Why you shouldn’t choose a church based on the coffee bar

Written by: Amy Dalke

I went to church with my parents this morning, in my hometown of Poteau, Oklahoma. Incidentally, Poteau is not pronounced Podunk, thank you very much.

My family attends a small Baptist church, not much unlike the one I grew up attending. And if you’ll pardon me with a brief tangent, the one major difference about my childhood church experience and that of today, had nothing to do with the church itself. The differing factor was my father’s reaction to Luke’s church attire versus his perspective (or requirements…) on my own childhood Sunday wardrobe.

I really did pack “church clothes” for Luke, but we were running late this morning, and I didn’t have time to iron them. (Wrinkled clothes are not an option. Sorry.) So Luke defaulted to his standard dry-fit uniform, and I couldn’t really argue because I wasn’t taking him to church naked.

As Luke got dressed, I pictured my father shaking his head in chagrin when we walked into the sanctuary. And as we cut into church right before worship began, I’m not even kidding, I braced for the anticipated look of despair on Dad’s face. As I scooted across him to take my place on the pew, I whispered words of apology and an excuse-ridden explanation, but none were even needed. He just smiled at Luke as if Luke had been awarded a Nobel prize. Seriously, Dad?! What just happened here? I couldn’t even wear jeans to church (ever!), but your grandson can stroll in looking like he’s ready to go shoot hoops, and it doesn’t even raise your eyebrows?

There is just something weird that happens to people when they have grandkids. And I’m pretty sure it has little to do with the actual offspring that provides the grandchild. But I’m not bitter.

I’m finished whining now, so back to my point…

The first thing I noticed about this church was the sincerity of the people. There was nothing fancy about the building. They didn’t break attendance records, nor did they have a coffee shop. They didn’t have a band, an orchestra pit, or dual movie screens on which to flash announcements.

Just people on pews, and a pulpit. And it occurred to me: the church really is the people. The extracurricular dressing we set up in church (the activities, sermon series, coffee bars, and stained glass) do not make the church, a church.

Church

The body of believers I worshipped with today is most definitely a true church. Because amongst that group of people, I very much experienced the presence of the Holy Spirit.

God showed up…because they did.

You could hear the love of Jesus in the prayer of the lady who sang at the start of the service; the heart of Jesus was reflected in the eyes of the worship leader, and was evident in the sincerity and gentle demeanor of the man (my former science teacher, mind you) making the announcements. (I’m certain he is not shocked that I didn’t pursue a profession in anything biology related.)

Their pastor is a man who has an obvious passion for the gospel, and a desire to lead this congregation to a deeper understanding of what the Word says about them and life around them.

Church

My takeaway from his sermon today was this (although I should carefully note that these were not his words explicitly):

  • There is a difference between those who say they believe in God – and those who believe God. (The latter makes up the true church of the gospel.)
  • The church is a body of believers, who come together to worship and to serve the body from their individually unique gifts and talents. They are people on a purposeful mission to spread the gospel, to love others, and to continually grow in their personal relationships with God.
  • In order to thrive as believers, we have to have other people. The Christian life is not healthy when lived in isolation because we are intended to function as part of a Body. (An arm is not functional without a brain and other necessary counterparts.)
  • The church suffers when it’s members just comfortably attend services on Sunday, without any expectation of hearing from God while they are there. (I’m pretty sure God intended for me to hear this…because the pastor didn’t use these words, but I heard them anyway.)
  • The authority and power behind the church is Jesus. Period. It is not fabricated by a church oversight board, and it’s not based on politics, committee decisions, or on the likability of church staff. It’s all Jesus, lest we fool ourselves.

Jesus with a jug of water and a towel on a neutral background

  • Church growth is not engineered by a great marketing campaign, contrived by inspiring preachers and teachers, or built around an impressive parking lot. Church growth is manufactured by God, through the work of the Holy Spirit alone. Nothing more. Nothing less. God can use whatever he wants to in order to accomplish his purpose, but all avenues are just methods used by the Original Source.

I had no idea what the sermon topic was when I first arrived and gathered the initial impressions of the love within those walls, but when I heard the words of the pastor, I couldn’t help but think how this church he leads is a church that gets it right. (I think ours does too, for the record.)

I hope these words inspire you to plug into church. If you already are, I hope you’ll walk in next Sunday with a different perspective…a new eagerness to worship…and expectant ears to hear what God has to say.

Amy

p.s. Perhaps Dad wasn’t so worried about Luke’s clothes because he understands church is not about dress code. That doesn’t, however, explain why all of my other childhood rules apparently do not apply to Luke.

Hide n’ Seek – Seek n’ Find

Written By: Rhonda Sue page

He reveals the deep and hidden things; He knows what is in the darkness, and light dwells with Him. Daniel 2:22

I love to sit and think on God. James tells me I think too deeply. Sometimes I suspect he supposes I’ll hurt myself. But I can’t help it, I love to mentally search. In fact, maybe search is a better word for what I do.
It’s different from looking to comfortably box God in and make him fit ……… or get angry when I can’t.
Instead I’ve come to love the challenge of seeing what the world sees and finding a way to conform it to how God sees it. Mostly I find I try to do this by filtering circumstances through God’s character.

“Why?” you ask.

This activity feeds my spirit because it helps me stay in agreement with him no matter what I’m facing. I’ve been doing this just long enough to realize that it’s THE most powerful position I’ll ever hold in this life. It’s less about knowing who I am rather than knowing who He is…… and that He’s taking me where I need to go.
And to be frank, it goes a long way toward keeping me walking in peace and staying out of fear.

Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.’ Jeremiah 33:3

Sometimes I’m floored by the brokenness. The effects of sin in the world seem to know no bounds. The mistakes of others affect even the innocent. So I try to take the “hard” stuff like shootings in schools, abuse toward the weak, rejection of the young, violence bred from greed……..The “unfair” stuff like teens killed in car wrecks, cancer found in children, premature babies that never make it out of the hospital………..anything and everything that leaves me wondering “WHY?”……..

I take it to the feet of Jesus. I sit there for as long as it takes to get it off my chest. When I’ve laid it bare……….the real work begins. Will I move past the anger, the pain and the fear to look up? Will I make my mind focus on the One who loves me with an everlasting love………or will I stay stuck?

For years I stayed stuck.

Maybe on occasion, I even blamed God and laid the fault at his feet. The thing is, that helped NO ONE…. except the enemy.  Satan’s plan for keeping me stuck, anxiously doubting God………… also kept me down and out for the count. What good is a bitter Christian? The godless don’t need more of that. See, I could not carry that incorrect image of God and carry the Hope of God as well. I needed a better understanding of Him.

So, I began to study what God had to say about Himself. The first step was to trust that he would not lie. It’s not rocket science. Even 8 year olds understand: If God can lie……….he cannot be trusted.

What I really had deep on the inside of me was a trust issue.

The bible has so much to say about God, His character and attributes. God’s word is his introduction to himself. Getting to know about God leads us to the deeper relationship of getting to know God and even greater……allowing ourselves to be known by Him.

I have not spoken in secret, from somewhere in a land of darkness; I have not said to Jacob’s descendants, ‘Seek me in vain.’ I, the LORD, speak the truth; I declare what is right. Isaiah 45:19

I pray that if this is where you find yourself…….at the crossroads of deeper trust and the uncertainty of these times ……That, you too, will find yourself more often taking those issues to the feet of Jesus and hanging out there for the peace that passes understanding. There is great Hope in the earth and it begins there. You were created for amazing things. One of those things is to carry that Hope.

Don’t be frightened to search the deeper mysteries of God. Seeking Him is an exciting adventure your spirit craves and finding Him feeds the gaping hole that’s been inside you since the day you left being formed in His hands to be born.

Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need. Matthew 6:33

 

Rhonda Sue

She’s lost her mind

Written by: Vivian Wilson 

What I am about to confess to you may destroy any credibility that I may have earned from you over these last few months. Yep, in one short sentence, I could be done. But here goes……

I signed up for the 2015 Chevron Houston Marathon Lottery, the whole thing, all 26.2 miles.

I know, I said that I hate to run, and that’s true.  I know, I have one shiny new hip. I know, it’s been five years since I last trained seriously. I know, I am a Nana with seven grandchildren. And I know that I will have my 66th birthday less that three weeks after the race. But, what does any of this have to do with anything?

Here’s the deal. In 2008, when I ran my first marathon, I started with the walkers and finished in about 6 hours and 48 mins. I only intended to run one marathon, but I thought, “I can do better than that,” so I signed up for the 2009 C.H.M. and I finished in 6 hours and 3 mins. So I decided to train for the 2010 race, determined to finish under 6 hours, but I injured my hamstring in the 25K “warmup” race in Oct. I was not able to run the 2010 Chevron Houston Marathon.

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I really never gave another thought to running another marathon until a couple of weeks ago. Wendy, my sweet daughter-in-law, asked me if I was going to run the  2015 Chevron Houston Marathon. (I seriously do not know what she was thinking!) But, I went home from church that day considering the question. I had a few days to pray about it before the deadline. After prayerful consideration—I did it! I filled out the entry form, paid my entry fee, and waited for the drawing.

Well, Monday morning, while my coffee was brewing, I checked my emails, never even thinking about the lottery. And there it was, highlighted in blue:

Congratulations Vivian Wilson!  You are officially registered for the 2015 Chevron Houston Marathon.

Wow! I was surprised, happy, and excited. Then I started thinking about what I needed to do to prepare. Training starts July 5, so I need to join FortBendFit for a training plan and accountability. I need to make sure I drink enough water every day, and I need to mentally prepare myself to be disciplined to faithfully follow the plan, especially in the heat of the summer. Doing all of this will prepare me to run the best race that I can.  You see, I’m not running this race just so that I can say that I did, no, I’m running because I have a very realistic goal. I am determined to finish this race in under six hours.

As I think about running this 26.2 mile race, I can’t help but think about the other race that I am running, the race as a disciple of Christ. This race, too, requires discipline, perseverance, attention to the Plan, (God’s Word), accountability, and my heart, mind, and soul focused on the finish line. The goal is to finish in such a way that I hear my Heavenly Father say, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”  Matt. 25:21

So while you are shaking your head, probably thinking that I have lost my mind, this is what is important to know about me and both races.  You can rest assured that I will give my best effort, that I will be disciplined to follow the plans, and I will keep my eyes focused on the finish line.

I don’t mind being called “crazy for Jesus”.

Still in training,

Vivian

Open my eyes

Written by: Ms. O Just recently I spent the day on the road…destination: Portland, Texas…north of Corpus Christi…to spend the day with my dad…for his 84th birthday.

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I have not been with my dad for many of his birthdays since I left home at 18. Not on purpose….it just happened…over the years. But things changed… a year ago last April…when my dad had his stroke. I became more intentional about how I spend my time….but this time was tough…

Over the years I don’t think I ever really “looked” at my dad. Sure I “saw him”…but I never really LOOKED at him. What I knew of him was passing knowledge…as in two ships passing in the night. Neither of us did it on purpose…it was the hand life dealt.

For as long as I can remember, my dad worked. When I was little he would come home from working at DuPont, eat dinner and then head to the gas station to work into the evening hours. Most weekends he would work there also. I did not think about it growing up…it was a fact of life for him…part of having a wife and five kids. I did not think about it…I was the typical self-centered kid.

Over the years I did not think about what my dad did in his spare time. I knew he would take us for drives….inexpensive vacations…history lessons at key locations. I don’t know if he enjoyed it or not…in my heart I hope he did…but for the life of me I never looked at him long enough to notice.

My dad was always the ultimate “fixer”. If it broke…a repairman was not called in…it was dad. It did not occur to me that home repair was probably the last thing he wanted to do after working…two jobs…but it had to get done. He was the go to guy. I never thought of asking if I could help him…even sit with him while he tinkered with whatever was broken…I just did not see the toiling going on…I just did not see….him.

The day I got married I was a little preoccupied…with leaving. My life was changing…I was packed up…pots, pans and dreams of a future…ready to be an adult…boy did I learn a lot in those first few years. I never thought of looking over my shoulder as I left Portland at 18…to look at my parents…my dad…one more time…before we drove off. My life was in full motion…away from South Texas…as quickly as I could be driven.

As my daughter and I were leaving Portland after a full day of gifts, lunch, cake and celebration, I happen to glance at the front door of my parent’s home. We backed the car up, I saw my dad standing at the door…waving goodbye….and my heart melted. I rolled down the window to make sure he could see me waving back….to make sure he knew I saw him.  I noticed the man whose life has changed dramatically over the last year and a half…who has had to learn to accept his limitations…live within his capabilities….and I felt tears well up in my eyes. I silently sent up my thanksgiving to God…for “moving me” into my Dad’s direction…for opening my eyes…not to what I want…my ideals…my vision…but instead to the man who stood at that door…happy that Mandy and I came to visit.

“So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:18

A snatch of time…so well placed…something that had to be shown to me by my Father in Heaven…so that I could appreciate my dad here on Earth. A man that I had seen so many times over years…but it took God to show me what I had never seen before. You have shown me Lord what is eternal. Let me never forget to not simply glance Lord…but to stop long enough to see…through Your eyes….because You see things I never will without you.

Happy Birthday Dad…

 

Did I seriously just say that?

Written by: Amy Dalke

I wish I naturally had the ability to keep my mouth shut.

What I mean is, if I ever do restrain my words, it’s not my doing. God gets all the credit. Because my natural tendency is to use my mouth like a whip, or a grenade, or in the least, like a well-shaken can of Diet Coke that spills out the unfiltered thoughts in my head.

Like those times I tear someone down with words behind their back.

Like those times I’m straight out ugly to their face.

And those times I have a handful of envy, so I cut them down to make me feel better…

And much like those times I lose my grip with a certain 8 year old, and speak at a volume often considered as yelling. (Although this verse doesn’t specifically address anger, I dare say that when my voice reaches a certain notch on the sound chart, I’m probably not saying words that are considered a gift to the receiver.)

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Be gracious in your speech. The goal is to bring out the best in others in a conversation, not put them down, or cut them out.” -Colossians 4:6 MSG

It’s the “bring-out-the-best-in-others-in-conversation” part that gets me.

Those words sting…mainly because my passive-aggressive comments aren’t meant to offer compliments.

My husband can confirm that my words can rip at the seams of another’s spirit, rather than build up their confidence. I may or may not have done that this weekend. (But it might have been during Luke’s baseball tournament, in the middle of an intense inning.) (Little League Parent Stress is for real, friends.) (I know, I know, still not cool, and definitely not on my highlight reel of kindness.)

The heart of the godly thinks carefully before speaking; the mouth of the wicked overflows with evil words.” -Proverbs 15:28 NLT

Solomon would have included “think carefully before posting your status, writing that email, or sending that text” if he were born into the iPhone era.

You may be one of those people who always thinks before they speak. I’m usually not.

Well…perhaps we should, given that Solomon also tells us that our positive or negative words can bring life or death to the hearer (see Proverbs 18:21). Which, incidentally, would include those times we talk to ourselves.

Here’s what I see in these verses:

  1. We can speak words without thinking first about the benefit or insult they bring to the receiver.
  2. We can speak dagger-like words that we purposefully aim to cut into the soul of the hearer.
  3. We can intentionally speak words that are meant to build up, bring out the best in, and encourage the one who receives them.

How often do we go into conversation with our eye on the goal of bringing out the best in the other person?

It’s safe to say that for me personally, encouragement is likely offered more often as a default or secondary benefit more than an intent.

Along a similar line, there are many times our words can cut unintentionally, simply because we didn’t think about the result before they rolled out of our mouth. Or maybe it’s not so much that they were unintentional, but if we would have considered them through the lens of grace, we may have chosen not to say them at all.

I bet our lives would be radically changed if we measured our words with more caution, and decided to use them to bring out the best in those on the receiving end.

Think about it: the average woman speaks 20,000 words per day, and the average man speaks 13,000. (No comment from the male gallery.) So if we are tossing out 13,000-20,000 words every day of our lives, wouldn’t it be wise to be purposeful about their impact?

I’m pretty sure if we determined to carefully evaluate the weight of our words, the careless ones would decrease. And (hopefully) the hurtful ones would also become less and less.

Better still, what if our intentional goal were to deliberately use words to cheer, motivate, inspire, strengthen, or refresh others?

I’m not delusional; no one who hits a perfect mark on loving speech 100% of the time. And we can give our best effort, but if the Holy Spirit isn’t the governing source, then we’ll fail more often than we succeed.

So I dare you to try something this week:

  • Think before you speak.
  • Measure the impact of your words.
  • Decide to bring out the best of others in conversation.
  • Spare others, by just keeping a lid on the ugly.

Here’s a reminder you can print out and carry around with you this week. It could possibly be a game-changer.

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I’ll be on the first row of your cheering section…

Amy

 

 

Feeling Stretched……..and HOT……..but not in the good way.

Written By:  Rhonda Sue Page

I don’t know about you but for me, spiritual growth comes in spurts. Sometimes, I’m confident of the process….other times, I just know I bear the stretch marks of becoming me.

In fact, I’ve been feeling that way all week.
Not overly-loving. Just edgy. Slightly grumpy. Don’t-mess-with-Texas-OR-me moody.

I don’t have this on medical authority, but I’m pretty sure I’m entering a “new phase of life”.
If you’re a dude…….I give you permission to change the channel.

You’re welcome.

So, I’m sitting in church last Sunday minding my own business……appreciating the great worship but “staying in my space”. When all of a sudden it hit me. Warmth of a great magnitude…….like the temp of hot lava….. starts radiating from my personage. I’d love to be able to tell you it was the very presence of God Himself showing up in me……..but I highly doubt it. Cuz, It happened again on monday while doing laundry. (Pretty sure folding our britches doesn’t fall under the Holy Ground Act.)

James was real sweet. He must have seen the panic in my eyes or the bold sweat that covered my forehead and started the makeup running down my face….……either way, he handed me a church bulletin to fan myself with.

I married him again. Right there. In My Mind.

Later as we drove to lunch, James asked me about it. So, I described the horror as best I could. After I was finished, Matt piped up from the backseat.

“So Mom, It was a little like you suddenly became The Human Torch?

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The entire car filled with laughter at my expense. I wanted to be mad, but I couldn’t. So I started laughing too. But in my family, that’s the go-ahead for verbal annihilation. You have to a least fake your disapproval, or they will all jump on the bandwagon.

“Get a special costume made…with a cape!” suggests Mandy

“NO CAPES!” shout Jon and Steve in unison (A line from The Incredibles) More laughter.

I look to James for support but I can see it in his eyes…….

“Next time Honey, Just stand up and shout FLAME ON!”

 

 

That’s it ……I, The Human Torch, am driving myself to church next Sunday…..alone.

 

Gifted

Written by: Vivian Wilson

spiritual_gifts_dove

Today I’m going to take full advantage of the opportunity that writing a blog offers. Since it’s my space, I am going to brag about one of my grandchildren. I could brag about all of them, and I will sooner or later, but today you just have to listen to me brag about one. (Or not. I guess you could click off.)

Proverbs 17:6  “Children’s children are a crown to the aged.”

Anyway, Friday, I went to the performance of “Frozen” put on by a bunch of kids of all ages, at a summer theater camp. These precious youngsters had four days to learn their lines, songs, and choreography.  They were amazing! But to me, the most amazing of all was Caitlin.

I know that I am a bit prejudiced, but I was blown away by  how really talented she is. Caitlin played the part of Anna, the lead role. She delivered her lines perfectly and on time, she was totally “in character”, fearless, unaffected by the audience, and her strong voice as she sang all of her songs brought tears to my eyes. This precious young lady has got talent! I am grateful that her parents are able to give her opportunities to discover her talents.

At age eleven, how many of us knew, really knew, what we were very good at? I would assume that most of us just lived each day doing what kids do; go to school, ride bikes, play at the playground, or just hang out with friends.

While we all have a talent or two, even more important and potentially fulfilling, is the fact that we all have a gift or two. These were given to us by God the moment we accepted Jesus as our Savior.

I say potentially, because it is up to us to discover what our gift is and then put it to use. Our Heavenly Father gives us opportunities to learn what our gifts are. The church has resources to help in our discovery also.

We have the responsibility to serve in areas that allow us to use our gifts. When we do, I believe we will have a wonderful sense of fulfillment and satisfaction. Everyone benefits, those who serve and those who are served.

1Cor. 12:7  “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.”

1Cor. 14:12  “…Since you are eager to have spiritual gifts, try to excel in gifts that build up the church.”

I also believe that when God looks at us as we use our gifts for the kingdom, He is pleased and delighted.

So, I challenge you today: if you don’t know for sure what your gift is, find out, seek to discover it. Then find an opportunity to use it. If you know what your gift is and are not currently serving in an area where your gift is needed, seek the ministry opportunity that will benefit from your service. And for those who are using their gift in ministry, know that you are a well functioning part of the body of Christ.

1Cor. 12:18  “But in fact God has arranged the parts of the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.”

1Cor.12:27  “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.”

A work in progress,

Vivian