few days with our friends Heath and Katie Newton (check out the last post if you need a refresher on them).  We used this as an opportunity to kick off our partnership in ministry by listening to God about his purpose for bringing us together.  It was a rich time of listening, dreaming and bonding together.

We came away from this retreat with a dream to one day soon buy homes in the same neighborhood and focus our relational capital on each other.  Our dream is to grow in this dream of being a church that actually functions like a family.

We began the early stages of brainstorming a rule of life we would one day adopt in order to make a firm commitment to each other as a family of Christ.

We were (are) so incredibly excited to one day be much closer to each other in order to help make this dream a reality.

The next several months were full of ministry with/to our neighbors, a dozen parties/events thrown all the while feeling like this home and our ministry platform would be pulled out from underneath us at a moments notice.

At the end of August, we were officially told by the apartment management that September would be our last month as the CARES Team and that we would need to move out of our apartment by the end of October.

So we hired a real estate agent and began searching for a neighborhood with the Newtons.  Heath had recently found a job as a school counselor in Pflugerville, TX (a booming suburb that borders Austin’s north side to the east of I-35).  So we decided we would look for a home in North Austin or Pflugerville.

A little bit of research on home prices quickly narrowed our search down to several Pflugerville neighborhoods.  After several days of neighborhood looking and talks with our real estate agent, we decided that the Highland Park neighborhood was going to be the best fit.

My and Sara’s excitement for this neighborhood was extremely exciting to us!

The neighborhood is ripe with assets to build community.  The streets are all lined with sidewalks that are well trafficked by walkers, runners, bikers and strollers.  The neighborhood shares a hand full of community mail boxes.  There are 2 community pools, 2 playgrounds, a basketball court, soccer field, pond, and walking trail.

After narrowing down our search to this neighborhood we soon found the house of our dreams.  It had more than enough room for our growing family, a great big front porch and a large gathering area to host large dinners and parties with our neighbors.

After some fairly brief negotiations with the seller we were in contract on the home and set to close on the house September 23.  We were so excited to begin moving into the home and getting to know our neighbors.

On September 21, we were told by the loan officer that we were not going to be approved for the loan on the house.  Just 2 days before we thought we were going to get the keys…

We were shocked and to be honest, heart broken about it.  Our agent recommended that we search for another mortgage company to work with.  So we quickly began applying with several mortgage companies.  We finally settled on working with one of them who was the most confident they would be able to work around our situation.

Meanwhile one of the men I’ve been discipling for nearly a year who had been experiencing some amazing life transformation found himself in a really difficult situation with the law.  I ended up having to dedicate about a week of nearly non-stop attention to him.  It was emotionally, spiritually and physically exhausting, but incredibly important.

We are still in the throws of that situation, and probably will be for the foreseeable future.

We had our last party for our neighbors at one of the neighborhood restaurants on September 28.  It was a great time together with many kind words of thankfulness for our role in their lives over the last year and a half.  We even had a few neighbors throw us a small going away party.

The new loan company looks promising, and we have been told that everything should go smoothly this time.  They tell us we will close on the home on October 30.

If so, we will move in on Halloween!  Just in time for the whole neighborhood to come knock on our front door to welcome us into the neighborhood!  I love the beauty and caos of that idea!

Please pray for us in this transition.  Pray that the loan actually goes through this time so that we can buy the home.  Pray for relational favor with our new neighbors like we’ve had with our current neighbors.  Pray for grace on our friend with the legal issue.  Pray for our family’s strength as we make our 4th move in the last 29 months (and hopefully the last for a very long time)!

Thank you again for your grace on my lack of updates here.  It is greatly appreciated.

Big News!  We’ve got Partners!

FullSizeRenderI can hardly contain my excitement about the news we have to share today.

For the last 5 years, (even as we were only dreaming about the future) my heart has yearned for a deep, committed, loving partnership that God would raise up for the two of us.

When you’re in school studying mission, the idea of partnership comes up often.  The theme passage for my whole masters education was Luke 10, when Jesus sent out the 72 disciples in pairs.  The idea of partnership is at the very center of Christian mission.

But I didn’t want anyone to pair us up with someone else.  I really wanted God to do that for us.  So I decided I would rather wait for God to do it, rather than trying to make it happen on my own.

And today I’m so excited to share that God has followed through on one of the deepest desires of our hearts!

I want you to see how clear it is that God did this and no one else can claim credit for it.  So here’s the story.

In the Fall of 2008 I asked a professor at ACU (and the man that officiated our wedding) to help me find an internship on the West Coast.  I really wanted to visit there, and to learn more about college ministries.  Instead, he found me the exact opposite.  So I took an internship with a house church planter in the Bronx, New York.

I had 4 other interns going with me.  One of them, Heath Newton became my roommate for the Summer.  He ended up proposing to his girlfriend Katie in Central Park.  They got married and after undergrad moved off to Portland, Oregon.  A city I thought I might one day move to (I have since clearly changed my mind on this).

We became extremely close that Summer.  I spent more time with the two of them in those 3 months than I had spent with anyone in many years.

However, we didn’t really stay in touch after the internship, and especially not after they moved to Portland.

Fast forward to October 2014…

I had someone hire me to go video a conference in Portland.  ALRIGHT!  Paid trip to a city I’ve been wanting to visit for a decade!

A month before Heath had read one of these blogs and sent me an encouraging email back in reply.  So I asked Heath and Katie if I could plan my flight to stay a few extra days in Portland and stay with them while I was there.  They happily agreed.

While I was there, they took me on a great adventure to hike in some of the most beautiful areas of the country I’ve ever seen.  Through the driving, hiking, mealtime and hot-tub conversations, the Lord began to redraw our hearts back together, and began to draw their hearts to the mission we are on.

We decided to begin weekly video chats with our two families.

Our hearts kept being drawn deeper and deeper toward each other.  And our babies were having fun seeing each other through the computers too!  (They have a baby boy named Joel that is 11 days younger than Annabelle!)

Over the course of just a few months, our hearts were drawn so deep towards each other that we began to make plans for them to move to Austin and become our partners in life and in ministry.  We are beginning to talk about our two families functioning more like one family.

We have a dream that we are working towards of eventually moving next door to each other in an effort to live out the language many churches like to use, that “we are all one family.”

We are going to the Lord often with the questions, “What do you want this relationship to look like?”  and “What is your purpose in drawing us together?”

We don’t yet know the answers to all of these questions, but we are excited to begin to find out.

They will land in Austin in about 3 weeks and we couldn’t be more excited!!

Your prayers for the Lord to raise up Harvest workers in Austin has been answered in a HUGE way.  We cannot thank you enough for your role in this.

Please pray for us as we continue to seek answers to these questions.

A New Kind of Leadership (…that also happens to be very old)

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I am convinced that the most important role of leadership in the church is that of the “eductive leader.”  Eductive is not a word we use that often, so for those who need an introduction to the word it means, “to draw forth, or to extract.”

What the church needs more of (perhaps more than anything) is leaders who draw forth the gifts of its members.

For the most part, wether in large churches, medium sized churches, or house churches, there are those who tend to lead, and those who follow.  And we have come to accept this binary construction as a universal truth.  Its just the way it is.

But not so with God’s Kingdom.

Each person was uniquely designed by the Creator with their own unique gifts.  Unfortunately, any pastor will tell you that 90% of those gifts lie sleeping in the church.  The problem is that people have subtly received the message that they are followers, not leaders.

There is some truth to this to be sure, but the larger truth is, that as each of us are called to use our own gifts, we are called to lead others deeper into the life of the Kingdom by using those gifts.

The problem is, that certain gifts are spotlighted as “true leadership” while gifts like hospitality, empathy, patience, joy, encouragement, listening, kindness, connection, peace, friendship, etc lie as sleeping giants in our churches.

We must learn how to notice these gifts in our families, call them out, and embolden them live out their calling to be great hosts, bringers of joy and encouragement, people of peace and friendship and empathetic listeners.

When we learn to do this, we will set them free be who they were meant to be.  They will become full of life and energy, and they will do their part in bring Heaven to earth.

We saw this happen last night, as we often do in our house church gatherings.  One lady in particular had her gift of being a person of peace with the gift of hospitality called out.  She was told how her gift could be used in the Kingdom and was set free to be who she was designed to be.  She is going to do amazing things for God’s Kingdom with this new found freedom to lead in exactly the ways she was designed to lead.

Praise be do God that we aren’t a body all made of mouths, but that some of us are hands, and feet and ears, and arms…