April mini-updates

The theme of the month of April was patience – which is a pretty lousy theme if you ask me.  Lots of little things have been happening, so I thought I’d share them all in short form rather than spend too much time on any single thing.  And who doesn’t love bullet points?

  • Leslie and I just had an update with our builder – and it looks like late June is the new target for our closing.  Our original date was late March.  Oy!  But our drywall is hung and they’re working on cabinets this week.2016-05-01 13.35.58.jpg
  • Lucy and Mabel are growing in personality with each day.  Lucy can almost write her name (with some help) and remembers things that we said in passing days before.  Mabel walks very well now.  One of her favorite things to do is to grab and pull on Lucy’s hair.  She makes a happy growl kind of sound while doing it – very cute.
  • We have been spending time in our new neighborhood and have met a few neighbors now.  Praise God for some friendly people!  We just met a couple across the street, and we’ve connected for the second or third time now with another couple the next street over.  Just can’t wait to actually live there.
  • Leslie and I have been working really hard on diet and exercise.  This new push came out of some stuff I’ve been working on having to do with discipline.  I’ll try to write a longer post about this in the near term, but I’m sure you’re aware of the powerful links between spiritual, mental, physical, and relational health.
  • 4th Tap’s six month anniversary is this weekend.  It has been really fun to watch them grow as a business and as a team.  Our production is up to about 120 barrels per month (over 3600 gallons).  And it’s all delicious. 🙂
  • I’ve been having a really productive time working with my church planting coach/sponsor, Terry.  Terry and I are connecting well on a lot of the ups and downs of trying to live life on mission, and I’m really thankful for the mix of accountability and unconditional support I’m getting from him.
  • I saved the best for last.  On April 29, my sister, Katie, gave birth to her first child, William Lee Tanenbaum.  

That’s all for now!  Thanks for reading.


Living from the Heart

One of the recommendations that Leslie and I received at the end of our Assessment for church planting was to take some kind of grace seminar.  Leslie and I are both oldest children, and we have some Pharisaical tendencies.  Living according to God’s grace takes work (ironic!).  Every person who comes to know Jesus as Lord starts out with many deeply ingrained habits (that all made sense when we didn’t know about God’s love for us).  It takes a lifetime to discover all of our old, bad habits, seek healing from God’s Spirit, and then establish new habits built on the foundation of grace.

One of the ways God helps us with this challenge is through the gift of community.  We’re not supposed to be alone!  Leslie found a Christian counselor in Austin who runs a nine month seminar called “Heart Living” that meets at a church in East Austin.  The central idea of the course is that we can live from our whole hearts, as a whole person, all the time, but it takes work and God’s grace.

What does it mean to have a whole heart?  Well, I’m pretty sure we all know what it feels like to feel divided or like a shallow version of ourselves.  Sometimes we get blinded by anger or anxiety (or even things like hunger) and – instead of seeing things from an eternal perspective (illuminated by the Holy Spirit) – we retreat, snap at someone, or overindulge in something in search of satisfaction or comfort.  To live according to the whole heart is to be aware of your emotions, the needs behind them, and also the bigger picture of God’s grace-filled plan for your life.

Leslie and I have gotten a lot out of this course, especially with regards to parenting.  Lucy is three now and she has some strong emotions that can elicit some similarly strong ones from us in return.  Lucy was recently disobeying our family dinner rules.  She was repeatedly leaving her seat, which isn’t a big deal, but it was still pretty irritating for me.  I told her that if she left her seat one more time, she would have to go straight to bed.

I had a lot of things on my mind at that moment.  I wanted Lucy to behave.  I wanted to eat my dinner.  I knew that her bad behavior was appropriate for her age; she has been testing a lot of boundaries lately (like the “don’t kick dad in the nose” boundary – ouch).  I was feeling unsure of my parenting decisions.  Was I setting her up for failure by insisting that she eat dinner, when she might have spoiled her dinner earlier with a snack?  Was I being frustrated more easily because my own dinner was being interrupted?

Our Heart Living class put a lot of emphasis on this kind of emotional awareness.  We want to make good decisions that honor our Creator and imitate the love of Christ, but that’s a lot harder than it sounds.  God was kind to me this particular dinner, because right after I gave my ultimatum to Lucy, she looked at me and threw her milk cup off the table.  No more uncertainty!

Lucy cried a lot as I put her to bed.  I could tell that she understood that she had disobeyed, and I know that it will be better for her in the long run to have a stable homelife with consistent rules, but it was quite an emotional experience for me, too.  Lucy did not try to leave her bed, fell asleep, and gave me a big hug the next morning.

Do you live in your whole heart?  I believe that God wants us to have life and have it to the fullest!  God’s Word has lots of great passages about the heart, but I really like this one from from Proverbs 4 (NRSV):

20 My child, be attentive to my words;
    incline your ear to my sayings.
21 Do not let them escape from your sight;
    keep them within your heart.
22 For they are life to those who find them,
    and healing to all their flesh.
23 Keep your heart with all vigilance,
    for from it flow the springs of life.
24 Put away from you crooked speech,
    and put devious talk far from you.
25 Let your eyes look directly forward,
    and your gaze be straight before you.
26 Keep straight the path of your feet,
    and all your ways will be sure.
27 Do not swerve to the right or to the left;
    turn your foot away from evil.

Thanks for reading!

Happy Birthday, Mabel!

Yesterday was Mabel’s big day!  Mabel is a delight and a real blessing.

Here she is with her cupcake (or “pupcake” as Lucy calls them).


The slab for our new home was poured a few weeks ago, and now they’re working on framing.

2016-03-21 12.46.53

We can’t wait to finally have our own home again.  This experience of waiting has taught us a lot about patience.  I can’t imagine wandering around in the wilderness like the Israelites.  I used to feel like they were pretty dumb for doubting God’s providence or getting really picky about details, but now I think I get it a bit more (and our wait is nothing like theirs).


Do you ever notice yourself putting all your hope in the “next thing”?  Like, as soon as X happens, I’ll be happy/strong/disciplined/confident enough to do Y.  I’m always doing this.  I’ll get in shape next year.  I’ll be more committed to some spiritual discipline after we move.  I’ll be in a good rhythm as soon as I can get these administrative things done.  Every once in a while, the pattern of misplaced hope really jumps out at me and I want to repent.  But what is the alternative?

Putting hope in the future is a big part of our identity as Americans.  For so long, we have had decades of steady progress in all sorts of fields.  It’s understandable to be optimistic about the future.  Also, consumerism is built on the promise that acquiring some product or service will improve our lives.  Instead of doing a good thing to receive a carrot – we believe that when we consume a carrot, it will impute goodness to us in some way.  We can even apply this to spirituality.  We’ll be closer to God when we read a book/listen to a sermon/try out some new spiritual practice.

The future is important.  And one of the big ideas behind “missional” living is having a purpose – a life that points to the hope of the gospel for the world in an intentional kind of way (not reactionary/passive/let it come to you). But we can’t put our hope there!  Our hope has to be in Jesus.  Our hope has to be that God’s Holy Spirit is already working things out.

Here’s an example.  Let’s say I’m having lunch with someone who doesn’t know God.  I can get really excited about the idea of them coming to know God – almost to the point where that future hope obscures what’s actually happening in the present.  Instead of listening to the person, I can get lost in a daydream.  Or maybe my overly specific plan for this person blinds me to what God is actually doing.

We are putting a lot of hope in our new house.  I admit it.  We’re talking about this misplaced hope and how we know it’s wrong.  I don’t know if “wrong” is the right word.  Maybe “foolish” is better.  Having a home will enable us to do a lot more hospitality.  Living in East Austin will greatly reduce our time spent driving places.  But the glory of God does not depend on those things!  God can use us right now – and that promise should be our hope.

How about you?  What kinds of future hopes do you have?  Do you experience times when you feel caught up in those hopes or grounded in right kind of hopes?

Thanks for reading!

PS – If you haven’t already, please sign up for our newsletter!  We’ll be sending out our first one this Easter Weekend.

Forge Residency

One of the perks of receiving support from the WBA is a free Residency with Forge America.  Forge is a missionary training program founded by Alan Hirsch and Michael Frost in 1996 in Victoria, Australia, and the residency program is a nine month learning cohort with coaching, training sessions, some reading, and practical exercises.  We had our first weekend intensive session this last Friday and Saturday.  Leslie and the girls were able to join us for most of the time (which is really fun).

I am really happy that Forge exists.  I’ve gone to seminary – but the more time I spend thinking and learning about missional community life, the more I see the gaps in the traditional western seminary curriculum.  I think Schleiermacher came up with the general outlines: biblical theology, systematic theology, practical theology (preaching/church life stuff), and church history.  In this system, missiology fits under systematic theology (and occasionally pops up other areas).  Forge flips the order around in a big way.  In the “institutional church” paradigm, the church has a mission.  In the “missional church” paradigm, God’s mission has a church.

This is big news, and it’s good news, too.  Terry (my coach and the Forge Austin hub director), reflecting on his church leadership experiences, says, “When you aim for community, you occasionally get mission.  But when you aim for mission, you always get community.”

That’s all I have to share at the moment.  My parents visited the week before and our house is finally under construction!

Good times with ECO friends

Last week Leslie and I had a wonderful time at ECO’s National Gathering in Newport Beach.  We had a lot on our minds going into the trip –  an important committee meeting, fundraising hopes and dreams, etc. – but we were also really excited to get to do a trip with just the two of us.  Our flights were super easy.  When you’re used to taking a toddler and a baby on flights with multiple connections during the holidays, flying as just a pair of adults feels surreal.  The weather was beautiful.  Leslie found a great AirBnB spot for us within walking distance of the host church.

2016-01-25 18.05.27

Of course the first flights we do without our dear kiddos are less than half full.

The conference was held at St. Andrews Presbyterian Church, and they have a pretty impressive campus.  ECO had a really great showing, and their sanctuary fit the crowd very well.

Leslie and I were able to meet up right off the bat with our friend Jonathan LaBarge.  Jonathan and his wife are pastors at a church outside Los Angeles that is home to an English-speaking congregation, a Spanish-speaking one, and a new church plant.  Leslie and I first connected with them a conference at Mt. Hermon in 2013 when Leslie was on maternity leave with a very young Lucy.  They are really genuine and friendly, and sometimes I even forget the fact that Jonathan is a lifelong Lakers fan.

2016-01-27 17.05.33

Jonathan dreams of pizza.

We also met up with our dear friend Andrew Dickinson.  Andrew and his wife Sarah were a part of the church where I did my field education in seminary, and Andrew enrolled at Princeton a year after I did.  Andrew and Sarah live with their two daughters in a suburb of Atlanta where Andrew is an associate pastor.

2016-01-26 14.26.44

Andrew takes lectures very seriously.

I’m going on and on about meeting with friends because relationships like these are what the church is all about.  Of course there were meetings and votes and things, but time together with other members of Christ’s body is supposed to be fun and encouraging and family.  I love spending time with friends like Andrew and Jonathan because we can share about the stuff that is important to us on every level.  All too often that’s not the case – and we end up compartmentalizing ourselves (faith, relationships, work, recreation) and life starts feeling scrambled.

Leslie and I met with the church planting committee for the presbytery of TX and LA first thing in the morning on the second day of the conference.  We talked about next steps and got some encouragement on our proposal and overall vision.  There’s still a bit of confusion about which steps are supposed to happen when, but I can tell people are really getting excited about the big picture of missional transformation and church planting strategies.  We also met with the presbytery as a whole, and Leslie and I got to introduce ourselves and the outlines of our vision for a new church in Austin.

Jeff Vanderstelt gave an amazing keynote presentation.  I was very excited about his talk for a lot of reasons, and he did not disappoint!  Jeff is the real deal.  The way that Soma (the church – the people) has taken up the quest of bringing gospel saturation to Tacoma (and beyond!) gives us a lot of hope as we try to do the same thing in Austin.  The way that Jeff talks about discipleship and faith is inspiring because it sounds simple and sustainable.

2016-01-27 14.10.12

Jeff brings the word.

Leslie, Andrew, Jonathan and I also attended a breakout session led by Alex Absalom.  Alex was on staff at RiverTree Christian Church in Masillon, OH (a stop on the Future Travelers tour) as a kind of embedded missional theologian.  He’s now doing a similar thing in at a church in Long Beach, CA.,  He also runs a missional consulting group, has his first book coming out really soon, and is super active on Twitter (@alexabsalom).  Alex gave a talk about group dynamics and mission that was similar to one of his presentations for Future Travelers (I like to think of it as his mathematical proof for missional communities).  After the talk, we stuck around and invited Alex to join us for dinner at a neighborhood bar that Leslie and I had scouted earlier.  Talking about church leadership is fun, but talking about church leadership with burgers and beer is much, much more fun.

Thanks for reading!

2016-01-26 08.55.08

We definitely exceeded our daily steps goals on this trip.


New Home Permits, ECO National Gathering, & More

2016-01-24 14.58.40

After quite a few months of waiting, we finally heard that our permits were approved for our new home!  We swung by the neighborhood to gaze longingly at the site of our future home, and some neighbors came out to say hi!  We met a really nice couple with four month old twins.  Our two girls keep us on our toes.  I can’t imagine starting with twins!

Leslie and I are very excited to catch a plane shortly to head to ECO’s National Gathering in Newport Beach, CA.  We just heard from the our ECO presbytery that our proposal for our church plant was approved.  I attended the last gathering in Dallas, but this will be our first opportunity to do this sort of thing together as a church-planting couple.  I’m excited to hear from the speakers, especially Jeff Vanderstelt.  This will also be our first trip without our girls since Mabel was born, and Newport Beach is a pretty neat place for a midweek getaway.

Terry (my church planting sponsor and mentor) and I spent some quality time at the Travis County Clerk’s office registering a DBA for our church plant under his church (Life Church Austin).  Our working title is “In Vivo.”  Here’s how I described the name in our proposal:

“In vivo” is a term from biology and other sciences, meaning “within the living,” similar to “in vitro” (“within the glass”). It describes studies that take place in settings that are as alive and whole as possible. We feel that In Vivo captures our ideas about experimenting with new ways of being real disciples in real life pretty well. It’s also a lot shorter than “East Austin Missional Community Church Plant.” We’ll stick with it for now, but we’ll revisit it when we have more voices in the community.

A DBA and a bank account mean that we are now able to receive financial support from anyone who would like to do so.  I added a donate page to the website (to the left towards the top).  Over the next few weeks and months, Leslie and I will be approaching individuals and churches to raise support.  If you’d like to learn more, please send me an email!

Christmastime is Family Time

Leslie, the girls, and I had a great Christmas and New Year holiday break!  We had lots of quality time with family.  Leslie’s sister and family and brother came and stayed with us and Granny and GPa (G-Pa?) in Lakeway and we a had a full house.

Les and Amanda and the babies

It’s always great to hear how God has been active in our family – a family member had just returned from trip to South Asia where he was doing some neat missional work.  It wasn’t “overseas missions” in the typical sense; his group spent most of their time interacting with local church leaders, sharing best practices, encouragement, and Bible studies.  They visited both non-Christian and extensively Christian areas (including Nagaland, which I was surprised to learn is more Baptist (75% of the population) than Mississippi (55%)).  He shared a lot of stories about church planting and discipleship strategies.  It was encouraging to hear about efforts for missional transformation (helping God’s people follow God’s will for their lives) are happening around the world.

The day after Christmas we got up and caught a flight to the east coast for round two of family time.  We spent a few days in the Kennett Square area and got to see some friends from high school and college.  Then we all drove up to the Poconos to my parents’ new house just down the road from the Pantazes’ Poconos home.

Lu and Mabel poconos

Our “Panta-ment” family New Year’s celebrations are getting more and more crowded over the years (11 people in our house, 8 in theirs) but in the best way possible (new babies and new spouses!).  It’s hard to pick my favorite part of NYE, but I should probably eat less scrapple next year.  (Shower thought: I wonder how well an artisanal scrapple food truck would do in Austin…)

As we visited with family and friends, we had the chance to spend a lot of time sharing our church planting plans.  We got some great feedback and words of encouragement.  I hope to incorporate all their suggestions into my proposal and get it submitted in the next day or so.  Thanks for reading!