Because of His Great Love: On the 2018 Women's Retreat

A few weeks ago our women gathered in Salado, TX for our 2018 women's retreat. Our speaker Arlene Kasselman led our hearts and minds in purposeful reflection on what it means to be loved by God and how that one truth shapes our identity and actions. 

Here are a few photos and some highlights shared by women who attended:

After attending this year's women's retreat, what are you going home with? What did you learn?

Pamela Crider Champion:  I learned that God will take what I can do, my interests, my passions, my life and meld that with what He wants me to do. Simple but difficult.

Amber Benskin: The law was given not out of a means to dictate to us rules but rather to show us how to live in better community with another. Even God's cleansing of the temple was because of those being marginalized.

Lisa Seward Shultz: I do not have to live in the past, feeling guilty about things I have done and things that have happened to me. I can let go of that "baggage" and trade it for better things, things God has intended for me. I need to step into the role of my true identity. Believe all the things that God says I am.

Michelle Mohrmann: This is what stuck with me....
Your (my) worth has been taken out of your (my) hands and decided in your (my) favor. 
Relating this to my identity in Christ as described in Ephesians 1&2, I am adored, redeemed, forgiven, chosen, included, loved.

Tiffany Sanders: When we remember who we really are and whose we really are, it’s a game changer. By filling ourselves with the words He identifies us by, we become amazingly free and whole again.

Tanja Whitehead Wren: I learned the importance of discussion. I went into small group thinking a certain way and through the course of discussion I was challenged in my thinking. I was also able to see characteristics in myself that I hadn’t thought about but were shared by others. Without discussion it is impossible to truly grow and understand.

On Being Open-Handed: A Recap of How We Spent (and are spending) Our 2017 Extra

This past Sunday we had the extraordinary opportunity to share with you the effects of your generous giving in 2017, giving above and beyond our budget by more than $145,000. In case you missed the run-down of ways God used your money this year, here's the good news (you can either watch the video or read the full text below):


TRANSCRIPT:

We want to share some good news with you. We’re 2 weeks into 2018. And in light of that, we want to take a quick look back at 2017, celebrate some things you know about, and let you in on some things you don’t know about.

Over the past year, among many other things,

  • You gathered together for ShareFest to give our extra to over 500 people in need.
  • You hosted almost 200 kids from this city for a week of Champs Camp, where they had a blast learning about Jesus and worshipping together.
  • You invited our neighbors across the street to a party where we fed them and gave their children over 200 backpacks filled with school supplies.
  • You gathered again and again for Plus One Celebrations, packing out living rooms and kitchens and backyards to celebrate baptisms, thanking God for salvation and life.
  • You blessed Voigt Elementary’s teachers, volunteered at Voigt’s events, mentored their students, and prayed for their faculty.
  • You provided a place every Monday right here in this building for dozens of children to have school.
  • You sent teenagers and adults on mission trips to Houston and China and Nepal.
  • You funded a year’s worth of mission work by an incredible couple in Zagreb, Croatia--who you’ll hear from later on.
  • You served and grieved alongside people who said goodbye to precious loved ones this year.
  • You drove people to AA meetings and made meals for struggling families.
  • You created 4 new small groups, giving 92 more adults and kids a circle in which to love and be loved.
  • You welcomed 66 new members into the RRCOC family and cheered for 21 baptisms.

And honestly, all of that is just the tip of the iceberg.

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You may remember that in 2016 (the year before last) you went above and beyond with your financial generosity.

As we closed the year that December, and what you had done over the course of the year became evident, it was so fun to get to share that with you. You enabled some beautiful, incredible things.

But that Sunday in December of 2016, as we shared your giving and our plans, I closed that message with these words: “As we look ahead to 2017, let’s remember: give more and we’ll do more. Let’s get crazy.”

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And you did. Because of your generosity and intentional giving, we ran a surplus this year.

Again.

You gave more. And so, we did more.

And because we’re Feast People, who gather regularly to celebrate the incredible blessing and work of God, we want to celebrate what God did and let you know about some of the ways we shared our extra…

Every year we budget more than $30,000 in benevolence--that’s money given to struggling families (inside and outside of our church) to help get them through trying times and enable them to get back on their feet. We pay water bills. We hand out HEB gift cards to help with groceries or medicine. We buy gas. This year, thanks to your open-handed giving, we were able to add an extra  $20,000 to our benevolence work, meeting the needs of over 150 families.

Some of your extra giving this year enabled us to take care of our aging building and outfit it to meet our growing needs. We added TVs to the balcony, improved our sound system, installed a new security system,  renovated classrooms, added a defibrillator in the foyer, kept up the  basketball goals in the parking lot as a service to the neighborhood kids who come over to play ball, and, among other things, replaced the baptistry  water heater just a few days before we welcomed five people into that water to put on Christ.

Because of your open-handed giving, we decided to do again what you enabled us to do in 2016 and devote another $9,000 for microgrants to Voigt Elementary to empower teachers to pursue creative and innovative ways of reaching their students.

Teachers have purchased books to make their libraries reflective of the backgrounds and races of their students, programs to teach coding and robotics, and supplies to help special needs students create a coffee cafe, in which they sell coffee and pastries to teachers and staff, learning important money and social skills.

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This past year, because of your above-and-beyond generosity, we were able to hire a part time storytelling minister and fund our storytelling ministry--an effort to identify and proclaim what God’s doing at this church. In 2017 we told over 19 stories about how God’s changing our lives.

In 2017 we were able to give $15,000 above our budget to help missionaries in Tanzania and Croatia.

And in addition to all of that, we still have more money we’re currently in the process of allocating to bless our city, equip our church, and glorify God.

This wasn’t an easy year for our church. We made some hard decisions in our efforts to follow God’s leading and those decisions weren’t always popular. It wasn’t an easy year. But it was a good year. In the midst of the inevitable friction of life together, we proved that Jesus was right: we’re better together. You proved that there’s so much power in open hands.

In total, your giving last year exceeded our budget by $145,000.

That’s what enabled all of that good work we listed.

And that’s in addition to the extra you gave in special contributions (for hurricane victims and short term missions) which alone totaled $46,000.

This is what it looks like to be open-handed.

Thank you church for letting God move through you so powerfully.

As we celebrated your giving in Dec 2016, I offered a blessing from 2 Cor 9--a blessing God clearly honored, and a blessing I want to offer again:

As you become more and more generous, may he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food also supply and increase your store of seed and enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. [May you] be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and [may]  your generosity result in thanksgiving to God.

Would you join us in saying out loud,

 “Look what God’s done! Thank you, God! We love it!!”

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We have one more thing to tell you about. In November of 2017, we focused our attention on orphans, and God’s call for us to love the way he loves--as a Father who adopts us as his children.

And we introduced you to 4 children from Columbia who are in need of families. Abe, Jack and Natalie, and Nelly. We gave you magnets with their faces and challenged you to pray daily that God would provide them a home. You did. And we want you to continue to.

But some of you did more than that. Some of you sensed God leading you to go further, convinced that God would enable what he required.

Many of you know that our own Josh and Susan Sumpter have decided to pursue adoption. They’ve done a ton of work, completed home studies, and though there’s always less certainty in these things than we’d like, things seem to be progressing well.

What you may not know is that the child they’re adopting is Nelly.

:)

By the way, the adoption agency gives each child a pseudonym until they’re a ways into the adoption process--so we’ve come to find out that Nelly’s real name is actually Brenda. So we can call her that from now on. :)

Now, we’re going to pray with Josh & Susan about this in a second, but we wanted to make you aware of your participation in all of this awesomeness. As most of you know, adoption can be very expensive, and our desire for some time now has been to leverage our collective generosity in the direction of that challenge.

And so while the Sumpters have already paid for their home studies, and while they’re fundraising to offset the costs of (Lord willing) bringing Brenda home (I mean, she’ll arrive with essentially the clothes on her back), there remains the main portion of the costs of this adoption: a sum of around $30,000.

And because of your open hands, our church is providing $30,000 to enable the Sumpters to give Brenda a home. :)

I can’t wait to meet this little girl. I can’t believe that, Lord willing, our church will have had the opportunity to participate in her story. I can’t wait to watch her grow up in this family.

Josh and Susan, would you come up here?

We know that even though things have gone smoothly so far, we don’t know what the future holds, and so we want to pray with you, asking God to bring this to fruition, and asking Him to be present with you and reward your obedient hearts no matter what lies ahead.

Father in heaven, thank you for this family. Thank you for their hearts to be a family to this precious child who has no parents. Father, give them everything they need for everything you’ve called them to. Thank you for the generosity of this church. Thank you for the courageous hearts of its shepherds. Thank you for writing this story and for writing us into it. Please enable this adoption. We want good, good things for Brenda--keep her close to you. And if for some reason there’s something else that’s even better for Brenda, give Susan and Josh the strength and comfort they’ll need to adjust to that. But our desire, Father, is that you would bring Brenda home...here. And that you would continue to enrich us in every way so that we can be generous on every occasion. In Jesus’ name, amen.

On Light & Life: A Christmas Worship Recap

This year on Christmas Eve we gathered to worship the coming Christ and welcomed hundreds of visitors into our midst. Together we celebrated the life and light only Jesus brings.

Because so many of our members spent Christmas Eve away from Round Rock visiting family, we thought we'd share some of the highlights from our Christmas worship here: 

To start, we shared this video, illustrated by Igniter Media and narrated by our own Glenda Morrison.

During our communion meditation we listened to the song "Power To Redeem" from Lauren Daigle...

Afterward Justin Gerhardt led us in reflections on what it means to live in a world that's both light and dark and why it's so important to believe in the light.

Everyone went home with a book of matches, a reminder to believe in the light (and to spread the light, too). 

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Especially lovely was the moment when we all lit candles, and light spilled across the auditorium while we sang Silent Night. 

Thank you SO much to everyone who devoted time on Christmas Eve to help make this worship service possible! What a privilege it was to welcome our city into our building and to share the luminous hope we've been given.

On The Winter Youth Retreat, Learning To Be Like Jesus, and Scavenger Hunting

Just a couple weekends ago our youth gathered at Camp of the Hills near Marble Falls to grow closer to one another and Christ, worshipping, praying, and studying 3 of Jesus’ "I am" statements:

"I am the Good Shepherd," learning to listen for God’s voice 

"I am the Bread of Life," learning to trust God more

"I am the Light of the World," learning about Jesus being light and how to carry that light ourselves

On Sunday, the speaker gave the students some practical (though wacky) ways to live these truths out, like leaving an open seat for Jesus or taking a walk with God (and talking to him like he’s walking right beside you).

Over the weekend the students grew closer to one another playing different games, but the big activity that everyone will remember was the scavenger hunt. Not because it was a standard run of the mill hunt, but because while the students were hunting for clues, they were also being hunted. George, our speaker, drove around in his truck and “captured” groups, making it a great game of cat and mouse while students simultaneously tried to find all of the clues and evade capture. Everyone also had fun bonding over smores, "banana surgery," and hanging out during down times. 

Thanks to Josh Jones for the event recap! Here are a few pictures of the fun:

On Generosity & Sending: A Missions Benefit Dinner Recap

On December 10th our church gathered to raise money for adults and teens with a desire to serve and teach beyond the borders of our building and city. We blew past our ambitious goal of $15,000, raising almost $18,000 by the grace of our generous God who calls us into Christ-like giving. 

Gathering together for a purpose always blooms into joy, especially with so many hard-working people orchestrating the celebration. Thanks to everyone who played a part--planners, bakers, singers, decorators, servers, logistics folks, baristas, money counters, speakers, testimony-givers, photographers... Everyone. Thank you for letting God use You do His good work. 

This year that money will send teens to Houston for hurricane cleanup. It'll send teens to Lima, Peru to work with orphans and street kids. It'll send adults to Croatia to encourage and equip local minsters and capture stories of the work there. It'll help send one of our college kids to Africa. It'll also benefit the work done through Come Before Winter, an organization devoted to spiritual renewal for missionaries and church workers. 

So much good work enabled by the generosity God stirred up in your hearts!

Look what God's done! Thank You, God. We love it. 

Here are a few pictures and videos from the night.

Partners: On Loving & Being Loved by Voigt Elementary

As a local church, the body of Christ in Round Rock, we see one of our primary missions to be loving our community. We want to be a group of people who serve, who use our money and time and energy to lift up the people around us who've been pushed down. That's why, three years ago, we committed ourselves to partnering with Voigt Elementary School. In those three years, you've served as mentors and literacy partners. You've adopted teachers. You've donated treats for the teacher's lounge. You've donated peanut butter for kids who'd otherwise go hungry over spring break. And you've committed funds to help teachers get the resources they need to do the difficult job of teaching at a title 1 school. 

It's been one of our favorite ways to live love as a church.

This past Thursday night we had the privilege of being thanked in a most delightful and overwhelming way. Our church was named partner of the year at Voigt Elementary School and showered with gratitude in the form of treats, gifts, and words of appreciation.

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Principal Cheryl Hester explained why we were chosen: 

The Round Rock Church of Christ has invested so much into our school and we are grateful! Not only do they volunteer for various activities, they also made a generous donation to our school which has enabled teachers to fill out mini grant applications for classroom requests. 

Monies have been granted for classroom leveled libraries, a Dash and Dot robot, Makey Makeys, book boxes, Literacy in Action, Teacher Appreciation Week gifts, class sets of headphones, planners for 5th graders, flexible seating in classes, Rubix cubes for after school enrichment students to keep, mindfulness cards, PPCD baby doll circle time materials, FAC laminator and supplies, Nearpod subscriptions, counseling bibliotherapy books, AND MORE!

We can't say enough Thank Yous to the Round Rock Church of Christ for their generosity of time and money!

Because not all of you made it out for the celebration (you missed some delicious cake!), we wanted to share the notes from teachers and drawings from students, all of which remind us that this work we're doing is making a difference. Keep it up, church!

Also, here are just a few of the pictures from our micro-grant deliveries this year. God's done such great work at this school through you all this year!

On New Lights and Being Light

Last week we installed new stage lighting in the auditorium. We're still working out all the kinks, getting the right bulbs, and adjusting the settings, but we're sure it's going to make a big improvement in our overall lighting situation. Wondering why we needed new lights? Here's one reason why:

Every Sunday we record the sermon and publish it to Vimeo, a video hosting website. From there we link it to our church website and Facebook page. We do this for members who can't make it, yes. For when you're sick or traveling (we currently have a family watching remotely each week while they handle their child's cancer care). But we also do this to reach people beyond our church, both within the Round Rock community and outside it. 

How well are we reaching those people? 

Really well. 

Over the course of the last 365 days Round Rock videos have been played almost 6,000 times. 

In the last two years we've baptized at least four people who first interacted with our church via sermon videos, watching for weeks before ever entering our building. 

Our sermon videos are used by missionaries in Brazil and Croatia, and have been viewed just this year in each of the locations indicated on the map below:

God is using these videos. (Thank you, God! We love it!)

In order to invest more fully in this good work we've improved the stage lighting in the auditorium (A big thanks to Kirk Roefer for handling the wiring and Jack Chisum for supervising the installation). This will enable better picture quality in our sermon videos (which have so far suffered a bit from lack of light and the presence of dramatic shadows). 

Lights seem like a boring way to spend God's money. But getting the good news into the hands of people across the globe? That's something worth investing in. 

P.S. These new (more directional) lights will greatly improve the picture quality on our screens in the auditorium by reducing the light washed onto them. The worship slides and story videos we play on occasion should be much more readable and watchable. 

 

Ever visited our sermon page on the website? Check it out HERE.

On Sharing Our Stuff and Sharing Our Hearts

Every year in April our church pulls together to bless our neighbors through Sharefest, a giant yard sale where everything is nice and everything is free. We collect our extra clothes, appliances, furniture, books, shoes, lamps and toasters and then give them away to people who need them more than we do. The event's purpose is two fold: 1. To help our neighbors by meeting their physical needs and 2. To welcome our neighbors into our midst, giving them a reason to believe this is a community in which they'd be welcome, a community that loves and shares. 

In an effort to be more welcoming, we've recently begun serving breakfast to the men, women and children who arrive SO early to get in line for Sharefest (this year we had a family arrive at midnight to get the first spot in line). We hand out breakfast tacos, play with the kids, serve coffee. 

This year though we did something special. Thanks to new member Terri Arnold, we collected prayer requests from every person in line. Then we gathered the whole line into a circle on the green grass of our front yard, held hands and prayed over those requests, name by name, in English AND Spanish. 

Just try to look at these pictures and not tear up:

It's always a joy to share our stuff, but this year we got the chance to share our hearts. AND we got to welcome the burdens, pains, hurts and struggles on the hearts of our neighbors, lifting that load to God, asking for the kind of help we can't provide but He most certainly can. 

Praise God for opportunities like these!