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.

IMG_9549.JPG

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!

Songs About God // A Blind and Broken Song

This Sunday we shared yet another Psalm from one of our members. Here's both how Justin introduced this song and the song itself:

The person I approached to share a psalm this week is someone who’s going through something extremely difficult. Someone who’s hurting, who’s angry, and who’s feeling far from God. I asked her to write a prayer. A song to God that grows from the cracked soil of her pain. I told her that we don’t pray angry, hurting prayers often enough. We don’t sing as many “Where Are You?” songs as we feel. I told her that I hope RRCOC can be a family that’s moving in the direction of rich relationship with God--relationship in which hard truths are spoken and vulnerability is pursued. I told her I wondered if she might help us in that. And I promised that if she did, I’d let her remain anonymous and read her prayer myself. She said yes.

She calls this "Heart's Alt Truth."

Oh, that my ways were steadfast in obeying your decrees! You oh Light on a hill, would it not have been better if I were blind? Or a statue made of cement unable to shatter,  not these broken shards of glass, unhinged and betrayed.  I have hidden your Word in my heart, that I might not sin against you, but my heart lay here in tiny pieces disheartened, by my past, frozen by my present, aching for what is to come.

For it is written that in this life there be a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,  a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, well I would sincerely like to give it away. Blind me or take it all away, anything but this, this treacherous darkness void of life and yet here I reside.

Leave your pity, I can't afford to be sympathetic to your empathy for I am your sheep... broken beyond repair, filled with the shattered glass left from what used to be my heart. Would it not be better to be blind, blind from the pain of this cold earth with its scorched people, barriers from you and your Omnipotent light and yet you leave me here, wounded animal that I am, trapt in darkness.

I should pray to be blind, that I may have never known or seen what could have been. In this life I'm promised pain, loss,  people plead for hope... I plead for hope, but for what? More pain, more loss, more shattered glass because to gain more is to have more to lose. You give and you take it all away.

You can't be for me, my Savior, and bring this much sorrow and destruction, you are not in my corner, you are not on my side. I know this must be true for my thoughts to reconcile this grief. For you my Lord are All sides, you are not in my corner for you are All corners, All hope, All destruction, All pain, All light, All darkness. My pain is earth's fuel to more misery, more destruction, more synthetic light sources for my inner turmoil. These Alt-truths rebirthed in my rotten flesh, why not blind me so I may see.

This life, gone in a vapor, and you my Lord, my awesome God, with my shattered glass between your fingers, tear streaked soul... why? This meaningless life, over in the blink of an eye, what is the point? Grant me your infinite wisdom, correct my lenses as I am too tired, too exhausted to continue this unyielding desolate and lonely path unable to see my way out.

Make me a statue so that I may sit here unwavering, staring at your Light on a hill, unable to bend or break, upheld by your Truth. But, if you won't, then in my exhaustion I feel that now it is a time to give up, a time to refrain from embrace, a time to search. Now is my time to break what's left. You have left me shattered, beyond repair, crumbling between your fingers holding on for all I have left; for your Word. I have strayed like a lost sheep. Seek your servant, for I have not forgotten your commands.

On Being Together (No Matter Our Ages)

This Sunday our youth sponsored a Sweethearts dinner for our members over the age of 50. That's sweet--young people serving older people, cute decorations, a photo booth. But serving them wasn't the big point. Connection was the point, remembering that we're family, that no matter how many years we have between us, we have a whole host of things in common (especially Christ). 

To help drive this home for everyone, teens and older folks paired up for a rousing round of "speed dating," asking each other all kinds of interesting get to know you questions.

Then they took pictures with their "new" friends. :)

Josh Jones, our youth minister, said, "The idea behind all of it was to bridge some of the generational boundaries within our church. Not necessarily to create fellowship and community between two different generations but to show them that since they (the students) are a part of this church they already are in community with this generation and everyone in our church."

Thanks to everyone who participated! What a gift it is to find connection in the family of God!

On Doing What Jesus Did // Dylan Kennedy's Baptism Story

I grew up in the church and always watched people being baptized, so I knew I wanted to do the same thing someday. A couple months before I turned 13 I told my parents I thought I was ready. My dad said he had a book about baptism that his dad used when people felt ready for baptism. The only problem was he had no idea where it was! When he found it, we went through it and talked about it. We talked about baptism being a death, burial, and resurrection. Our sins die and are buried along with us in the water, and we come up cleansed.

I also knew that baptism was something we needed to do because Jesus did it himself. If Jesus did it, then it must be important!

To me, baptism means accepting God in to your life, getting a fresh start, and choosing to live a life that pleases God.

Songs About God // A "Where Are You?" Psalm by Eric Posadas

A year and a half ago, one of my best friends was diagnosed with Stage IV cancer. Life expectancy - 2 to 5 years with an 11% chance he’ll live beyond year five. His name is Jason. He’s married with three little girls - ages 12, 8, and 3.

There’s a group of us who have been friends for over a decade. All transplants with family out of town... so we’ve been each other’s family over the years.

Eric is on the far left. Jason, far right.

Eric is on the far left. Jason, far right.

At first, our battle cry was fierce. Strong. Full of hope and determination. And of confidence he would beat this thing. And... I had God on my side. I immediately turned to prayer; I had little doubt God would handle this.

Like I mentioned, it’s been a year and a half now. And those battle cries, though still defiant, have inched closer to cries of despair. Jason’s cancer hasn't gone away. In fact, it’s only growing larger and may be spreading. I can see him wrestle with letting his hope fade away as he talks to me about the need to make preparations. And I’m angry. All those prayers seemingly unanswered.

I know many of us have been affected by cancer. Lost love ones to it. And I know God could just take it all away if He chose to. He could thump the tumors out of my best friend, but He just won’t. And it’s frustrating. It upsets me.

But then, I sit among you. And I watch a Baby Blessing and witness a baptism. I listen to a sermon. Jason and his family visit our church for the first time. And my heart swells. God is so good. He’s pulled me from so much wreckage; blessed me with a great marriage. And has given me much. God is good.

I know many of you have had struggles. And continue to have struggles. This is mine. And this is my song to God:

 

You, my God, are a God who hears me when I speak.

You, my Lord, are a Lord who knows my thoughts

 without a word being lifted.

 

I raise my voice to you when I feel afflicted.

I cry in silence when my emotions run wild

 and my heart is too heavy to utter a noise.

 

Time and again, you’ve delivered me from evil and have kept my family safe.

You, alone, have guarded my thoughts

 and saved me from ruin.

 

Then, why, dear Lord, do you turn away when you are needed most?

My prayers are as constant as you are blameless

 so why must you ignore my supplication?

 

What should I do so you know I’m sincere?

Should I simply whisper this personal petition

Knowing you are an intimate God?

 

How should I act so you feel my earnest, deafening plea?

Shall I rip my clothes and bellow until my face is covered in tears,

 And my voice is no more?

 

Such is the ache in my soul, dear God.

I know not how to call your attention

My desperation laid bare for all to see.

 

Yet, I know you are with me for I am still drawing breath.

My good God, you have previously answered my darkest call.

Given me so much without a formal request.

 

Where, then, shall I sing your praise so you know my gratitude?

Should I speak soft so my thankfulness is tender and true?

 

How should I boast in you, Lord, to display my full indebtedness?

Should I shout with admiration; arms held high; a smile of pure elation?

 

Such is my fear and faith and doubt in you, God.

My anger in your ostensible absence

 intertwined with my thankfulness for your sustained presence.

 

You, my God, are a God who hears me when I speak.

Hear me now.

Your Story. His Glory. (Reflections on our 2017 Women's Retreat)

Screen Shot 2017-02-01 at 12.43.34 PM.png
"Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story..." Psalm 107:2

This year over 70 women attended our annual women's retreat in Salado, TX. We spent the weekend connecting with God and one another, sharing the stories of what God's been doing in our lives through worship, interviews, small group reflection and communion. We also ate chili and built marshmallow towers and played cards.

So many of the women who attended have remarked on the power of stories to make us feel closer to one another and to renew our commitment to God and this body of believers. Here are just a few of the stories we shared:

Exercises in Seeing God (with Tamie Roefer)

Reviewing the exercises and taking notes (Tamie Roefer's story of seeing God in the ups and downs--both)

 

Listen to the file below to hear Kim Humble talking about living with serious health problems and seeing God in grief:

audio Block
Double-click here to upload or link to a .mp3. Learn more.
 

On What God's Doing With Our Effort In Croatia (Hint: A lot.)

For years now RRCOC has been committed to missionaries Tom and Sandra Sibley serving in Zagreb, Croatia. Tom works as the director of the Biblijski Institut there in Zagreb--the only protestant school in the country preparing students for ministry. He and Sandra also labor with the church in Zagreb where Tom is an elder. 

If Croatia sounds familiar, but you really couldn't place it on a map--Europe, maybe?--here's a quick geography lesson: Croatia is across the Adriatic Sea from Italy and includes more than 1,000 islands. 4.28 million people live in Croatia, once a part of Yugoslavia, now bordered by Hungary, Slovenia, Serbia, Bosnia, etc.  Croatia looks a lot like Italy. If you've never been to Italy, imagine California. If you've never been to California, Google Croatia. You'll get pictures like this:

Also important to know: While most citizens claim to be members of the Catholic church, the population, like most of Europe, practically speaking would more accurately be called "post-Christian." Croatia also has a growing Muslim population as it borders Bosnia and Serbia. 

That's the context in which Tom and Sandra have  worked for decades. 

Now that you're caught up, we want to take this chance to update you on some of the amazing things happening in Croatia for the sake of Christ, all of them directly affected by your giving here in Round Rock, TX.

1. This past year one of the graduates of the Institute Tom directs was chosen by Samaritan's Purse (a global Christian charity) to head up their efforts to help refugees in Croatia. Even as we prayed at Round Rock for God to move on the behalf of so many homeless Syrian men and women, our God was using our small efforts (in combination with so many others) to do that very work. 

2. As of this year, the Institute has placed 35,000 Bibles in secular Zagreb schools (by invitation from the local government). These Bibles are in the hands of school children all over the city. Be sure to ask Katy and Roger Whiteside for details as they've recently returned from a trip to Croatia. Praise God for the spreading of His Word!

3. As always, the Biblijski Institut is training men and women to serve all over Eastern Europe. The most recent publication from the school (available in our church foyer) profiles 11 recent graduates, some preachers, some church planters, children's ministers, worship leaders and translators, all advancing the Kingdom in their home country in their mother tongue. 

If you'd like to know more about the work in Croatia, feel free to contact Katy or Roger Whiteside (kt@rrcoc.org) or Jennifer and Gary Meixell who're hosting a Croatian minister in their home THIS VERY WEEK. 

This is exciting stuff we get to be a part of, folks. Praise God for all He does with our small offering!

An Upside Down Christmas Worship

This Christmas we celebrated together the arrival of our redeeming, saving King, welcoming into our midst dozens and dozens of friends, family members, neighbors, and co-workers. In this, the last in our sermon series "Upside Down Christmas" we spoke directly to the people who don't always feel comfortable in church, people like the shepherds to whom God entrusted the heavenly announcement of His baby boy's birth. 

We explored what it must have felt like to be the last person God should want to talk to, and the first person He does in this monologue, delivered by Jennifer Gerhardt from the perspective of a shepherd:

Later in the service, we explained that not only does God welcome the unexpected, He calls those same unexpected, sometimes rough around the edges, folks to be the messengers who deliver His good news to others. We explored this truth through the eyes of an angel as played by Ryan Crowder:

If you have a friend who thinks church isn't the place for her or a co-worker who thinks maybe the world would end if he ever entered a church building, THIS is the sermon you need to have them watch. The truth is God calls who He wants to call. You are (however surprising it is) called. What are you going to do about it?

You can watch the sermon here:

Finally, we ended worship with a most upside down offering in which we asked you to TAKE money OUT of the plate. Thanks to our 2016 giving surplus, we were able to put $4,000 in five dollar bills into the offering plate. We asked you take money for yourself if you're in need, for your neighbor, for a friend or relative or needy stranger. We wanted to equip you to meet the needs you see around you, to help the people only you can help. We said we'd keep passing the plates until all the money was gone. And while so many of you put even more cash in, we were never so happy to collect empty baskets. 

Watch the offering here: 

Thank you to everyone who came and celebrated with us! It was a joy to be with God's people on this holy day.