Tracy Talk XII

On Sunday, I shared a story about me being ungrateful about a gift from my parents when I
was 8 years old. Like my 8-year-old self, I don’t always receive God’s blessings with gratitude
and thanksgiving when I want God to answer my prayers in a different way. We can all be that
way with God’s answers to our prayers.
Martin in his invitation to the offering gave some ideas for reframing our thinking so that we can
better appreciate God’ blessings. Heather in her children’s moment taught the children (and
reminded the adults) that we need to be patient with God because He will provide for us in His
time. Even the music Rachel Eve chose went along with our theme of reflecting on God’s
blessings.
Isn’t it cool when God’s Spirit works in our preparation to create a theme in worship!? When
we all look at the Scripture for the coming Sunday as we reflect and prepare for what we’ll say,
it’s amazing how the Spirit works all things together for a unified message. This week it was
gratitude.
The one thing I am most grateful for this year is the honor of being your pastor. It is a gift to
share the journey of faith with you. We’ve cried together, laughed together, prayed together
and thought deep thoughts together. Thank you for inviting me into your life and allowing me
to point to where Christ is in our lives and how God is working in our lives. You are a kind,
compassionate, generous, loving group who I am glad to serve Christ in a mutual ministry.
Thank you for your gifts and words of appreciate.

Tracy Talk XI

I had the opportunity to walk in the Middletown Homecoming parade on Friday evening with
the Girls on the Run team from Amanda Elementary School. I was surprised by the invitation
and decided to go for it. Who doesn’t love a parade!
When you watch professionally produced parades like the Rose Bowl parade or the Macy’s
Thanksgiving Day parade, there are no long gaps between groups and it is well paced. At a
community parade, there is less coordination and large gaps can grow. The Girls on the Run
team had a spot in the parade Friday night that was near the beginning of the parade.
The groups in front of us moved quickly and they pulled away from us very early in the parade.
The group behind us lagged well behind us early too. The girls tried to catch up to the group in
front of us but couldn’t keep up. Then, they wanted to fall back toward the groups behind
them, but got worried that they couldn’t see the group ahead. Isn’t that indicative of many
aspects of community life?
Families try to keep up financially but there are large gaps between middle class families and
those living in poverty. There are limited opportunities to move ahead. It’s too easy to fall
behind and lose sight of the opportunities ahead. In our schools too, some students move
quickly ahead and outpace their classmates. Many students fall behind in our schools who
need attention and you’re left with a few who may not get the help they need because
resources are given to those lagging and those at the head of the class.
My hope is that when we plan our community service in response to God’s vision which we are
currently discerning we will help bridge the gaps, help people move ahead and help families
succeed. One of the people who responded to our community leader interviews said we need
to look beyond quick fixes or providing handouts. We need to help people get out of poverty.
As Habitat for Humanity’s puts it, we need to provide a hand up, not a hand out.

Tracy Talks X

 

The Board and Elders continue their work in our vision discernment process. Over the
previous 2 months, they were interviewing community leaders asking questions about: who are
our neighbors; what do they need; what is being done for them; what else can be done. I have
received reports of the work they did and I will synthesize their reports into a manageable
summary of the 22 interviews. I’ll have that for them to review at the October Board meeting
and will make it available to you after their review.
Now, the Board and Elders are doing some reading. They’re reading chapters or whole books
about the mission of the Church. The authors are industry leaders on missional transformation
of churches. What does that mean? Missional transformation is the current buzzword for
churches who are being transformed from irrelevant, dying or stuck churches into vital,
relevant, healthy churches by shifting their focus from themselves to others. Churches today
are getting new life when they stop focusing inward and start focusing outward.
The reading the Board and Elders are doing will give them insight about why churches make
the shift and how they make the shift in thinking. The books include insights about how we can
plan for mission and ways we can be transformed. This transformation requires us to think
differently about what is outreach and how do we do outreach. I could tell them and you all of
whys and hows, but I want the Board and Elders and you to know that these ideas are
supported by church leaders who know the dedication of shifting the church’s mindset and
have seen the fruit of the hard work of transformation.

The Board and Elders will not need to do a book report or receive a grade. Everyone gets
100%! They’ll each share with me 3 bullet points, a quote or a paragraph summary of what
they read or thought inspired by the reading. I’ll synthesize that into a summary of all the
reading for them to review and I’ll make that available to you as well.
If you would like to also read something, please let me know. I have a chapter of a book that
would be a very good summary with nice stories to convey the teaching or I have a couple
books that you can choose an interesting chapter from. The reading will take you less than an
hour, unless you choose to read a whole book.

All this work being done by the Board and Elders will lead us to a bunch of stuff to pray about.
Through this work, God is beginning to reveal to the Board and Elders spaces where we can
serve and people we can build relationships with. My plan is to have a spiritual retreat during
worship on Sunday, November 12th for us to pray and plan. My hope is this retreat will be
when God reveals more of His vision of who we can become and what we can do through
missional transformation by our worshipful work as a congregation.
I can’t plan when God does stuff or tell God when things need to happen. We are seeking
God’s revelation in this process of prayer and work. We can’t rush God’s vision – it needs to
be from God, not us. This process of discernment has evolved as we moved along.
November 12th is my hope for a spiritual retreat during worship. However, the Board and
Elders will need to review the work they’ve done before I’m ready to say it is time for a retreat
and what that retreat will be like. I’ll give you more details about what that retreat might be
once the Board and Elders meet in October as I’m praying for God to reveal to me the next
step in this process of seeking His vision.

Tracy Talks IX

Thank you for your responses about my query regarding Bible study. Based on your
responses, Wednesday afternoons seem the best time for study for the most people.
Beginning Wednesday September 20th, I’ll have Bible study from 2 – 3 pm in the memorial
room.

We’re going to try a study called The Wired Word. It is a weekly Bible study based on current
events. Each week, I’ll receive an e-mail from the publisher with a lesson based on something
that is going on in our world and is making the headlines. Unlike a book club or other Bible
studies, this will be an easy study for you to come when you can and not feel like you’re
missing a big piece of a study if you miss a week or 2.
I’ll receive a leader’s guide and a participant guide each week. I’ll make the participant guide
available to participants before the study. You can have it delivered via e-mail or you can pick
up a copy on Sunday morning for the study on Wednesday. You’ll need to read the lesson
about the current event before class. Then, on Wednesday afternoon, we’ll gather to read
Scripture and discuss the current event in light of Scripture. This will be a discussion based
class. If you’ve read your participant guide before study, we’ll have lots of time to talk.
If you’re interested in attending, please pick up your first lesson materials on Sunday,
September 17th in the narthex or let me know if you’d like to receive it via e-mail. If you can’t
make it to the study and you’d like to review the material at home in your private devotion time,
please feel free to take a copy. Please let me know if you are thinking about attending so I can
know how many to expect.

Tracy Talks VIII

I share with you this recent update and prayer from Week of Compassion about Hurricane
Harvey and their response thanks to our Week of Compassion offering.
Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Texas Friday night as a category 4 hurricane, causing
flooding and structural damage in towns along the coast. The mayor of Rockport, where the
eye of the hurricane crossed, has reported “widespread devastation.” Hundreds of thousands
are without power, and may last for days. President Trump has issued a federal disaster
declaration for the state, and Texas Governor Abbott has named 50 counties in a state
disaster declaration.

Winds have weakened since landfall and the hurricane has been downgraded to a tropical
storm. The primary concern right now is flooding within the week as heavy rainfall of three feet
or more is expected. Water levels in bayous, reservoirs, and waterways are already rising. At
least 2 tornadoes have also been reported south and west of Houston, damaging multiple
business and approximately 50 homes. Several other tornado warnings continue. The Dallas
Convention Center will be welcoming 5,000 Gulf Coast residents this Tuesday.
Week of Compassion will continue to monitor the storm and reach out to Disciples
communities and partners. If you visit the Week of Compassion Facebook page, you can get
regular updates about the work they are doing with area partners. One post includes a video
from Rev. Elizabeth Grasham and the scene outside her home. The situation is severe and
still developing.
If you are interested in helping, the best immediate response from afar is three-fold: pray, stay,
and donate.
Pray. Keep the people who are in the path of the storms, the rescuers and first
responders who will be working on the ground in your prayers as the storm continue into the
next few days.
Stay put. Out of concern and a desire to be useful, you may want to go and help. Now
is not the time! The situation is dangerous and is ongoing. Volunteers at this time put

themselves at risk and create additional challenges for rescue and emergency crews.
Volunteer opportunities will come later for clean-up and long-term recovery.
Donate. You can donate at http://www.weekofcompassion.org and designate US
Storms where 100% of your gifts will go to help communities rebuild after storms such as
Hurricane Harvey. No administrative fees will be withheld from your donation.

Prayer:
God of Noah’s rain and the psalmist’s morning dew; Jesus, our water-walker and storm-stiller;
Spirit of mighty wind and word who moves the tides of creation’s seas and the hearts of those
drenched in baptismal waters: Protect those in Hurricane Harvey’s path. Provide comfort to
those who suffer loss. Grant safety and courage to those who respond to survivors. Sustain
all our hearts with compassion for our neighbors and with hope of days filled with sunshine and
gentle breezes. Amen.

Tracy Talks VII

The beauty of God’s blessings. Praise in song. Family. Whenever or wherever 2 or more are
gathered in His name. Honor God. God’s great earth. Family support. Communion. Love.
Helpful. Family. Notice a trend?
A beautiful flower. A bird flying over the lake at Camp Christian. A Panda mission trip. A
mountain. A Habitat build. A pile of food collected for the food pantry. A Panda mission trip.
A pile of Christmas gifts collected for kids. A big old stone church. Grandma snapping beans
on the porch. Notice a trend?
These words and pictures were affixed to the poster board I placed in the Narthex for you to
put up words or pictures of what comes to your mind when you think of church. The word
family was prominent in the words written and placed on the board and included in one image.
Pictures of mission trips were prominent among the images. Only two words – communion
and praise in song – were things we typically do in the sanctuary on Sunday mornings, but
they are not limited to acts of worship reserved only for Sunday mornings. Only one picture
was of a church building.
That tells me that you believe that we are most “the church” when we are a family and engage
in mission. I believe that is indicative of who God is calling us to become. So, I wonder: When
are we most like a family? When is our next mission trip?
The Board and Elders are interviewing community leaders about what’s going on in our
community and what still needs to be done. This is a big task, so we’re going to spend some
more time doing those interviews. If you’d like to help the Board and Elders with this task,
please let me know and I’ll get you a person to contact and a list of questions to guide your
conversation. The results of these interviews will give us the information we need to plan
ministry we can do in the community with our neighbors.
I believe this process is leading us toward becoming the church God envisions that is like a
family and engaged in mission. We discerned that vision through prayer. Not that we’re not
already a family who does mission work. This process will allow God to guide us to ways we

can strengthen the fellowship of our family and do mission in new ways. I don’t want us to
rush this time of discernment. We don’t want to push ahead without hearing all God has to
say. Please hold the Board, Elders and congregation in your prayers as we continue to
discern God’s vision and mission for our church.

Tracy Talks VI

I posted a link to a podcast on the church’s Facebook page recently. If you don’t follow the
church on Facebook or didn’t get to listen to the podcast yet, here is the link:
http://thomrainer.com/2016/08/community-focused-church-look-like/. Thom Rainer is the host.
(You might remember his name from the book Autopsy of a Deceased Church that you studied
with Pastor Nik.) Thom Rainer and his guest Jonathan Howe talk about a community-focused
church and what its characteristics are. They say the nine characteristics are: reaches out to
the community leaders, intentionally are where the people are, frequent restaurants and coffee
houses in the community, help the community where they say they need it, are evangelistic,
are invitational and are involved in civic groups, political meetings and schools.
A friend shared this podcast last week. This podcast reinforces what we’re currently doing.
We’re shifting our focus outward. This month, the Elders and Board are doing community
interviews to ask: where do you need help? They’re interviewing civic leaders, public officials
and servants, and school leaders. We were evangelistic and invitational at the Rummage Sale
this weekend. You’re frequenting restaurants and coffee shops with me. We’re involved in
Rotary and Kiwanis. We’re doing all these things that Thom and Jonathan suggest are the
things that a community-focused church does. And, Jonathan says community-focused
churches are the churches of the future.

I’m very excited about the progress we’re making in discerning God’s vision. I hear excitement
and wonderful ideas from the Elders and Board as they share with me the conversations
they’ve had with community leaders. I can’t wait to share with you the outcome of the work
they’re doing. We still have some community leaders I’d like for us to interview that no one
has signed up to chat with. If you’re interested in helping with this step, please let me know.
I’ve got questions to guide the conversation. You can call or e-mail the person. It’s really easy
and inspiring.
In the coming weeks, please pray that God reveal through these conversations the work He is
calling us to do.

Tracy Talks V

When I was visiting my family last weekend, my niece wanted me to come visit her at
work. She wanted me to see where she works and meet some of the people. She works at a
hotel with extended stay rooms. Many of the hotel’s clients stay for long periods while working
on a job assignment.
I met one of the guests Lazarus when I went to visit my niece. Lazarus is a Puerto Rican from
Miami who is staying at the hotel for the summer. He found a good contract job in the area
that will last several months. I spent some time talking to Lazarus about faith, work and
family.
Lazarus shared with me a story of his mother’s faith. While pregnant with him, his mother’s
doctor told her he had died. Lazarus said it was common for women at that time in that area to
be told their babies had died. Lazarus’ mother believed in the promise of life more than her
doctor. She walked to another hospital to deliver her son. He was born a healthy baby boy
and his mother named him Lazarus for God had raised him from the dead. She had been told
he was dead but was born alive and well. Lazarus said there were many men his age named
Lazarus because their mothers had experienced the same thing. Their sons too had been
raised from the dead.

Our God is a God who offers new life to the dead and hope to the hopeless. I love to share
stories of people I meet who remind me of God’s goodness and love. I hope Lazarus’ story
brings you hope.

Tracy Talks IV

Walmart bags. Kroger bags. Meijer bags. It depends where you shop as to what you call
them. In my house, they’re Walmart bags regardless of the store from where they came.
Others call them Kroger bags regardless of the store from where they came. Whatever you
call them, we need them for the rummage sale. Please bring your bags this Sunday to church
to donate to the rummage sale. The hope is we’ll use lots of bags as shoppers tote away lots
of treasures.

Thank you all for your donations to the rummage sale. Please continue to bring them through
Friday, August 4th. If you are unable to bring them on a Sunday morning, please feel free to
contact me to make arrangements to bring them to the church at a time that is convenient to
you. There are forms in the bottom middle mailbox on the mailboxes hanging on the wall
outside the office for you to document your donations for tax purposes. The Salvation Army
and Goodwill websites have suggested amounts to claim per item.
There are sign-up sheets in the Narthex for you to volunteer to help during the hours and in the
manner you are able and available. We need helpers on Friday night to set up and Saturday
to assist shoppers. We need baked goods for the bake sale – we’re still working out when you
can bring those to the church.
The Hannah Circle has decided how they would like to use the funds raised. Fifty percent will
go to mission projects or organizations supported by the CWF circles. The other 50% will be
reserved for a fellowship event for the congregation. There are a couple ideas in the works for
that event. The hope is that we will not only raise funds for mission, but we’ll also raise
awareness of the church in the community.
Thank you to the Hannah Circle for organizing this event. Thank you for all the ways you are
all helping.

Tracy Talk III

I’m not a patient person. I want to do what I want to do now or go where I want to go quickly. I
want to skip the work or drive it takes to get there or reach my goal. For a few years, I’ve
wanted to take up running. I have lots of friends that run and I want to run a 5k. I can walk a
5k, that’s something, but I want to run it in under 30 minutes. The problem is I think I should
just be able to get off the couch and run a 5k this Saturday morning. I don’t want to put in the
work to train to become a runner. I just want to run like my friend who runs at least 10 miles a
day. (I’d probably hate running, because I’d want to reach my destination, not enjoy the run.)
This journey we’re on to discern God’s vision may, at some point, seem like its taking too long.
Or, you may feel like we should just start doing stuff. We have a lot of great ideas and we
want to start doing them. But, like becoming a marathon runner, we have to prepare for
ministry. We have to take the steps, do the work, of discerning what work God is calling us to
do. There are lots of great services we could offer or projects to do, but we have to discern
what it is God is asking us to do. Not all work is for us. We can’t fulfill someone else’s calling.
God will equip us to do the work He calls us to do.
I’ve attached the summary of the demographic study that the Board and Elders reviewed last
night so that you know what they are working on. Enjoy this period of discernment. Pray for
the leaders of the church to be faithful in their work. Pray that God give you vision and
wisdom. Find joy in this journey.