Calhoun Prayer Conference 2016

Four of us from SW Central and three from Central in Baytown made the journey to Calhoun and West Monroe for the 15th time for the annual Prayer Enrichment Workshop. Our speakers were generally very familiar to those who have gone before, and as usual their messages were challenging and on target.

Going from Southwest Central were Novelene B, Merci M, Ruth N, and Steve Sandifer. We usually leave Houston at 9:00, stop along the way for lunch and bathroom breaks, and check into our West Monroe Motel around 4:00. The church bus with its spacious interior and semi-reclining seats allows our folks to ride in comfort. The fun question is always, “where do you want to eat.”

The formal program began with a Friday evening presentation by Dr. David Butts. Butts, a frequent presenter at the workshop, is the president of Harvest Prayer Ministries and the chairman of America’s National Prayer Committee. His presentations always talk about the power of prayer and answered prayer. Butts made three additional presentations on Saturday before leaving on a flight to Washington for a Sunday meeting related to the National Day of Prayer. http://harvestprayer.com/

Another frequent speaker is Dr. Albert Lemmons from Nashville. Albert taught a Friday afternoon class on the “Prayer of Faith” as well as a presentation on Saturday. His encyclopedic knowledge of scripture is more than impressive. Many of his materials can be found on his website, http://nrcv.net/prayermatters.

John Dobbs of the Forsythe Church in Monroe, Jack Kovnas of Mannford, Oklahoma, and Keith Roberts who preaches for the Calhoun church rounded out our speakers.

One of the joys of this conference is that it all takes place within the confines of this small country church, so no hiking across campus is required. The church also feeds us every meal on Saturday and Sunday, including some of the best gumbo and fried fish you have ever eaten. Prayer, fellowship, and food – makes for a wonderful weekend. Put September 8-10, 2017, on your calendar.

An Announcement Regarding Full Gender Participation in Our Assemblies

(This announcement was given by Larry Watson on behalf of elders on Sunday morning, February 14, 2016)

In January, 2004 – twelve years ago –, our congregation made a major change in our assemblies: women began serving in specified “leadership roles”.  Those of you who were not a part of us twelve years ago may not be aware of the significance of that change.  The practice of most churches of Christ throughout our history and still today is that only men “lead in worship”.  This practice is based primarily on two passages in Paul’s letters which state that women are to remain silent in church and are not permitted to teach.  Many sincere, faithful Christians, including some in our congregation yet today, understand these Scriptures to apply to our Sunday morning gatherings.  Therefore, they believe it is wrong for women to play any speaking role in our meetings.  However, there are others who do not interpret these Scriptures as applying to our assemblies today and strongly believe that women should fully participate in any role.

Our congregation wrestled with this issue for almost 30 years leading up to the change in 2004 because we had members who held passionate beliefs on each side of this issue.  The change made in 2004 was a compromise based on the entirety of Paul’s letter to the Romans rather than just the two passages mentioned previously.   In our 2004 announcement of the change, we acknowledged the validity of our members’ beliefs on both sides on this issue.  We did not declare either side to be “more right” than the other.  Rather, in keeping with Paul’s teaching, particularly in Romans 14, we declared this issue to be a disputable matter in which neither side must judge the other.  We urged our members to accept one another in love through the power of God and His Holy Spirit regardless of their stand and our practice on this issue.  In this way, those who believe that women should not lead in our assemblies must not judge women who do lead in our meetings.  Likewise, those who approve of women leading in our assemblies must not hold in scorn those opposed to such.   To make the transition to this new practice more acceptable, we included a provision by which women did not take part in two roles that, back then, were performed primarily from our elevated pulpits (which no longer exist) – song leading and preaching.  To this day, we have continued to observe this compromise — to maintain unity within our congregation.

Over the past twelve years, visitors to our meetings have questioned me as to why we believe it is RIGHT for women to be “leading in our worship”.  They were surprised when I answered that we do not know what is right in this matter; rather, we accept our members’ beliefs on either side of this issue.  Instead, we emphasize the RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD, which is evidenced by the love within our congregation.  Our visitors questioning “whether our worship is Scripturally correct” are blind to what I have observed in our assemblies repeatedly and consistently these past dozen years – the power and presence of the Holy Spirit in remarkable ways.  How so?  Many of our members still believe that women should not be leading; many believe that the compromise limits women’s full inclusion.  Yet, before and after our Sunday assemblies, and in countless meetings throughout the week, our members do not judge one another, do not argue with one another, do not plot against one another.  Instead, we greet one another, hug each other, laugh with each other, minister to each other and genuinely love each other.  I witness this and I believe that our congregation is living proof of Paul’s teaching in Romans 14 and 15, where he insisted that Jewish believers and Gentile Christians could and must overcome their significant disagreements on disputable matters in love through the power of God and His Holy Spirit.  We may not be a “charismatic” church in the sense of displaying the miraculous, but we are definitely charisma – tic in the sense that we are full of the greatest Spiritual gift of all — Love for one another.

We believe that the twelve-year compromise that began in 2004 has served us well.  Now we believe it is time for gifted women with a desire to fill these roles of song leading and preaching to be included in the rotations we have for both positions.

We still depend on the understanding which led us to the initial change in 2004, which has preserved our unity over the past dozen years and which has allowed the Holy Spirit to be a living and powerful presence in our church.  This understanding makes our desire for the RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD to be greater than our desire to be RIGHT on this issue.  Over the past several weeks, we have met with many of you who may have strong convictions on this issue to encourage such an understanding.  We encourage any among us who has a problem with this change or cannot accept this understanding to ask for a meeting with any or all of us elders to discuss this further —   please.

Today, we declare that God is present and at work within us.  We rejoice that we experience love for one another, not just in words, but in our selfless giving of time, money and attention for those of us in need of such.  We strive intently not to judge one another but to accept each other’s differences — even on interpretations of Scripture.

Listen to the words that Jesus spoke during his Last Supper in John 13:34-35:   A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.  We believe this to be true of our congregation.  We do not strive to be known for the rightness of our rules, whether these are fully in compliance with “Church of Christ” tradition or whether these are politically correct by today’s cultural standards.  Rather, we trust that we are a light to our world because we love one another.  Let’s go forth today and in the years to come with this as our living testimony to our world.

Making an Impact

A “Big Thank” You to all who made the Impact meal such a success. Dawn and Ken H., Beth W., and Jo and Steve S. did the shopping on Friday. Early Sunday morning found Beverly T., Chuck E., David P., Betty L., Robert and Bernadine B., Dee P., Shirley M. and Jo and Steve chopping lettuce, slicing tomatoes, cutting the meat and cheese, and slicing the bread. Before long they were joined came Mary O., James D., Dawn H., Brent S., Brenda P., Glenn H., Jeff and Angela K., Martha and Stephanie W., Martha C., Beth W., and the Kitchen and Fellowship Hall were alive with workers. After worship, they were joined by Ruth N., Ellery M., Zander D., Deandre and Taylor G., King M., Lupe R., Gabriel B. and Mikey W. About 12:15 Ken H., Beverly T., Betty L., Robert and Bernadine B., Lupe R., Steve S., King M., Deandre and Taylor G., and Steve and Jo S. went to Impact to serve. And of course this list does not include all of you who supplied individually wrapped desserts to add to the lunches. And I am sure we missed someone – there were so many wonderful volunteers.

We prepared 360 sack lunches at a cost of $635.48. Each lunch included a po-boy sandwich with ham, turkey, two types of cheese, lettuce, and tomato. They had two packets of mustard and mayonnaise to add to the taste. Each bag included a banana, bag of potato chips, napkin, and the desserts you provided. We also carried gallons of fresh brewed tea to serve our guests.

You did good! Thank you. Our next feeding is scheduled for March 23 when we will provide a similar menu for 200 students as part of our ministry on the University of Houston. Please save the date and volunteer to prep food, provide desserts, and expose hungry students to God’s word.

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A Prayer for this Church

I have little history in the churches of Christ. Even the first CofC I attended had a woman youth minister and had no problem having instruments in the church for non Sunday service things (actually a thing in most conservative CofC deeds!). So I am not quite the person that would otherwise see movement in our tradition as momentous.

But today as my elders at our church disclosed that they want to complete the move that started 12 years ago towards a full set of voices and open preaching and song leading to women, I felt sheer joy and peace being present during the announcement. I noted the importance of that moment and moving towards this incredible goal. Perhaps not a goal, but a vision.

I noticed because it was the moment that our church decided to stand on the vision of the love of one another as the highest form or our community, and even more importantly, our church has decided that God speaks through all and that his Holy Spirit does not move with limits. Their decision is an invitation to God to move and speak and push and pull and whisper and shout to his body of believers at our place.

With this move, we say as a church:

Come Lord Jesus and whisper to us.

Come Lord Jesus and show us your love in ways we could not have seen before.

Come Lord Jesus and let us love beyond disagreements, preferences, opinions, race, and gender.

Come Lord Jesus and let us be an even greater reflection to those who come into our walls and in our buildings.

Come Lord Jesus, and speak afresh to us and don’t stop moving amongst us.

I am somewhat aware of the courage it takes to make these decisions, but I am humbly honored to be there as this change comes. There will be difficulties and struggles, but we have the opportunity to show our little girls as well as all other females in our church that their voice carries meaning- their voice may also now bear the Word and Spirit of God for his people. Amen, and I’m so glad to have been there for that.

From the blog of James Denham:
https://jamesdenham.wordpress.com

The Teacher

I am a teacher.

Most of the time, this means that I read beautiful children’s stories, wipe teary eyes when someone falls on the playground, and pin artwork up on our artist’s board that all look the same: a small child, a teacher with a huge ponytail and the words, I love you Mrs. D.

But some days do not look like this.

Some days are like the Friday I had this past week. I was sick, half of my students had runny noses and coughs and every single one complained about a headache/stomachache/itchy spot or boo-boo they had. I applied a dozen bandaids and listened to complaints with growing impatience all day. The day seemed endless, the long hours between lunch and the dismissal bell crawling. My students were tired and fractious and I did not have the energy to combat all the tension. And so, instead of stepping back and breathing through the frustration, I took away their Friday recess and we did another worksheet instead. Instead of giving us all a break, I handed out a punishment instead. I did not show grace to those precious little souls in my care—who were just as tired as I was at the end of a long week full of requirements made by people who do not educate children, or have children, or possibly (in the case of test-writers) have never even seen a child.

Life is a lot like a classroom full of children.

We are put on this earth with a lot of other people we don’t know or don’t want to know, and we often fight and squabble. We have so much to learn, but some days the lessons are too long, too difficult, and we lay our heads and our hearts down and give up. The hours between our work and our rest are sometimes endless, and some days the rest never seems to come; or, when it does, it is too short to give any peace to our aching hearts. We are pressured from employers, neighbors, friends, or family to be to be strong and untiring. But we are not robots; just like my children, we are not built to run for long marathons of work and turmoil with no rest.

But here is the good part.

Unlike my sweet students who have a teacher who can be less than graceful some days, our Teacher is endlessly graceful and patient and wise. He is there when you draw the colorful pictures that say, “I love you, Jesus,” but he is also there when you are exhausted and angry and tired and all you can say is, “Why?” Why now, why this lesson, this difficulty, this pain? This is not to say that it immediately goes away – even on my good days as a teacher I can’t take away all the tests and struggles my students face – but it does mean that we have someone there to wipe our teary eyes and provide the rest our souls need while we sit with the struggles of life.

I do not have the answers to all of this. I promise you that most days I feel more anger and frustration than peace with this Jesus life. At no point, though, do I think we all have to have everything in our faith figured out or feel perfect peace at every moment to be Christians. Our Teacher is still there, bandaid in hand, armed with infinite grace and perfect love.

-Mrs. D

Prayer for 2016

Immanuel – our Father with us,

We meet on this first Lord’s Day in 2016, confessing we were challenged in this community as the body of Christ in 2015. We have been strengthened in many ways, and we have been stretched and strained in other ways. Our earnest desire has been to love one another as You have loved us as we met people on common ground. We confess that we individually have not always been willing to sacrifice our own personal comfort levels to rise to the higher ground that leads to unity and moving forward.

Nevertheless, we believe that Southwest Central has partnered, is partnering and will continue to partner with You in announcing the Kingdom of God. We are grateful for the women and men on whose shoulders we now (knowingly or unknowingly) stand, those servants who have gone before us. Let us pause in silence to remember.

Reflecting back on the fruits of their decisions and the blessings You have poured on us, we, as a community of believers, look forward with joy and confidence that You will complete the good work You have begun here.

With individually different perspectives, concerns and hopes we return again to the pivotal, uniting phrase of our Mission Statement – Common Ground – that reflects much of our history as a church and continually challenges us to move forward on our journey. May we continue to embrace and maintain unity with the continual desire to avoid “quarrelling over opinions”. (Romans 14:1) More than agreeing to disagree, may we stretch and reach out from ourselves, moving to higher ground by focusing on and deepening our efforts to selflessly serve the immediate community and neighborhood with which we literally share common ground.

May we continue to reconsider and ultimately set aside remaining barriers among us, particularly by moving steadily towards full participation of all in all areas of Southwest Central.

May Your will be done, Immanuel.

Amen

*Adapted by Bobbie Huebner

Immanuel

By: David Pipes

When Jesus came, he preached the Good News.
The good news was NOT that we were sinners and God was mad at us.
The good news was NOT that God had a new set of rules for us to follow.
The good news WAS that God had come to be with us.
“And they will call him Immanuel.”

Immanuel.
God with us.
Not far away, right here beside us.

We sometimes think of God as far away, remote, up there.
But that’s not right.
In Jesus, God came very near.
The Word became flesh and lived for a while among us. [John 1:14.]
God’s Son walked with us, fished with us, ate with us, celebrated with us, mourned with us, showed us how to live better.
God’s Spirit lives in us, whispers to us, intercedes for us.

Immanuel.
God with us.
Not against us, on our side.

We sometimes think of God as looking for ways to find us in the wrong, to judge us, to condemn us.
But that’s not right.
God is the Shepherd who searches in the dark for us. God is the Father who waits on the porch for us to come home.

What, then, shall we say? If God is for us, who can be against us? …
Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? …
It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died and was raised to life, is at the right hand of God and intercedes for us. [Romans 8:31-34.]

Immanuel.
God with us.
It’s the Gospel in a Word.

Figuring Out Advent

By Luci Bell

I’m still trying to figure Advent out. Advent used to be a lovely-sounding, high-churchy business practiced by people who went to churches other than mine. Then, suddenly, everyone around me was talking about it as though I should know what it meant.

My Advent gateway was through my kids, as so many of my faith steps are these days. I wanted to help them connect the Christmas season with Jesus, with hope and light and anticipation of something deeper and sweeter than a stack of presents and too many gummy bears. I wanted them to see that it’s all integrated all the time, that their faith practice can be a messy but delicious one-pot-meal rather than a compartmentalized bento box, where spiritual things are clearly defined and the foods don’t touch. That God, Christ, and Spirit are wonderfully, mysteriously in the fabric of our year, and the seasons themselves whisper things to us in languages we know and feel but can’t easily describe.

That’s the real draw of Advent, for me. It’s a sort of spiritual onomatopoeia, a practice that feels like the season it is. The days grow shorter and the new dark absolutely changes everything. The air is cooler, the smell of wood burning triggers a very specific nostalgia, and things are in turn cozy and exhilarating and soft and cold and bittersweet and dead.  It’s wonderful and wistful, which is an apt description of Advent.  Come, Jesus, as baby and as Lord, because we ache and yearn and we believe you’re the very best there is.

Maybe you don’t have emotional or calendar space to practice Advent this year, or you don’t know what the big deal is and feel left out of a spiritual social club.  That’s okay, because Advent is one practice in a gumbo of possible experiences – it certainly isn’t a litmus test of faith or belonging. Maybe you’re excellent at it, and regularly post your social media photos of artfully arranged Advent readings and coffee cups #advent. Maybe you’re in the well-intentioned middle like me, buying your Advent book and preparing the kids’ activities even though you still need to watch Advent youtube tutorials and you totally know some days will get skipped. With or without a wreath or countdown, we’re all drawn by the very air to slow down and notice, to reflect and stand watch. Our world bears so much sadness and pain, countless overwhelmed and heartbroken people crying out for visceral deliverance. It’s a wonder any of us can breathe, life can be so hard, and it’s incredibly tempting to use our first-world privilege to comfort, distract, and carefully curate these festive days. Advent invites us to acknowledge the ache and quietly confess our need and allegiance to the One who heals the brokenhearted and binds their wounds, who wasn’t the king people expected but was exactly what they needed. He is still the very best.

Suggested resources and seasonal additions:

youtube.com – What is Advent Again?

Brian Eno’s Music for Airports

Sufjan Stevens’ O Holy Night

Truth in the Tinsel, an Advent Experience for Little Hands

Goodness and Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas

Good-quality Vitamin D, for those of us who are literally affected by the dark.

On the Rewriting of Hymns…

By: Michael Tucker

(Disclaimer — Those of us who are not so concerned about the details of the hymns we sing, and why we do or do not appreciate them, may find all these personal observations tedious!)
For years I enjoyed the hymn “Rise Up, O Men of God”, finding both tune and lyrics inspiring. To refresh your memory, here are the original lyrics:

Rise up, O men of God!
Have done with lesser things.
Give heart and mind and soul and strength
To serve the King of Kings.

Rise up, O men of God!
His kingdom tarries long.
Bring in the day of brotherhood
And end the night of wrong.

Rise up, O men of God!
The church for you doth wait,
Her strength unequal to her task;
Rise up and make her great!

Lift high the cross of Christ!
Tread where His feet have trod.
As brothers of the Son of Man,
Rise up, O men of God!

This hymn belongs to an era where language was not always inclusive. Today a perception of exclusion can hamper the value of a hymn for use in assemblies of our church. For this one to continue to inspire us, it seemed that some re-phrasing could help.
So I sent out an email to a few people asking their opinion of this hymn. It was a blind cc list; in other words, no one knew who else was being asked.
All were asked to be perfectly frank. Each is a faithful believer, each is wise, and each has decades of life experience in Churches of Christ. The variety of response was both enlightening and entertaining. Among them:

• Some offered helpful alternative words/phrases/versions.
• One person had a love-hate relationship with this hymn. Love, because of good memories associated with it. Hate, because they considered it extremely and painfully sexist.
• One pointed out that since we refer to the church as ‘her’ or ‘bride’, we should understand ‘brotherhood’ in a universal sense. They were not troubled by the “men” for those reasons.
• One observed that the hymn suggests a feminine weak church whose strength is “unequal to her task” (so strong men will have to rise up to help)
• One offered alternating verses — masculine, feminine, and non-specific.
• One was untroubled by the entire issue, and would stick with the word “men”.
• One offered witty and rhythmically challenging phrases such as “Rise up, O Persons of the Deity”.
• One had thoughts from a perspective of the evolution of language. They considered that rather than being particularly sexist, it was written consistent with a time when most English language was written / spoken to refer to any person in masculine terms.
• One confessed to being in the “People who change lyrics and people who complain about lyrics annoy me” category.

My own thought is that (as a rule) we should re-write other authors’ lyrics with care, and only for compelling reasons.
Many of us know songs whose lyrics were changed because of perceived doctrinal errors. One might recall the preface of a once-popular hymnal which stated something on the order of “it is just as bad to sing a lie than to tell one otherwise.” A few notable “doctrinal re-writes” are:

• When the Saved Get To Heaven and Why Do You Wait, Dear Sinner. (Let’s be sure not to include anyone who doesn’t belong…)
• A Mighty Fortress. “The Spirit and the gifts are ours through Him who with us sideth.” (Oops, delete that. People might sing this and start speaking in tongues…)
• Holy, Holy, Holy. Anti-Trinitarians prefer “God over all and blest eternally”.
• To God Be the Glory. A dispute over the “moment of salvation” has spoiled this much-loved hymn for some.

A church we once visited had their hymn books stamped to “X” out many songs, with explanation that they did not sing these because they were unscriptural, stating reasons for each. To that my reaction was, “People who cannot understand poetry should not bother to read it nor sing it.”
But I think language that makes people feel excluded is in a different category. Such language is worth reconsidering.
From all the suggestions on “Rise Up”, I weighed pros and cons, borrowed some good ideas, and enjoyed the humor. For the version that we used a few Sundays ago, the word “woman” was specifically included because of the topic of the morning’s sermon. (A couple of poet musicians in our midst pointed out that this does not work so well in regard to rhythm and stress. Such details, not even noticed by most of us, make the difference between good songs and great ones. This particular issue was minimized by a good song leader.)

Here is the version we sang:

Rise up, O men of God!
Have done with lesser things.
Give heart and mind and soul and strength
To serve the King of Kings.

Rise up, women of God!
His kingdom tarries long.
But soon shall Christ bring in the Day,
And end this night of wrong.

Rise up, O child of God!
The Church for you doth wait,
Your strength unequal to the task;
But Christ in you is great!

Lift high the cross of Christ!
Tread where His feet have trod.
As followers of the Son of Man,
Rise up, O saints of God!

Some of us liked it. Some of may have been a tad annoyed. A good number of us don’t mind one way or another. And some never knew the song in the first place, so it didn’t matter.
The whole point is for our assemblies to glorify God and build up one another. If we keep those goals in mind we can only do well.

Two Kingdom Giants Have Died

I lament this week the loss of two giants in the Kingdom: Leroy Garrett and Roy Osborne. Both died on September 29.
I have read Leroy’s work, and love him for it, though I have only met him a few times in passing. The fact that he survived the attacks of others with grace and love is a sign of the Spirit within him.
Roy I knew much better. I first met him when he was part of Campus Evangelism back in the 60s. The CE Christmas program in Dallas, 1968, was a life changer for me. Roy, Prentice Meadow, John Allen Chalk, Jim Reynolds, Jim Bevis, Stanley Ship, Rex Vermillion – what a spiritual force that changed many in my age group forever.
Then when I came to Houston to Southwest, I found that Roy was a long-time friend of the congregation as well as of Central and Bering Drive, being invited numerous times for “meetings” and counsel. When we hosted our first BIM Thanksgiving Service many years ago, we had Roy as our guest speaker. The ministers of other groups said afterwards, “Who was that man? I have never heard anyone like him.”
It was always awkward introducing Roy. I would ask him what his topic was for the evening, and invariably he would say, “I don’t know yet.” And that was 5 minutes before the service was to start. He had the breadth of knowledge and wisdom to “feel” the worship and speak a message of grace out of the moment. If he had prepared a specific message in advance, he never let on.
We called him Abe Lincoln. I have only seen old photos of the real Abe, but Roy fit the image. I will never forget the way he said “God.” It was at least a two syllable word with an enormous sense of might.
Roy preached for the Sunset Ridge church in San Antonio for 21 years and mentored many young preachers. He was also an avid golfer and hosted an annual golf tournament that attracted many of our men for many years.
God blessed Leroy with 96 years, Roy with 92. They used those years to the full.
-Steve Sandifer