Sunday, July 15, 2012

Heritage Grace Community Church

We visited Heritage Grace Community Church today. First off, I can't tell you how welcoming & sincere everyone was, especially Trisha Ramos (the lady I mentioned in our last blog that we met at the conference in Tulsa...she's also the pastor's wife). 

The second thing we noticed was the worship service. Their website states, "We desire for our worship to be God centered & not man centered. Our songs all undergo a Biblical litmus test so that we sing only that which we believe is truly reflected in Scripture." Many churches today reduce the praise & worship down to songs that are all feeling driven rather than focusing on what Christ has really done for us & who He is. That is the whole point of praise & worship is to focus on what Christ has done for us, for who he is, not how He makes us feel. Jeremiah 17:9 says, "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?" And, Psalms 150:2 says, "Praise him for his mighty deeds; praise him according to his excellent greatness!

Another thing we thought was great, was also stated on their website and evident in the service: "Some child care will be provided during service especially for younger ages (3 and under/nursery). We believe the older children at HGCC should be in corporate worship and hear the preaching of God's Word. However our church is not family integrated, family focused, or family centered; HGCC is above all Christ centered." Anthony & I have discussed how many churches are "family centered" & how, as singles, we would hear that, & struggling with not having a family of our own, it made us feel less accepted & vital and that was not the reason we came to church. We wanted a church to preach Christ, not how to be a better spouse or parent (not that those aren't occasionally appropriate, as long as it is turned back to the Gospel; but, for the most part, those type sermons should be reserved for small group studies).

Finally, the sermon. Pastor Emilo Ramos gave an excellent sermon about proper church discipline. Essentially stating that the end purpose of church discipline is to win the sinner back into the congregation; the church to exercise love, compassion, & mercy; and to purify the church. He also stated several times that is is church discipline, not church abuse. Many people who are against church discipline are so due to churches who have abused their authority, their members, & misused/misinterpreted the Word of God.

We are desperate to find a home church but we want to make sure that it is a good, Bible-teaching church. We don't want to get into a church, make friends, make commitments & then discover something that isn't doctrinally sound & have to leave. We have visited SEVERAL churches & have only found, up to this point, 4 that we are interested in. No church is perfect, we know that, but choosing who is going to feed you spiritually is a very serious matter.

We really liked this church so it will go down on our VERY small list of the good churches that we are considering making our home church. Again, we know that no church is perfect & that is because man is not perfect but we want to find the church where we can be fed properly by the pastor, fellowship & be strengthened/encouraged with a warm family of brothers & sisters in Christ, be discipled & disciple others, and serve. This will take a lot of prayer. And just because we eventually choose one church over another, does not, in the slightest, say anything negative about the other churches. It will just be the church we believe God is leading us to.

A Call for Discernment

 Anthony & I traveled to Tulsa, OK last weekend in order to attend the A Call for Discernment conference organized by Grace Family Bible Church of Tulsa. The drive to Tulsa was very nice & we are now a little more willing to going up there for weekend trips more often.

A couple of months ago, I was reading a blog I follow & I saw a link on the side of his blog advertising the conference. I clicked on the link & saw that a guy (Justin Peters) I had heard on Brannon Howse's Worldview Weekend radio show & a guy (Frank Turk) I had just recently been reading his blogs & following him on Twitter would be there. I also noticed that one of the pastors from Voddie Baucham's church (Grace Family Baptist Church) would also be speaking. After realizing this would be a free conference, I decided to send the link to Anthony & see if he was interested. After mulling it over, we decided to go ahead & if it turned out to be a dud, we would just leave & go see what Tulsa had to offer.

I have been to many conferences. Emotional manipulating roller coasters of youth conferences; watered-down sales-pitches women's conferences; and one really good prophecy conference. I really didn't know what to expect. The first thing we were surprised about was the amount of people. 900 people had registered but we are guessing about 700-800 showed up. The place was packed. It is always nice to realize you aren't alone in what you believe & observe in the world. We were also surprised at how many Mennonites were present. I don't know why, but I have such a love for Mennonite people. I don't completely agree 100% with them on how they interpret the Scripture (obviously) but there is something about how seriously they take living for God that makes me want to run up & hug them. (At this point, my husband will look at me smiling & say, "You're so silly." hehehe)

Justin Peters was the main speaker & why the conference was called "A Call for Discernment." He has produced a DVD with the presentation of the same name (that we purchased). Mr. Peters was born with cerebal palsy that mainly just affects his walking. Growing up, he was taken to many "faith healers" for a "miraculous healing." Clearly, his body has not been healed. He was told it was because of his lack of faith. However, God used these horrible experiences to inspire him to form a ministry warning others of the unBiblical teachings these people try to sale. Some of the people he points out are: Kenneth & Gloria Copeland, Creflo Dollar, Benny Hinn, Joyce Meyer, Paul & Jan Crouch, T.D. Jakes, Joel Osteen, and several others. You can pretty much bet, if they are promoted by TBN or GOD TV, they would make the list of those to stay away from. Mr. Peters has a very well done presentation backed up by lots of Scripture &, when he names names, he uses actual video clip so the viewer can see these people as they speak the words & can see their facial expressions & hear their inflections. 

Justin Peters admits that taking up discernment will win you few friends & many enemies. Mr. Peters' Facebook site has even been removed by Facebook & when I tried to post a link to his website on Facebook, I got an error stating it was a spammy or unsafe website. I wonder who didn't like what he said. O.o

In between Justin Peters' presentations, we also heard from several others including: Toby Harmon of The Abolitionist Society of Oklahoma (an anti-abortion group), Jack Rawlins of Voice of the Martyrs, Paul Washer of HeartCry Missionary Society, Frank Turk of Pyromaniacs, Stephen Bratton of Grace Family Baptist Church.

Despite my high regard for Justin Peters & loving every minute of his presentation, the highlight of the day, for me, was hearing Paul Washer preach. I had never heard of Mr. Washer before Saturday. I will now list him as my favorite preacher. Sorry, John MacArthur, I still love your preaching. 

Mr. Washer preached for almost 3 hrs. As much as I was dying to stand up & stretch & go have lunch, I didn't want him to stop. It was like listening to one of the old Puritan preachers. He is soft spoken but does not mince words. He is so sincere & so in love with our Savior. I have seen several preachers get choked up in a sermon or tear up a bit, but this man sobbed & it wasn't to make a point or garner sympathy. He is truly grieved by what is going on in the Church & that so few Christians truly understand what Christ has done for us. (On a side note, none of us will ever fully understand what Christ has done this side of Heaven, however, that shouldn't stop us from striving to understand & worship Him properly.) If you are interested in hearing some of Paul Washer's sermons, some of them are posted here on Sermon Audio.

We left for lunch convicted & sore from him stepping on our emotional toes but with an intensified desire to learn more about Christ & more serious in our intent to worship him. On our way back, I was able to "snap" a pic of this awesome police vehicle. Love it.

Trisha Ramos of Fish With Trish was also manning her table. Some of you may know her from her occasionally teaming up with Todd Friel of Wretched Radio and Ray Comfort of Living Waters/Way of the Master. I knew she was from the DFW area but during the last portion of the night, they talked about her husband, Emilio Ramos, & her had just recently started a new church in the north Dallas area. Anthony thought it might be the same church some friends of his had moved to & wanted to ask her. We got to talking to her (it wasn't the same church) & she ended up inviting us to their church, Heritage Grace Community Church. They have only been going for about 8 weeks & only have about 50 people so far. They are currently meeting in another church so their services really don't get started till about 2pm (she assured us this was the only seeker-friendly aspect of their church...hahaha). 

This quote from C.S. Lewis sums up nicely the conference & our feeling regarding finding the right church:
"Spiritual nature, like bodily nature, will be served; deny it food & it will gobble poison." -- C.S. Lewis
In addition, here is a picture of the view from our hotel room. If they could guarantee that all their hotels were as nice & inexpensive as this particular Holiday Inn, we would join their membership club without hesitation. Over all, it was a GREAT weekend.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Summer Tapas & Game Night

Two weekends ago we had our friends, Al & Jordan, over for dinner & game night. My sister, Kim, had given me some salt blocks for Christmas this past year & thought this would be the perfect time to try them out. So, we decided to have a tapas night. Anthony titled the menu "Five Course Summer Tapas"

We started out with a salad of fresh spring greens, napa cabbage, carrot, red bell pepper, & cucumber with a fresh Ginger Peanut Asian Dressing. I made the dressing based on a recipe I found at The Cafe Sucre Farine blog. Let me just say, this is now one of my staple dressings. It was AMAZING. I may use it as a marinade for a chicken stir-fry soon as well.

For the appetizer, Anthony made Polenta Pizziolis. He made the polenta himself & then added some marinara & fresh mozzarella. They were amazing. This was my first time having polenta, so, true to my picky palate, I was a little nervous but, oh my gosh, sooooo good. Also, Jordan brought roasted tomato crustini that were amazing as well. She had roasted some super sweet cherry tomatoes. As a person who never eats tomatoes unless they are in ketchup or sauce, these must have been amazing because I couldn't stop eating them.

Then we brought out the super hot salt block & Anthony proceeded to cook the shrimp on it. We had three sauces to dip them in: a basic cocktail sauce that was hardly touched, a honey sriracha sauce that Anthony made, & chipotle barbecue that was another Anthony concoction. The two Anthony sauces were super flavorful & delicious but also quite spicy. The salt block salted the shrimp perfectly & was a very cool process. Below is a video I tried to capture to give you an idea.

For the entree, we used some of our left over wedding beef brisket & made street tacos. They were good, as well, but by this time we were all starting to become rather stuffed. ;)

To let our food settle a bit, we decided to play a few games before the desert of an assortment of Blue Bell ice cream (Kroger had a sale). Also, at this point, I would like to say I am so sorry for those of you who do not live in Texas & cannot get your hands on Blue Bell ice cream. Nothing compares except maybe what Baptist church ladies make for Baptist ice cream socials. 

We played board games the rest of the night, which has become our thing now, & into the the wee hours of the morning...which didn't make getting up for church the next morning the easiest task. ;) Al has begun collecting board/card games so we always get the opportunity to try out one or two new ones & play some of our favorites. 

This night, one of the games we played was a German murder mystery game called Mord im Arosa. Very fun & clever game. 

We also played a firefighting game called Flash Point. It is a cooperative game which means all the players work together, there is no one winner. Not being a super competitive person, I tend to like these games; however, I also don't like being told what to do, so sometimes they can be a bit irritating for me as well when a couple of strong personalities want to play for me. Then I just want to say what is the point of me being here. ;) Just another reminder of the human pride that infects me & that the Lord is continuing to sanctify in me through His grace & mercy. 

Then the rest of the night we played Dominion that has become a bit of an addiction of our little group. Al has now completed the entire game with all the expansion packs. They have an online version of the game, that, if you ask me, stinks. I get ridiculously frustrated with it however, some people seem to really enjoy it. :/ There is an iPhone/iPad app that I enjoy & I also, interestingly, find I am much more vicious in since I'm only playing the computer & not a real person. I wish they would hurry up & come up with a computer game of it though. 

Needless to say, it was a great night with great friends!

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Bumper Sticker Theolgy

Yesterday I was behind an SUV. Clearly, the driver claimed to be a Christian. He/She had several "Christian" bumper stickers & emblems adorning his/her car. However, one of them stood out in particular to me & made me think a little deeper into what this "proverb" was stating. The bumper sticker read: "Do your best & give God the rest."I got to thinking about what an awful testimony that piece of sticky paper was sharing with fellow drivers.

My first thought was, "'...give God the rest'? Really? God doesn't want 'the rest,' He demands ALL." In Matthew 22:37, Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 6:5 which states:
You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. (Deuteronomy 6:5 ESV)
"ALL your heart," "ALL your soul," "ALL your might." It does not say, "Whatever you have left of your heart, soul, & might, give that to God." 

And then there is Proverbs 3:5-6

Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths. (Proverbs 3:5-6 ESV)

These two verses could be preached on for hours by a God-fearing, Bible-believing man, but I just want to make one point. Verse 6 does not say, "...and your paths will become straight." It also does not say, "...and your life will be easier." It says "HE will make straight your paths." In other words, when you put your trust in the Lord, decisions become clearer. There is less gray in the world. There is a right way & there is a wrong way. There it the path that leads to life & the path that leads to destruction. The choices may seem clearer, however, the consequences may be more difficult. Yes, it might be clearer that sleeping around is not the right choice for a Christian, however, the consequences to a life of chastity often times leads to friends, family, & the rest of the world mocking you, tempting you even greater, & many times your life becomes an offense to the rest of the world & you may be called "holier-than-thou" or claim you are judging others. (I know from experience in this case.) Or, maybe you are given the opportunity to donate to a cause that is contradictory to the Bible. The choice is clear, you do not contribute. However, this leads to coworkers & supervisors taunting you, trying to intimidate you, threatening you, saying awful, hurtful, & often untrue things about you behind your back. In some cases, it can lead to you being fired or demoted. No, the life of a Christian is not always easy but, most of the time, the choices become simplified.

My second consideration of the sticker was of the first part, "Do your best..." What does the Bible say about our works, our "best?"
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9 ESV)
who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, (2 Timothy 1:9 ESV) 
But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace(Romans 11:6 ESV)
We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. (Isaiah 64:6a ESV)
I've written on Isaiah 64:6a before here where I discussed the word that has, in the ESV been translated to say "polluted garment" and in other translations as "filthy rags." The original Hebrew word used here is "'iddah." Literally translated, that word refers to a used menstrual rag or pad. So, Isaiah 64:6a is basically saying that our good works, our "best" appears as a used menstrual pad to God. Our good works, to God, are useless, are nothing.

I rate this bumper sticker, "Do your best & give God the rest," right there with another popular bumper sticker, "God is my copilot." And, I'll leave you with a great bumper sticker response to the copilot sticker.