The Lord is our refuge and strength, a very present help in times of trouble. Therefore, do not fear. Psalm 46:1-2
Good morning dear church family and friends. As I sit here at my desk, the world outside my window seems as it should be in a late summer. The sun is shining, the birds are singing and the air is warm and thick with a slight hint of reprieve from the summer’s heat. Yet appearances can be deceiving. In the wake of another, “unprecedented” flood many of our neighbors are suffering this morning in our community.
Yesterday, as the torrents of rain fell and the waters rose I decided to blow up my kayak and try to check on some of my neighbors in Elm Grove Village. At almost every house as I ventured deeper into the neighborhood, I found folks standing helplessly in their garage or on their front steps knee deep in water. I would call out to them asking if they were okay. Some expressed anger, others disbelief, but many were so distraught that they could not even answer.
They needed refuge and reassurance that everything was going to be okay, that the sun would shine again. Words of hope are hard to find in moments of tragedy and loss, yet one of our member whose house flooded yesterday for the second time in five months shared this thought. She said, “This is just a frail house made of wood, but this is not my home. My home is wherever my family and friends are. My home is secure even now.” Wise and brave words from someone watching her freshly laid hardwood floors being torn out and piled in her front yard.
Four families from our congregation were flooded yesterday. The houses of Al and Charlotte Bilderback, George, Sabina and Rachel Reynolds, Chan, Karleigh, Ashlynn and Abby Pollack, and Rick, Christy and Even Janacek all took on water yesterday. Today they start the process of rebuilding.
The Bilderbacks and Janaceks have the greatest need right now. Both are working to remove any carpets, area rugs and baseboards in effort of limiting the water damage. The Reynolds have already torn out their “new” floors and are assessing the baseboards and drywall, but could use some support. Chan needs some help tearing out carpet and lugging out a wet area rug. Contact me at 417-773-9812 or the church office at 281-360-7910 if you’d like to help.
In the coming days, I hope that we can be a refuge of support for these families. That we can meet these hurting friends with helping hands, hot meals, calls of encouragement and prayers.
How good and pleasant it is when brothers (and sisters) live together in unity. Psalm 133:1
In the hours before his death, Jesus prays a remarkable prayer. He says, “I pray that those who believe in me will be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be one in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” John 17:20-21. In one of his longest recorded prayers, Jesus holds a tight focus on oneness, unity among the believers.
If you look closely, Jesus makes an important connection. The unity of the church influences greatly the witness of the church. Bluntly, a divided church acts as a deterrent repelling those searching for the God we know in Jesus. Church unity is a big deal to Jesus and to this world that longs to find him.
At the beginning of 2019, our church leadership (staff, board, elders and deacons) came together for our annual retreat and decided that the focus of the year would be unity, as seen in our “One Church” theme. We knew that our unity would be especially tested this year because of the launch of the “Table” service and the resultant inflow of 86 new members in 2018-19. Our excellent leaders agreed on several measures to pursue and cultivate unity in this important year.
A few of these measures include: 1) creating connection opportunities for both the Traditions and Table services like regularly combining the services and gathering for fellowship dinners, 2) launching additional Sunday school, small group and service opportunities to connect our folks in relationships outside of worship, and 3) revisiting the KCC by-laws ensuring that our approved policies/procedures line up with our actual practices of leadership within the church.
As the Fall quickly approaches, we want to evaluate how we are doing. Where are we succeeding in our “One Church” goals? Where do we need to improve? Are there new ideas that need to be considered? Over the next few months, we want to hear from you. So be thinking about what constructive feedback, evaluation or suggestions you might offer. There will be a formal call for input soon. Your voice is important as we move forward… together.
This Sunday, we will explore one of the most revered and celebrated passages in the Bible, Philippians 2:1-11. This beloved part of Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi offers an insightful glimpse at how the first Christians understood the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, and what it means to be His church.
As Disciples, we like to claim a quote most often attributed to Saint Augustine. “In the essentials unity, in the non-essentials liberty and in everything love.” If asked, I think that Paul would call this statement one of the essential doctrines of Jesus’ church in that day (and this). It affirms the mysterious divinity and humanity of Jesus and then focuses on his intentional choice to, “though being in very nature God, empty himself and become a slave,” and ultimately give his life away. Paul want to make it abundantly clear to anyone who would read his letter; This is our humble Lord.
Then Paul offers an important directive that we would all do well to consider. “Be of the same mind, of the same love and in full accord with the person and teachings of Jesus.” Seeing the potential for division, Paul sought to proclaim the key to church unity as clearly as possible. Unity is possible by focusing on the teachings and ways of Jesus. As the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), this is our sole confession that binds us together in unity, a commitment to believe and follow Jesus as Lord and Savior.
Additionally, this passage points us to a way of living out that confession… in humility. Foremost in the way of Jesus, we see humility. Humility is the key, that the church would follow Jesus in “regarding others as better than ourselves.”
Church unity comes from corporate humility. -Leonard Ravenhill
I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:34-35
If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scriptures, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. James 2:8
Jesus’ brother James summarizes for us. The Christ follower “doing well,” who fulfills the intent of the law, is the one with great love for his/her neighbor and self. So the question becomes, “Who are our neighbors? Do we even know our neighbors?” For the Houstonian, the task of knowing and loving our neighbors is a monumental task because we live in the most diverse city in the United States.
In 2018, Houston was awarded the title of Most Diverse City in the United States by the financial website Wallethub. To crown the diversity champion, WalletHub compared 501 of the most populated cities in America across five key dimensions: socioeconomic diversity, cultural diversity, economic diversity, household diversity, and religious diversity. Houston came out on top.
As Houstonians, we work alongside, go to school with, and live next door to people of other religions, and yet most of us understand little about their faith. In this sermon series entitled “Loving Our Neighbors,” we explore how there is common ground between Christianity and four other world religions, as well as where they differ from one another. Following Jesus always means stepping toward, not away, from our neighbors, that we might grow in understanding, respect and love. This week, we will start with a study of Christianity and Buddhism.
One of my favorite of Jesus’ parables is found in Matthew 7:24-27. It reads, “Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock. 25 Though the rain comes in torrents and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against that house, it won’t collapse because it is built on bedrock. 26 But anyone who hears my teaching and doesn’t obey it is foolish, like a person who builds a house on sand. 27 When the rains and floods come and the winds beat against that house, it will collapse with a mighty crash.”
This passage especially came to mind about this time eight days ago, as I sat at the church office watching endless torrents of rain fall and 3 feet of water flowing down West Lake Houston. As I strategized about how I was going to wade across the newly formed bayou and pick up my kids from Creekwood Middle School, my phone rang and it was Amber letting me know that she (and her car) were forced into a kind stranger’s driveway by rising water about one mile from our house in Elm Grove Village.
Everything turned out fine. It took a few hours, but I was able to get across the street to pick up the kids and ultimately make my way in a first responders boat through the flooded streets of my neighborhood to “rescue” Amber. Our house was not flooded and we slept comfortably in our beds that night. Sadly this was not the case for 400 of our flooded neighbors including the Reynolds family in Woodland Hills Village. The church weathered the storms well, with the exception of the rooms across the south, exterior wall of the fellowship hall. Thanks for the help of Wayne Barker, Ray Thompson, Steven Bolich, Gini Brown, the Setia family, Stan and Emily Hollibaugh, and others in the ongoing cleanup process.
In moments like that, when life seems to be spinning out of control, you search for anchors, stable places to hold on and brave the storm. I think that Jesus understood this very well. That is why he offered these wise words to those seeking to build a life that will not crumble when the winds blow, the torrents come and the water rises. He advises, “Anyone who listens to my teaching and puts it into practice is wise like a person who builds a house on solid rock.” Notice, the wise person is not saved by listening alone, but by listening and practicing.
The longer I serve in pastoral ministry, the more these words prove true. How do we experience the salvation (literally deliverance or rescue) of Jesus in this life? It is through listening (believing) and following the teachings of the master that we build a life that can weather any storm. By the way, I think that same principle applies to the church as well. May God bless you and keep you.
If the season of Lent had a mantra this might be it.
“Wake up sleeper. Rise from the dead. And Christ will shine on you.” Ephesians 5:14
One of my favorite parts of living in Kingwood is the trail system that links all of the villages into one larger community. Yesterday, I went for a walk with a good friend in an unfamiliar, yet beautiful part of the trails. As we wove through the canopied paths, the sunshine peeking through the trees making artistic designs on the ground and the birds singing an especially joyful tune, I couldn’t help but think to myself, “My how God is on full display today.”
Upon further reflection I thought, “What set the spirituality (or God-full) of this day apart from any other day?” Surely, a spectacular day with sparkling company doesn’t hurt, but isn’t God on full display everyday if we would open our eyes to see it? Isn’t God’s handiwork on display everyday? Isn’t everything spiritual, full of God? Author and activist Rob Bell said, “All of life is spiritual. You do not have a spiritual life. You are a spiritual life.” Do you believe this? It is true. Nothing in creation is void of God.
So how can we open our proverbial spiritual eyes that we might enter this most hopeful way of seeing and living? I suggest that you take a walk… a prayerful walk that is. Choose a day when you are pressed for time and prayerfully walk through your house, your yard, your neighborhood, your office, your grocery store or your local walking path. Walk anywhere and pray that God would open your eyes to see the sacred. Then listen for what God is calling you to do in that space.
Through walking, seeing and listening, may we join in the chorus of creation singing of God’s presence and yearning for awakening.
As I look outside my office window, the foliage remains bare and brown. The cool breezes of Winter linger for at least a few more days. But March will be here before you know it. Temperatures will rise and the buds of Spring will cover our beautiful community.
This time of year in the church calendar is synonymous with the season of Lent. The Lenten season is traditionally thought to be a time where we are reminded of Jesus’ life and death. It is time of self-examination and penance, a time to reaffirm the timeless truth of mortality. The Scriptures remind us of our common plight with all created matter, that we are dust and to dust we will all return. Any seasoned church goer will also remember Lent to be a season of fasting, giving up things that prevent us from drawing closer to God.
This year, I want to turn Lent upside-down. Instead of asking you to give up something for Lent, I want you to add something. For the 40 day season of Lent, March 6 – April 21 (excluding Sundays), I want you to add a connection point outside of worship with the church. Whether it be joining a bible study group, volunteering for a service project or gathering with others for fellowship, fostering deeper connection blesses us all.
Study Opportunities: Join our new FFF (Family Friendly Friday) Small group at the home of Jose and Lisa Aguilar, starting March 1 from 6:30-8:00PM, or the “Encounter” Bible Study Class starting March 10 at 9:30AM, led by Anne Amis and David Putz. We also have the Maranatha Class, the Adult Choir Class and the Community Class meeting during the Sunday school hour. The Sisters of Spirit Group led by Lindy Nelson-Paryag meets every Thursday at the church from 12-2PM. Youth and Children’s programs meet every Sunday morning for Sunday school and evening from GROW and Big Gig from 4-6PM in the Fellowship Hall.
Service Opportunities: The Freedom Bus Ministry serves every Wednesday, Feed my Lambs feeds every first Tuesday and Family Promise welcomes new families March 17-24. We are making Manna Bags for the homeless and collecting can foods through First Fruits for the hungry. The Children’s and Youth Ministries and Building and Grounds Crew are always looking for helping hands.
Fellowship Opportunities: Linger and share a cup of coffee after worship at Coffee Connections, get moving with friends at the Running and Walking Crew or share a meal with the Golden Guys and Gals (GGG) on March 14 at MOD Pizza. You could also join a Deliberative Dialogue on March 12 and discuss challenging topics to our community and nation.
These are only a sampling of the ways you can connect at KCC. Contact the church office for more details. This Lent, don’t subtract, commit to adding a deeper connection with your church family.
Though he was in the form of God, he did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, and being born in human likeness. —Philippians 2:6
These thoughts from Paul to the church at Philippi are worthy of pondering. Jesus, the Son of the Living God, our teacher and model came and comes to us offering this powerful image about God. Though it might seem that our world moves along amassing power, positions and possessions, God is constantly outpouring, emptying (him)self to make room for something new. This is the way God thinks, acts and moves history forward.
This process is called Kenosis, the Greek term for self-emptying. It is God’s’ unexpected, upside-down strategy for healing the world. Think of it like the flow of a waterwheel from God to us. This flow starts with God’s self-emptying, sacrificial love. This flow passes to Jesus as he comes and walks among us exemplifying the same “self-emptying” way of teaching and living. Finally in the gospel of John, the flow continues as Jesus breathes over his disciples giving the Spirit that leads us to take on the posture of a servant. Thus the cycle of self-giving continues.
The potential impact of a self-giving life is unending. Its flow is perpetually fed by an enduring trust that God is faithful and will provide more. The only way to stop the flow of Kenosis is to decide that the opposite is true, that God is not faithful and will not provide. Jesus called and calls his disciples to step into the flow and risk vulnerability. Risking vulnerability is an unavoidable component of discipleship.
This is the path we walk together. This is the way of Jesus. How is Jesus calling you to participate in this flow, pouring out your life for the sake of hope and healing in our world?
We go to church so as not to be alone – alone in our joys, alone in our suffering, alone in the everydayness of our lives, alone in the important passages of our lives. We go to church to tell people we love them, and hopefully to hear them tell us the same thing. -Ronald Rolheiser
Over the past few weeks, I have been thinking about the importance of family and community during the holidays. In a society that celebrates independence, the holidays serve as a reminder of the part inside us all that cries out for connection, a sense of belonging. Knit inside of us is a need for community. It is the divine signature of our Creator.
Jesus taught his followers that they were apart of a family. They were not meant to journey through life alone, but to be a part of a community of faith, the church. No part of the body or community of Christ functions by itself, nourishes itself or serves itself alone. Every part is for every other part – whether hurting or rejoicing. We need each other to share the mundane everydayness and miraculous gifts of this life. Perhaps most importantly, we need each other to give and receive love.
Henri Nouwen reminds us that the Spirit does her best work when we gather in community, when we “create a free and empty space when people can gather and practice true obedience.” At our best, the church of Jesus creates a space free of judgmentalism, self-righteousness and arrogance. Jesus described and modeled a community brimming with love and acceptance where all are welcomed as a part of the family. It brings me so much joy to see this kind of community blossoming here at KCC.
Let me share with you some thoughts from a book I’m reading by John Pavlovitz called A Bigger Table. Of course, I was immediately drawn to the title for obvious reasons. Our church family at KWCC aspires to build a bigger table, a table big enough to welcome all people, a table that truly celebrates diversity. Building faith community that embraces diversity is fraught with challenges though. Pavlovitz writes, “Almost every church on the planet claims to desire, seek and welcome diversity – until real, messy, diverse diversity shows up at the door looking for a home, and then there’s suddenly no room in the inn.” Pavlovitz goes on to claim that every congregation has a diversity threshold, a limited level of difference that they will tolerate comfortably.
That got me thinking, “Do we have a diversity threshold?” Do we have a point at which we draw the line and say, “Ok, that is enough different people thank you very much!” My great hope was that our promotional campaign, announcing KWCC to be Loving, Accepting, Open and Inclusive, and the launch of the Table service would effectively open our doors to well… everyone. I am happy to say that is exactly what is happening. In the three Sundays since the launch, we have welcomed between 40-50 first time guests between the Traditions and Table Services… and many of them are returning again and again. That is amazing!
Upon hearing their stories, I learned that these guests come from diverse backgrounds culturally, socio-economically, religiously, politically and generationally. One guest said, “I usually don’t feel welcome in churches. I have a pretty messy past.” I replied, “Bring it on. We are very familiar with messy around here.” Another new family said, “We have been driving down into Houston searching for a church that would love and accept us. I am so surprised to find this church right here in Kingwood.” Another guest simply asked, “Should I wear nice clothes to come to church? I do not have many nice clothes.” I said, “Come as you are. There is a community of love and acceptance waiting for you at KWCC.”
Diverse crowds are coming and that will require open minds, open hearts and a reaffirmation of our core value of Love, not Judgment. My hope is that we never discover a diversity threshold at KWCC, but that God will walk alongside us in welcoming our diverse neighbors and expand our hearts to love and accept all people as we follow Jesus together.